My Last Word on Doctor Who Series 8: “Death in Heaven”

In his final Doctor Who review of the season this week, Will wonders if he has been too hard on the show lately. I must say, I’ve asked that of myself on more than once this season. Since it doesn’t make sense to do a review or a recap more than a week after an episode airs, let’s just start with the question of being too hard. I don’t think I have been, but it’s taken an awful lot of work to not be.

My standard of satisfaction going into this season was very low. All I wanted at the beginning was for this season to be better than the last one, which was a bit of a disaster.RobotofSherwoodCover400x238

There’s no question that series 8 meets that standard. By any rational measure, this season is better than the previous two. It’s been good enough to leave me wanting more. That said, the last episode I truly, thoroughly enjoyed as a nice piece of campy sci-fi was “Robot of Sherwood.” That was nine episodes ago, though I’ve had plenty of subsequent likes and dislikes. “Listen” almost worked. “Time Heist” was pure fun. “The Caretaker” and “Mummy on the Orient Express” both had their moments. But “Robot of Sherwood” is the last episode that made me feel like I’d just watched an episode of Doctor Who. All this is in hindsight, of course. No telling what I would have said if I had been able to write a reaction last week instead of a reflection this week.

The two-part season finale, “Dark Water/Death in Heaven” is ok. Will’s covered most of the problems I have with these two episodes. I find them to be better-than-average television and a better finale than I’ve seen from Doctor Who in three years. Their biggest failing, in my opinion, is they didn’t leave me feeling as though I’d just been treated to a 12-episode story. They didn’t add any more coherence to the season as a larger narrative than it had at the end of episode ten. Especially after all the teasing of Missy that went on in the early part of the season turned out to be a setup for one excellent twist followed by an enormous anticlimax.

missyIt was cool that Missy turned out to be the Master, and Cyberman invasions are nearly always good, but  for the most part her actions only worked because everyone else was so stupid. I never really bought the idea that we were dealing with a super-intelligent time traveler. More like a smarter-than-average interstellar criminal with a talent for exploiting lax security.

Here’s the test for me in the form of a thought experiment. Imagine episodes 11 and 12 had run as episodes 5 and 6 instead. Aside from requiring a bit of a re-write of Danny Pink’s totally predictable ending, running “Dark Water/Death in Heaven” at mid-season wouldn’t have taken anything away from the season, nor would it have hurt the episodes themselves. When I look at the final chapter of a story and think, “gee, that could have accomplished the same narrative purpose way earlier,” I have to conclude it’s not much of an ending at all.

The only other problem I have with the season as a whole is that too many interesting threads were dangled in front of me and then just dropped. Journey Blue. Engineer Guy. The squabbling adults in “Listen.” The unexplained presence at the end of the universe which manifestly cannot be Clara without a LOT of explanation, because said presence caused material effects in the real world AT THE END OF THE DAMN UNIVERSE. And Orson Pink. Especially Orson Pink. orsonpink

I appreciate a good red herring as much as the next guy, and I understand that illusions require a bit of misdirection. But at some point in every trick, there has to be a turn, a reveal, and a moment when the audience says “Ahhhh. How’d that happen? Amazing!” Otherwise, it isn’t really a trick. It’s just a guy on a stage congratulating himself for being smarter than the audience. And bringing Orson back at Christmas or next season simply will not answer. That ship has sailed.

So this is where I ended the season. I never caught the moment of delight that comes when the magician puts the assistant back together again. Capaldi’s done a marvelous job with the role. I still love the show and will continue to follow it, but I will never again forgo watching an AMC drama at airtime just to keep up with Doctor Who. Not as long as Moffat continues to run it. If I’m going to stop what I’m doing for an hour to watch tv in real time with commercials, I need surprises and I need real characters. A geek cannot live on b-movie tropes and canon alone.

