Peter Capaldi returns as The Doctor in this second outing
If Series 8 was all about introducing us to this latest incarnation of The Doctor, then Series 9 is all about making it his own. Capaldi was always confident in this role, but in this series he is allowed to stretch his legs and really enjoy the time and space around him.
The series begins with a Christmas episode where we see the always reliable Nick Frost as Santa Claus, coming to the series in a very Doctor Who sort of way. The episode is mainly a take on the Alien franchise mixed in with some Friday the 13th. I was originally at odds with the idea of Santa Claus being in the show, but it really does work itself out and the episode is perfectly enjoyable.
For the rest of the series we get a mix of two-part episodes, which makes reviewing one-half of a two-parter a bit difficult. Fortunately, the series is already come and gone so we get to take a look at it in one lump sum. The first two-parter (The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar) revolves around the Daleks and the return of The Master (Michelle Gomez). Gomez is absolutely wonderful in this rolev – she is wicked, funny and can turn on you in an instant if it suits her purpose. Companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman’s third series outing) holds her own against both The Master and The Doctor, which can lead to some very funny banter. Unfortunately, we do not see The Master at all after this episode, which is a shame because Gomez is such a delight (and despite her final, ominous lines).
Next we get Under the Lake and Before the Flood, which features ghosts and a rather menacing new alien. These episodes also feature some wonderful timey-whimey stuff – especially for those who pay attention and have good memories. We are also introduced to the Bootstrap paradox which, as The Doctor says, go Google it. A neat idea the way it is used here and something the shows leaves us to ponder. I particularly enjoyed the cinematography in this episode, especially with the way the ghosts moved throughout the ship and how the alien was off threatening from the shadows.
We also (finally) get to see why The Doctor chose this particular face, which was something he asked all the way back during his first episode in series 8. As Who fans know, Capaldi featured in an episode opposite David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor. The logic of it makes sense and fits into the story and character arc of The Doctor, but do not expect anything mind-blowing.
Around mid-series we get to the main story arc which lasts until the end of the series. In The Girl Who Died and The Woman Who Lived we meet Ashildr (Maisie Williams), who becomes central to the series story and Capaldi’s Doctor. It is a classic dilemma of The Doctor trying to figure out when is a good time to act and when is a good time to do nothing. This Doctor still cannot decide if he is a good man or not, and we get a wonderful monologue from Capaldi addressing this. He decides to act, but as we have seen in this modern era, this usually leads him down a path where he does not know when to stop and say ‘no’.
This Doctor still cannot decide if he is a good man or not, and we get a wonderful monologue from Capaldi addressing this.
Williams fits in with this show and the character perfectly. Ashildr is at first a naïve young woman but becomes an understandably jaded woman after her encounter with The Doctor. She returns later in the series antagonistic to The Doctor and almost his equal (as much as a human can be anyway).
The Zygon Invasion and The Zygon Inversion returns to a story thread from the 50thanniversary special The Day of the Doctor. We also see the return of a particular fan favourite from the anniversary episode, which was a welcome surprise, and Jemma Redgrave as Kate Stewart. The episodes deal with some interesting issues about identity and – to a degree – the refugee crises in Europe. It also features the wreckage of a plane, which was of particular poor timing given the crash of a Russian aeroplane in Egypt only a week before. This notwithstanding, the episodes are simply entertaining classic Doctor Who. Yet we also get a wonderful performance (again) from Capaldi when he recounts his experiences during the Time Wars and the effects it has had on him.
Sleep No More is the only standalone episode in this series and features some true Moffat monsters. Moffat gave us The Weeping Angles, and has a particularly twisted way of turning everyday things (like statues) in to terrifying us. These monsters are no different. This episode also features some cleaver cinematography by turning the ‘found footage’ theme on its head, again in a very Moffat sort of way.
Heaven Sent is my favourite episode of this series and features a standout performance by Capaldi, who has been firing on all cylinders throughout this series.
The final three episodes form a three-part arc which features The Doctor at his worst (think of what happened to the Tenth Doctor in The Waters of Mars). I will not spoil why but as anyone remotely aware of this show knows it is expected. Capaldi can be rather scary like this and shows some true menace. Nothing over the top mind you, which makes his tense delivery all the better because you can feel the anger beneath his words.
Heaven Sent is my favourite episode of this series and features a standout performance by Capaldi, who has been firing on all cylinders throughout this series. We do not know why he is sent to this strange castle with this strange monster lurking the halls and chasing, well, slowly coming after him. As the episode progresses we understand why, and it is a fantastic reveal which shows how much The Doctor cares about Clara and the impact she has on him. The pacing of the episode is great. We begin in ignorance yet as The Doctor begins to understand his surroundings the pace builds until the final reveal.
The final episode Hell Bent sees us return to Gallifrey, which we have not seen since The Day of the Doctor. It is good to finally be back on The Doctor’s home world for the first time in the modern series given its importance. The other Time Lords are exactly what we would expect them to be (although I will miss Ken Bones in the role) and they are unsurprisingly fearful of The Doctor. As the title of the episode suggests, he is hell-bent on fixing what happened to Clara. It can be difficult to see The Doctor like this – a menacing and maniacal Time Lord – who thinks he can do whatever he likes simply because he has the power to do so. Yet by going down this path he betrays everything Clara stands for, something she gets to rightfully yell at him about.
This episode also resolves the Hybrid storyline introduced in the first episode of the series. I was mostly disappointed with this arc, yet what Moffat does with it on a character level is rather brilliant.
Finally, the 2015 Christmas episode (The Husbands of River Song) sees the return of Alex Kingston as River Song. This is her first appearance with Capaldi’s Doctor but both are absolutely brilliant with each other. I have loved the story arc of River Song and completely enjoy Kingston in the role – she is confident, sexy and a very fun character to equal The Doctor. There are some great moments between the two (particularly when she realises Capaldi is The Doctor) and the banter is hilarious. However, the best moment (and my favourite) comes in the final minutes of the show when we see The Doctor and River together again – a long call back all the way to the fourth series episode Forest of the Dead. It is a touching moment and a perfect way to end the show.
Series 9 was strong from start to finish and it is great to see Capaldi so confident in the role. Many critics have suggested this is the best series of the modern era, and I find it difficult to disagree with such an assessment. The show is certainly more confident and it even looks like a movie rather than a TV show. We end the series on a rather contemplative (yet happy) note, and with the recent announcement Steven Moffat will be leaving the show after series 10, which leaves us wondering where this series will take us next. Who knows?