Thoughts on Series 8 at the Halfway Point
Guest contributor Sam Glover gives an overview of Series 8’s first half.
Not counting the upcoming Christmas Special, The Caretaker marked the halfway point in Peter Capaldi’s first season as the Doctor. So, what have we learned? What mysteries remain? How have the characters changed? And, most importantly, if Robin Hood is real, can I put in a request for the Doctor meeting Harry Potter? It’d be worth it just for a wand comparing scene.
Let’s start with the man himself. According to the Moff and Mark Gatiss, Peter Capaldi was one of the names at the top of their wish lists from the moment Matt Smith tendered his resignation as CEO of TARDIS Industries. Six episodes in, by all accounts, their judgement was spot on. Since the word “shush” was barked at a thoroughly bewildered Commander Strax, Capaldi has made the character completely his own. Deep Breath displayed a Doctor far removed from the Eleventh’s manic man-child, one prone to abrasive behaviour and a bluntness not so much bordering on rudeness as invading it and proclaiming it as part of the Bluntish Empire. Until Clara reached out behind her there were a few moments of genuine fear that the Doctor was not going to be riding to the rescue as he had so often in the past (or, at the very least, not in the swashbuckling manner he tended to). But then he steps up addressing “rubbish robots from the dawn of time” and suddenly of course he was going to be there. He is the Doctor after all.
Season eight of Doctor Who has been a strong one from the off. Whilst Deep Breath may not have had the flair of The Eleventh Hour and Robots of Sherwood ended with the most ridiculous resolution of a Doctor Who episode since Craig defeated the Cybermen with love, no episode has disappointed swathes of Whovians and some moments have been up with the greatest of Nu-Who. Vastra’s veil, The Half-Faced Man’s interrogation sequence, a certain phone call, that barn scene… we’ve been spoilt rotten by some fantastic writing and tremendous performances.
The eagle-eyed will have noted that all of the scenes I mentioned are very Clara-centric and are a testament not just to the script but to the magnificent work of Jenna Coleman. There have been some criticisms that the episodes have focussed on Clara more than a brand new Doctor but, valid or not, you won’t find many sceptics objecting to Jenna’s work. Imbuing Clara with both flaws and realism Jenna has created a fascinating, believable and heroic companion as good and layered as we’ve seen. For every “and don’t look in the mirror, it’s absolutely furious” Doctor moment, there’s a “nothing’s more important than my egomania” in return, and her complex life-work-travel balance (best examined in The Caretaker) is realistic and heartfelt.
This brings us to Rupert “Danny” Pink, a maths (not P.E.) teacher who first appeared in Into The Dalek, has been romantically involved with Miss Oswald since Listen, and appeared more prominently in The Caretaker. Played by Samuel Anderson, Danny has been an interestingly conflicted person, evidently trying to escape some military horror from his past with a nice quiet life as a maths (again, not P.E.) teacher at Coal Hill School. Samuel’s Danny treads a very fine line between self-depreciating (banging his head on his desk in frustration) and confidence (most apparent during the final scenes of The Caretaker. Given that we have seen a distant descendent (Orson) of Danny’s during Listen and it is heavily implied that Clara is Orson’s family too, it is pretty safe to assume the relationship will continue further, but Danny’s long-term fate is far from assured. Could he be in line for the chop at the end of the series? Will he end up meeting Missy?
Ah, Missy. Popping up in episodes 1, 2 and 6 welcoming the recently deceased, Missy is a barmy enigma. From the snap of her teeth and Mary Poppins twirl in Deep Breath she has been bewitchingly odd and, billed as the Gatekeeper of the Nethersphere, her role in the grand scheme of things is still very much up to interpretation. I’m personally inclined to compare the fates of those in “heaven” to that of Colonel Blue, snatched from her “death” by the Doctor in Into The Dalek, and Psi/Saibra’s teleporting in Time Heist. I really can’t see the BBC signing off on a (potentially) offensive story line involving the afterlife, but since they were directly responsible for several million people being terrified of statues, I could be wrong. Moving to a different but related Missy question, is it mere coincidence that the two “dead” people Missy has spoken with directly are ones who met their fates when they died with The Doctor, and that the Community Support Officer who snuffed it at the hands of the Skovox Blitzer far away was delegated to Chris Addison’s underling? Or am I barking up the wrong Promised tree? We’ll see.
Before wrapping up this summary/look forward/ramble, a word must be said on those other heroes of Doctor Who: the crew. Murray Gold has absolutely excelled this season. Without the shield of “I Am The Doctor” to hide behind (not that I think he really has in the past), Gold has shied away from giving Capaldi’s Doctor a big theme of his own, but has built atmospheric music perfectly. My two personal favourites are the barn sequence in Listen and the Clara’s deep breath back in the Half-Faced Man’s underground lair, but this season we have been well rewarded by his work. The varied directors have also each brought their own touches to their episodes; Ben Wheatley bringing a grim, foreboding shadow over Deep Breath and Douglas Mackinnon utilising his history of crime direction (Taggart, Silent Witness, even The Bill) in the Ocean’s Eleven– echoing Time Heist, each episode has had its own distinct feel. Credit must be given to the directors, cinematographers, special effects teams, stage designers and the entire crew for their hard work.
So, where does all this leave Season Eight? In a very, very rosy position indeed. There are questions to be answered, Moons to be killed (by some rather terrifying spiders), Mummies to be chased and shrinking TARDISes to deal with, all while Clara works out her priorities and Steven Moffat leads us all on a merry dance. Whatever happens in the second half of this extraordinary season, there will be many surprises on the way…