Doctor Who in 2015

(59 comments)

We’ll start with the stories ranking, with letter grades assigned, and then finish with some general thoughts on the season.

Under the Lake/Before the Flood

There’s really no way to avoid this being the stinker of the season. I’m not going to rehearse my basic criticism of Toby Whithouse’s output from about 2012 on at great length, but man I hope he starts displaying any instinct towards varied character arcs soon, preferably by writing stories about things other than protagonists who are mildly uncomfortable with their own moral ambiguity. That said, watched in the context of the rest of the season it improves, and in ways that serve to highlight the overall structure of the season.

To take a page from Jane’s usual collection of interpretive tricks, this is a season built around mirroring, both in its structure of two-part episodes with paralleled titles and in the sense that in various ways each story rehearses the events of Hell Bent. And this story is a part of that, and a significant inversion in that it’s the one iteration in which it’s the Doctor who seemingly dies instead of Clara. Most notably, Clara’s furious refusal of the Doctor’s death and her insistance on not being abandoned puts the lie to her eventual claim that she never asked the Doctor for a duty of care (though not nearly as much as his entirely sensible point that you shouldn’t have to ask in Face the Raven).

But it’s a clumsy and half-conceived of version of what the season is doing - one that becomes clear when rewatched in the context of the larger whole, but still only as something that doesn’t really take the place because the story is inexplicably of the belief that “ghosts on an underwater base” is a premise with inherent weight and doesn’t seem to grasp that i you’re going to do an extended procedural stretch of Doctor Who you need to actually have the key steps of the procedure make sense and be set up. Some of this is explained by the fact that this was made while Moffat was busy doing Sherlock and before the rest of the season actually existed. Other bits are explained by the failings of Toby Whithouse. None of that removes the basic fact that this sucked.

D

 

Sleep No More/Face the Raven

My decision to make this a two-parter on my initial ratings list was mostly a joke - a stubborn insistence on the “season of two-parters” tag in the face of its obvious counterexample. But I decided to watch them back-to-back for my rewatch as well, and was bemused to see that they actually work thematically, if not on any plot grounds, both in how they quietly break the two-parter structure in a way that’s important for the finale (I’m much more inclined to argue that Heaven Sent and Hell Bent are separate stories than that they form a three-parter with Face the Raven) and in that they are both stories in which the Doctor loses.

And more than that, I think the “all two-parters” structure hangs over this. Yes, these are clearly two one-parters (I really think the “three part finale” case is slightly less sane than calling Mawdryn Undead, Terminus, and Enlightenment a twelve-parter), but in a season of reflections the broken mirror doesn’t exactly sit outside the pattern. The structure tacitly asks us to look at these together.

All of which said, my initial enthusiasm about Sleep No More drained somewhat harshly in the face of a third viewing. It wasn’t even that I disliked it - if anything I appreciated the subtleties more, including the amount of thought that went into its direction. It’s just that it’s slow. Its forty-five minutes feel longer than Hell Bent’s hour. I spent most of the runtime shocked at how early in the episode we still were.

Face the Raven is still brilliant, mind you.

B (a straight average of the two parts)

 

The Husbands of River Song

Obviously I’ve not really re-evaluated this from my review on Friday, but here’s where it falls on the overall stories ranking.

B

 

The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar

This improved for me considerably on a rewatch, with much of its improvement coming from being contextualized by Heaven Sent/Hell Bent. (Most notably, in the opening to The Witch’s Familiar, which I remarked upon in my Face the Raven and Heaven Sent reviews, but which really is appallingly clever.) I stand by my criticism of The Witch’s Familiar as a thing waited a week for, but it’s the more interesting episode by a mile between the fantastic resolution and the incredible Doctor/Davros conversation.

Indeed, the real thrill of this is that it is the most like watching a classic series DVD that the new series has ever really felt. This delights in its vintage, retro aesthetic, thrilling in the Terry Nation bits in a way nothing has dared to since, well, Resurrection of the Daleks I suppose but this actually goes well. Incredibly interesting theming going on with it, in the idea of a dangerous and ill-advised friendship and the introduction of the Hybrid. That’s quite smart. And the Doctor/Davros conversation really is brilliant, as is “your sewers are revolting.”

One really wonders, frankly, why they marketed it the way they did, with trailers that literally said “same as usual” instead of just screaming “Missy, the Daleks, and motherfucking Davros, September 19th on BBC One.” That is perhaps the strangest thing about this season; the relative lack of fanfare. It’s not making any critic’s best-of lists even though it’s at a relative high point in quality. It’s like the Sylvester McCoy era in its “weird hidden gem of popular culture” aesthetic, only without the cancellation-level ratings.

B+

 

The Girl Who Died/The Woman Who Lived

The failings of The Woman Who Lived really vanished when watched back to back, in much the same way that I suspect nobody notices how shit Pyramids of Mars 4 is when they just watch the DVD in one shot. With this story’s one major weakness thus obscured it’s left to largely shine. Hindsight also does it favors - having seen Williams play Ashildir/Me at many ages, watching her cheekily unreconstructed Arya impersonation and her adolescent quasi-villain is really impressive.

