“Doctor Who” Series 8 Reflection – Of Capaldi, Illusions and a Return to the Old

Doctor Who Death in Heaven

“Doctor Who” has finally returned to form. After a questionable Series 6 and 7 (seems to be habit that in the last era of Doctors who last more than one series…that inevitably their character development and stories decline in quality (See Series 4 and the Tennant Specials). The later series of Doctor Who, whether it’s the Smith era as 11 or Tennant era as 10, eventually the themes got more scattered and the writers can out of ideas and began going more for explosions and cheap jokes, rather than actual deep stories with high quality. But, as I said before, Capaldi turned that around for the Moffat era.

This is an assessment of the entire series 8, so this will have spoilers. So be warned.

This was an era of great episodes like “Listen” (which may be one of the best Doctor Who episodes of all time), from “Time Heist,” and “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven.” There were only two terrible episodes, “Robot of Sherwood” which was insulting in how it portrayed it’s characters, and “In the Forest of the Night” which had Moffat’s worst Fairy Tale storytelling on display. But besides that it was an extremely solid and enjoyable series that had a very great theme.

If I were to define 12’s era I would say it’s themes were the cost of war on soldiers, if fighting is always the right thing to do and the nature of lies and illusions and breaking through those to reach the truth.

The greatest cost of war on soldiers is seen with Danny, who distrusts officers because of what he was ordered to do. He killed a child in the war he fought in and this is something that gives him motivation on teaching children and trying to be a good man. He lives with the guilt, just like the Doctor refuses to kill and to fight because of what he had to do during the Time War. Danny dies a soldier but his final act is in Heaven giving the child he killed a chance at life again and in turn giving up his life with Clara. The Doctor also makes the choice and rather than using the Cybermen to liberate refugees and free the world (at the cost of his soul) he lets Cybermen Humanity be lead by Danny and save the human race. It’s their battle in the end. This theme is also witnessed with the alien in :The Caretaker” which is a Robot designed to destroy and the Mummy on “Mummy on the Orient Express” who stops killing once the Doctor tells him they surrender. They than salute one another and the undead soldier is finally allowed death, or the Teller finally allowed to live with it’s partner. Soldiers can fight for what’s right but so often they are broken tools of people like Missy or the Mummy’s creator. This is the horror of war and what it’s cost can often be on soldiers…not everyone is able to have a life after like Danny did.

The second issue is if fighting is always the right thing to do. Sometimes it is, in the episode “Flatline” the Boneless keep killing and attacking people, leading the Doctor to sending them back to their dimension. He tried everything and nothing worked. In “Deep Breath” he talks with the Half-Face Man and it’s left ambiguous if the Half-Face Man took his own life out of guilt and realized how killing was wrong because of how human he had become. Capaldi’s Doctor chooses not to fight unless it is necessary or to protect another. He was only willing to kill Missy so Clara wouldn’t have to, and when Brig made the choice for the Doctor he was grateful. One theme is that even if it is necessary, killing always has a cost. Danny is very PTSD and dealing with the trauma of what he had to do when he fought, and the last paragraph covered pretty thoroughly what happens when those in power use people to their own ends and as soldiers’ in their wars. I think the Doctor realizes this, which is why he won’t let Clara become as broken as he is.

We see this theme of lies and illusions in how the series kick’s off in “Deep Breath,” where 12 asks Clara, “Am I a good man?” The Doctor sees himself as a lie to a degree and wants to make sense of what he’s become, since his existence breaks the rule of regeneration in regards to Time Lords. We see it in how Clara lies to Danny and the Doctor lies to Clara. In most cases the lies involve withholding information and it taking a tole. We see lies and illusions played out in how every person meets Missy in Heaven at the end and soon learn that Heaven is not what it appears to be and is truly a Hell. This in turn is an illusion in order for Missy to get her friend the Doctor back. She has been just as hurt from the Time War as the Doctor and just wants companionship again with her childhood friend. It is here the Doctor breaks through the illusion that the Time War foisted upon him, that he is an officer who must use others. He rejects it and gives the power to Danny and admits he is just an “Idiot, with a Box, passing through.” Though he still holding onto lies and when Missy gives him the coordinates to Gallifrey he lies to Clara about having found them, just like Clara lies about Danny returning. It takes “Last Christmas” and dealing with the loss of Gallifrey and Danny for the two to reconnect and be true Doctor and Companion again. They aren’t whole until the Dream Crabs put them through the docket of illusion leading them to face the truths of what they’ve lost and what they mean to one another.

