Sci-fi show’s eighth season earns mixed reviews

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In my time as a Whovian, I have seen many strange things. I have seen a robotic Doctor get shot by the Doctor’s wife while the Doctor’s wife watches and the Doctor’s best friend, who is pregnant with his wife, also watches, not knowing that the Doctor is actually tiny and safe inside the robotic Doctor (and that’s why season 6 is complicated). I have seen the Doctor and his robotic dog defeat an entire high school full of vampire bat teachers who brainwash their students with the power of chips. I have seen the Doctor defeat an ancient Egyptian god of death using the power of making people old.

One thing I hadn’t quite seen, though, was an army of zombie cyborgs saving the world because of the power of love.

This last occurrence is from season 8 of Doctor Who. This most recent season, which concluded in early November, bears the distinction of being Peter Capaldi’s first season as the Twelfth Doctor. This twelfth incarnation (well, actually, thirteenth incarnation, but then there’s the whole War Doctor thing) of the Doctor had several great episodes, but many of the latest season’s episodes were more disappointing or just straight-up dumb (darn you “In the Forest of the Night”, darn you). However, all of the episodes deserve a look.

Episode 1: “Deep Breath”

4 stars

Peter Capaldi’s first full episode as the Doctor saw the TARDIS vomited up by a dinosaur in Victorian London. The Doctor, as is usually the case after one of his regenerations, was debilitated and acting very odd (even more so than usual), and his babbling at the beginning of the episode is one of my favorite parts about “Deep Breath.” This longer-than-usual episode went on to showcase killer robots, a really creepy restaurant, a Matt Smith cameo, a Tenth Doctor reference and the Paternoster Gang (Vastra, Jenny and the fantastic potato dwarf Strax, recurring characters in the show). This episode, a decently entertaining Who tale and a great introduction for Capaldi, suffers slightly from the downbeat, more somber, less action-packed syndrome that pervades the whole season, but nevertheless, it is a very respectable “Doctor Who” story. This episode also saw the beginning of two story arcs that would last the entire season: hints at the mysterious Missy, who welcomes people to “heaven,” and the beginning of the tale of the Twelfth Doctor and Clara, his companion, that proved to be the centerpiece of the season.

Episode 2: “Into the Dalek”

4 stars

Daleks are the quintessential “Doctor Who” villain. The evil one-eyed space octopi encased inside uber-deadly saltshaker war machines are among my favorite baddies of all time, and the mere sound of the word “exterminate” is usually enough to send the Doctor scrambling for his Sonic Screwdriver (or scarf or celery). “Into the Dalek,” however, is the first Who episode (at least, to my knowledge) that sees the Doctor and his companion going, well, inside of a Dalek. This particular Dalek has apparently decided that Daleks are evil and must be destroyed, and the Doctor wants to know why. While the episode shares the gloomy attitude of “Deep Breath,” it still showcases a Dalek battle scene, which is always a greatly redeeming quality. The episode also introduces the character Danny Pink, who proves to be pivotal later in the season.

Episode 3: “Robot of Sherwood”

5 stars

Many “Doctor Who” episodes stand out to me as simply being more entertaining than the rest. Tom Baker’s “Pyramids of Mars,” Matt Smith’s “The Curse of the Black Spot” and David Tennant’s “Blink,” “Doomsday” and “The Fires of Pompeii” (on second thought, almost all of Tennant’s and Smith’s episodes are like that for me) are all great examples of episodes that have earned a spot on my favorites list. Peter Capaldi’s “Robot of Sherwood” is on this list as well. The most upbeat and silly episode of the season, it sees the Doctor and Clara traveling to medieval Sherwood Forest to meet Robin Hood. They soon discover robots and a plot by the Sheriff of Nottingham to take over the world. Also, the Doctor vs. Robin Hood duel is one of my favorite Doctor moments ever.

Episode 4: “Listen”

3.5 stars

There’s no doubt that “Listen” is a brilliantly-written, well-made piece of entertainment broadcasting. There’s no doubt that it can keep the attention of its viewers and creep them out at the same time. In the episode, the Doctor takes Clara on a trip to the past and the future to try and find out the truth behind every child’s worst nightmare to find out what is really under the bed. The main problem I have with the episode is that it ends very inconclusively, and I am still wondering what may be lying in wait under my place of nightly unconsciousness. The episode also sees the beginning of a relationship between Clara and Danny Pink, which grows in seriousness and importance throughout the season.

Episode 5: “Time Heist”

4.5 stars

In “Time Heist,” “Doctor Who” goes “Ocean’s Eleven” as the Doctor and his friends rob a bank. Not just any bank a high-security bank for the super rich. The Doctor and his crew have all had their memories wiped and aren’t sure why they are robbing the bank, but they have help from someone who does the mysterious entity known as The Architect. The episode has deadly aliens, high-stakes action, good Doctor moments and generally everything a good Who episode should have. I just like reserving 5-star ratings for episodes that make me think “wow, that was good,” and this one didn’t quite accomplish that for some reason.

