Geek Highs & Lows of 2014: Doctor Who season 8 (part 1)


Doctor Who season 8 had a lot to live up to after the high of the year long 50th birthday celebrations, that extra Doctor rug-pull, the tease of Time Lords, and those eyebrows seen in that fantastic ‘No, sir, all thirteen’ scene on Gallifrey. There were lots of expectations for year 51, or season 34, or season 8, or whatever you want to call the latest run of Doctor Who. And all with the usual uncertainty that comes with a regeneration to kick things off…

This is one blog in a reflective series of posts on my geeky year of 2014—the highs and lows. This is one entry that embodies both highs and lows. I really enjoyed this series… and yet, there’s a but coming… on reflection I don’t know if there’s a single episode I enjoyed enough to want to own on disc or rewatch. I then think to myself, no, that’s a bit harsh, maybe it’s too fresh in the memory for a rewatch, but I can’t avoid the fact that it felt like disposable TV. I didn’t watch it when it was live as I had in the Tennant years, and I didn’t rush to watch it on the digibox. It’s like a glossy magazine compared with a book. Pretty and entertaining but not something with any depth or substance or that I cherish.

However, I need to put my opinions in context. I’m XX years old (apologies if my perception filter prevented you from seeing my age…). As much as I deny it to myself though, I’m a man—as in an ‘adult’. I did not consciously put quotations in there—that was my inner child. Suffice to say, I’m not the age range that this TV show is out to engage with. Thankfully, it is made by people like me—a fan who grew up with a love of Doctor Who for what it was to them—and now they are ‘adults’ they have been passionate and fortunate enough to make new Who, but they haven’t made it for themselves solely, they’ve had the task of making it for the prime audience which would be old enough to be their kids.

If I was sitting down to new Who now, and it was ‘Time and the Rani’ or ‘The Happiness Patrol’ I would most likely be critical of it, when, even though these shows have a fair few (ahem) detractors, these were the shows that were ‘my Doctor Who’ and despite Mel, and despite the panto sets, I found something I enjoyed around these detracting aspects. So, if you want a better gauge of how good season 8 is, a 10 (or thereabouts) year old should be writing this.

However, I’m not 10 (or thereabouts), I’m XX, and although season 8 did rouse my inner child it was unfortunately inhibited by the judgy picky XX year old outer-man. This blog is about my thoughts and that’s the point of doing these posts. So, here goes…

Part 1: The Lows

I don’t even have to reflect on the stories to know that I would consign ‘Deep Breath’ to the low pile. I’d consign it to room 101 if I could.

Season 6 and 7 Doctor Who had been pretty tricky to follow at the times it’s embraced the timey wimey stuff that should really have been at its core a lot more–but last season gave us Clara encountering every Doctor, so why did she have so much difficulty getting her head around an older Doctor? I’m disappointed by the ageism that seems to surround the assumptions about having an older Doctor–that he’d be less physical and less romantic. Why should that go with being older? Gandalf and Dumbledore anyone? Pertwee was throwing people about, alright it was usually a not so convincing stunt double. And why can’t a mature romance be possible? Madame Vastra’s lecturing of Clara was, in my mind, a lecture of the audience that might balk at an older Doctor. It felt embarrassing.  Like in ‘Fawlty Towers’ — ‘The Germans are coming–don’t mention the war’. This was ‘don’t make a thing about his age–THE DOCTOR’S OLD! THE DOCTOR’S OLD’. It worked against itself. It was a complete misstep. I did like Vastra stating that he had been young previously for everyone (i.e the audience?).

The Paternoster gang’s humour also fell flat at times–so Strax doesn’t know what hair is–he thinks Clara is wearing a hat… What?! Plus the Vastra and Jenny kiss. Great. And that’s not sarcasm. I grew up without any positive exposure to same sex contact. So, my predominant thinking is great. More please, but it just felt a bit out of the blue–even if it had been girl on boy it felt out of place, and I couldn’t help thinking it was done for impact. Yet, I fall back to thinking, yeah, make an impact, so I suppose I can let that go.

‘Listen’ is next in the low pile. It was dark, it was creepy, it was delving into the characters, it really didn’t make much sense as a story though… So was there a race of monsters hiding among us only attacking when we fear them? Dunno. In fairness, we clearly aren’t meant to know, which makes it the perfect spooky camp fire story, but it threw lot at us to do that. Clara being a BITCH to Danny Pink. Then Danny and Clara’s descendent in Orson Pink at the edge of the universe, which, knowing the finale, just doesn’t make sense (unless there’s a massive reset button plot coming), then the Doctor’s childhood which raised questions I really don’t want to ask and don’t want answered, and I would rather just unsee and unhear that whole scene.

The exploration of the Doctor has been an obsession for the show since 2005. Either constantly stating his neuroses or examining his character. I’m done with this. Doctor Who should always be an enigma, and I don’t want to know all about him. I especially don’t want his childhood to come up in the show as it did in this. With mystery surrounding the Doctor he can be what you want him to be. That’s always been part of the magic of the character for me.

As for the story itself–were there monsters or not? If not, then the Doctor was a bit paranoid, and after all he’s faced off against–he’s scared of shadows and noises, and possibly a kid under a blanket playing a prank? That didn’t seem to work and left too much unexplained, and I can normally cope with that. I like ‘Ghostlight’ after all. ‘Listen’ just felt like a bunch of atmospheric sketches that didn’t hang together or serve the characters, especially Clara.

