Show runner Steven Moffat's plan to introduce an older, more mature Time Lord seemed like an excellent strategy to bring gravitas and juxtaposition to a science fiction program that should thrive on change whenever the our dear Doctor regenerates (an alien with more lives than a cat!). So why, then, are people hating on the new season of Doctor Who? Please be aware that this review contains minor spoilers.
The Doctor; he's a comin
The perception of a decline in viewer popularity is certainly not attributed to the incumbent Doctor's acting chops—Peter Capaldi owns the titular role, a rebel Time Lord with the most aggressive eyebrows you will ever see. Where the Matt Smith and David Tennant Doctors would smile and jump about, waving their sonic screwdrivers to save the day, Peter Capaldi's take on the role is much more serious and at times blatantly rude and unapologetic—no hugs.
A lot of people miss the whimsical nature of the Doctor, which is why it is difficult for the fans to reconcile the drastic differences in this character's current personality. There is nuance, though, if you care to stick around for the finale. There are reasons why our current Doctor is openly grumpy and guarded.
To continue the feature-length theme that defined the end of the 2013 run, Doctor Who season 8 started with a cracking 76 minute blockbuster that screened in participating cinemas.
Familiar companions such as the ever annoying Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) and the Paternoster Gang comprising a bipedal lizard, Silurian, Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), maid Jenny Flint (Catrin Stewart) and the Sontaran Nurse/butler Strax (Dan Starkey) assist the newly regenerated Doctor as he tackles a Victorian London conundrum involving spontaneous combustion and a dinosaur.
This flick sets the tone and slowed the pace to alter the dynamic fans have been accustomed to.
The episodes in-between
This year's collection of stories focused on Clara Oswald's juggling act of zipping about in the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space) while trying to maintain a flourishing relationship with fellow school teacher Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson). At first this arc was interesting but ultimately it leads to disappointment and an oversaturation of a character that has overstayed her welcome.
Memorable episodes include 'Into the Dalek' where the gang literally shrink themselves and muck about inside an actual alien cyborg from Skaro; 'Time Heist' was an interesting infiltration mission with cyberpunk tropes; 'Mummy on the Orient Express' was truly terrifying right to the end—a fantastic spin on a classic tale.
Meanwhile something is sending fallen characters to paradise …
A man is the sum of his memories, you know, a Time Lord even more so
The focus of this season had barely anything to do with the search for Gallifrey. To suggest that the show would fixate on a recent revelation that the Doctor's home planet was misplaced rather than destroyed is simply wishful thinking.
This season teases a lot of ideas that may materialise in the future. And this is part of the problem: optimistic viewers are staying tuned for the potential awesomeness that may ensue in future seasons rather than analysing what is front of them.
Change, my dear, and not a moment too soon!
The season 8 final two-parter is controversial, action-packed and, unfortunately, disappointing. Gender politics makes for intriguing storytelling. Just read Ursula Le Guin's Left hand of Darkness.
Sadly, the concepts that are developed in 'Dark Water' flounder by the time 'Death in Heaven' brings all of the elements together. A villain thought to be dead returns in the body of the opposite sex and raises an army and causes chaos on a global scale.
The finale features an important reference to the show's legacy too. A certain former companion makes a cameo appearance that is both delightful and bizarre.
There was so much potential for an incredible story but the more you dwell on the outcome the more you realise that season 8 is possibly the weakest season of the revival, at least intellectually, to date.
Just a madman in a box
Overall, Doctor Who season 8 suffers from a perspective check. There is some clever writing in the mix but the biggest change to adjust to is the notion of agency, or lack thereof in the Doctor's case. We are seeing more of a slippery manipulator much like the classic seventh incarnation as played by Sylvester McCoy as opposed to a man of direct action. Or is it the other way around?