The Girl Who Died is genuinely fantastic - an efficient and giddy thrill that feels like all the best bits of the Graham Williams era. It’s also one of the episodes that benefits most from hindsight as you notice that its structure, with Clara basically standing on the sideline of the story and only really giving motivational speeches to the Doctor on occasion, prefigures Heaven Sent. That this is the fifth best episode of the season speaks volumes about how good the season is.

Meanwhile, The Woman Who Lived remains an excellent character piece whose plot is basically incidental. Rupert Hound is still insufferable, but on the whole these feel like perfect demonstrations of what Doctor Who is supposed to be for.

A-

 

Heaven Sent/Hell Bent

These were exciting. They still are; the buzz from them hanging around. They had their imperfections, but man, my overwhelming memory of the two weeks after Face the Raven is just unabashed enthusiasm about Doctor Who.

Heaven Sent, in particular, is something of a “neat trick” sort of episode. It feels its length, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but necessarily isn’t a good one. In particular, the plot does not reward close inspection; knowing that this is the Time Lord’s interrogation scheme makes several aspects rather impenetrable. I’m actually not troubled by the “what’s the order of events with the confession dial” issue, mind you; I think there are clearly two confession dials, and I doubt the Doctor talks about the Hybrid on the one from The Magician’s Apprentice at all. No, what troubles me is why the Time Lords gave him the “punch through the wall” option instead of just going “right we’ve captured you now tell us or die.”

But for all of it, it’s still just a thrill to watch. The technical aspects shine with rewatching - the Expressionist shadows and Capaldi’s breathtakingly meticulous performance. Murray Gold is doing his best work in ages. And Hell Bent is simply delightful through and through, its preposterous oversignification only becoming richer on subsequent viewings. The best season finale since The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang.

A

 

The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion

It literally doesn’t have a bad scene. It’s overflowing with ideas, both dramatic and political. Capaldi and Coleman both get some of the best scenes they’ll have in their careers. It’s an absolutely superlative piece of Doctor Who. As good as the show has ever been.

But more than that, it was shockingly, rawly 2015. Not just in the obvious parallelisms of terrorism, although the start of its TARDIS Eruditorum writes itself, but in the way that the big speech at the end feels like what you wish someone had managed to say during the debate over bombing Syria. Jack’s critique of its liberalism is the smartest thing anyone’s written about Doctor Who this year, but it remains impossible to watch the scene and not wish that there were words that could actually accomplish that. And it’s hard to remember the last time that Doctor Who felt that rawly and perfectly on the pulse of the world.

But more than that, it’s just what I want out of Doctor Who right now. More than any other story this year, this is the one that felt like it approached its premise with the constant question “what does this let us do,” and sought out the odd things that only Doctor Who could ever do, and that only work because of this week’s premise. I adored the space left for characters, and the fact that bizarre moments like the soldiers lured to their deaths by their families in The Zygon Invasion or the tragic body horror in The Zygon Inversion made it into the episode. There was lots of good Doctor Who this year. But this is the one that feels like a viable model for the future.

A+

 

Which brings us to concluding thoughts.

I ended last year thrilled that we were getting another season of Doctor Who in basically the same mould. And I suppose that’s the place to start, because it fits oddly with my usual stated desire from Doctor Who, namely something I haven’t seen before. Because the last thing I wanted was just Series 8 done again with less originality.

No, what I wanted was something more akin to the difficult second album - something that followed in the same vein as Series 8, but that refined it and pushed it to points that were a bit riskier and more at the edges of what the approach can do. And by and large, that’s what Series 9 did.

Much of this, I think, was the two-part structure, which is obviously a one-off experiment that can’t and shouldn’t be carried forward (although I suspect two-parters, in the general case, are back). But this season it gave stories a certain degree of weight. I compared The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar to a classic series DVD, but that’s actually pretty apropos for the whole season. At least four stories - and indeed a total of nine episodes - feel like thing that I’ll genuinely enjoy going back and looking at in ten or twenty years. I can’t wait to give them Eruditorum essays.

There are quibbles, of course, and not just in the Whithouse two-parter and the noble failure that is Sleep No More. But there always are. On the whole, though, this felt, more than anything, like Season Thirteen to me; a run of stories almost all of which stand up to multiple rewatches. Like Season Thirteen, it lacks the sort of wild and effervescent energy of the season before it. But it’s also considerably less uneven, and its high points are genuinely higher. And one suspects the analogy will hold to Series Ten/Season Fourteen, both with needed change that refreshes things and with, by the end, a sense that it’s time for even bigger change. (Though hopefully it’ll avoid the grotesque racism.)

