TL;DR – From highs to lows, the good thing is that what was compelling this season, was the companions.
Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars
So here we are at the end of Doctor Who’s Season Ten and we have had almost all of Peter Capaldi’s final stories, as Steven Moffat’s time at the helm draws to an end. So today we are going to look at how well the season went as a whole, its highs and lows and everything in between. Now because we are looking at the season as a whole there will be some [SPOILERS] here for the whole season, including the season finale.
So before we start I should say I’ve mentioned before that during the Ninth season after struggling with it for a while I gave up on Doctor Who. There wasn’t a clear ‘Ok that’s enough’ moment, I just got busy with life and found I didn’t have the care to go and catch up with what I missed. So, to be honest, I wasn’t going to bother with Season Ten this time around, however, here in Australia, they announced that there was going to be a companion show ‘Whovians’ to go along with the show. It had a cast of people I respect in that kind of field so I’d thought I’d give it another shot, and I’m glad I did I did for both Season Ten and Whovians.
Now one of the things that really started the season off on the right foot was the casting of Pearl Mackie as Bill the new companion to The Doctor. As much as casting of The Doctor is important, in many respects it is more important to get the companion right. This is because the companion is the audience’s surrogate on the show, they are our gateway into this world because we see ourselves through their eyes. It is that irrational part of our minds that wonders, maybe, just maybe it is all real and we can join them, of course it is all fake, but we still wonder, maybe our letter lost in the mail. Now in the past I have always taken a while to warm up to the new companions, but not so with Bill. I had an instant connection with the slightly irrelevant, slightly sassy Bill who worked in a university canteen. Someone that is not infatuated with this new world, and is fully ready to call The Doctor on his slightly narcissistic behaviour. They could have just played on stereotypes, but through clever writing and fantastic acting Bill shines as one of the strongest companions we have had, it is just a real shame that she might only be a companion for one season. Another strong element of the season was our second companion Nardole played by the excellent Matt Lucas. Now this was one area where I was concerned about going into the season because he was great as the comic relief in the last two Christmas specials, but I didn’t know if that could play out across the whole season. However as with Donna Nobel, I am happy to be wrong, because Nardole and his slightly oddball character provided some of the best highlights of the season.
Now at the core of this season was the relationship between The Doctor and The Master/Missy, and this is where the season works the best. A lot of this is because of the wonderful chemistry between The Doctor and Missy, who is played by the impeccable Michelle Gomez. This is because throughout the season we see a different kind of relationship between the two, less antagonising, more supporting, though still as flirty as ever. This is all about giving Missy the chance to understand the pain she has caused and to become a better person. This mirrors The Doctors job of being a university lecturer throughout the season as he is trying to make the world a better place, also trying to bring his long lost friend back from the abyss. Now all of this comes to a head in the final episode of the season and we’ll get into that a bit later.
Now for me, I would say my highlight of the season was ‘Empress of Mars’, as it was a wonderfully call back to what had come before. So you turn up to Mars and then what do you find aliens, no, you find Victorian era soldiers, it is through this juxtaposition that the episode shines. As well as this, we get some call backs to the monsters of Doctor Who of old, and a gun that kills people by folding them up. All of this would be just amusing but inside all of this, we have the story of what does it mean to be brave, how people can making things worse for everyone by acting selfishly, and overcoming that first primal instinct you have which can be devastatingly wrong. Also, I mean they found the original voice actress Ysanne Churchman for the Alpha Centauri character and brought her back for this episode, how can you not love that.
