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DOCTOR WHO Season 8, Episodes 1-5 Review

Bringing in a new actor to play Doctor Who‘s iconic title character usually means the show will change its tone, but rarely has that been as true as it is with veteran actor, Peter Capaldi, assuming the role. After three relatively youthful actors playing the Doctor, the casting of fifty-six-year-old Capaldi signaled a dramatic change. Maybe last year’s ‘The Day of the Doctor’ and ‘The Name of the Doctor’ were a sign of things to come.

In both episodes, companion, Clara Oswald, is forced to work with older incarnations of the Doctor–one she knows well, and one she doesn’t. Neither encounter really prepares the viewer for the shift in relationship that occurs in Season 8.

Episode 1: Deep Breath

Doctor Who Season 7 ended with the most abrupt regeneration in the rebooted Who, and Deep Breath begins not long thereafter. As with previous regenerations, the Doctor is disoriented. The Tardis lands in Victorian London, which, luckily for the Doctor, means past allies, Madam Vastra, Jenny, and Strax, are on hand to help him recover. As is typical of post-regeneration episodes, it’s nearly impossible to tell what we’re in for with Capaldi’s Doctor. Though we do get some hints. He is aloof and imperious, and unlike Matt Smith’s incarnation, he is particularly cold and detached, especially when it comes to Clara. Both Mr. Capaldi and Ms. Coleman do a great job breathing life into the awkwardness between them. Their relationship is strained, mostly because of Clara’s feelings for the previous Doctor and her inability, at least initially, to accept such drastic change.

Clara’s reaction, while understandable on one level, is also puzzling. She is supposedly the ‘impossible girl’, the one who has seen each and every regeneration. Moffat may explain this away easily by saying this particular Clara hasn’t been through it, just the fractured versions pre-Trenzalore. He might even contend that after Trenzalore, that whole impossible girl time line no longer existed.

Viewers remember, though, and the show’s writers probably do to. Hopefully the show will explore this plot point in future episodes.

Episode 2: Into the Dalek

The Doctor takes Clara into the far future, where a Dalek fleet has surrounded and earth warship. On board is a malfunctioning Dalek, the Earth’s forces want the doctor to go inside the alien and repair it. This leads to a Fantastic Voyage-like storyline in which the Doctor, Clara, and a group of soldiers are miniaturized and sent inside the Dalek.

Yes. Another Dalek episode. Worse, another ‘good Dalek’ episode. Every season seems to have one. In what might be the weakest episode this season, the Doctor and Clara travel to the future to examine an imprisoned Dalek that wants to kill all other Daleks. The story wastes a fantastic opportunity to explore  Clara’s time as a Dalek. No mention is made  of that particular incident.  Imagine how fascinating it would be to have Clara provide the Doctor with some real insight into these perennial villains. Moffat  could even have built tension between the Doctor  and Clara by making her either sympathetic to the Daleks or revolted by them.

As it is, the episode is a wasted opportunity. It could have been much better. Nevertheless, it does set the stage for the rest of the season in two important ways. First, it introduces Clara’s new love interest, Danny Pink. More importantly, the doctor questions himself and his motives. He blatantly asks the question, “I, a good man?” Clara’s answer is equally telling.She responds, saying, “I don’t know.”

Episode 3: The Robots of Sherwood

After two rather harrowing adventures, and possibly to help Clara cope with the new Doctor, the Doctor himself lets Clara decide where to go next. Much to his chagrin, Clara chooses Sherwood Forest, hoping to meet her hero, Robin Hood. The Doctor scoffs at this. He tells her that Robin Hood is nothing but a legend. Determined to prove him wrong, Clara insists he land the Tardis in the middle of the forest where they immediately encounter Robin and his band of merry men. But all is not well in Sherwood. The Sheriff has enslaved the people, using robots to enforce his laws and cow the people.

The Robots of Sherwood is a fun if forgettable romp. Watching the Doctor and Robin face off against each other in a battle of egos is hilarious. Neither completely believes in the other, or at least in his legendary prowess. This leads to several amusing sequences in which the Doctor and Robin attempt to outdo each other. In the end, it’s up to Clara to mend fences between the two and force them to work together to discover the Sheriff’s true goals.