All told, a second year in a row to be stunningly good. I know the Capaldi era isn’t resonating with critics or mass audiences quite like the Smith or Tennant eras did. But this is a creative high point on par with the Hinchcliffe and McCoy eras - something that’s going to be a joy to look back on and experience again for years to come.

In short, wow.

Comments

James Brough 1 year, 9 months ago

I have a nasty feeling that Under the Lake/Before the Flood was Whithouse's audition piece for showrunner. Episode 1 feels like someone showing they can do classic Who, because it's just monsters and corridors. Episode 2 meanwhile is New Who by numbers as the whole thing's tidied up with the bootstrap paradox. There's the tropiness of it all too - the black guy dies first, a woman gets punished, by dying, for not doing what a man said she should. But don't worry - another man learns a valuable lesson from her death. Sadly, the lesson turns out to be to force his friend to tell his boss that he fancies her, despite that she relies on him as he's her interpreter. Because there's no way that could be awkward.

I can't help but think it would have been vastly better if the bloke had died and the woman (O'Donnell? Shows how memorable the characters are that I can't remember names...) went back and told Cass that her interpreter fancied her, but was never going to say anything about it. Given that O'Donnell all but idolises the Doctor, she's then got a potential character arc - how does she respond to her friend's death? You can then play that off against Clara and whether she's being affected by the Doctor, plus it's Cass's choice as to whether she changes the relationship between her and Lunn.

One theory about the last couple of seasons. I read somewhere - it may have been here, so apologies if that's the case - that Matheson and Dollard are the first to write for Who without ever watching the original run, so for them Who has always been a 45 minute series, normally in self-contained episodes. I do wonder if this explains why their episodes seem so much better structured.

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Alex 1 year, 9 months ago

I didn't mind Sleep No More, so for me, a series with only one dud of a two-parter is a very strong series. Hopefully these rumours of Capaldi only doing 3 years are false, it feels like he's only just begun.

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Megara Justice Machine 1 year, 9 months ago

From what I've seen, this season has been resonating pretty well with the critics, actually. Granted, I probably don't sample as many sources as you might, but mostly I've seen nothing but "wow!"s. Maybe not as mega-impressive "wow"s like yours have been (and which I agree with completely), but I've seen practically no carping whatsoever except for forum posts, and we know how much those are worth.

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ScarvesandCelery 1 year, 9 months ago

Same. Most of the critics I've been following have happily called this the best (or one of the best) seasons of New Who - Den of Geek, Doctor Who TV, The AV Club, and Verity! Podcast have all been places where I've seen that kind of sentiment. And I've had the sense that quite a few fans who've been critical of Moffat Who in the past have broadly at least felt that this season has been a big improvement for Moffat, even if they still have critiques to make, such Whovian Feminism, and on this site, Jack Graham. MrTARDISreviews doesn't seem to be a fan from the brief glimpses of his reviews I've seen, but frankly I can't help but feel he's in a place with the show (at least, Moffat's material) where he'll latch onto anything to hate. That happens with fans sometimes.
There does seem to be a more, and I'm not quite sure this is the right word, lukewarm response to the season in the corner of fandom this site is a part of - or at least, a feeling that this has been, on the whole, a very good season, but not one those fans are quite so enthusiastic for.
And I think Phil is onto something when he says that Capaldi's era does seem to be resonating less with the general public - the ratings are visibly down in a way that can be read as the audience warming less to this Doctor than to Smith and Tennant (yes, there are other factors, but I suspect the Capaldi era's ratings will settle at around this "still solid, but about a million less viewers than there were in previous eras of New Who"). Capaldi is a visibly less conventional leading man than Smith and Tennant, a harder sell to the general public. He'll probably be destined to be a hugely respected Doctor, a fan favourite but not one the general public remembers immediately when conjuring up folk memories of Doctor Who. The Troughton to Smith and Tennant's Pertwee and Baker, as it were.

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James Brough 1 year, 9 months ago

I'm not convinced the drop in audience is down to Capaldi. Looking at his first series, it averaged 7.26, down from 7.44 for Smith - so a drop of 0.18 million. By comparison, Smith's first series dropped 0.3 million from Tennant and Tennant 0.22 million from Eccleston. Take Capaldi's first episode out - a Doctor's debut is always going to attract some extra attention - and it averages 7.1 million and is very consistent - the highest is 7.6 million and the lowest 6.7, with a slight boost for the last two episodes. If Capaldi were a problem, I'd expect to see the audience continue to drop during the series. Instead, the big drop is the million or so people who don't come back for series 9. When there's a bundle of other reasons for that - poor time slot, strong opposition, lack of publicity - it seems to make sense to see the new factors as being to blame, rather than one which was not a problem the previous year/

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ScarvesandCelery 1 year, 9 months ago

Fair points. You're quite right that other factors - the not so great promotion, being broadcast opposite the X factor and the Rugby World Cup, and the 8pm timeslot - also play into the drop off in ratings.
But I do think Capaldi is a factor - not because he's failed - quite the opposite, fans and Critics seem to love his performance and Doctor - I certainly do, and the ratings are still strong, in spite of the drop off (6 million+ viewers is still a hit, and I don't expect the show to get less viewers).
But there is a sense that Capaldi, and this era, have resonated less with the general public. Series Eight and Nine have been my personal favourites of New Who, but I do think the average Radio Times "Best Doctor" poll would have Capaldi come in behind Tennant and Smith, and that your average non Doctor Who fan would be more likely to associate the show with David Tennant.