This was a great series and if you haven’t watched it yet I highly recommend it. It deals with the “So What?” and Capaldi’s Doctor is one of the best. He’s a call back to the old Doctor’s like Tom Baker where he isn’t attracted to people and truly alien in how he doesn’t see age, he just sees people. He also is cold and detached even if his hearts are in the right places. Much of his arc is learning to care both about himself and about those around him beyond a detached level where his goal is to save as many as possible. Capaldi brings depth and humor to the role and has a great magician look to his Doctor. Now that his arc is done I look forward to seeing how he and Clara change (though Clara could have left twice this season and it would have been perfect, she would have had the best companion exit in the new series) and I hope Missy comes back. She is one of the best enemies and versions of an old enemy..,,but she deserves her own post, which I’ll be waiting on writing, especially if she’s coming back. Once again, go and check out this series. If you are fan of Doctor Who, either Classic Who or New Who, you will probably love it the same way I did.

 

The 12th Doctor – Series 8, Episode 10 – “In the Forest of the Night” – Too Much Fantasy

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Since Moffat has become showrunner of “Doctor Who” after Russell T. Davies left there has always been an element of fantasy in his series. The strongest of this and the best version of it was Series 5 when Matt Smith was the 11th Doctor, and weakest was the series 7…Smith’s final season and one of the most inconsistent seasons that gave us a lot of the worst of Moffat’s writing and themes. This episode is not as bad as the worst of series 7 and would have been good if not for the ending, but because of the ending I can only call it okay. I’ll get into what I mean in the assessment.

The episode was directed by Sheree Folkson and written by Frank Cottrell Boyce.

The premise is that the world has become overgrown by a forest that grew in a day. The Doctor doesn’t know why it happened and is left with Clara and Danny as they find that one of the Coal Hill Students Maehb maybe tied to the events and are left facing this new mystery and whether it is something good and temporary or a the signs of an invasion. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: The Premise – The idea of a forest overgrowing the world is a great idea! Especially since it adds a lot of mystery and in this instance plays into the human fear of the woods. Which we see in fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood both of which are made visual illusions to in the episode. There is a sense of danger and a sense of loss too given the events of the fairy tales.

Danny Pink – Danny is good at being the one grounded on being in the moment and looking after the kids to make sure they are connected. We see how this appeals to Clara even though she is so drawn to the excitement, mystery and adventure of the current circumstances. She assumes the Doctor can sort things out, Danny assumes nothing. We learn that this was due to his experiences as a soldier and he has no desire to repeat it given what he wants most is right in front of him (Clara). It’s a sweet moment and I liked how he was handled in this episode. Even with Clara lying about adventures with the Doctor and them even happening he is there until she can figure things out.

Clara Oswald – Clara is very much the companion in this episode, and she loves it. We see her separate herself from the Doctor at the end though when she asks him to run since if humanity will go extinct they will do so together and she doesn’t want to be the last of her kind. We see her attachment to Earth in this episode and her love of Danny even if she doesn’t know how to fully communicate her situation with the Doctor and being straight with them both. But she grows some in this episode which leaves things curious in regards to how her leaving will be handled at the end of this series.

The 12th Doctor / The Twelfth Doctor – The Doctor is interesting in this episode. We see him not being very good with children in that he isn’t very aware of them and is drawn in the most to the mystery. It takes a student being connected to the events for him to truly care and though he says he will stay with humanity he is rejected like he rejected helping humanity in “Kill the Moon.” I liked him in this episode but he couldn’t save it as there were other things bringing it down.

The Cons: Child Actors – Having one is bad enough, but this one had a bunch. They weren’t bad all the time but it make the threat seem so much less since it’s a family show…they aren’t going to kill a kid. This made the episode feel G when it was dealing with mortality, which was a shame.

Everything is Okay Again – I really don’t like how this series, especially when the episode has a kid (“Kill the Moon” again, and “The Caretaker”) try to keep consequences from occuring. The Earth doesn’t change and the Doctor talks about people forgetting. There was no point for the episode beyond it advancing the character arcs, which is a waste of a premise. “Kill the Moon” at least gave Clara reason to doubt and for a while was actually a great thriller so the concept was handled better. This one, not so much.

Everybody Lives – There are aliens that predate the Doctor in this episode and apparently they saved Maehb’s sister. “The Doctor Dances” did this so much better, because it was a war, there was consequences going on, there was despair and death so people living meant something. This corny ending gave nothing to the Whoverse and made Moffat going dark feel like a lie. Well, we’ll see how the final goes. Most episodes have been good but this ending is part of what’s wrong with Moffat. It’s too much fantasy, and not the good kind where magic is an element but not a magic reset button of entire character situations.

This episode could have been worse, the mystery was better than “Robot of Sherwood” at least and the character moments did improve the story. But they got to stop using child actors…I know this is a kids show but the original Star Wars didn’t have any child actors and was better for it. Kids can take dark, and some of the darkest Doctor Who (Series 1-3 on “Doctor Who”) were actually quite amazing. Fantasy writing shouldn’t be an excuse for not having stories without consequences. Happy endings should have a cost, or better yet be bittersweet.

Final Score: 6.5 / 10. Would be lower if not for Clara, Danny and the Doctor.