One of the two masterstrokes in the creation of Doctor Who is a machine that can take its pilot anytime in the universe (and to some points outside it), thus opening up the possibility of telling any/every kind of story imaginable. The other is the idea that when The Doctor gets too old/damaged, he can regenerate – making it possible for the show to carry on even if an actor is unable/chooses not to go on.
The eighth season of the current run of Doctor Who introduced the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) (the fourteenth if you want to be sticky about it, but for all intents and purposes the twelfth) and did something that hadn’t been done before in the show’s fifty-one year history – it gave us a hero who didn’t believe in heroes… and wasn’t even sure if he was a good man. The result was an almost intoxicatingly odd season.
Getting right down to it with the eighth series premiere, Deep Breath, showrunner/writer Steven Moffat presented us with a Doctor who was almost completely out of it for the entire, movie-length adventure but still got by on instinct and a bit of help from his friends.
Doctor Twelve had some problems with his new body (New kidneys! I don’t like the color!’ ‘Angry eyebrows!) but found some things he approved of (‘I’m Scottish! I can complain!’). Unfortunately, he did not settle into his new form easily, leading to problems for his companion, Clara (Jenna Coleman) – problems which were compensated for by the presence of Silurian detective Madame Vastra (Neve Mackintosh), her human wife Jenny (Catrin Stewart) and their butler/muscle, the Sontaran, Strax (Dan Starkey).
We also learned that The Doctor spoke dinosaur and horse. That was certainly new.
By the time the eighth series wrapped, we’d met a good Dalek and referenced Fantastic Voyage (Into The Dalek); seen The Doctor’s unbelief in heroes undermined (Robot of Sherwood); learned a bit too much about The Doctor’s youth (Listen); enjoyed a wild bank robbery (Time Heist); seen Clara’s two worlds – boyfriend/time-hopping adventure – clash , and The Doctor use Coal Hill School as a trap for an alien soldier (The Caretaker), and so much more.
Then there was the introduction of Missy (Michelle Gomez) in the premiere – a curious lady who seemed to be collecting the dead in some kind of afterlife; the discovery that the moon wasn’t what we thought it was (Kill The Moon); that mummy on the interstellar Orient Express (with a song by Foxes as part of the onboard entertainment); and an invasion from the second dimension (Flat Line).
Or how about the Earth’s return to its primeval arboreal state (In The Forest Of The Night) – overnight! Finally, in the two-part season finale, the Cybermen return in an invasion of the dead (Dark Water, Death In Heaven).
With the advent of Doctor Twelve, the show took a darker turn – that whole afterlife thing was supremely creepy – but didn’t entirely give up on the silliness that has been an component of the show from the beginning. Robot of Sherwood was, despite the darker new Doctor, an inspired bit of lunacy that played on Errol Flynn version of Robin Hood, and Mummy On The Orient Express combined the locked room mystery and two classic monsters (in one vampiric mummy) in a pretty great bit of entertainment.
While none of the episodes reached the level of inspiration of, say, Nightmare in Silver – or the level of inspired silliness of Dinosaurs On A Spaceship – the eighth series built up a good head of steam under the new Doctor, giving us a chance to really grow into the season’s arc. Capaldi brought a different kind of darkness to the character – without sacrificing those moments of contradictory lightness and outright oddness that make The Doctor, in all his regenerations, such an intriguing and compelling character.
Thanks to the Doctor’s slower acclimating into his new regeneration, we got to see aspects of Clara come more to the fore – her being a control freak, especially, but also her belief in The Doctor (after it’s been severely tested) and her ability to think on her feet. Indeed, she gets to be The Doctor herself – and save the world, which impresses the real Doctor (which he admits to only after prodding…).
Finally, there’s Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), Clara’s new boyfriend. Once a soldier, Danny now teaches maths at Coal Hill School (something The Doctor does not accept as possible; just as he doesn’t comprehend how it’s possible for him to be Clara’s boyfriend) and crosses paths with The Doctor under less than auspicious circumstances. Anderson brings Danny to life with a kind of casual grace – except when he’s trying to first date Clara. After a slow start, he becomes a pivotal character in the way the the series plays out.
We pesky humans also get a new, less than flattering nickname – pudding brains. What’s not to love?
Despite the overall fun – dark and light – of the eighth series, Doctor Who: The Complete Eighth Series doesn’t quite reach the heights of either the Tenth or Eleventh Doctors’ runs. There’s something that feels a bit of about showing us bits of The Doctor’s past on Gallifrey at the best of times, but the revelation this time just felt completely wrong.
Still, it’s nice to have to have a Doctor who is an older, curmudgeonly type – clattering about the universe in a beat up TARDIS. It’s a nice echo of the First Doctor – appropriate because, as we learned at the end of the seventh series, The Doctor has been given a new set of regenerations. That just feels right.
Doctor Who: The Complete Eighth Series comes with a host of bonus material, too (though it might have been nice for them to add a commentary track to series premiere and finale).
Disc One: Earth Conquest – The World Tour; Tour of the TARDIS; Doctor Who Exclusive (Casting Peter Capaldi, Writing the New Season, What Is Doctor Who?, Why Watch Series 8?); Doctor Who Live Pre-Show; Doctor Who After Who Live; London Post-Premiere Q&A
Disc Two: Two Audio Commentaries: Phil Ford (Co-writer), Ben Wheatley (Director) for Into The Dalek; Paul Murhy (Director) for Robot of Sherwood
Disc Three: Two Audio Commentaries: Paul Murphy (Director), Kate Walsh (Prosthetics Effects Producer) and Peter Hawkins (Props Engineer on Starvox Blitzer) for The Caretaker; Scott Bates (First Assistant Director) and Paul Wilmshurst (Director) for Kill the Moon
Disc Four: Behind the Scenes (12 Doctor Who Extra Episodes); The Ultimate Timelord; The Ultimate Companion, and Foxes: Don’t Stop Me Now (Music Video)
The slipcover and disc label design elaborate on the steampunk design of the eight series’ opening credits. Lovely stuff.
Grade: Doctor Who: The Eighth Complete Eighth Series – B+
Grade: Bonus Material – A+
Final Grade: A-