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Janine 1 year, 9 months ago

Which really makes sense, then, in terms of the previous point. For the sake of making a sweeping generalisation that someone will probably kill me for, the kind of people who watch The X Factor probably aren't the kind of people whose favourite Doctor will be Peter Capaldi.

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Aylwin 1 year, 9 months ago

While scheduling must have had a significant impact on the ratings, AIs are also down, and that is a direct (though I'm sure imperfect) measure of how much the audience likes what they're seeing.

By my reckoning, the averages for each season of the new series (including Christmas specials with the preceding season) are:-

1: 82.36
2: 84.43
3: 86.36
4: 87.93
Specials: 88.00
5: 85.93
6: 86.07
7: 86.00 (including everything up to TOTD)
8: 83.15
9: 82.23

Going by those figures, season 9 has been the least well-liked by the audience at large, while season 8 otherwise only beats season 1, and that only because the latter was dragged down by 76s for the first two episodes, before people made their minds up that this was something they liked - take those out of the reckoning, and season 1 comes in at 83.42.

There must be various possible explanations for the recent downturn, but personnel changes are the most obvious, given the timing. If you look at 7A on its own, it's actually the peak of the Moffat era, averaging 87.20, while the block from The Snowmen to TOTD averages 85.45. So you have a modest drop going from the Ponds to Clara, then a bigger one going from Smith to Capaldi.

So yeah, the available evidence indicates that Scarvesand Celery is right about the general audience.

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Dr. Happypants 1 year, 9 months ago

What's really interesting about the AI numbers is how wildly they diverge when broken down by age: young people tended to give AI scores 5 points higher than viewers 55 and older, and the divergence was about 9 whole points for Heaven Sent.

http://www.doctorwhonews.net/2015/12/series-nine-ratings-update.html

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Phil Sandifer 1 year, 9 months ago

That's particularly significant because AIs only track same-day viewing, and timeshifting still skews younger. So one explanation of the lower AIs is simply that older viewers are getting increasingly represented in the sample without actually making up a larger share of the audience.

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Phil Sandifer 1 year, 9 months ago

It's also worth noting that we don't have AI figures for most other shows, so we've got a trend for Doctor Who that's totally isolated from other factors. (Which is to say that we don't know where other prime time dramas have been going over the past few years, where AIs in general have been going, or really much of anything to put Doctor Who's AI decline in context with.

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Chicanery 1 year, 9 months ago

It's Rufus Hound, not Rupert.

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carey 1 year, 9 months ago

The man reason I like to include Fear the Raven into a three parter with Heaven Sent/Hell Bent is so it can ends up being my favourite story of the year. Without doing so, my list matches yours (similar I like to make the Girl Who Died/The Woman Who Lived into two one parters so the former ends up higher on the list!)

I also think the final three episodes work as a three parter because they correspond to the classical three act structure so beloved of script writers nowadays, while Moffat simultaneously thumbs nose at the concept and shows how you can play around with it.

Face the Raven is very much the exposition: who are these characters and what is the it's first turning point? Heaven Sent is very much about "rising action" with the protagonist continually finding hinderences, but times 4.5 billion years worth of them. And Hell Bent is the resolution, but in typical Moffat subversion of the form we find that the protagonist is wrong and he is the one who needs to pay the price for his actions.

I'm also a great fan of romance, and for me the final three episodes are one of the best love stories presented in Doctor Who: two people love each other to a point where it is unhealthy and they need to separate but neither can bring themselves to do so until one takes the drastic action of deleting their own memories of the affair. I'm surprised no-one has referenced Charlie Kaufman and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as an influence on this story.

Dramatically, I think this one of the best seasons of returned Who, standing alongside 1, 3 and 5. Unfortunately, I think neither the general public nor the BBC themselves (as Philip noted in his criticism for the marketing of The Magician's Apprentice) no what to make of it at the moment. with the later I think that's at least in part down to my biggest criticism of the Moffat years: he lacks the support of executive producers immediately above him to champion the show. In short, Moffat has never had a Jane Tranter or, more importantly, Julie Gardner to really make sure the programme is appreciated and supported in the BBC. We also saw the departure of BBC Drama Controller Ben Stephenson this year (someone who I saw present several previews of Doctor Who at the BFI and who always appeared incredibly proud of it) and it very much comes across that the BBC is taking Doctor Who for granted in the UK tv climate.

