Peter Capaldi’s freshman series was a mixed bag.
The Twelfth Doctor marked a significant shift in the franchise, re-introducing the alien quality and emotional distance to the main character that existed in the classic era and the Ninth Doctor’s single season. We were also treated to another attempt at the “regeneration gone wrong” story trope, which played with variable results in Logopolis and The Twin Dilemma.
The Doctor questions himself, Clara questions herself, and the relationship between them is stressed as it faces growth or breakage. In the totality of this series, it has done both.
This version of the Doctor pondered if he was a good man. He’s on the heels of (presumably) saving Gallifrey – an act that is tossed in his face by Missy as she pokes at his weaknesses – and has often looked down upon humanity until he realized just who he truly was in the final moments of Death in Heaven. The Doctor grows into his new skin, realizing that he is nothing more than an idiot with a magic box and a screwdriver who passes through, helps out, and learns. The Doctor grew well over the course of this series.
Clara, on the other hand, experienced negative growth in this go-round. She pushed her limits in stories like Flatline, but also lied (a lot!) and manipulated people, effectively becoming a reflection of the Doctor with very selfish motivations. She lied to the man she loved to keep traveling with the Doctor, and she intended to extort and betray the Doctor in an attempt to save Danny’s life by way of a temporal paradox.
To that end, Clara’s arc represents lost potential centered around what Davros and Rory have both pointed out in the past: Traveling with the Doctor can turn companions into worse people. Tegan knew it too. This series could have explored these waters, either culminating in a tearful goodbye for the relationship in Last Christmas or subverting the idea by having Clara evolve into a markedly better person. Instead, we got something more indecisive.
That’s a pretty good marker for this series, in fact, with the constant recycling of tropes and murky character motivations leading into rather disappointing stories at the end. Yes, that includes both times that this series exercised the Black Dude Dies First trope, the latter of which was coupled with the Stuffed into the Fridge trope.
As an aside, someone on Facebook wondered if I was racist by pointing this out. That answer is no. The trope stems from the history of cinema where black actors purposely kept clear of leading roles. As times changed and more actors of color were cast in bigger roles, they were treated as token actors and their characters were often killed off first. It has been used less and less over time but has also given rise to the equally reprehensible Bury Your Gays trope.
The overall muddled path for the series translates into the scoring. Series Eight earned a 3.6 average. That is far from spectacular, leaving this set of stories at twenty-second out of thirty-six effective seasons since the Timestamps Project started. That’s more than halfway down the list.
It’s a shame since I do love Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. The stories that he has been handed are not doing him any favors, and neither is the treatment of his companion. I still stand by the opinion that Clara’s conclusion should have been Last Christmas.
Deep Breath – 5
Into the Dalek – 4
Robot of Sherwood – 2
Listen – 4
Time Heist – 4
The Caretaker – 3
Kill the Moon – 2
Mummy on the Orient Express – 4
Flatline – 5
In the Forest of the Night – 4
Dark Water & Death in Heaven – 3
Last Christmas – 3
Series Eight Average Rating: 3.6/5
Next up, the Timestamps Project tackles the ninth series of Doctor Who, followed by the single series of Class and then Series Ten. Series Nine will be a shorter set of analyses since most of the stories are two-parters.
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.