TV Review: Doctor Who Series 9
With a little under a week to go until this year’s Christmas Special, The Husbands of River Song, I thought now would be a good time to post my annual retrospective on the series, and try to collect my thoughts on the show across this past year.
First of all, here you can find my review of each episode, alongside the score given to it; it’s worth checking these out, methinks, because I’d say they’re amongst the better reviews I’ve written over the years.
Here we’ve also got a nice graph, showing the scores above, because I do love a good graph.
You can see, actually, that I gave this series quite a lot of high scores - there were more perfect scores in this series than I’ve ever given before. Six of the twelve episodes in this series got 10/10, with quite a few others getting 8s and 9s as their score. In hindsight, I do wonder if I was, perhaps, overly kind and enthusiastic with some of those scores - but then, these aren’t marks of objective quality, rather of how much I enjoyed the episodes, in terms of my own idiosyncratic tastes.
Noticeably, there’s a few key areas were my tastes differed from the common consensus - I was quite a fan of the more experimental Sleep No More, but largely unimpressed by Toby Whithouse’s traditional two part story. I’ve reached a point where, having seen a lot of Doctor Who, what I really want more than anything is something that pushes the boundaries of what I’m familiar with, so it was great to see a lot of that this season. Sleep No More and Heaven Sent are, if nothing else, memorable by virtue of the fact that they really pushed the boundary of what Doctor Who does.
The two-parter aspect of this series is something that I’m still not entirely certain of; the problem is that in some cases, it’ll extend a flawed story longer than you’d like (for me that’s Before the Flood & Under the Lake) or it means that the story just doesn’t quite work until you see the second part - a prime example of this being the Zygon story. In general, it works, but in terms of the viewing experience on a weekly basis, it’s much more difficult to consider this a success. I think I’d prefer it if, next year, we returned to something more akin to the structure of the first few series, wherein we would have two parters, but it was predominantly self contained episodes. Balance seems to be the best, in this case.
Something I did appreciate, quite a lot, was the depiction of Clara and the Doctor across this series. Both Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman are phenomenal actors, and they got to have several brilliant stand out moments across this series; Capaldi’s Zygon speech and Jenna Coleman facing the Raven will likely be remembered for a long time to come.
I like the fact that both of these characters have developed since last year; the Doctor is no longer a broody, retrospective individual, but someone who’s really throwing himself into the adventure and having fun. There’s a journey here, an evolution, and when we begin series 10, we’ll be seeing a Doctor who is, once again, subtly different and a nuanced, developing character.
Clara’s arc this season was, I think, undercut somewhat by the nature of her role in the stories this season. What we were, in theory, supposed to see was an extension of Clara’s arc last year, as she became more and more of a Doctor like figure. And it worked in some episodes, certainly - Face the Raven springs to mind immediately - but I feel like Clara was sidelined in too many episodes (The Woman Who Lived, the Zygon two parter, etc) for her eventual ending to have the thematic weight it deserved. Certainly, it was still effective, but I do wish Clara had been given a greater role throughout the series.
My only other principal worry, though, was that this series was way too reliant on continuity and callbacks to prior episodes.
The Magician’s Apprentice & The Witch’s Familiar had Daleks, Missy, and Davros, as well as the Maldovarium and the Shadow Proclamation. The Girl Who Died had a significant plot point and motivation predicated on a flashback to a six year old David Tennant story. The Zygon Invasion & The Zygon Inversion had Zygons, Osgood & Kate, and a fair few references to Classic UNIT stories. Face the Raven had cameos from old aliens like Sontarans and Cybermen and Ood and Judoon. Hell Bent, obviously, had Gallifrey.
That’s 7 of the 12 episodes with a real connection to the past, there, and it’s not like the others weren’t devoid of references here and there - Mark Gatiss threw in at least one joke about Silurians that I could remember, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there were more throughout the series as well.
The worry is, of course, that this will start to alienate people and put them off - it’s great for fans, and I loved it, but there does come a point when you have to say that enough is enough. Series 9 has had the lowest viewing figures of any of the NuWho series across the last ten years, and I can’t help but wonder if this is part of the reason why; after all, the last time Doctor Who got mired in this much self referential continuity was the 1980s, and you remember how that turned out.
Obviously, I don’t think Doctor Who is in trouble. This has been one of the strongest seasons in several years, with some genuinely amazing episodes in it.
But I think that, more than anything, series 9 reminds us of the need for change, and the fact that we can’t be complacent. We’ve got to have evolving main characters, we’ve got to have changes to the format, and we’ve got to have innovative episodes.
So long as we keep that in mind, I have no doubt that Doctor Who will continue to rise to new heights.