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Phil Sandifer 1 year, 9 months ago

That's the best logic for what is and isn't a two-parter ever.

Also, my captcha on this is SUCK.

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carey 1 year, 9 months ago

The man reason I like to include Fear the Raven into a three parter with Heaven Sent/Hell Bent is so it can ends up being my favourite story of the year. Without doing so, my list matches yours (similar I like to make the Girl Who Died/The Woman Who Lived into two one parters so the former ends up higher on the list!)

I also think the final three episodes work as a three parter because they correspond to the classical three act structure so beloved of script writers nowadays, while Moffat simultaneously thumbs nose at the concept and shows how you can play around with it.

Face the Raven is very much the exposition: who are these characters and what is the it's first turning point? Heaven Sent is very much about "rising action" with the protagonist continually finding hinderences, but times 4.5 billion years worth of them. And Hell Bent is the resolution, but in typical Moffat subversion of the form we find that the protagonist is wrong and he is the one who needs to pay the price for his actions.

I'm also a great fan of romance, and for me the final three episodes are one of the best love stories presented in Doctor Who: two people love each other to a point where it is unhealthy and they need to separate but neither can bring themselves to do so until one takes the drastic action of deleting their own memories of the affair. I'm surprised no-one has referenced Charlie Kaufman and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as an influence on this story.

Dramatically, I think this one of the best seasons of returned Who, standing alongside 1, 3 and 5. Unfortunately, I think neither the general public nor the BBC themselves (as Philip noted in his criticism for the marketing of The Magician's Apprentice) no what to make of it at the moment. with the later I think that's at least in part down to my biggest criticism of the Moffat years: he lacks the support of executive producers immediately above him to champion the show. In short, Moffat has never had a Jane Tranter or, more importantly, Julie Gardner to really make sure the programme is appreciated and supported in the BBC. We also saw the departure of BBC Drama Controller Ben Stephenson this year (someone who I saw present several previews of Doctor Who at the BFI and who always appeared incredibly proud of it) and it very much comes across that the BBC is taking Doctor Who for granted in the UK tv climate.

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ScarvesandCelery 1 year, 9 months ago

"what troubles me is why the Time Lords gave him the “punch through the wall” option instead of just going “right we’ve captured you now tell us or die.”"
I think it's perfectly reasonable to believe that the Time Lords thought presenting the Doctor with a twenty foot wall made of a substance harder than Diamond as the Veil advanced on him with no means of escape was a perfectly reasonable way of saying "Right, we've captured you, now tell us or die." Even with the Doctor, you don't plan for him spending four billion years burning himself to death again and again in order to punch through that wall. That's not an escape you expect anyone to try. Hell, it's implied the Doctor probably wouldn't have gone that far if he wasn't trying to save his best friend, and the Time Lords didn't plan for Clara to die in "Face the Raven" (which is, of course, a large part of the point of "Face the Raven", "Heaven Sent", and "Hell Bent").

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Phil Sandifer 1 year, 9 months ago

Right, but, like, did nobody check in at the two billion year mark and go "oshit"

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David Anderson 1 year, 9 months ago

Overelaborate plans with insufficient failsafes has been a Timelord cultural trait since before we knew they were called Timelords.

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Tamsyn Lawrence 1 year, 9 months ago

I've actually never thought that the 5 billion years the Doctor experiences within the confession dial castle thing were also experienced by Gallifrey in a strictly 1:1 temporal ratio, as it were. Why shouldn't time pass quicker, relatively, within the dial? That would make a certain degree of sense, too: if the Time Lords though the Doctor might take a while enduring the torture of the Veil before he finally spat out the secret about the Hybrid, then why not set things up so that anticipated few years or so goes by in an eye-blink?

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Anton B 1 year, 9 months ago

That's similar to how I read it too. There's no reason why time in the Dial, on Gallifrey or even in the universe outside should be linked. It's the old 'meanwhile in the future trope' where events in different time zones are perceived to be running concurrently.
In comics the best example is in Silver Age DC where every Superboy adventure with the Legion in the 30th century must be consecutive despite time travel being his means of participating. Another example in Doctor Who would be The Parting of the Ways where a sense of urgency is created around Rose getting the TARDIS to rescue the,Doctor despite his stand-off against the Daleks happening millions of years in Rose's future.

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ferret 1 year, 9 months ago

My take is that it's intentional - this is torture, not an execution-or-reprieve moment.

If you actually want information but you say to the Doctor "right we’ve captured you now tell us or die" and he replies "No", you're screwed. You don't have the info you need, and he knows he's called your bluff.

