The Big Bang Theory: "The Earworm Reverberation" Review
South Park: "PC Principal Final Justice" Review
American Horror Story: Hotel - "She Wants Revenge" Review
Once Upon a Time: "Swan Song" Review
Into the Badlands: "Two Tigers Subdue Dragons" Review
Ash vs Evil Dead: "The Killer of Killers" Review
Moffat Teases "Outrageous" River Song in Doctor Who Christmas Special
Peter Capaldi’s second year in the TARDIS was perhaps the best season of modern Doctor Who yet.
Entering into the ninth season of Doctor Who, there was no way to know that the sophomore year for Peter Capaldi would turn out to be one of the best runs of the show since its revival in 2005. But that is exactly what it turned out to be, with showrunner Steven Moffat steering the Twelfth Doctor towards some of his most memorable and effective adventures, all while leading up to the departure of Jenna Coleman’s divisive companion Clara.
The season dealt largely with the themes of death and loss, while using this through line to probe the character of the Doctor on an emotional level that we don’t often see. A season-long arc involving a dangerous threat known as the hybrid also played out, as did the mystery surrounding the Doctor’s Confession Dial and his real reason for leaving Gallifrey, while Moffat and his team brought back characters like Missy and Osgood and introduced some new ones, including Maisie Williams’ immortal Ashildr. And Capaldi himself seemed to find a real groove with his character this season, pumping the brakes a bit on the grumpy formality for a somewhat more down to earth persona.
It all started with the strong two-parter “The Magician’s Apprentice” and “The Witch’s Familiar,” which not only brought back Michelle Gomez’s love-her-or-hate-her Mistress, but also saw the return of Davros, that eternal foe of the Doctor’s and the creator of the Daleks. The whole thing kicked into gear immediately with the first scene, which depicted the Doctor attempting to save a child from a war-torn planet… only to realize that the child was in fact a young Davros! Meanwhile -- or rather, elsewhen -- Missy and Clara are forced to team up to find the missing Doctor, who is putting off his inevitable appointment with the ancient, now-dying Davros.
The advantage of Moffat’s approaching most of this season with two-part stories was immediately apparent here, as the show had the room to breathe and fully explore the concepts each story set up. The Doctor and (old) Davros wind up spending some time together, becoming a sort of Odd Couple (of time and relative dimensions in space). Of course, Davros was actually up to no good with his whole ploy to get the Doctor to come to him, and the Doctor
he was up to no good, but it was still thoroughly entertaining -- and even touching. (Alas, the promise of the eccentric and hilarious Missy coming on as a companion never came to fruition, as she was not seen again this season after “The Witch’s Familiar.”)
Next up was the old Who trope of “a crew facing a mysterious danger in or on a remote station.” “Under the Lake” and “Before the Flood” again demonstrated the wisdom in the two-part approach, particularly as far as that guest-starring crew was concerned. Oftentimes such characters can be very one-note and stereotypical, but here we really came to feel for this group as they were plagued by “ghosts” who haunted their underwater base. Eventually that even included a ghost of… the Doctor! (And this was another aspect of the two-part structure that was a plus: lots of opportunities for cliffhangers.)
Sure, the Doctor didn’t really turn out to be a ghost, but still, these creatures were pretty spooky in the grand tradition of creepy Doctor Who monsters, even if the Doctor himself tended to talk to the specters like they were little kids. “Hello. Did you want to show us this? It\'s very nice!” We also got here the first of the fourth-wall breaking dialogue that Twelve would provide occasionally throughout the season, as he lectured us about bootstrap paradoxes while jamming Beethoven\'s 5th on his latest accessory, his electric guitar. And we also began to get a better sense of Clara’s headspace in this segment, as she was clearly running from her post-Danny Pink life. Running just like the Doctor, in fact.
The true adversary of this story was an alien called the Fisher King, and he taunted the Doctor over his unwillingness to break the rules of time even in the face of certain death. Of course, the Doctor figures a clever way out of the situation and wins the day in this case, but the question was raised: What happens when he can’t find a way out? It is something that would come up again before the end of the season.
Maisie Williams’ much-anticipated arrival came in “The Girl who Died” and “The Woman who Lived,” and while she did not turn out to be playing the Doctor’s granddaughter or daughter or any other character from his past, Ashildr would quickly become a key player in the Who universe. A simple Viking girl who was killed helping the Doctor protect her village, she was granted immortality when Twelve resurrected her with alien tech. But this was less a gift than a curse, as she would find that a life without end was perhaps the worst fate of all. “All these people here, they\'re like smoke,” Ashildr would later say of the mortals around her. “They blow away in the moment.”
