I review a whole season rather than individual episodes, so there is a chance of spoilers. If you haven’t watched the whole season yet, stop reading now!
Doctor Who is due a major change. I don’t just mean a regeneration, I’m thinking something more behind the scenes. I have always loved what Steven Moffat did with the series since he took over the principle writing and running of the show but this season felt like it was trying too hard to be clever and mysterious without really succeeding at either.
There were a lot of very intelligent ideas and clever stories within season 9 of the revamped Doctor Who but none of them felt like really achieved their aim. The stories seem to start with a very clever hook and a great “What If” idea but often feel too quickly resolved, rushed or worse, unclear. This season tackles a lot of big ideas, from time loops to immortality through to uneasy peace between races/species. All very clever but never executed as well as you’d hope.
There are two key examples of this. The two episodes that feature The Zygons were a muddle. They were never as scary or as dramatic as the series seemed to be striving for. The resolution was a call-back to another episode but without proper explanation or recapping, the intended “twist” seemed lost.
The second example of a great idea which fails to deliver was the episode penned by Mark Gatiss. I’ve never been a huge fan of his episodes anyway and that is usually because they start with an exciting or interesting hook, but then aren’t properly developed or written well enough. This seasons episode had the “hook” of being Found Footage. A very interesting idea but not actually executed that well. The monsters were made of “eye-dust” that you get from when you sleep. Another good idea but poorly explained and then, as seems to be the new fashion with Doctor Who, there was a “twist.” A poor twist which didn’t have the intended impact because the story didn’t really make much sense anyway.
That isn’t to say that Doctor Who has lost its charm or appeal. It is still one of the most ambitious shows on British TV at the moment and has a great cast at the center. Peter Capaldi is a great Doctor and seems to be harking back to the “classic-era” Time Lords. Jenna Coleman is more than comfortable in the companion role, with Clara being as daring as the Doctor (in same cases more so).
The guest stars attracted were as big name as ever. Donald Sumpter was an under-used villain, Michelle Gomez stole her episodes as the excellent “Missy” but it was the season-arc story involving Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams which offered the best role and most interesting plot of the season. Williams demonstrated she is more than a match for The Doctor and played the mysterious character well, hopefully offering potential for a return in the future.
There was also some returning magic in some of the later episodes as well. The stand-out from the season was a confusing but well-written episode called Heaven Sent which starred Capaldi and pretty much no-one else. It was a clever idea but demanded your attention. It was a reminder that Moffat could still write the singular, self-contained stories very well, but is losing his step with the larger story-arc.
The key to future Doctor Who success? – Keep it simple. Moffat’s attempts to deliver a huge story with a cataclysmic effects fails to match its promise. The “hybrid” story had a confused and underwhelming resolution, as did the return to Gallifray, which could have been a whole season event in itself.
Overall, Doctor Who is trying too hard to be clever, complicated and full of grand revelations and twists when it should concentrate more on telling great, episode by episode stories. Amazing ideas and concepts get lost in confusing writing and it makes for an under-whelming season. Hopefully with some impending fresh-blood in the Tardis, the season will also go further back to it’s more successful roots.
Best Episode – Heaven Sent: A return to form for both the show and series runner Steven Moffat
Best performance – Peter Capaldi as The Doctor
Should there be another season? – There should always be Doctor Who on our screens. This series could continue forever if done properly.
Season Rating – 2.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)