Doctor Who: A Series in Retrospect

Was_that_really_Peter_Capaldi_playing_the_guitar_in_Doctor_Who_Something I’ve noticed at university is that being a Doctor Who fan is strikingly more niche than I had imagined.

People are willing to admit that they’ve watched it in the past. They whole-heartedly endorse the concept. Yet their admission comes with a pang of regret. They have been disappointed, and they are about to disappoint me. The show currently plays no part in their regular TV schedule.

The next most common thing they are wont to impart is that the time they “dropped out” was after David Tennant left. Now, I’m not going to argue that they were wrong to do that. I won’t defend Matt Smith with any of the zeal I praise Tennant. I even agree to a large extent with their decision given that the show has suffered quite a dive in quality of late. However, is that enough to unplug oneself from such a rich source of indigenous culture? Doctor Who is a source of our collective mythology. Its characters and tropes are embedded in the national psyche and for all its escapism, it remains relevant and necessary for the world of today.

Now enough of that, you came here for a review of the latest series. I think now is a good time to make my own confession, entrust you with my “confession dial” as it were. I’ve wavered, been disloyal, hypocritical – a fraud. Whilst all episodes used to be faithfully observed, I have faltered. As Matt Smith skipped closer towards his regeneration into Peter Capaldi, I fell from the path of the righteous and was negligent in my veneration. This lapse continued into the twelfth (or thirteenth if you count the War Doctor?) but recently I’ve come back to the show. Not precisely because of a renewed sense of duty, rather out of surplus hours afforded to me as a student. Anyhow, for your pleasure (or otherwise) I’ve comprised my thoughts of the twelfth doctors escapades this year into a handy surmise for anyone out there who still cares (though I realise this number may be relatively few.)

The series opened with a caper starring Missy, the latest female incarnation of the Master – the Doctor’s arch-enemy and fellow Time Lord. I feel that something of the intensity of the John Simm/David Tennant portrayal has been lost during the Moffat years. The stakes seem lower. The great ideological clash of chaos and compassion is replaced by bickering and wry banter. This is entertaining on a superficial level, but as a viewer we fail to become emotionally invested in either of the sides. Capaldi and Michelle Gomez feed off each other, but not in any constructive way – their disagreements seem to be incidental and lack the confrontational punch which Tennant/Simm were able to capture so well. The opening two-parter also features the appearance of UNIT, regrettably – more about that later.

We visit Skaro, planet of the Daleks next, where the Doctor is faced with the moral conundrum of the opportunity to save a young and yet uncorrupted Davros long before the Time War breaks out. (Davros Actor) as the old Davros, who is dying and wants to speak with the Doctor one last time. Capaldi and the evil genius have great banter and there is a particularly touching moment when he requests to see the sunrise with his real eyes as opposed to relying on his third, bionic ocular. It is later revealed that this conversation was doubly disingenuous, with both parties using the situation to manipulate each other. Nevertheless, this was a series highlight.

Another interesting moment of this two-part story was when Clara had to infiltrate the dalek ranks and inhabited the exoskeleton/battle tank temporarily. This concept was fairly ridiculous but we did learn something from it; that daleks scream “exterminate” when they are in emotional distress. It was pretty cool to see Clara’s words translated into Dalek and perhaps explains why the daleks never seem to shoot the Doctor even though he is clearly surrounded and easily “exterminable”– he has a calming influence, and thus they cannot get worked up enough to fire their ray gun. The dalek sewers concept was also satisfyingly dark – the mutants survive beyond the decomposition of their flesh and become a sort of semi-conscious sludge, screaming in constant pain.

The Zygons were brought back this series after their reintroduction in the 50th anniversary special as a sort of light-hearted subplot. Now I shall return, as promised, to the issue of UNIT as a concept in Doctor Who. Needless to say, I’m not a fan. UNIT is the legacy of an austere BBC budget during the seventies. The Doctor was conveniently banished to present day Earth by the Time Lord council; this allowed the production to save on location and set design. Whilst the Doctor did get a rather snazzy car to add to his terrestrial arsenal, he was also burdened with the institution known as UNIT.

UNIT are a military organisation created to combat alien threats to earth – and clearly, they aren’t very good at that, otherwise the Doctor would not have to intervene so much. I’ve never liked UNIT, ever since they were reintroduced in a pretty terrible two-parter entitled The Sontaran Experiment during the third series (Martha era.) They seem to embody a lot of the things the Doctor disagrees with, such as eagerness to resort to violence to solve problems and an unquestioningly negative prejudice towards extra-terrestrials. However, the Doctor seems to tolerate them because they feed his ego and provide him with his own private plane – bringing out the worst in his character.