Clearly, this tracks with the Doctor’s own dilemma, as he is virtually immortal himself and is forced to watch as his companions -- his friends -- come and go and, yes, even die. As he puts it here to Clara, in a heart-wrenching and excellent moment from Capaldi (one of many this season), he’s sick of “being able to do anything but not being allowed to.” So he breaks the rules and saves Ashildr, which is exactly what the Fisher King said he would not do. And he’ll pay the price for it in time.
I found the two-part Zygon story that followed to be the low point of this season, as Doctor Who attempted to graft some real-world analogies onto the tale of immigration and refugees and terrorism and the fear of the other. It was all just too on the nose, while the return of Osgood felt a bit fan-servicey, and Clara was reduced to evil clone status for most of the story. Still, Capaldi pulled out another great speech in the climax of the second episode, as his pain over the Time War came to the forefront once more.
The next episode, the one-off “Sleep No More,” was a curiosity that never quite gelled as the show attempted to tackle the found-footage genre, but with the twist of the footage itself being the point of view of the dust monsters (or Sandmen) of the story. The episode confusingly ended with the Doctor seemingly losing against the Sandmen, and while many expected some kind of conclusion to the story in the following week’s segment, it never came. Odd.
The season ended with what was essentially a three-part story, even though each episode stood on its own at the same time. Bringing Season 9’s underlying theme of mortality and death to the forefront, Clara was actually killed in “Face the Raven” -- seemingly for good (and ironically, if inadvertently, because of Ashildr, who the Doctor had broken the rules to save way back when). While her final moments with the Doctor were effective, as Coleman’s Clara pleaded with him to not seek revenge for her death, the event lacked some resonance… perhaps because it had been telegraphed throughout the season. In the end it turned out, however, that Moffat had pulled a fast one on us, and that we had not yet seen the end of Clara.
But first, the season highlight came in “Heaven Sent,” as the Doctor found himself in a puzzling purgatory that ultimately turned out to be his very own Confession Dial. With Capaldi essentially the only actor in the entire episode, the pain and guilt and torment that the Doctor endures here as he contemplates Clara’s death and his current situation was pretty spectacular. Plus, the episode culminated in a twist reveal that had the Doctor living out the same scenario over and over and over again for billions of years. WHAT?! As the Dial chipped away at him, trying to get him to reveal his biggest secret -- the real reason he left Gallifrey -- the Doctor steadfastly refused to give in. A pretty amazing segment to be sure.
The finale, then, was in a tough position to follow that up. But “Hell Bent” was still a strong end to Season 9, as well as to the Clara story. Because, yes, through some Time Lord trickery, the Doctor saved Clara from just before the moment of her death here. Still fated to die as she did in “Face the Raven,” she nonetheless was now free to roam space and time as long as she wants to (before returning to that heartbeat just prior to her demise). Which is exactly what she winds up doing, with a very, very old Ashildr now at her side, as the two take off in a TARDIS at episode’s end. It was a fitting finish to Clara’s story: The companion who had most become like the Doctor himself was now essentially a Doctor in her own right.
But it was also bittersweet, for in order to “save” Clara as he did, the Doctor broke even more of the rules the Fisher King had spoken of. And in so doing, he threatened the safety of the universe. This was another Moffat twist, as it turned out the hybrid was in fact the Doctor and Clara together (apparently that was the Doctor’s ultimate fear, the true reason he left Gallifrey). They needed to be separated, and in a reverse Donna Noble moment, the Doctor was the one who (voluntarily) lost his memory of Clara. She would be spared from death, for now, but the price was great: He would not know her anymore, or remember anything specifically about her but her name.
Season 9 of Doctor Who not only saw Peter Capaldi truly become comfortable in the role and find his own rhythm as the Doctor, but it also offered a very fitting end to Jenna Coleman’s run. Filled with intriguing ideas and twists, great performances, humor and pathos, and plenty of scary monsters, modern Doctor Who doesn’t get much better than this.
Season 9 of Doctor Who was one of the best runs of the modern take on the show yet.
Season 1 - 1963-64, Season 2 - 1964-65, Season 3 - 1965-66, Season 4 - 1966-67, Season 5 1967-68, Season 6 - 1968-69,
William Hartnell (1963-1966), Patrick Troughton (1966-1969), Jon Pertwee (1970-1974), Tom Baker (1974-1981), Peter Davison (1981-1984), Colin Baker (1984-1986),
Agents of SHIELD: Brett Dalton Teases Ward\'s New Purpose
Daily Deals: Fallout Anthology, Free Amazon Credit for Playing a Free Game, Big Xbox One Sale
Street Fighter\'s Akuma Invades Tekken 7 Roster
James Cameron Hopes Avatar Wasn\'t a \'Fluke\'
Worldwide Opening of The Hateful Eight Moved Up a Week