While not as strong dramatically as the previous two episodes, The Robots of Sherwood is more entertaining, and offers the first true glimpse of what this new doctor will be like. He is arrogant, condescending, and intolerant. While he obviously loves humanity,  unlike his previous incarnations, he has little patience for it. Meanwhile, Clara is a revelation. She deftly spars with the Sheriff of Nottingham, intentionally stalling for time and yet holding her own. Fluffy and light, this is still the most entertaining installment so far. Unfortunately, a ridiculous conclusion strains credibility and spoils what would have been a more memorable outing.

Episode 4: Listen

Listen opens with the Doctor alone in the Tardis. He is talking to himself, thinking as he speaks, that people often talk when they are alone because they know they are not really alone after all. That a silent watcher is always with them. Fresh off a bad date with Danny Pink, Clara arrives home to find the Tardis waiting for her. The Doctor tells her of his theory and whisks her away to prove it.

Listen is a masterpiece; one of the best, most complicated of the new Doctor Who episodes. Moffat paces this perfectly, using dark eerie buildings and the specter of an invisible watcher to build tension. Listen is that rare villain-less episode. It is a thought-provoking phantasm heavy on character study and atmosphere. The acting throughout is astounding with Mr. Capaldi and Ms. Coleman delivering top-notch performances. The episode marks a true turning point in the season: it’s when the audience discovers this season really belongs to Clara Oswald. He Doctor has less screen time than she does, and for the first time in many seasons, he seems to react to her more than the other way around. He takes his cues from her, reacting to her actions and commenting on them as if teaching her to be more like him.

 Episode 5: Time Heist

While trying to decide on a new adventure, the Doctor and Clara are whisked away, memories erased to the most secure bank in the universe. Two others appear in the room: a woman shape-shifter named Saibra and a part-man, part computer specialist names Psi. The plot is to follow set instructions laid out by someone known only as the Architect. The mission? To rob the Bank of Karabroxos, the most secure bank in the universe.

After reaching a season high with Listen, Time Heist is a disappointment. It isn’t bad by any stretch, it’s just mediocre. It has a ‘been-there-done-that’ vibe that’s impossible to shake. Psi and Saibra, while interesting, come across as throwaway tools. We don’t get to know or care much about them or their abilities. The bank’s manager, Ms. Delphox is similar in hair, dress, make-up, and characterization to other strong Who villainizes, including the enigmatic Missy, who is still a plat device at this point. On the plus side, Peter Capaldi continues to flesh out his characterization of the Doctor in ways that–even when he’s off-screen–demonstrate a single-minded brutality we haven’t seen in a Doctor before. When this Doctor believes he’s right, he doesn’t change course, even if that means sacrificing the people around him.

Overall

Transitioning from an old Doctor to a new one is a Doctor Who staple, and the team behind this long-lasting show knows how important it is to ease its audience through the process. Every Doctor goes through a period of disorientation before he settles down into the character each particular actor will portray. In Peter Capaldi’s case, that means a return to the John Pertwee and older incarnations.

Capaldi’s Doctor is more of an intellectual, more of a thinker than an action hero. The change serves the series well. True, the episodes themselves are on par with just about every other episode–Listen excluded–with Season 8, Moffat seems determined to whack away at the god complex he built up and present a far more complex–far more aloof and alien Doctor than what we’ve seen before.

Capaldi is more than up for the task. His performances, even this early on, are stunning to watch–painful at times–but stunning nonetheless. His relationship with Clara is also a joy. Gone is any hint of romance–another plus. The show became too dependent upon it. First Rose, then Martha, and even Clara last season. Donna Noble and Amy Pond being the notable exceptions. Even with Amy, however, we had River Song to stir the romantic pot.

Not so this season. In Clara, Capaldi’s cantankerous Doctor has found his conscience. She’s there to talk him back from the edge, or to instill some humanity in his inhuman soul. The banter between the two if funny when it needs to be, and heavy when the story demands it. All the while, Clara is  the Doctor’s moral superior while he is her intellectual one.

Season 8 has its ups and downs when it comes to content, but you can’t shake the feeling of a grander theme at play. This is a slow boil building to something big, each piece important to the whole. Time will tell if Moffat and Capaldi succeed.

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Categories: Doctor Who

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2 Comments on “DOCTOR WHO Season 8, Episodes 1-5 Review”

  1. 11/03/2014 at 8:25 AM #

    Fangirling!

  2. 12/16/2014 at 2:45 PM #

    :)

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