'Doctor Who' Series 8: Let's Discuss the Road So Far

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Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman in Series 8 (Photo: BBC)
The eighth episode of Doctor Who Series 8 aired this weekend, which puts us well past the halfway point of the new season, and of Peter Capaldi’s first year as the Doctor.

Originally, I’d been planning to do a recap series on this season, but then, as a lot of you know, I broke my foot and that sooo didn’t happen, so instead I thought I’d check in now that we're past the series' midpoint and see how people are feeling about the new season, the new Doctor, and the many new characters and dynamics we’ve seen on our screens thus far.  As with any season in which the show is faced with big, series-altering changes, there’s a lot to discuss. Particualrly when a season feels as polarizing as this one. 

So, here's me attempting to sort through what's been working and not working for me in Series 8 so far. 

Peter Capaldi is Wonderful, and Twelve is Fascinating. This probably doesn’t surprise anyone that’s familiar with Capaldi’s previous work on The Thick of It, Torchwood and elsewhere. He’s an incredibly versatile actor, and he’s thrown himself into playing the Doctor with all the enthusiasm of a true Who fan. He’s doing wonderfully – his Twelve is rude and cold, distant and awkward, a far cry from the warmer, quippy, humanity-loving versions of the Doctor presented by Matt Smith and David Tennant before him. If anything, Capaldi seems cut from the same cloth as Ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston. Twelve is dark and difficult, and there’s something to be said for the unpredictable feeling that Capaldi brings to all his scenes.

It’s Been Nice to See Jenna Coleman Given More To Do.  After the conclusion of the whole “Impossible Girl” storyline from last season – which really doesn’t make much sense at all if you look at it too hard – it’s been fantastic to see companion Clara get more fleshed out as a character in her own right during Season 8. She’s given a job, a life, and relationships that are all separate and apart from her life with the Doctor, and she’s allowed to finally have a distinct point of view. It’s gone a tremendously long way to making her more likeable as a character and giving her more agency within her own narrative – it turns out I actually enjoy Clara a great deal, when she’s allowed to be an actually fully realized character in her own right! It’s been quite a long time coming.  

However, The Twelve/Clara Dynamic is Somewhat Troublesome.  All of that said, for as much as I like Twelve and Clara as individuals, for me there’s something really weird going on in the dynamic between them. It’s not uncommon for a relationship between the Doctor and a companion to shift a bit in the wake of a regeneration, but these two barely even seem to like each other, let alone seem motivated to gallivant around time and space together. (This is especially troublesome given Clara’s “Impossible Girl” background, which means that she out of every previous companion should ostensibly be the most comfortable with the idea of regeneration.) 

Twelve is not just snappish with Clara, he’s outright rude to her, frequently making borderline sexist jokes about her age and weight and general state of attractiveness. We spend an entire episode with the Doctor repeatedly underlining the point that he’s not Clara’s boyfriend so that later on, he can then turn around and insult her actual boyfriend, before acting like a jealous creeper. Clara seems to vacillate between a general air of mistrust and open dislike toward Twelve, and her struggles with whether she thinks he’s a good man or not seem out of place, again, given her unique perspective on the Doctor in all his incarnations. There are moments where you may ask yourself why these two are even travelling together at all. The easy rapport that Coleman and Smith shared is long gone, and it’s hard to tell whether it’s just that the chemistry between the actors is just wildly different now, or if the writers are struggling to write a relationship between them that isn’t based on some underground current of flirtation. (It’s been a while since they’ve had to do that after all.) There are moments of…. something between them every so often that seems more like a real Doctor/companion rapport, but those seem to get quickly squashed by another crack about Clara’s makeup or her taste in men.  

The Stories Have Been Pretty Disappointing. The episodes this season have been utterly glorious to look at – it’s clear that the BBC is spending more money on producing Doctor Who than they ever have – so it’s doubly unfortunate that, on the whole, the stories haven’t lived up to their packaging. Whether they’ve just been kind of ridiculous (Into the Dalek) or had plots that didn’t hang together throughout the whole episode (Listen), had a ridiculous heavy-handed message (Kill the Moon) or featured twists that were ultimately meaningless and consequence-free (Time Heist), for me, there haven’t been many that really worked. These episodes have also largely felt disjointed and disconnected, and if I’d missed any of them, I’m not sure my experience of the season’s story would have been impacted in any way. And it’s frustrating to see Capaldi and Coleman get saddled with this material. They’re trying so hard, but the writing has seemed uninspired, to put it as mildly as possible.

