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Saturday, 12 November 2016

Doctor Who: Series 9 Review

Today on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm watching absolutely nothing! I'm done watching things for now, I'm taking a break until next week. Instead I'm going to be revisiting Doctor Who's 9th series (or 35th depending on how you look at it) and reviewing Peter Capaldi's second year as the madman in a box. So I'm basically going to be retreading a lot of things I've already written about, except with less pictures.

This is going to contain huge SPOILERS for everything in series 9 from The Magician's Apprentice to Hell Bent, and probably earlier episodes too.



There's basically two threads running through series 9 as I see it: the Doctor's concern over his increasingly reckless companion, and The Hybrid, and neither of them are woven in particularly well by my reckoning.

The Clara arc, in retrospect, is there to set up the Doctor's duty of care for Clara, and how far he'd go if anything happened to her. The Eleventh Doctor stopped short of shattering time to rescue Amy and Rory, but the Twelfth would do anything to save Clara, even if it means murdering a sympathetic Time Lord and threatening the web of time. Trouble is that at the time, all her fake deaths and the scenes of him worrying about her felt like it endless foreshadowing about her departure. 'She's going to leave soon and it's going to be sad', over and over again. After a while I just wanted them to get it over with.

Then there's the Hybrid arc, which was basically just the Doctor constantly noticing how things were just like a hybrid until the finale. Well okay I think he only mentioned it in two episodes between the introduction and pay off, but that hardly makes it better. Plus it feels incredibly coincidental that Davros would bring the prophecy up out of nowhere at the start of the series, and then the Time Lords kidnap him over it at the end. I guess that's how Doctor Who rolls, but the writers could've perhaps thrown in some prophesied signs for these people to notice and worry about, to explain how they ended up on this same page all of a sudden.

And then at the end it turns out that the Doctor's co-dependency with Clara is The Hybrid (possibly), which ties both the threads together! This is kind of interesting as it threatens to make the Doctor the series' main villain and then actually goes through with it! If he'd successfully wiped Clara's memory and got her heart beating again it may well have fractured time like everyone was terrified of. Of course the 'standing in Gallifrey's ruins' and 'burning a billion billion hearts' parts of the prophecy were just misinterpreted, but unravelling the web of time seems plenty bad on its own.

I'm not keen on this prophecy being the thing that scared him away from Gallifrey in the first place though. I'm sure there's been various vague explanations for his departure over the decades, but "I was bored" has always worked for me and we had The Woman Who Lived this series to illustrate how spending hundreds of years in one place when you know that time machines exist can drive you mad.

Oh, also the confession dial shows up a few times this series, but I still haven't worked out what exactly was going on with that. As far as I can figure, the Time Lords altered a typical confession dial to be a torture device, set it to zap everyone who touched it (as long as they're called Clara), then delivered it to Missy. She believed it was from the Doctor, because he'd gone AWOL (as much as someone who's all over time and space can be), and she also believed that it was his last Will and Testament, even though it's apparently more of a ritual act of purification. Anyway, she took the dial right over to him, setting up the second part of the Time Lords' devious plan... the part where the Doctor carries it around for the whole of series 9 for no reason. After 7 episodes of that, part 3 is put into play, where the Doctor is lured into a trap, the dial's taken off him, and it's given right back to the Time Lords! Also they teleport him inside and torture him for a bit. I can't say I was all that impressed by how that worked out.

But that's not the only thing that bothered me about series 9...


THE BAD


I've been watching Doctor Who long enough now to be aware that it's not the most scientifically accurate sci-fi series, but a couple of episodes really put me off last year due to their utter contempt for logic and reason, and this somehow got even worse in series 9! Pretty much every story this year had something so astoundingly absurd that it kicked me right out of the episode:
  • The Magician's Apprentice/The Witch's Familiar - The TARDIS blows up as a defence measure and then de-explodes afterwards. It's not just poorly explained, it's also really unsatisfying as a resolution to the cliffhanger.
  • Under the Lake/Before the Flood - An alien with a functioning spaceship who wants to escape Earth decides that the best way to achieve this is to scratch four symbols into a wall that'll reprogram the minds of everyone who stumbles across them so that they'll come back after death as electromagnetic ghosts and broadcast the vaguest possible distress call right across the galaxy by silently chanting four words. What the fuck?
  • I mean seriously, what the hell was the writer thinking?
  • The Girl Who Died/The Woman Who Lived - So the Doctor can absolutely for real no-bullshit understand what babies are saying? The Eleventh Doctor wasn't lying all those times? Wow, thanks a lot Girl Who Died, you've entirely ruined episodes like Closing Time for me now! Well, a little bit.
  • The Zygon Invasion/Inversion - A highly trained anti-alien special forces team goes into a town to fight shape-shifters, understanding that their targets will disguise themselves as their family members to manipulate them just like they did 10 minutes ago. They all end up falling for it anyway and die. This is not played as comedy.
  • Sleep No More - Features six-foot tall eye gunk monsters who are into video editing and don't understand physics.
  • Face the Raven/Heaven Sent/Hell Bent - The Doctor telepathically convinces an inanimate wooden door to unlock by asking nicely.
Your mileage will vary here, as we've all got different breaking points for our suspension of disbelief and they'll depends on what we're watching. Like somehow I find it really easy to get over Wile E. Coyote forgetting to fall for a few seconds every time he runs off a cliff, but I wouldn't be impressed if the Doctor pulled that trick. And a phone box time machine that's bigger on the inside wouldn't exactly fit in a series like EastEnders... except for that time they had a crossover. Anyway I hope that they at least run the scripts past a 10 year old next series so they can point out which parts are maybe too dumb. Also no moon eggs or forest fairies either please. PLEASE!!

