If you were to ask any Brit what the most successful sci-fi show on TV is, I guarantee we would all tell you the exact same thing: Doctor Who! Anyone who’s grown up in the UK will know that Saturday nights just aren’t the same unless you’re curled up on the sofa watching a mad man with a blue box travel through time and space battling aliens. That said, I have definitely noticed a shift recently among my friends and family – one that isn’t, I’m afraid to say, a particularly positive one. Series eight of the rebooted Doctor Who had a reputation to uphold, what with the departure of Matt Smith and the introduction of Peter Capaldi’s new older, grumpier Doctor. It promised an awful lot, and delivered… not very much, if I’m being honest. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, don’t hate me! Just give me a second to explain…
If there was one thing I adored about this series, it was all of the flipping amazing guest stars! Like, seriously, they were all fabulous! Every. Last. One. We had Tom Riley (Robin Hood), Ben Miller (Sheriff of Nottingham), Frank Skinner (Perkins), Chris Addison (Seb), Pippa Bennett-Warner (Saibre) Keeley Hawes (Madame Karabraxos) and Jonathan Bailey (Psi) to name but a few. Each of them delivered stand out performances filled with light and shade, and often a great deal of humour. In fact I often found myself more invested in their fates than those of Clara or the Doctor, which is saying something. Reflecting back on things now, a correlation does begin to emerge between the characters I liked the most and those who basically told the Doctor to stop being such an insensitive jerk.
Also, there was a pattern when it came to my favourite episodes – they were so much fun! If I had to pick a top three from this series I’d go for Ep 9 Flatline, Ep 5 Time Heist and Ep 3 Robot of Sherwood. Flatline has left me forever traumatised by any and all people-shaped graffiti, which I think is exactly what this show should do; leave its audience cowering behind the sofa. Time Heist was a beauty of an episode, not least because the entire supporting cast brought a whole new dimension to what could otherwise have been a blandly average, run-of-the-mill ‘bank job’ story. Their motivations were believable, their personalities were well developed, their characterisation was complex and the level of emotional depth was touching.
As for Robot of Sherwood, I was left feeling so happy afterwards my parents kept giving me funny looks. I think they thought I’d finally cracked. But the thing is it was just so wonderful! For reasons I can’t quite fathom, I’m in the minority when it comes to liking this episode. I’ve heard it criticised for being a bit of a flop, but I one hundred percent disagree with that assessment. It was more like a welcome reprieve from the disjointed stories and gaping plot holes from the first few episodes. At last Capaldi’s darker portrayal of the Doctor didn’t feel so out of place, because his contrast to Robin Hood’s infuriatingly upbeat, cocky persona made for some comedy gold.
“Can you just stop? You’ll give yourself a hernia.”
This was more like the kind of standalone story I grew up with back when Russell T Davies was running the show, so there was an element of nostalgia for me. But more than that, it felt exactly like what Doctor Who is meant to feel like. It can be serious when it needs to be, but its ability to juxtapose that seriousness with its own unique element of quirky comedy is what sets it apart from other shows within the genre. This time around, the whole series in general lacked some of what makes it special, and for me it showed; that missing flair is something I think needs to be addressed ASAP. On the up side, with such a seasoned actor like Peter Capaldi taking on the titular role, things were never going to be all bad, were they?
Oh, and while I think about it, a special mention has to go to Capaldi’s co-stars: eyebrows left and right. Those babies really stole the show.
In case it wasn’t obvious already, I had several huge problems with this series. The first of these was with the Doctor himself. It’s a well-established fact that the Doctor hates guns, and that’s something I really admire about the character; he doesn’t ever feel the need to resort to violence. But why oh why did they decide that that meant they could turn him into some judgemental ass who hates any person who’s ever been a soldier? The Doctor’s meant to value every life, not be so prejudiced against one group of people who just happen to do a certain job. And while we’re on the subject, since when does the Doctor treat humans like they’re puny and pathetic? There were times when he seemed to think very little of Clara and the humans he met on his travels, and there didn’t appear to be any justification for it. Hopefully this is just a minor blip and the next series will fix this small yet significant detail.
Then there’s Steven Moffat. Remember that pattern I told you about earlier with my favourite episodes? Turns out there’s a pattern to my least favourites too… all of them were written by him. I can’t fully explain why, but his style of writing just doesn’t work for me. His storylines are so convoluted that even my parents get lost while watching, and I can never manage to explain things to them because I’ve mostly switched off. Nearly gone are the days when fans would imagine travelling in the TARDIS as a companion, and that can only be put down to the change in tone caused by the writing, which in turn is ultimately controlled by Moffat. One theory my friends and I have is that his style lends itself better to longer, but more self-contained stories rather than short episodes linked by a continuous story arc. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me?
Next, let’s talk about Clara. On second thoughts, don’t even get me started; that woman fuels my hate fire. It’s true that her storyline this season was way better than last season, and I loved her to pieces in Robot of Sherwood, but before long her reactions to events this series started to frustrate me so much! That thing with the TARDIS keys – what on earth was that about? Plus, her constant changes of heart concerning the Doctor totally wound me up! He lies and insults her so she decides to leave, then she agrees to ‘one last trip’ (we all know how that old chestnut ends) and realises she misses the adventure, so she relents and chooses to stay. It came across as pathetic, bordering on unhealthy. I would actually have had so much more respect for her if she’d stuck to her morals and just left. Perhaps that would have been the metaphorical slap to the face the Doctor needed to start treating people better and be less of an idiot. No such luck.
Lastly, am I honestly expected to believe that no-one in Victorian London batted an eyelid to a tyrannosaurus in the Thames? Also, can someone fill me in on how exactly not breathing would defeat century-old killer robots? Then there’s the small matter of the hot air balloon made from human skin for no reason whatsoever – why? Skip forward a few episodes and we’re told the moon is a giant freaking egg that then conveniently hatches and is replaced by another giant egg. I don’t think so. And I’m sorry, but Cyberman Pollen? Seriously? Who thought that was a good idea?
Ugh, I give up!
I’m giving Doctor Who Series Eight 2/5 stars. It was okay. It wasn’t brilliant. I watched the entire series, which is more than most of my friends did; some managed to get halfway through and then gave up; some didn’t watch it at all. I can’t say I blame them. Please remember these are just my personal opinions. After all there are plenty of people who think it’s great and that’s absolutely fine, but sadly this series just didn’t grip me or draw me in at all. I will forever continue to watch Doctor Who because I think that for the most part it’s a really entertaining show, and I hope the cultural phenomenon will live on for years to come. Let’s not forget that last year was the 50th anniversary; so here’s to another fifty years, Whovians!