Whereas if you say "tell us now, it doesn't have to hurt any more. We can stop the pain right now, all you have to do is tell us. You know how long it would take to punch through that wall, you of all people can calculate how many more times you need to painfully drag your dying body to burn yourself alive - because you've just remembered all the times you've done this before, haven't you? You think you can do it, but you can't. Why would you? It's so futile, the pain is so unnecessary. Inevitably you will tell us what we want to know - why not just tell us know? End the pain. We don't want to hurt you any more. But we will. Tell us, and this will all be over." - there you have a chance as you're not threatening to kill someone, you're telling them you're going to hurt them until they cave in. There is no bluff to call. They have a ray of hope so faint and distant it serves only to crush their spirit, hence the wall.

On anyone else but the most obstinate man in the universe, this could work.

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Janine 1 year, 9 months ago

Phil, I'm still not sold on your point on the whole three-part finale debacle. True, Sleep No More and Face the Raven are a lovely two-parter, thematically. But, of course, the central conceit of Hell Bent is that it's been a story about Clara the whole time. The last three episodes are almost unambiguously a story about companion exits, taking each one, pulling it apart, and moving onto the next. And it's telling that even the production team see it as a two-parter, with the recapitulation at the start of Hell Bent starting off with Face the Raven.

And it's worth noticing that the themes don't just work within each two-parter, too. The idea of the Doctor losing is all about narrative control in the case of Sleep No More - losing his control over the narrative. But the control itself needs validation, and that extends back to Before the Flood, where he breaks the fourth wall; and The Zygon Inversion, where he tricks the memory of everyone else until he can tell the story he wants to. He then loses again, moving forwards, in Hell Bent, where he uses the narrative to trick/save himself, and can't work out what sort of a story he's in until it's over. It's a series where the Doctor grows progressively less aware of what's going on around him.

Even the radicalisation themes of The Zygon Invasion are apparent elsewhere: in Under the Lake, people walk around repeating the same message over and over again, after it is ingrained in their minds and the rest of them is dead; and in Sleep No More, a message is subtly embedded in the story being told which will turn people into monsters.

The Sleep No More Eruditorum entry should be interesting. That was, what, the day after the Paris attacks? I'd been busy those couple of days, and on the Saturday went out for a meal on Southbank; arrived back home ten minutes later, switched on the telly to watch my recording of Sleep No More, and there wasthe full report on the attacks. Huge bearing over the episode, well worth talking about. They even have a retroactive effect on The Zygon Invasion, with the mother impersonation scene feeling like an unintentionally anti-airstrike moment; the soldier choosing to react emotively to the situation is what gets him killed, just like the airstrikes, which are an entirely emotive reaction to people being killed in Paris. But maybe let's not go there.

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ScarvesandCelery 1 year, 9 months ago

My Episode/ Story Rankings

Hell Bent
Face the Raven
Heaven Sent
The Zygon Invasion/ The Zygon Inversion
The Girl Who Died
The Magician's Apprentice/ The Witch's Familiar
The Woman Who Lived
The Husbands of River Song
Sleep No More
Under the Lake/ Before the Flood

On the whole, I'm with Phil. This was a marvellous season, which I loved to bits, but I was slightly more excited by Series Eight - while that year felt a bit rougher at the edges, everything felt a little fresher, even though there is a real sense in which series nine has been more daring and experimental.

But overall, these two seasons have been my favourites of New Who. A great Doctor, a great companion, some of my all time favourite episodes, fascinating themes, and a willingness to push what Doctor Who can be. The Twelfth Doctor/ Clara era has been a real golden era for me, one of the show's creative high points.

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Daibhid Ceannaideach 1 year, 9 months ago

The Black Guardian Trilogy theory has surely become slightly more sane now that an official two-parter has been written by different writers.

In fact, I've decided my favourite story is an 826-parter. There are parts where it drags a bit, and a couple of points where the gaps between episodes don't do it any favours, but it's generally pretty solid and often excellent.

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EvilBug 1 year, 9 months ago

I found this series to be the worst in my recent memory, probably the worst out of whole nuWho. Maybe I warm up to it on rewatch, but so far I haven't mustered the courage to actually do so.

I skip my complaints on the most, hardly have much to add, but would like to focus on some:
Under the Lake/Before the Flood could be brilliant if they bothered to make it actually make sense and not substitute actual motivation or scheming with paradox.
Zygon Inv had this jarring resolution where Doctor endorses status quo in which Zygons are forced to live in fear (It's never disputed if humanity is actually a bunch of bigoted fucks who would club any Zygon they can find) leaving Kate in charge to be complacent thinking she has a button to wipe everyone out. Also, the fact that Bonnie seems to be the only one to remember all the dead redshirts. It's annoying

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Dustin 1 year, 9 months ago

Yeah, there was some serious victim blaming going on in Z.Inv.

Doctor: You can't fight the humans!
Bonnie: Then let us come out of hiding and be ourselves! D: You can't! The humans will kill you all!
B: So let us fight!
D: You can't fight the humans!

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Dustin 1 year, 9 months ago

Which is also a really dark echo of the Doctor subliminally commanding humanity to massacre the Silence in S6.

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Aylwin 1 year, 9 months ago

Bonnie didn't back down, she realized the box was empty.