The first episode was marred by some abysmal acting, particular the UNIT second in command. The scene where a UNIT officer is “tricked” by the Zygons (inhabiting human form, somhow also with the ability to access humans’ memories and shape-shift into people from their past – OP bro! Am I right?) was particularly terrible. However, I did enjoy the not-so-subtle allusions to the current political situation with ISIS and prejudice towards refugees, and the mind-wiped Zygon morphing out of human form uncontrollably. Osgood, somewhat convolutedly resurrected, is a great tribute to the committed Doctor Who fan here also.

Ashildr (AKA Arya Stark from Game of Thrones) plays a big role in this series, as the immortal daughter of a Viking village invaded by a Napoleon Complex sufferer and his robot army. Masie Williams is absolutely brilliant in this – even though I may not be the biggest fan of her character in A Song of Ice and Fire, she is a superb actress, really holding her own against the experience of Capaldi. I do have an issue, however, with the concept of her character and how she given eternal life.

As you may be aware, and I expect you are if you’ve read this much of the review, there was another prominent immortal character who was a recurring star of the Russel T. Davies era (though interestingly enough, created by Moffat in his debut two-parter in series 1.) That’s right, a certain rogue Time Agent known as Captain Jack Harkness – whose legacy lives in the “spacehopper” time-travel device – the Vortex Manipulator (used by “Missy” this series.) Captain Jack was given also given immortality by mistake when Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) harnessed the power of the heart of the TARDIS to bring him back to life after being shot by the daleks in The Parting of the Ways (2005). Yet, can we really be expected to accept that the Doctor would be just as careless? He for one knows what it is like to be immortal, so is the least likely to bestow it upon humans arbitrarily. Forget the fact that both time travel and immortality are possible in this show. This was just a step too far for me to believe.

Rose Goddess

Captain Jack was also given immortality by mistake when Rose Tyler harnessed the power of the heart of the TARDIS to bring him back to life after being shot by the daleks in The Parting of the Ways (2005).


Sleep No More was easily the worst episode of the series. Penned by Mark Gatiss, that is not surprising (sorry!) I have much respect for the guy, but in my opinion, he is a far better actor than a writer (Mycroft in Sherlock.) The concept, of eliminating sleep to increase human productivity had great potential. However, this was ultimately wasted. I mean, monsters made of the grit in the corner of your eye *sigh*. I felt cheated. This was a great opportunity to show humans as the real monsters – insane ravenous creatures driven to madness by sleep deprivation a la the “Soviet Sleep Experiment” (urban myth by the way.) Also, the physics were laughable. Someone please explain to him how gravity works.

Now, to the final three-part story beginning with the interesting Face the Raven (AKA Clara dies again but this time it’s for real…or is it?) Poor writing never quite made Clara as loveable, and perhaps because we’ve had her death dangled before us so many times before that when it actually happened my honest feelings were- so what? Clearly the Doctor felt otherwise, as he appeared to swear vengeance on the whole universe for allowing this event to occur. Anyway, he is teleported off to his own personal Hell for my favourite episode of the series Hell Bent.

Here is a one sentence summary: The Doctor chooses to punch through a twenty-feet thick wall of diamond in order to reach an unknown goal over the course of four-and-a-half-billion years, repeating the same course of events over and over again, chipping away miniscule fragments at a time, just so he can avoid giving up his darkest secret. Further explanation is unnecessary.

Boe Face

The death of the Face of Boe, some five billion years from now in 2007’s Gridlock.

In the series finale, after successfully completing his task (not having aged a day, because he was teleported to the hell-fortress and thus vaporised and re-materialised himself after each attempt) the Doctor reaches Galifrey, which he teleported out of its time-locked location in space-time using the power of thirteen TARDIS’s at the end of the 50th anniversary special. To be honest, this was something of an anti-climax. Clara was brought back – shocker, not really dead. However, the Doctor had to be mind-wiped for some reason because her death was a “fixed point in time and space”, so her departure from the show was suspiciously similar to Donna Noble’s (Catherine Tate) in that respect. We learnt that Time Lord is in fact not a species, but a rank – there seem to be “Time Peasants” in this hyper-advanced feudal society. We also found out that contrary to the evidence to be found in Captain Jack/The Face of Boe, immortals appear not to age at all, even after a hundred trillion years (approximate death-date of the universe according to 2007’s Utopia) when we meet Ashildr again at the “end of time” (although I am forced to reconsider, did Jack elect to have some sort of extreme body modification – let the debate begin in the comments…) Thankfully, the series ended on a cheerful note when Doctor ditched his ridiculous “sonic glasses” for a new sonic screwdriver


About alasdairflett

German & English Literature graduate. From Orkney. Interested in alternative and indie music, language, writing and politics.
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