Episode 6: “The Caretaker”

3 stars

My second least-favorite episode of the season featured a mediocre plot and “villain,” as it was basically centered around the Doctor meeting Danny Pink, Clara’s boyfriend, and developing a disliking for him (even though he did help the Doctor save the world). Everything else, such as the Skovox Blitzer and its threat to the survival of the Earth and its residents, is getting pushed to the background of this review just as it got pushed to the background of the episode.

Episode 7: “Kill the Moon”

4 stars

A great improvement over “The Caretaker,” “Kill the Moon” sees the Doctor and Clara taking some annoying schoolchild (I forgot her name because I want to forget her being in the show, kind of like Wesley Crusher from “Star Trek: The Next Generation”) to the moon in the near future. They meet some astronauts who are tasked with finding out why the moon is putting on weight, as the increase in mass is causing lunar gravity to do some bad stuff to the Earth’s oceans. The crew discovers dead people and spiders on the moon, and the Doctor discovers what’s wrong with it, but then he goes and does one of the least-Doctory things I’ve ever seen him do: he refuses to help solve the problem. That’s my greatest problem with the episode, which was otherwise very good. The episode also sees the relationship between the Doctor and Clara hit rock-bottom, which is significant because their relationship is a centerpiece of the whole season.

Episode 8: “Mummy on the Orient Express”

5 stars

“Kill the Moon” brought with it something “Doctor Who” had been somewhat lacking for much of the season: pure fun (in the form of moon spiders, in that particular episode). “Mummy on the Orient Express” continues that trend by seeing the Doctor and Clara solve a murder mystery. On the Orient Express. In space. With a mummy. Oh, what fun.

Episode 9: “Flatline”

5 stars

My second-favorite episode of the season isn’t as “fun” as, say, “Robot of Sherwood,” but it is still wonderful in that it has everything a “Doctor Who” episode should. All of those things are executed wonderfully. It has a good plot, scary elements, great “monsters” (the “Doctor Who” term for deadly aliens), good characters, great Doctor moments, humor and a shrinking TARDIS. That last one especially is what seals the deal for me and catapults this episode into my personal pantheon of favorites.

Episode 10: “In the Forest of the Night”

2 stars

Just as there are several episodes of Who that stand out because they’re so good, there are several that stand out for the opposite reason because they’re just bad. Christopher Eccleston’s “The End of the World,” David Tennant’s “Love and Monsters,” Matt Smith’s “Vincent and the Doctor” and every Sylvester McCoy episode I’ve ever seen (that’s not to demean McCoy’s excellent portrayal of the Seventh Doctor, however) are prime examples of these less-than-optimal episodes, and “In the Forest of the Night” is now in the top tier of my least-favorite episodes, as well. Like these other episodes, it opens with a great premise: the world wakes up to discover that the Earth is overgrown with trees. However, things soon take a very bad turn as the episode focuses on some brat from the school where Clara teaches who is apparently the key to finding out what is going on with the plant life. Then there enter into this tale wolves, a tiger, sparkly tree spirits, dumb school kids and a really poorly-thought out “missing sibling” cliché for the aforementioned brat. Overall, 2 stars may even be a bit generous for this episode.

Episode 11: “Dark Water”

5 stars

Season 8 as a whole had its hits and its misses, but the 2-part season finale, beginning with “Dark Water,” is certainly one of the former. “Dark Water” sees the death of Danny Pink, Clara’s beau, at the beginning of the episode, and after a very dark occurrence with a distraught Clara and some lava, the Doctor resolves to go to the afterlife to try to get Danny back. They soon discover that death may be a little bit more scary than most people realize or is it all a cover for something else? “Dark Water” reveals many answers to season-spanning questions, such as “Who is Missy?” Missy had been popping up throughout the season, welcoming people to “heaven.” Her identity reveal at the end of “Dark Water” is one of the greatest I’ve ever seen, and any longtime Who fan will be excited when they find out who Missy really is.

Episode 12: “Death in Heaven”

5 stars

The second part of the finale sees the classic Who villains, the Cybermen, emerging from a morgue in London with a terrible plan for the earth all of the dead are going to be converted into Cyber-ness. As Missy’s army of killer robots works to accomplish this, the Doctor, or should I say the President of Earth, and UNIT, the anti-alien threat organization, works to stop them before it’s too late for the world. This episode, which sees the conclusion to the story of Clara, the Doctor and Danny Pink, features good, old-fashion Cybermen action, creepy graveyard zombie Cybermen scenes and wonderful acting by Michelle Gomez as Missy. “Death in Heaven,” a longer-than-usual episode, is the perfect way to close out Season 8 and a great episode in and of itself.