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Dadalama 1 year, 9 months ago

errr that wasn't "Aylwin" that was Dadalama >.>
I don't know why it did that

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Dustin 1 year, 9 months ago

I don't know either. It nearly turned me into someone called "Luca."

(This comment will almost certainly end up being posted twice after multiple captcha attempts).

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Phil Sandifer 1 year, 9 months ago

That's all very weird. I've let Anna know.

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LordRiven 1 year, 9 months ago

If you want to imagine the future of the Eruditorium comments section, imagine a hand, re-clicking on 'reply' - forever.

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EvilBug 1 year, 9 months ago

Most jarring is the fact that the same people who are blamed for being victims are not blamed for being perpetrators.

Bonnie is wrong because humans will hate bubbly dildo monsters, Bonnie is not wrong for attacking and killing multiple humans and zygons alike.

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Dustin 1 year, 9 months ago

Yeah, there was some serious victim blaming going on in Z.Inv.

Doctor: You can't fight the humans!
Bonnie: Then let us come out of hiding and be ourselves! D: You can't! The humans will kill you all!
B: So let us fight!
D: You can't fight the humans!

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Aylwin 1 year, 9 months ago

Looking at the season as a whole, the often casual attitude of both characters and storytelling to the deaths of non-"special" people was something I really disliked, given how it was thrown into relief by the incessant obsessing over the prospective death of a regular character. Particularly when this was a character with a track-record of claiming superiority over the "little people". Particularly when she ended up neither dying nor living on like the rest of us, but getting special dispensation to indefinitely opt out of death, the great leveller, because she has friends at court. It's so fucking aristocratic.

Fiction, especially long-running episodic fiction with a regular cast and an ephemeral one, and with a routinely high death-toll, inevitably promotes an unhealthily hierarchical attitude to the value or disposability of human life, but writers have a choice as to whether they seek to correct for that as best they can, ignore it, or heighten it. The extraordinary degree to which this season opted to wallow in it left a nasty taste in my mouth.

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EvilBug 1 year, 9 months ago

There's little way around it, and, after all, people don't mourn random passer-bys that much in real life, but it would be nice to remember that they were actually killed when you try to tally who went too far.

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Lambda 1 year, 9 months ago

It's a problem the new series is particularly susceptible to, since the conventions of modern television point it towards character-based narrative, likely to be fundamentally concerned with individuals, while the format and the genre it's most closely associated with point it towards stories where events directly affect large numbers of people, like planets full of them. Early instances where Who focused more on its core cast were "saved" by circumstances; Cartmel's politics preserved a concern with societies, and the Eccleston series needed to give reasons for watching Doctor Who and being concerned with things affecting large numbers of people rather than eating chips, so the relationship between the Doctor and Rose gained symbolism regarding worldwide concerns.

But I've found this to be a significant problem from Tennant onwards, with stuff like the end of the third having to be concerned with the Doctor's rather inappropriate feelings about the Master. I do think the things Moffat likes doing accentuate the problem though. For instance, doing a better job of consent than Journey's End is certainly a good thing. But I would have thought you could do it entirely with about three lines:

Doctor: I'm going to do X to you for your own good now.

Clara: No, that's not acceptable.

Doctor: Right. Now, what to do since that's out of the picture...

If it becomes a major goal of the narrative, then having a time machine in the same story starts to seem a little out of place. And things like this can easily go wrong.

I think it relates to a rather unusual criticism I have of recent stuff. (I've still liked the last two years quite a bit overall, but the strengths have been very well articulated here already.) The main characters are just too interesting! In the right sort of story, I love character-based narrative, something like Beast Player Erin I'l just watch episode after episode. But when the most basic fact about your premise is "time machine which can go anywhere", it's the "anywhere" which is surely the most interesting part, and dealing with too many psychological complexities in the leads is rather distracting and skews things in this way. If we look at the observation of the characters in Fury from the Deep being defined by their competence at dealing with seaweed invasions, while some additional complexity playing in the background is probably a good thing, if you're not primarily interested in how characters deal with a seaweed invasion, then maybe you didn't want to include it in the first place.

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EvilBug 1 year, 9 months ago

"The main characters are just too interesting!"
For you, maybe. For me, they are not, so why the hell are they wasting my precious time when they should be showing me monsters and exotic locations.

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Charles Knight 1 year, 9 months ago

"both with needed change that refreshes things and with, by the end, a sense that it’s time for even bigger change. "

Interesting to note that Moffat already has said that the new companion will be a young female women (likely contemporary?)

So it will be interesting to see what they do to stop a retread of the last few years in that regard. Maybe an out of left field casting?

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Dustin 1 year, 9 months ago

Which is also a really dark echo of the Doctor subliminally commanding humanity to massacre the Silence in S6.

