A quick stop and listen now Dr Who series 8 has reached the fixed point of half-season. Spoilers for the six broadcast episodes are guaranteed, but no conspiracy and little speculation – just as look at how The Twelfth’s bedding in…
NO JOKE, BUT IT’S ALREADY A SERIES OF TWO HALVES.
Moffat has clearly settled on the direction for his period of showrunning
The overall impression is that it’s an outstanding series so far, but for all the great direction, cinematography and music and fine acting there are non-sequiturs and narrative glitches abounding. The Dalek that wants to fix itself, who rates the destruction of Daleks as exclusive to killing humans, the chalk that disappears, the writing that appears, Cousin It in the bed, why Orson walked into a restaurant in full garb to beckon a girl he didn’t know and didn’t pick something up from the kitchen…
There’s no point picking on these. Steven Moffat has clearly settled on the direction for his period of showrunning, and this series is its golden age – Like early Hinchcliffe and Key to Time Williams… It simply doesn’t matter if it makes sense. I can see why. An irascible and hard-working writer-producer, he’s endured criticism. So you may as well pile up the plot-holes as it’s impossible to torpedo an absence of logic.. In any event, picking plot holes in a work of fiction, especially one with such a broad format, built on impossibility… Is a thankless task isn’t it?
Strands of Time and Space
Searching for logic here is pointless
Away from that, there have been three strands to what’s certainly been an involving series.
Behind the scenes there was a worry that Ben Wheatley’s two-parter opening would set the bar too high. That soon dissipated as Douglas Mackinnon and Paul Murphy dished up a selection of creeping and comic tales which are nothing short of startling. On paper a real sea-change, or so it seemed. Steven Moffat taking co-writing credits on three of the first six episodes. That may suggest a longer arc but so far it’s reduced to the standard non sequitur inserts. or so it appears.
On camera Capaldi has settled in well. The length of time it takes to ‘become’ the incumbent Doctor. For me, his was slightly longer than his predecessors, but instantly likeable. In fact, for most of the first half I felt I was watching simply for him rather than a show which doesn’t always feel like Doctor Who at all.
Mostly, that’s to do with the sub-narrative of Clara. Yet another modern companion who outlived her use in one series, now grasping for meaning. She finds it having fairly inexplicably left her nanny duties and landed up a teacher at Coal Hill School during the 50th anniversary of the show, and subsequently a mysterious love interest.
There’s an intrigue in the sporadic companion who takes up the TARDIS duties sporadically. But after the Ponds – from the passing of time to the effect on family – it’s difficult to see where it can go. Here it’s pure domestication. With large scenes devoted to Clara’s awkward attempts to hold down two lives. There’s inherent comedy there of course, but in general – it’s just inexplicable. Again, searching for logic here is pointless, but this Doctor travelling alone for large swathes before being drawn back to his single companion diminishes him and his predecessor.
As great as Clara is, as wonderful as Jenna Coleman is, it suggests again that there needs to be a reboot in the companion area more than anything else… It’s not necessarily the young, female companion, but more the contemporary. They don’t have to be alien, but maybe delve into the future to add a new dimension? Or into another dimension to find the future…
The Episodes so far
A slow-burner that, with all the buzz, warm-up and anticipation, I was amazed to find split the audience down the middle. It aped itself of course, and Moffat aped his own work but it was a solid opening. For a full review at the time, check the Jokerside verdict on Deep Breath.
Into the Dalek
An episode that should come with a warning, the more you watch it, the less it makes sense. The immediate radiation repair, the disappointment of standard antibodies sitting in a Dalek made of corridors… Fortunately it has great casting, superb direction, zipping dialogue and some great Dalek action. At the end all I could think about was Resurrection of the Daleks. Praise indeed.
Robot of Sherwood
Another adaptation of sorts from Mark Gatiss, another disappointing entry. It’s froth of course, delving and retreading jokes of the Nottingham of yore that were always going to be difficult. In particular, more robots and a wasted Ben Miller as a Sheriff who doesn’t even get the conjunctions Alan Rickman did. Strange dialogue present and correct of course, here mainly down to the wise decision to edit the ending. In the full-cut the Sheriff makes it clear that he was reassembled by the robot aliens… The reason for that? Absolutely unclear.