Clara. Clara is a low. She shouldn’t be. I’m a fan of the older Doctor Who’s where companions were often unevenly written cyphers but thanks to nostalgia from a time when I didn’t think such things, I have affection for them. I’m sure if I was 10 then Clara might be magic, as Ace was to me and my Doctor. As it is, I’m XX and I would happily slap her about a bit and kick her out of the TARDIS. Coleman has continued to do what she can for Clara and she can certainly pull the acting strings behind the character, but I’m still finding Clara tough to like. She’s the worst date. EVER. The way she criticised Danny at the restaurant over his time in the army just made her come across as a grade A bitch. And the lying. Ok, I know neither Rose or Amy would win girlfriend of the year awards, but they at least seemed innocently insensitive. Clara just seems mean. I did feel for her when THAT happened at the end of the series and how she was left, but I still can’t like her or enjoy being with her.

I thought the Doctor’s resentment of soldiers was brave in a climate where patriotism and respecting the armed forces seems to have become inappropriately and disturbingly merged for some. However, it played out a little strongly in this series. He’s been a hypocritical anti-establishment figure, but I accept that as idealistic naivety. This rejection of modern soldiers felt a little like the Doctor becoming a leftist mouthpiece to me. While the comparison with the Doctor as a general who doesn’t get his hands dirty was a fair comparison, we’ve had that kind of comparison from Davros in ‘Stolen Earth/Journeys End’, this time around I think it’s a spotlight on the Doctor’s character I could live without. He’s my hero FFS. It also felt like the ‘theme for the season’ which seemed confirmed with the Master’s batshit plan to give the Doctor an army and gave the Doctor the chance to show he’s more than that.

With the Doctor critical of soldiers and soldiering, and Clara basically calling Danny out as a murderer, and Danny having killed a kid, albeit by accident, I couldn’t help think how I might feel as a kid with a mummy or daddy in the army watching that. Perhaps an argument for a different, more adult, show?

Which brings me to another criticism and another low of ‘In the Forest of the Night’. My criticism is about the plot where the kid who is considered to have mental health issues doesn’t take her meds and it’s discovered that she wasn’t ill after all. I work in mental health and really don’t think that’s an appropriate idea to put out there for kids to pick up on. As for the story… Trees grow overnight and forest the land to protect the world from a solar flare. I loved Groot from ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, but I didn’t like this. Seemed daft to me. And did I miss something, but why was her lost sister in a bush at the end? Whaaat?!

Speaking of silly aspects, I have to throw in the Skovox Blitzer from ‘The Caretaker’. As an effect it looked great, real, and its punch made it a credible menace, but the design made it look a bit, well, ‘Power Rangers’ at worst, ‘Sarah Jane Adventures’ at best. And then there’s the moon in ‘Kill the Moon’, I didn’t buy that at all. It wouldn’t matter so much if it wasn’t the whole thing the episode hung from. And, other than a snappy title, why did it have to be a mummy in ‘The Mummy on the Orient Express’. With such an Agatha Christie theme laden episode it could have done without being a mummy, just a bit of future tech that was actually contemporaneous with the modern era it was set it. Again, it was just a bit silly and undermined the episode.

Like the Master’s plan. What?! I mean the Master has never really been the Moriarty to the Doctor in the plans that hold together department, but this was just bonkers with no question of the Doctor accepting, so this grand threat of a Cyberman army rising up feel flat. Just left the Cybermen all menaced-up standing about unable to menace. Odd. The Master herself was also not to my taste. The Master is still being played up as crazy, and while she undoubtedly has been it only came out in the plans, not the behaviour–the Master has always been evil, not zany crazy. Much was made of the Master killing Osgood. Well, Osgood was a non-character for me, and it lacked any emotional impact, and isn’t that a reflection on how the Master has been considered since coming back into the modern series–that killing someone is a big thing. Delgado and Ainley’s Master was shrinking people and suffocating people and generally killing people every story. The Master needs toning down about, to become more cerebral, more menacing and evil. Not the Joker for the Doctor. With Capaldi having more gravitas than any of the modern Doctor’s Capaldi needs that from a Master.

Reading over this it’s all very critical, I’m more than ready to acknowledge that many Doctor Who stories have dodgy moments, ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ Kirby wires and dodgy mannequin controller, those tentacles in ‘Spearhead From Space’, ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ clams, kung-fu Ingrid Pitt and the result of almost all rubber production of the 80s in ‘Warriors of the Deep’, with some left over for the creature in ‘Caves of Adrozani’, the bin and the Mickey Auton from ‘Rose’, the fart humour in ‘Aliens of London/World War Three’, the teletubby Daleks in ‘Victory of the Daleks’, and more than I’m going to list here. Those stories, even the much maligned ‘Warriors of the Deep’, have stayed with me, possibly because of nostalgia for some of the classics, but I think it’s because they have good stories that take away from the dodgy bits. Many of these in season 8, in my opinion, did not and redeemed by something else…

Because, despite this heap of negativity, for the most-part I enjoyed season 8 at the time of watching it. Hindsight has been the detractor in my regard for the latest series and my reflections for this post. But, what made me grin? What drew me in? What did I actually like? What made watching Doctor who a joy again? Well… Find out in part two…

Yes, my very own cliffhanger…


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