The curtain closes on Doctor Who series nine with the show’s first three-parter since series three and while it’s not perfect, the extended finale is a fitting end to what has been one of NuWho’s most consistent seasons.
Paddington is a 21st century take on an icon of children’s literature that never feels constrained by its source material despite its closeness in spirit. In its playful craft, wit for all ages, fully realised human leads, and actual engagement with important, timely themes in a manner free of heavy-handedness, King and company have created what one hopes will become a future family film classic.
Showrunner Steven Moffat has stayed away from two-parters for a while, but as is traditional for Doctor Who, a new Doctor means a fresh start for the show and it’s only fitting that the Twelfth Doctor get the same two-parter blowout end-of-first-series as his predecessors. After a season of teases, Missy is revealed as the latest regeneration of the Master (Missy being a shortening of the Mistress) and she’s come to Earth to turn the entire population of the planet, current and former, into a massive army for the Doctor, so they can be buddies in universal domination. As far as plans go, it makes sense for the Master, even if it is a bit disappointing. Michelle Gomez is fun in the role, particularly in “Death in Heaven*,” but seeing the Master reduced to an agent of chaos, rather than someone with a particular agenda or motivation all their own, feels more appropriate for a mid-season romp than a season-ending two-parter.
Despite its larger arcing issues this season, Doctor Who has had a surprisingly strong year. Each episode has featured entertaining and engaging moments and a good blend of comedy and drama. Even the season’s least substantial episode (“Robot of Sherwood”) still on the whole worked. As a Whovian, this reviewer will give the series many things. The moon is really an egg? Sure. Robin Hood was an actual living person, his persona accurately captured and unchanged by centuries of storytelling? Fine. But a giant, world-wide forest appears overnight, shields the planet from a massive unpredicted solar flare, then disappears into gleams of twinkling light and no one’s going to remember it? Nope. Sorry Who, can’t give you that one.
In “The Caretaker”, the Doctor expressed a level of ownership over Clara, demanding an explanation for her relationship with Danny. In “Kill the Moon”, any ounce of paternalism is removed, as a fun and scary adventure on the moon gives way to an exploration of choice, responsibility, and respect.
The episode starts out fairly typically, with the Doctor heading off on an adventure with Clara and Courtney (who he’s accidentally traumatized). There’s a lot to like right off the bat, with the episode switching nimbly from comedy (nice to know there’s an official TARDIS anti-hanky-panky rule, though that might be a post-River addition) to suspense. Writer Peter Harness delivers an entertaining script and director Paul Wilmshurst adds fantastic visual flair to a rather standard monster-in-the-dark story.
After weeks of memorable episodes, series eight of Doctor Who has its first dip with “Time Heist”, which sees the Doctor and Clara embroiled in a bank heist. Despite some fun visual flourishes and production elements, the story itself is underwhelming, failing to commit to or fully explore its promising premise.
Steven Moffat loves childhood fears. He’s mined them for some of nuWho’s most effective villains: Something lurking in the dark (the Vashta Nerada), a threat waiting to pounce the moment you look away (the Weeping Angels), and now, the monster under your bed. These creatures tap into the intense, pervasive fears so many experience as children and like its predecessors, “Listen” is hugely successful drawing from this well. It also takes a common and, when explored, curious habit and exploits it for significant dramatic potential: why do people talk to themselves when no one’s around? Both ideas have been explored by Moffat to some extent already (“The Girl in the Fireplace”, the Silence), and so here he puts them together, hoping that between the two, there’s enough new material to make the story work.
Series eight of Doctor Who has started off with a bang, establishing a new and improved dynamic between the (Twelfth) Doctor and Clara, slowing down the pace, and prizing character work over plot twists. That threatens to falter here, with the series returning to the Doctor Who as fairy tale theme that so heavily infused series five through seven, but fortunately the episode’s sense of humor keeps it on track. “Robot of Sherwood” is a lark, but it’s a self-aware one, with enough pathos peppered in to temper the treacle.
There’s a new Doctor on the TARDIS, one with the energy and gravitas to bring significant and much-needed change to the series, and on the whole, this episode is a promising start for the Twelfth Doctor. Unfortunately, as big a difference as the Doctor’s regeneration has on the show, in the end, he is only the lead—the buck stops with the showrunner, and if Moffat’s unwilling to step away from his favorite and at this point, very overused toys, it seems unlikely the series will get the fresh start it deserves.
Doctor Who Christmas Special promo imageIn short, “The Time of the Doctor” features a plot that, while it is easy (on the Moffat scale) to follow, almost immediately fails the, “But why?” test. Why does the fleet understand what “Doctor who?” means? Because the plot needs them to. Why doesn’t the Doctor take the townspeople out of harm’s way with the TARDIS? Because. Why do the Doctor and Clara need to be naked, for that matter? Because. The answers we finally get to lingering questions aren’t satisfying, the promising new character of Tasha Lem is a pretty straightforward copy of River Song, and the gender politics are terrible (and in this reviewer’s opinion, destructive). The Doctor may have some fantastic scenes, including the final moments with Clara before his regeneration, but he treats her terribly and she doesn’t for a moment stand up for herself. After the wonderful “The Day of the Doctor”, this final story for the Eleventh Doctor is a significant disappointment, highlighting all of the most problematic elements of his tenure.