Doctor Who’s tenth series has just concluded (the new Doctor Who, that is), and I would be remiss if I did not mark it with a review here. All in all, this was a pretty good season. It wasn’t the absolute best of the show, but it was still classic Doctor Who in great form, with no real failures in terms of episodes and a couple of great character arcs.
My rating: 4.5 out of 5.
The villains of Doctor Who are always great fun. The show, especially under Steven Moffat, has a way of tapping into our collective fears. Sometimes, they’re the fears that live deep down in our psyches—the childhood fears of things that go bump in the night and mess with our minds. (See “Blink”, “The Impossible Astronaut”, “Listen”, and many more.) But at other times, and increasingly in Peter Capaldi’s tenure, the real monsters are ourselves.
“Smile” shows our hedonistic and totally automated culture semi-accidentally killing people for being unhappy (complete with matching emoji). “Oxygen” is a case of capitalism run amok, where human lives are just another commodity to be bought and sold. “Extremis” plays on our fears of virtual reality and the idea that our world is not real with one of the creepiest variants on The Matrix I’ve ever seen. And “World Enough and Time”, yes, the Cybermen are an old foe, but the episode vividly revives our fears of losing our humanity to technology.
Take note that these aren’t even new ideas. “Smile” recalls the 1988 serial, “The Happiness Patrol”. “Oxygen” recalls 1977’s “The Sun Makers”. And as I said, the Cybermen have been around since 1966’s “The Tenth Planet”, back when they were an allegory for the Soviet Union rather than emotionless technology. But the new season updates these ideas so that they resonate chillingly with a modern audience.
It wasn’t as good as last season, which hit it out of the park with one story after another, but it was still some of Peter Capaldi’s better work. I’ve heard people say they haven’t liked his tenure as the Doctor, but I have to wonder if those people have only seen his early episodes because he hit his stride a good while back, and he’s still in it. And the other characters carry the show just as well.
The Doctor’s main companion this season is Bill Potts (a female Bill). Bill is something refreshingly different in a Who companion (and I’m not talking about the obvious diversity casting). She’s squeamish in the face of danger in a way most companions aren’t—something we perhaps haven’t seen since Peri Brown, who traveled with the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) in the 1984-1986. Bill is still up for adventure, but she’s definitely not prepared for all the death and mayhem that happens around the Doctor, and in some ways, this makes her more relatable. Where the most of the long-running New Who companions have been extraordinary in some way, Bill is an every(wo)man—a normal person who’s gotten in way over her head, and seeing her development onscreen from this perspective, especially looking back over the whole season, it a great take on the show’s theme.
And then, of course, there’s Missy. Missy, the female incarnation of longtime enemy The Master, has reformed and is trying (with some humorous difficulty) to become a good person. Watching her surprise character arc, going from megalomaniacal schemes to shedding tears for the lives of those lost without understanding why, to her fall at the hands of her own, more evil past self, is beautiful and tragic all at once. Missy’s arc is a bittersweet icing on the cake to an already bittersweet ending of the season, and with The Doctor’s fate hanging in the balance, I’m eager to see where the next Christmas special takes us.