Doctor Who Season Eight Review

Can Peter Capaldi carry the torch of his predecessors?


With the introduction of an older twelfth Doctor at the very end of the seventh season of Doctor Who, all eyes were on how Peter Capaldi would compare to Matt Smith, David Tennant, and his other well-loved predecessors. Doctor Who drew in a lot of fans over the attractiveness of the latest Doctors, so when casting Capaldi, the show really had to cement those fans with rocking storytelling and a faith that, since the Doctor is ancient, the show could go back to its roots and let an older actor could carry the show.

Clara and the Doctor in Deep Breath

These sentiments were brilliantly portrayed in Deep Breath, the opening episode of the season. Clara’s defensiveness over not having a problem with older men and the Doctor’s uneasiness with his new appearance, coupled with the sweet ending scene, was an incredible way to open the season.

The over arching problem with this season though wasn’t the Doctor’s age, but instead that he was never given the chance to truly show his stuff as, for some reason, all the focus of the rest of the season was put on Jenna-Louise Coleman’s Clara. She is a solid secondary character, but putting all the focus on her hurt the storytelling and Capaldi’s entrance to the show. We’ll get to that in a moment though, as big problems didn’t really show themselves until later in the season.

Into the Dalek was the second episode of the season, and it picked up right where Deep Breath left off. It created a conversation and began exploration about who the Doctor really is. While not the greatest story in Doctor Who history, it was great to see the dynamics of the new Doctor with his classic foes, the Daleks.

Clara and Robin Hood in Robot of Sherwood

Next, Robot of Sherwood was undoubtedly my all around favorite episode of the season. The cheesy story, witty banter, and monsters felt like a fresh take on a 9th-10th Doctor era episode. It encapsulated everything I look for in a Doctor Who episode.

Listen followed and is, as much as I can tell, the most critically acclaimed episode of Doctor Who in years. It’s very easy to see why, the timey wimey story did what Doctor Who does best, warping perception of what time travel means. I, however, found the story to be hampered with the beginning of Clara’s relationship with Samuel Anderson’s Danny Pink, and am frustrated by the unanswered questions still hanging in the air that haven’t been addressed since.

Time Heist came next and felt like a fairly generic romp through time and space. It had its moments, it just didn’t really stand out. After this episode, the season became more hit and miss with episodes that often completely missed the mark.

The Caretaker promotional image

Instead of taking Clara and making her more of a two dimensional character, we instead were treated to endless sitcom tropes that were frustrating at best and terrible at worst. Clara and Danny’s relationship just felt forced with all the nonsensical emotional sitcom stupidity which carried on through the entire season. The unbearably bland and flavorless “emotional” scenes hit an all time high with The Caretaker, which I found to be one of the worst episodes I’ve seen in all of Doctor Who.

The disappointment carried on with Kill the Moon, an interesting concept crushed by the focus on Clara and absence of the Doctor. The Doctor forced Clara to make choices revolving the fate of the human race in a completely uncaring manner and it just didn’t feel right in any way.

Thankfully, at least for a moment, the show picked up with Mummy on the Orient Express, which felt like a 10th Doctor episode. It took a wonderfully ridiculous concept, made it seem plausible, and wrapped it into a terrifically fun-to-watch episode.

Clara looking in a tiny TARDIS in Flatline

Flatline followed and became the only episode I really liked with Clara in the leading role. The concept and execution was great and there were numerous standout scenes with laugh out loud moments. It felt like a good O’l classic Doctor Who episode, albeit with the neat twist of Clara in the Doctor’s shoes. Unlike many of the episodes this season, it built upon the Doctor and Clara’s relationship in a meaningful way.

Then the party train once again came to a crashing halt. The utterly and completely terrible In the Forest of the Night was incredibly disappointing. A Clara/Danny focused episode with a stupid and forced story. There just wasn’t much to like at all.

Michelle Gomez’s Missy throwing a fit in Death in Heaven

And finally, the first two-part episode in years, Dark Water and Death in Heaven walked in as the season finale. Very much a vehicle for Michelle Gomez to blow our minds, it was an extremely entertaining finale (even if it did have some odd story issues and a bit too much focus on Clara). The reveal of the identity of Michelle Gomez’s character wasn’t entirely unexpected, but that didn’t take away from the fact that she absolutely killed it in every part of her performance. I really hope that she plays a main role in season nine.

The Doctor and Santa having a serious talk in Last Christmas

Last Christmas wrapped the first year of twelve with a disappointing Alien-ish romp that didn’t capture the feeling of a Doctor Who Christmas special, despite the presence of Nick Frost’s Santa. The ending was almost incredibly heartfelt, sweet, and excellent, but instead took what I consider a wrong turn in revealing that we get another season of Clara as the Doctor’s companion. Don’t get me wrong, I like Clara as a secondary character, I just don’t think she is given great material and she shouldn’t be in the spotlight. This season desperately needed her character dialed back and/or an episode or two like the 10th Doctor’s Midnight to give some much needed screen time and plot focus to solely Capaldi. Hopefully in the coming season Clara’s role in the show will be corrected.

Granted, because it’s Doctor Who I have very high hopes, but this season did leave me wanting more. I expected the perfection of the Matt Smith and David Tennant eras and instead was disappointed by creative decisions and numerous story arcs. Overall though, I am pleased with what I saw from Capaldi and there were some great episodes, so here’s hoping we are in for a bunch better season nine!

Substance is a publication of the Mt. San Antonio College Journalism Program. The program recently moved its newsroom over to Medium as part of a one-year experiment. Read about it here.