This is not to say I haven’t enjoyed both the season and the blogging of it an awful lot. I am good on both counts there, and I am sure that last couple of paragraphs sound more harsh than I intend them to be. Aside from the enjoyment, though, writing these reviews hasn’t done much to help the larger blogging project, and most of my satisfaction has come from the social part of it. If Will and Hannah hadn’t also been blogging this season, I would have packed it in after episode six. Because it’s really clogged up my writing schedule, and the fanbase is so big we’re crowded out of the searches even when we do everything right. But I have learned some things about tv blogging in the last 13 weeks (Diana and I have been studying the tv blogging for most of this year) and I will share my thoughts on that in a social media post at Sourcerer soon.

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11 Comments

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  1. Hannah said that Clara is back for the Christmas Special, so I think Danny will probably be resurrected in that, to explain Orson Pink and any other plot holes.

    I feel you on the disappointment with the series finale. The Mistress brings up the Dalek camps, which ties back to Journey Blue. I really wanted that to be resolved. But I think I’m too hard on the show; whatever it was under Davies, Doctor Who is a goofy sci-fi show that’s often light on the sci-fi. I think the series arcs are there to placate folks like us who want a larger meaning and a story that concludes in a definite and interesting way – and Moffat is not about that. I think he just likes telling the one-shot fun episodes that may hint at a greater universe, but do not deliver more.

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    1. I think you are right about that. I’ve seen no indication, ever, that Moffat values the season-as-story way of doing tv.

      My point with this really, is that even though the loss of a single viewer on the day the show airs isn’t worth much, it’s worth something. When I tune in to BBC for that whole hour, I am effectively giving them a miniscule amount of ad revenue. And I can only do that for one network at a time. And Hell on Wheels was in the same time slot for most of the season.

      So, why do I want to deprive AMC of that miniscule amount of ad revenue when I can watch Doctor Who episodes two at at time and only spend about 15 more minutes doing it if I fast forward through the commercials? AMC has the better product at this point, and are we capitalists, or ain’t we, lol.

      Also, even though I totally don’t want to get above myself and pretend to know more than I do, I think about how to grow these blogs a LOT. I look at what we’re doing and ask myself if the results are acceptable all the time.

      I just spent an economic quarter blogging Doctor Who, and I can only do that for one series at a time. I am wondering where we would be if I’d just posted 80 photos here over the last 12 weeks, collected 25-40 likes per photo, established Part Time Monster as the place where I do the photoblogging, and used the free time to write about Sons of Anarchy, or Hell on Wheels, The Walking Dead.

      We would possibly be further ahead with the larger project if I had done that, is what I am thinking.

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  2. I agree Capaldi has been a great Dr and I have enjoyed the series I am sad like you that nothing was explained and too much was left hanging! The master was always a brilliant mind in the past as much as it pains me to say he must of suffered brain damage and had a silly bone fitted when he regenerated into a woman! and way sterling work on your part!! xxxx

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    1. Thanks for the compliment. The expression of dissatisfaction is always tricky, especially when you have to do it for weeks on end. I agree about the Master. That move had so much potential, and it just didn’t quite fly.

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    1. Capaldi’s won me over. I enjoy his interpretation of the Doctor very much. And I wouldn’t mind at all if Moffat just went back to writing episodes instead of leaving entirely. He’s pretty good at that part of the job.

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  3. I wound up feeling basically like I did after the last several seasons… Loved the Doctor, wasn’t really happy with the season. This was definitely an improvement taken as a whole, SOME of the writing was waaaaay better, but the firmly “meh” last half of the season brings it all down, and the writing as a whole didn’t tell much of a story. Very frustrating, but I’m taking “improvement” and going with it, since the last season was such a wreck.

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    1. Agreed. I’ll take the improvement. And the last half of the season WAS a bit of a wet blanket. I don’t feel quite the same about this season as I did about the last. It seemed like they were actually trying to produce a good season of Doctor Who this year. Last year it was more like actively trying to not give the audience what we wanted.

      Frustrating, yes. But not a dealbreaker, thankfully.

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        1. Well, you know. It’s a process. I think it might get better. Not to put my own expectations on a large entertainment company or anything, but I’m hoping they’ve learned a lesson.

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