Listen was floored as soon as it bookended the pre-title with the same word, but it’s still the one they’re all still talking about. Much is down to McKinnon’s directing – stunningly shining over a patchy tone and set-piece structure that couldn’t feel less like a Doctor Who tale. It met with a fine response at the time, surprisingly considering the ending. However, it stands up well if many strange narrative abysses are ignored. Perhaps most important for Clara’s repeat of the Impossible Girl antics, giving herself another few weeks of point. Perhaps most damning is the glance into the Doctor’s past. An intriguing idea, an adventure based around the Doctor’s fear and ignorance… It’s effective, even with its link back to Day of the Doctor. But has implications. Until last year it was unstated that Gallifreyans and Time Lords weren’t interchangeable terms. Now, the elite looks to be confirmed. Too much?
A trip to the most pregnable bank in the universe, chucking morals and nasty surprises out as red herrings of abandon. It runs a lot like a mix of Hide and Voyage of the Damned and no heist, no matter how good the creature design should feel like that.
Another robot doing the rounds, if only it was a Raston Warrior Robot. There are nice touches here, there’s lots for Capaldi to play with, but it doesn’t serve the purpose it should.
If its resolution is simply to create the packed TARDIS for tonight’s Kill the Moon it’s a waste. Many things sit off balance in a show that’s quite unbelievably a (second) sequel to the lodger. It needed to bring Clara’s double-life to a climax, it needed to use little Courtney Woods to show that not everyone could travel with the Doctor and reinforce Clara’s position. Even the mystery seems to be sold a little short with Chris Addison’s bureaucrat replacing the affable Missy… School report. Should really have done better. Although obligatorily, it looked great and that charred hand was bloody (or not) horrific.
Through all of Time and Space
There’s everything to play for…
So what glimmers, hints and points of interests / dull monotony has Series 8 thrown up so far?
There is mis-direction and fuel for theory all around, but some findings are clear. Or hopefully they are. Of Oswald and Pink, my interest was piqued by the toy soldier. Now existing in two time streams it seems to be the most pressing point. It inspired Danny to Soldier, it put the Doctor off the military for lives. That’s interesting and should it still exist, would have Blinovitch all over it…
Moffat has a real thing for names. The Doctor’s name was a key hook for a very long time. And joining Amelia/Amy and Clara/Oswin is Rupert/Danny. Change is in-built…
While there is little care for narrative cohesion in Series 8 (and no, many of these are not unresolved, just inexplicable in the self-contained stories), it’s interesting to note that Steven Moffat’s other current show has to be narratively contained. Being Sherlock would rather warrant it… So why, while that hasn’t crossed the bridge, has the Doctor as good as stolen the detective’s voice? It may be Capaldi’s delivery more than Smith’s (and that’s no slight) but much of the dialogue could be taken straight from the “high-functioning sociopath”
End of the Universe
Listen raises this again, well visits it. Another version of the end of everything, let’s avoid it for a while, eh?
Most importantly, this series needs to ditch the robots. It’s not had a classic run of villains for sure, not helped that it kicked off with two returning monsters. But that’s it. The monsters are missing. The Zygons, the Draconians, Sontarans, Silurians (no, not Paternoster). This Doctor needs to meet some aliens, and preferably enact some social justice or thwart a nefarious plot. Just no more robots.
Sense doesn’t matter
“Why do we talk out loud when we know we’re alone?” Well, it can be a sign of poor scripting. The ignorance of which can lead actors to ask for cabbages to talk to…
But the script is seldom the issue here, interchangeable for Sherlock as it worryingly seems… Also, narrative cohesion and sense isn’t all it’s made out to be of course… And great Time Lord science would probably make that clearer than many other things.
It’s more niggling that Moffat still seems reluctant to overview the series more, prioritising the dropping of teasing hints over the rather obvious over-abundance of robots in the first six episodes.
The Caretaker cast a slight shadow on what had been a very watchable series but at the halfway point, with there’s everything to play for. Especially with two fresh writers hoping to recapture the magic Neil Cross brought last series. The buzz about Kill the Moon is promising. Here’s hoping for a nice, nostalgic dip back into Doctor Who, just a few hundred years after those bad dreams…