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Doctor Who in 2015. Yeah.

December 6, 2015

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People my age can never bring themselves to refer to it as “Season Nine”.  and “Season Thirty Five” just seems a bit cumbersome.

Now the general critical tone regarding this series has been pretty laudatory, and I’m not one to dissent just for the sake of it.  As Samuel Johnson (who certainly dissented from critical dissent when he felt he had to) remarked of Thomas Gray’s Elegy “I rejoice to concur with the common reader; for by the common sense of readers uncorrupted with literary prejudices, after all the refinements of subtilty and the dogmatism of learning, must be finally decided all claim to poetical honours”

Now when I say I think that this season has enjoyed almost all the praise it has received, I’m not buying into the notion that there was anything much wrong with the 2014 season.  Some of those stories were better than others but outings like Time Heist and Listen made Capaldi’s inaugural season the equal of many in the franchise’s history.  So I don’t regard the 2015 season as “rescuing” anything – still less do I consider the 2015 development 12th Doctor as any kind of reboot or rethink.  More of an exfoliation – an extended explanation of character traits that were always there.

The writers now know who they are writing for.  They know how he’s going to look and how he’s going to react.  Yeah – Peter Capaldi is, already I think, the greatest Doctor of the twenty-first century and is set to get better and better.

But here’s the season that was…

Magician’s Apprentice/Witch’s Familiar.

It’s good to have two parters back.  Two parters are like old-style four parters – adventures that need between 90 and 100 minutes to explain themselves.  And of course, a two parter brings back the cliffhanger – which is the structuring principle of every classic adventure.

Ah Ms Gomez.  What a superlative incarnation of the Master you are.  I hate the name “Missie” but I love you.  I became tense when this very clever confrontation with Davros threatened to get all soppy for a moment – and then we were relieved with some authentic villainy.   Ah yes – this story made me happy.

Under the Lake/Before the Flood.

Another great cliffhanger.  The first half made you jump and the second half made you think.  Claustrophobic horror followed by head-scratching paradox.  And it seemed for a while that Doctor Who was starting to acknowledge the idea that you can’t save everyone.  Indeed, the question of whether or not you can (or should) try to save absolutely everyone – dominated this season as a whole.

The Girl who Died

I liked it.  Vikings are funny.  Crap Vikings are even funner.  This had laugh out loud moments.  It is the responsibility of a show-runner or script editor to keep varying the stakes.  You don’t want the Doctor saving the very nature of Space and Time on a weekly basis.  Sometimes you just want him to save Guildford.  And here we saw a small village of a kind that has been routinely annihilated in human history from a variety of natural and unnatural causes.  Given the kind of “big picture” that the Doctor can’t help but see – is it really worth trying to slightly prolong the life of such a marginal community?

Yes.  Apparently.  Because only monsters only see the big picture.

The Woman who Lived.

This one just made me sad.  By far the worst story of the twenty-first century – a story that actually despises the viewing public – a story that assumes we’re all imbeciles.  Steven Moffat should not be allowed to commission another “historical” adventure until he’s offered a lengthy and detailed apology for this one.

The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion

A UNIT adventure.  Good to see Lethbridge-Stewart – though I think she’s reached the point where we can see her in action without even ONE reference to the Brigadier.  I loved the man as much as anyone – but smiley Brig references should now be restricted to just one in three UNIT adventures.  Osgood isn’t dead of course (who is – these days?).

A story about a refugee crisis and terrorist splinter groups is, of course, timely.  It is sad that at no point is it considered viable to allow Zygons (or some Zygons) to assume their native form on earth.

We can’t just let Zygons be Zygons.  Apparently.

But the whole adventure is just building up to Peter Capaldi’s big speech – the one that will be anthologised in 2063, when representative nuggets of all 25 Doctors are broadcast.  This is like William Hartnell saying goodbye to Susan or Pat Troughton talking about evils that must be fought or Tom Baker asking if he has that right or Christopher Eccleston shouting that everybody lives.  Oooh.

Sleep No More

Not even sure this one’s canonical.  No theme music and nothing we can trust.  It’s found footage from Mark Gatiss.  It is decidedly unsettling but we don’t know where to put it.  The idea of inventing something that squeezes the medical necessity of sleep into a couple of minutes so you can spend longer working sounds horribly plausible actually.  It’s the logical extrapolation of the breakfast bar.  This could happen.  Capitalism says that it will happen.

This may be a slow burner.  Since everything has been crafted in order to create a viral meme, the isolated and parentless little horror story may come back to bite us later.

Face The Raven

This one is set in Diagon Alley.  The tattoos are a nice idea, and we’re back with the idea of a refugee crisis.  Presumably humanity is too busy watching Strictly Come Dancing (I know I am) to face up to the refugees in its midst.

And of course, Clara dies.  We see it happen.  But such is the confused and flexible attitude to death that the Steven Moffat era has generated, that we still aren’t sure what “really dead” actually means.  Steven Moffat could certainly bring back Blake’s Seven if he liked.  Including Blake.

Heaven Sent

Peter Capaldi sort of earned the right to this one after his big speech in The Zygon Inversion.  It sort of reminded me of episode three of Deadly Assassin – and there can be no higher praise than that.  The Doctor is completely alone in a torture chamber when anything can happen.  Less important than whether or not the plot of this story was ingenious – less meaningful than how long it takes you to “figure it out” is the sense of incarceration the drama generates.  To what extent, while watching this, do you experience the burden of incarcerated time?  Can you feel anything akin to a sheer burden of repetition?  Because that’s what determines whether or not it was good.  It was good.

Hell Bent

No big battles and no exploding star systems (except at the end of the universe where star systems can’t help but explode.  It was very nice to see a 1960s Tardis console again I must say.  I’m worried that I now know too much about why the Doctor left Gallifrey.  I would like to unknow it I think.  There’s much I want to keep indeterminate.

The hybrid mystery had me very very nervous about the notorious Eighth Doctor whisper.  And “Me” dangled it very threateningly.  I really don’t want to hear any more about this “half-human” malarkey.  But the Doctor-Clara hybrid theory worked fine for me.  Ever since Danny’s death, Clara has been getting crazier – taking stupid risks – going too far and then further.   Not a good influence?  What does she live for – other than to test the limits of life?  She’s begging the Doctor (or is it Steven Moffat?) to be allowed to die like everyone else.  And the Doctor (or is it Steven Moffat?) just won’t let her?

The Five Stages of Grief According to Steven Moffat.

  1.   Denial
  2.   Denial
  3.   Cloning
  4.   Parallel Universe
  5.   Retaining Pulseless Cognition in a Temporal Bubble in between            Heartbeats.

This was a great season – with lovely chewy acting to enjoy.  Almost perfect (if you excise the stain that was The Woman Who Lived).

And now it’s over.  I don’t count Christmas Specials.

 

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