Plus series 9 had theme running through it about death and cheating death, which left it kind of depressing and made it utterly impossible for me to really care about any character's fate, as even Sam bloody Swift got resurrected in the end. In Hell Bent the Doctor mentions that on Gallifrey death is about as serious as man flu, which seemed a funny thing to point out considering that it seems to be true everywhere else this year as well. Except for poor Jac.

But the series wasn't all bad...


THE GOOD


I was hoping that the series would turn a corner after the 'let's just go have adventures!' conclusion of Last Christmas and it actually kind of did. The episodes themselves weren't all that upbeat, but we had a noticeably more sociable and friendly Twelfth Doctor this time around, who dropped the awkward jokey insults and rudeness and picked up a guitar instead. He becomes more like his old self the longer he grows his hair out, so I guess he should keep doing that.

Twelfth Doctor 2.0 also comes with sonic sunglasses and they were a total success in my opinion. I've never had a problem with his magic wand sonic screwdriver, but replacing it with a Google Glass made his old tricks feel a bit fresher.

I liked Clara more this series as well, perhaps because we got much less of her school and absolutely zero romantic comedy. I've noticed some people saying that she's had less to do this year, but I think she was just less caught up in her own things. It's a shame that she's gone by the end, but it's hard to complain about that when she's had a longer run than any modern companion. In fact she's even beaten three of the Doctors (four if you count the War Doctor).

Every department was bringing their A game this year (like always), aside from the common sense department of the writers' brains. Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman in particular put in exceptional performances when he had an entire episode to himself and she played both Clara and her evil duplicate in the same scene... and just in general really. Plus visually the series may have never looked better. Or maybe it has, I dunno, I haven't been comparing screencaps. Either way it looked really good this year, despite presumably having less money spent on it.

Also good was the switch to two-parters. I mean it may not have been an entirely successful experiment in the end, but I like that they tried something different. Doctor Who is all about regeneration, it has to change over time.

And the best thing of all was when the series took an entire year off afterwards to give me a chance to get over all the things that bothered me. I was seriously considering holding off on series 10 until it'd aired, reading the spoilers, and only watching the episodes confirmed to have a low stupidity content. But the break has given me a chance to recharge my interest, so I'm sure when it starts airing again I'll end up watching all of it again. Like a damn idiot.


CONCLUSION

I have to be honest, nothing from series 9 made me want to jump up and tell the world how amazing what I just watched was, but it was rarely terrible either. Even when an episode's substance put me off, the style often made up for it. In fact I would say that it's one of the most consistent runs in memory, but that'd imply that I can actually remember much about the series before it, and I don't (it's been a few years now). But I can at least compare the episodes with each other:

12. Sleep No More - Dire.
11. The Zygon Invasion - The Red Dwarf crew would be shaking their heads at how stupid these people are.
10. The Woman Who Lived - Purple, the colour of death!
 9. Before the Flood - I would've enjoyed this much more if I wasn't rolling my eyes in disbelief at the reveal.
 8. Under the Lake - I liked this first part a bit more than the conclusion, but they were both decent.
 7. The Magician's Apprentice - This has a lot to like about it, but in the end it's pretty much all set up for part two.
 6. Face the Raven - A good solid episode that takes a while to get going.
 5. The Witch's Familiar - Makes up for its disappointing cliffhanger resolution with plenty of Missy and Davros scenes.
 4. Hell Bent - On paper this should be my favourite, but my notes here say that it's not.
 3. Heaven Sent - I wish I could put this at the top and say that it's an instant classic like everyone else, but I found that the nonsense puzzle and endless ending montage dragged it down a little for me.
 2. The Zygon Inversion - I can see all the problems with it, I'm not saying it's objectively good, I just couldn't help but enjoy the pairing of the Doctor and Osgood.
 1. The Girl Who Died - The most okay of an okay run.

So that's the year done with then (aside from Last Christmas and The Husbands of River Song if you want to count them). Series 10 starts in April 2017 and will be Steven Moffat's final series before Chris Chibnall takes over, and I'm not sure whether I'm being pessimistic or optimistic in predicting that it'll be the best for a long while. Sure Moffat used up his epic 'I'm leaving the series now' finale storyline on series 9, but he's also had a year off to recharge and the last time we had such a huge break he gave us the excellent series 5. Plus mathematically speaking series 10 should be twice as good, so I'm going to get my hopes up.


Doctor Who will return with The Husbands of River Song. But next on Sci-fi Adventures I'm watching Deep Space Nine's Battle Lines.

Leave a comment if you feel like it!

1 comment:

  1. I have to say I'm baffled by the fan hate of the sonic sunglasses. Some people were acting like it was the stupidest idea ever and I just don't get it.

    ReplyDelete