Now as much as I liked the characters and companions and situations, Doctor Who suffered from a number of persistent issues that keep appearing season after season. The first of these can be seen in ‘Knock Knock’, which was episode four of the season. Now there are some really great aspects of the this episode, the house is eating Bill’s flatmates, and we find out that it has been doing this for years, you have David Suchet give an amazing guest performance, brilliant sound effects, and one of the best creatures of the season with the wooden lady. However, all of this is undercut when we find out that it is bugs in the wall that is eating everyone, not the house, which goes against the creaky house set up they were going with, and a scene from the start of the episode. However, the big issue is that when the episode ends, everyone is alive, there were no stakes at all, and it was not even like we saw any of these characters again in the season. Now part of this is likely budget constraints on the original story but it also undercut what was flagged as one of the season’s tent poll episodes. Another misstep was The Monk trilogy that happening in the middle of the season. While it started strong with one of the best opens in the season, The Pope storming into Bill’s date, and there are some interesting concepts at play with the simulation, it was a concept that had one maybe two episodes worth of story, which got stretched out across three episodes right at the midpoint of the season. This meant more time was spent on The Monks then almost any other facet of the season, but it went nowhere, and had no impact, bar a throwaway line in the season finally, so it left more questions than it answered but not in a good way.
Another really big issue this season, and something that the BBC really needs to work on is how it constructs its trailers. From the end of the very first episode we knew three things, one John Simm was going to appear as The Master again, the Mondasian Cyberman were returning, and what was probably in the vault, one of the big mysteries at the start of the season. This is important because the show goes out of the way to set up a mystery only to have it spoilt from the get go, but more importantly, it really undercut one of the strongest episodes of the season the penultimate episode ‘World Enough and Time’. Throughout this episode, the Doctor is cut off from Bill because of the time dilation effect of a supermassive black hole. The Doctor works this out and tries to get to Bill but it takes him ten of her years, during this time Bill is stuck in a hospital as society is starting to collapse around her and something is wrong, very wrong. But here’s the thing, if you had seen the trailer that they had played all the way at the start, you knew that these patients were the start of the Cybermen and that the friendly helper is The Master in disguise. Sure finding out Bill was turned into a Cyberman by The Master was a powerful emotional kick, however, can you imagine what would have happened if we didn’t know John Simm was coming, it would have been a revelation as magnificent as when he first appeared in the new show back in 2007.
All of this leads to the final episode of the season ‘The Doctor Falls’, which after the strong preceding episode and generally a good season with such highs it felt, well a bit lacklustre to me. Now I know this is one area where people are pretty polarised, I’ve see people praise it as being the best of recent Doctor Who and some argue that it was a failure, for me it was just a bit disappointing. Part of this was just we saw history repeating itself again, and yes I know this is a show about time travel, and it is a show that has been on the air since 1963, but I can’t help feel like we have been here before. Now this is less the show teasing The Doctor’s regeneration over and over again, but the little things, The Doctor’s ‘I don’t want to go’, or the cop out psyche the companion that we just killed in a dramatic fashion is not actually dead because of deus ex machina. If you chart Bill’s ending with that of Clara’s from last season they line up. They both ‘die’ they both get brought back through deus ex machina, and they both leave to explore time and space with an eternal companion. We also see this in the final meeting of Missy and The Master, which was great but there was no final resolution between Missy and The Doctor, and they teased that Missy would not be regenerating, which we all know that they would not be killing off the Master character for good. Now I’m sure this episode will look better in retrospect once we have seen the upcoming Christmas special because this felt less like a season finale, and more of episode two of a three parter, but until then it just fell flat.
So overall while it had its issues, I do have to say I enjoyed Season Ten more so than other recent seasons, I know part of that was the interactions with The Doctor and Missy, the new companions, and at least part of it was the ability to share the experience with others. In the end as we look forward, there is a big change coming with Doctor Who, we will have a new Doctor, a new showrunner, a new companion (possibly) and since given this season they have gone out of their way to drop hints that Time Lords can become women, and that The Doctor himself may have been a women in the past, I think we may just see something revolutionary in the future.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Doctor Who
Directed by – Lawrence Gough, Bill Anderson, Charles Palmer, Daniel Nettheim, Wayne Yip & Rachel Talalay
Written by – Steven Moffat, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Sarah Dollard, Mike Bartlett, Jamie Mathieson, Peter Harness, Toby Whithouse, Mark Gatiss & Rona Munro
Starring – Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie & Matt Lucas, with Michelle Gomez, John Simm & Nicholas Briggs