However, there are some interesting throughlines that carry through the season – about the power of choice and what it means to be a soldier and what sorts of darkness we all carry within us. But thus far, nothing beyond hints and thematic vagaries has materialized. And at this point I’m starting to lose interest in whatever they might mean.

Does Anyone Even Care Who Missy Is? Missy – the random lady in black who serves as a gatekeeper to the afterlife of sorts – has been this season’s running “arc” piece, i.e. she’s Season 8’s version of the crack in Amy Pond’s wall. She keeps showing up at random in early episodes, to hint at whatever great mystery is meant to be the lynchpin of this season. We know almost nothing about her, except her rather disturbingly familiar appearance, which seems to visually mirror several other morally ambiguous ladies created by Steven Moffat, including Madame Kevorian from Series 6, Ms. Delphox from Time Heist and even Sherlock’s Irene Adler to some degree. (Yawn.) She seems to be vaguely (maybe?) collecting the souls of people the Doctor’s failed to save – except for that one guy who seemed to be included in the episode completely at random – and we have no idea what her goals or motivations are, other than that she refers to the Doctor as her “boyfriend”. However, after the running Moffat-era mysteries of the crack, Madame Kevorian’s existence, the Doctor’s death at Lake Silencio, his death (different one) at Trenzalore, the entire existence of River Song and Clara’s “Impossible Girl” schtick – does anyone expect the mystery of Missy to be resolved in a way that’s crucial to the season’s story, or, really, that even makes sense? I’ll just admit it – I don’t.  And that makes me tune out during anything connected to Missy and her weird afterlife tea shop.

Danny Pink is Fun, But Those Clara Rumors Are Totally True. And I’m Relieved. The addition of Samuel Anderson has been largely a good one for Who – his character is fun and interesting and he has loads of chemistry with Coleman. The show seems as though it’s nibbling around the edges of its own storyline for Danny, with its looks into his past and his family line’s future in Listen, but he’s not had that much to do since then besides try to justify his existence as Clara’s boyfriend and listen to her complain about Twelve’s shoddy attitude toward her. A few scenes here and there have touched on how difficult and tiring it must be to date a time traveler, which honestly, the show should have done more with. Let’s face it, we could use some cute fluff. But, most of all, Danny’s insertion into the narrative seems to primarily be meant to facilitate Clara’s exit from it, so I would put some serious money down that all those rumors of Coleman’s intent to depart the TARDIS for good this Christmas are completely true. Will Clara finally make a decision to walk away and stick to it? (There’s no shame in this actually and it’s the exit I’d have preferred for Amy and Rory.) Will she choose a normal life as a teacher with a boyfriend instead of the TARDIS? Or will she too get mindwiped or stuck in another dimension or any of the other fates that have befallen other companions recently. The repeated emphasis on choice, on Clara’s ability and desire to make decisions for herself makes me somewhat hopeful for the former, but, as the most recent episode has shown us a Clara who’s willing to tell massive lies instead of making a decision and sticking with it, it seems unlikely that her exit will be entirely clean.  And, really, who knows? There’s a lot we still have to wait and see.

But, Maybe That’s For The Best? We still have five more episodes to go in Series 8. Maybe the show is building towards something with Clara that we can’t see yet. Maybe the showrunners will surprise me and pull out something that makes the dull first half of this season worth it. Maybe Clara’s goodbye (assuming that takes place) will have real emotional heft behind it. There’s no way to know for sure. But, whatever happens, let’s hope the show can shake off these awkward cobwebs weighing it down. Maybe a new companion is the answer – someone who can build a relationship with Twelve without being hampered by the audience’s pre-existing expectation or the (quite frankly, poor) characterization of her role with a previous Doctor. Maybe we need a male companion in the TARDIS now, or an alien, or some combination of all that. Or maybe it’s time to dream a little bigger and start contemplating what the show looks like in the post-Moffat era, when a new showrunner takes over with a new vision. I don’t know. But what I do know, is that I detest feeling indifferent about my favorite show, and would like that to change as soon as possible.

What do you all think? Am I overreacting? Overanalyzing? Have you been struggling with Series 8? Or are you just loving Peter Capaldi’s first set of adventures? Leave your thoughts below.