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.
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.
It 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.
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.