There can scarcely be a person on Earth who doesn’t know Doctor Who – the show is so iconic that it has influenced popular culture all around the world. Since its revival, it has been critically acclaimed, but none more so than the ninth series – Peter Capaldi’s second year as the Timelord has been exceptional, something that all television should aspire to. The viewing public has been treated to something special here, and it has set the bar high for what will come next year.
The first story sees the reappearance of Missy, Davros, the Daleks, and the planet of Skaro, with the creator of the Daleks seeking the Doctor before his death. ‘Under The Lake/Before The Flood’ is set on an underwater base where the discovery of an alien craft leads to appearance of ghosts out to kill the crew members. In ‘The Girl Who Died,’ a Viking village is under siege by the Mire, one of universe’s most powerful warrior races, with the Doctor making Ashildr, a young Viking girl, immortal – then, in the second part, ‘The Woman Who Lived,’ he encounters Ashildr (now going by the name ‘Me’) in 1600s London, living the life of an outlaw.
After the peace treaty of ‘The Day of the Doctor’ allowing millions of Zygons to remain on Earth as disguised humans, ‘The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion’ sees the Doctor and UNIT facing a splinter cell that want to invade the planet. Following that is a found-footage story, ‘Sleep No More,’ with recordings showing what happened on the Le Verrier space station. The series then concluded with a three-part story – ‘Face the Raven,’ with the Doctor investigating a hidden alien street in the centre of London, re-encountering Me and facing Clara’s death. ‘Heaven Sent’ sees him teleported to an old castle all alone, pursued by a creature and dealing with his grief, before finally making it to his home planet Gallifrey in ‘Hell Bent,’ eager to break the rules of time to save his friend. Each of the three parts was a gripping and different individual tale, adding up to a lot more than the sum of its fantastic parts.
This series has been mostly comprised of two-parters, and that plays massively to its benefit – the stories have had the chance to develop their plots and their characters, rather than force it all and tack on a quick resolution – an hour and a half instead of 45 minutes opens the door to far greater storytelling opportunities. It is hardly a coincidence that the weakest story of the run was the only one-part episode, ‘Sleep No More’ (although the story also played with form by giving us Doctor Who’s first found-footage episode), and this was in no small part due to it being incredibly confusing – it’s never a good sign when you have to read a summary in order to understand what you’ve just watched. All this bonus time has made the stories the equivalent of movies, and they have allowed the acting to come to the forefront – this has been a series that has belonged to Peter Capaldi; his turn as the Doctor is equals parts funny, dark, unpredictable, yet it is always captivating.
Capaldi’s skill is particularly apparent in ‘Heaven Sent,’ an episode that (aside from the lumbering presence of the monster and a brief figment of Clara) focuses solely on the Doctor – this was Capaldi in a single-hander, and he delivers what is arguably the finest piece of television this year. I don’t want to go into the plot too much, for knowing too much would undoubtedly ruin it, but I urge you to seek it out.
Another strength of this series has been its willingness to go darker, and tackle more adult content while still remaining engaging for a younger viewer. The climax of ‘The Zygon Inversion’ clearly draws parallels with the current refugee crisis and the fight with terrorism, ending with a speech by Capaldi about the futility of war and finding peace in forgiveness that is delivered so powerfully, it cannot fail to send shivers down your spine. For many viewers, this is the moment he truly cemented himself as the Doctor, and it was but one of the highlights in a series full of them.
We also saw the loss of Clara – Jenna Coleman’s companion has been the longest-serving since the show’s revival, and has divided the opinion of fans since her debut. Many feel that she was constructed too much as a plot device and that her character didn’t really develop throughout the run – I disagree with this, and would argue that her becoming more like the Doctor has been a lingering thread in the past two series and an interesting backdrop to her character. This series took the question of “what happens when you don’t win?” to its devastatingly logical conclusion. The scene in ‘Face the Raven’ where Clara realises she is going to die, and the Doctor is powerless to help, is heart-wrenching stuff, and the two leads play it beautifully, almost guaranteeing they’ll bring tears to your eyes (really, you’d have to be some kind of Cyberman not to cry).
The ninth series of the revived Doctor Who is the best yet. It balances the adventure of a story with its heart, and does so equally because of the cleverness of the tales and the performance of the two leads (heresy though it may be, I think Capaldi is the best Doctor of the current run). It rewards the long-term viewer with mythology and references while remaining completely accessible to the general viewer. This series has been a demonstration of the best Doctor Who can be – fantastic drama that engages all of the family, and is willing to treat the viewer as a person with feelings and a brain. If the next series is even half as good as this one, we’re in for another fantastic ride next year.