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DOCTOR WHO Season 8, Episodes 6-12 Review

The first half of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor Who, while uneven in spots, had a nice slow burn going that continues straight through to the season’s conclusion. While it’s been a few weeks since the final episode aired, this review will remain as spoiler-free as possible. So now, with the  intros and warnings out of the way, let’s take a look at the episodes.

Episode Six: The Caretaker

The Doctor arrives at Clara’s school as he sometimes does, though this time, to Clara’s horror, the school’s head master introduces the cover-all clad Doctor as the school’s new caretaker. Despite her limited experience with this new Doctor, Clara knows enough to sense an ulterior motive in his appearance–rightfully so. Shortly after he appears, the Doctor reveals yet another alien threat needing his attention. Chaos ensues as the Doctor deals with both the alien and the other hand in Clara’s life: boyfriend Danny Pink.

On balance, The Caretaker is a light episode with a good dose of character related humor. This is the Doctor’s first extended meet-and-greet with Danny, and the dance between the two for Clara’s affection is wonderfully played. Clara’s reaction to the goings on, the tension between the two men, and her inability to straight out tell Danny about her adventure-craving, is equally priceless. While not an action-packed episode and not an especially deep one, The Caretaker is big on pleasing character moments that make it a stand-out from what would otherwise be a by-the-numbers monster of the week showing. It’s also funny!

Episode Seven: Kill the Moon

Kill the Moon opens sometime in the year 2049. A group of astronauts aboard a shuttle lands on the moon with a cache of nuclear weapons, the purpose of which becomes clear as the story progresses. Back on Earth in the present, a careless remark from the Doctor has deeply effected Courtney, one of Clara’s students. Earlier, he told her she isn’t special and, her self-esteem shaken, she begins lashing out at the people around her. Clara confronts the Doctor about this, and while they’re talking, Courtney sneaks into the Tardis. Perhaps hoping to undo the damage he’s done, the Doctor promises to make Courtney the first woman on the moon, and–much to Clara’s chagrin–whisks Clara and Courtney to the lunar surface. The year? 2049.

The Doctor, Clara, and Courtney soon meet the astronauts from the opening sequence and learn of strange occurrences. Unexplained quakes, earlier death-plagued expeditions. The deaths continue when a huge,  spider-like monster breaks into the moon base and attacks. As the story unfolds, the Doctor discovers that the moon is in fact the enormous egg of some unknown creature, one that is about to hatch.

Kill the Moon marks a turning point in the season. Dark in tone, and straining the relationship between Clara and the Doctor, the episode has a great deal to say about morality. It also shows a side of the Doctor we’ve rarely seen in new-Who. Instead of rushing in to the rescue, the Doctor backs off, insisting humans define their own fate, make difficult decisions, and live with the consequences.

Certainly, Kill the Moon carries heavy allusions to the current abortion debate, and that alone makes the episode compelling. Still, the changing dynamic between the Doctor, his role as Earth’s protector, and his relationship with Clara are what drive the story, setting the stage for what’s to come.

Episode Eight: Mummy on the Orient Express

Clara, still recovering from events in Kill the Moon, declares she will take one final trip with the Doctor. The Doctor obliges, promising her a ride on the famed Orient Express. Being Doctor Who, and Clara quickly learns this things are particular Orient Express is not the Earth’s fabled train, but one that soars through some future galaxy. On board, she and Doctor hear about a mysterious creature known as the Foretold.

The Foretold has been killing passengers without warning. According to legend, once the Foretold sets its eyes on you, you have 66 seconds left to live. The mysterious killer appears only to its victims, taking the form of an odd mummy-like figure is stalking them. Ever-curious, the Doctor questions everyone on the train as he tries to stop the Foretold.

Mummy on the Orient Express is a bit of a reprieve after the intense Kill the Moon. Nevertheless, the Doctor and Clara’s relationship is obviously strained, and the decision by the show’s writers to keep them physically separated for much of the episode accentuates the rift. Without Clara serving as his conscious, the Doctor reverts to the oblivious callousness he’s exhibited all season. In one instance, he has a passenger describe the Foretold to him, noting that since the man is dead anyway, he might as well be of use. No compassion there, no attempt to ease the man’s fear. Fortunately for the Doctor, Clara isn’t there to see it. That coldness, so soon after Kill the Moon, would irreparably shatter her feelings toward him.

Mummy on the Orient Express may not have Kill the Moon’s emotional heft, but it is still an above average outing. The story harkens back to the days of old-Who, when the Doctor wasn’t as a god-like being but more of a brilliant sleuth/scientist. That change in character, one that has been building throughout the season, is a welcome one.

Episode Nine: Flatline

The Doctor returns Clara to Earth after another adventure only to find the Tardis has placed them not in London, but in Bristol. Worse, he soon realizes that for some unknown reason, the Tardis itself is shrinking. While investigating the cause, the Doctor sends Clara out to inspect their surroundings, though not before handing his sonic screwdriver as a means of staying in touch. He also gives her his bit of psychic paper.

Flatline is one of this season’s gems. Much like Blink, the Doctor himself takes an uncharacteristic back seat. The adversary, a group of two-dimensional creatures known as the Boneless, are an interesting and extremely creepy foe. The show wisely limits any information about them, adding to their malevolence.

As with every one of this season’s stories, characters and relationships continue to drive the narrative. Flatline contains a few priceless exchanges between Clara and the trapped Doctor, the best occurring when Clara talks to local workmen while the Doctor is left to make snarky comments only she can hear. Cool, creepy, and at times funny, Flatline is one of the best episodes of the season.

Episode Ten: In the Forest of the Night

Danny and Clara take their students on an overnight field trip to a London museum. Upon waking the next day, they discover the city covered in thick forest and one student missing. Danny and Clara must gather the remaining students and head out into the tree-covered city to find the missing girl. The Tardis materializes nearby, and after a brief visit from the girl–who runs off again–the Doctor joins the search.

In the Forest of Night is easily Season 8’s weakest, most forgettable episode. Manipulative and pandering, it focuses the viewer’s attention on all the wrong things. The missing girl is uninteresting, her part in the story obvious from the beginning. Even Capaldi’s cantankerous Doctor shows more concern for her (if only just) than what we’ve come to expect from this stoic Doctor. The only positive is that, like many previous stories, the show doesn’t recycle a tired old villain, but gives us something new–even if it’s dull. Fortunately, the harrowing final two episodes bring back the depth and bleak atmosphere that have made the season shine.

Episodes Eleven and Twelve: Dark Water/Death in Heaven

Dark Water and Death in Heaven are essentially two parts to one long story. They are also frustratingly hard to review without spoilers. Maintaining the stated goal of a spoiler-free review will mean keeping what follows necessarily vague. Even so, some spoilers may pop up. Be warned.

Dark Water opens with tragedy, and it’s so shocking and so abrupt it will jar even the most seasoned Who-viewer. What follows are the ramifications. Mostly, the episode is centered in the first stage of grief: denial. One character in particular wants to undo the tragedy; others, while admitting it is possible, have grave reservations about doing so. Clara and the Doctor are both driven apart and brought closer together by events so poignant and so beautifully presented, it’s hard not to weep for them. For nearly all of the episode’s run-time, the Doctor and Clara grow increasingly introspective. Could a decision here or there changed the outcome?

The mere fact that a Doctor, particularly one as cold and aloof as Capaldi’s, can wonder if his actions somehow led them to this place, is spectacular. Here, we don’t have a Doctor trying to fix things. In Dark Water, he’s trying to accept an uncomfortable reality.

Ultimately, we see how easily Missy, the mysterious women who appears briefly throughout the season, manipulated him. She is wicked and diabolical. But is she evil? It’s hard to say. In a brilliant piece of storytelling, Team Who gives Missy a unique motivation–the need to not be alone. She isn’t tormenting the Doctor, she’s living within the parameters of their relationship. It’s a twisted dance, and as presented here, it’s simply how she and the Doctor interact. Without it, she’s lost.

This continues through Death in Heaven, the more action-oriented of the two episodes. Action is not Doctor Who’s forte, and Death in Heaven does stumble from time to time. In one troubling scene, an overt homage to James Bond ensues, pulling the viewer out of the story and inducing some eye-rolling. Fortunately, things settle back into what Who does best: centering on the Doctor and those around him.

As a finale, this is as good as it gets. The only problems, which can be large, have to do with a bit of recycling. Missy’s big reveal was done once before and therefore shouldn’t have shocked the Doctor. That said, Capaldi and Michelle Gomez’s acting prowess seal this scene, delivering one of the best moments of the year. Ms. Gomez’s Missy is brilliant, scary, and as well played as Heath Ledger’s Joker. And Capaldi’s Doctor equals her. Not to be outdone, Jenna Coleman delivers a knock-out performance of her own. Filling Clara with every emotion possible and doing so believably.

One last warning: these are grim episodes, the grimmest in Who memory. This is dark stuff, but the show shines because of it. Capaldi’s Doctor is nothing like his recent predecessors. He is a walking contradiction: Cold yet caring, aloof yet approachable. Alone and always accompanied. You’ll hate him, root for him, and feel sorry for him all at once. In short, he’s incredible, as was the majority of Season 8.

 

Cover image via

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Keith Yatsuhashi is the author of Kojiki, a YA fantasy that reflects his love of anime. His latest work, Torii, a short-story prequel to Kojiki is now available for free at http://www.musapublishing.com

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  1. DOCTOR WHO Season 8, Episodes 6-12 Review | It's Kind of an Electronic Book - 02/04/2015

    […] DOCTOR WHO Season 8, Episodes 6-12 Review. […]

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