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Max Curtis 1 year, 9 months ago

Can I just reiterate the amazingness of Jack Graham's liberalism piece? I think the episode's overall message stands up rather well, even if I'd have preferred a less straightforward liberal approach, but Jack shows that politically conscious Doctor Who is the sort of Doctor Who that's most worth engaging with. My dream is to look back on this story and laugh about how quaint it seems.

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Riggio 1 year, 9 months ago

I was also one of the people who loved this season, and your thematic reflections are revelatory for me. I have a bunch of my own thoughts and my own rankings here.

Where we differ is in our thoughts on Hell Bent and Heaven Sent. I thought Hell Bent was a wonderful story, but that there was so much Gallifreyan world-building, its follow-ups with Rassilon, the Sisterhood, and the Time Lords will be much more interesting than everything in that episode that wasn't about the Doctor, Clara, and Ashildir talking to each other.

And I consider Heaven Sent a masterpiece of existential terror.

More here: http://adamwriteseverything.blogspot.ca/2015/12/the-rankings-peter-capaldi-year-2.html

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Janine 1 year, 9 months ago

And as for rankings, I can only do the episodes separately. There's not a single two-parter with as closely-connected single-parters as those of the Davies era, so they each need to be given attention.

Heaven Sent
Face the Raven
The Girl Who Died
Hell Bent
The Zygon Inversion
The Zygon Invasion
The Witch's Familiar
The Magician's Apprentice
The Woman Who Lived
Sleep No More
Under the Lake
Before the Flood

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Janine 1 year, 9 months ago

Missed The Husbands of River Song, whoops. Only seen it once. I'll put it in second place.

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UrsulaL 1 year, 9 months ago

As far as stand alone vs. two part stories goes, I actually think that Moffat has been experimenting, subtly, with four part stories.

Dark Water/Death in Heaven/The Magician's Apprentice/The Witch's Familiar is a four-part story about the restoration of the Doctor/Master relationship after it's breakdown in their respective previous incarnations.

And Face the Raven/Heaven Sent/Hell Bent/The Husbands of River Song is a four-part story exploring the need of the Doctor to respect the autonomy and self-determination of his companions, particularly women.

Each set of four flows very naturally from one to the next, with distinct character arcs that are developed over the four episodes.

And I'm not sure that the Doctor would have been able to deal with Clara and River as well in the second set of four, if he hadn't had to adapt to his old friend the Master becoming Missy, and really learning to see women as people, whether Time Lord or Human.

With, perhaps, a third four-part story arc, with The Girl Who Died/The Woman Who Lived/Face the Raven/Hell Bent being Ashildr's story, and another case of the Doctor having to learn to see and respect a woman for who she is.

The Zygon Invasion/Inversion worked, when it did, based on the ensemble cast of UNIT women, and as a story about the need for compassion and, more importantly, justice, for refugees. (Falling apart when it drifted into anti-terrorism cliches that ignored the political problems associated with power inequality.)

And Sleep No More, Under the Lake and Before the Flood don't really fit, thematically, with the rest of the season, and the four-story arcs.

Perhaps it would have worked better to more clearly define Ashildr's four-part story in four episodes of its own, so you had a season of three four-part stories plus "Heaven Sent" as the Doctor's stand-alone.

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Aimee 1 year, 9 months ago

"...the Doctor having to learn to see and respect a woman for who she is"?

Replace "woman" with "human" and you may have a point.

Otherwise, I find this conclusion to be, with all due respect, utter and complete codswallop.

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UrsulaL 1 year, 9 months ago

That particular iteration of my conclusion was the function of Ashildr's four-part story, and she's definitely human, if technologically hybridized.

Missy's four-part story was establishing female Time Lords as fully "people" particularly for those who have only seen the very few and very marginalized women Time Lords of the new series. Ashildr's was about the Doctor seeing a human as equal, and the two gave him the ability to successfully resolve his relationships with first Clara and then River.

And gender is important - Twelve has gone out of his way to define himself (to Clara) as a "masculine figure," and the Doctor has clearly had a preferences for seeking out female companions.

And this season has clearly shown the results of a conscious effort to increase the contributions of women to the show. More women characters, more central women characters, more women in positions of authority (writer, director) behind the scenes.

To ignore gender in this season is to ignore the way in which Moffat, and others, have deliberately worked to address fifty plus years of problematic ways in which the show has worked with women.

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KR 1 year, 9 months ago

Heaven Sent A+
The Husbands of River Song A
Zygon Invasion/Inversion A-/A
Face the Raven A-
Girl/Woman A-/B+
Hell Bent B
Magician/Witch B/B
Sleep No More D
Lake/Flood C+/F

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Anton B 1 year, 9 months ago

I dislike rankings and lists but, as Peter Purves says in The Feast of Steven
"Everyone else is doing it!"

I've adopted the Eruditorum scoring system where each number corresponds to a classic era Doctor.
(In the case of the two parters I have placed the episode I consider strongest first.)

2 Heaven Sent/Hell Bent
1 Face the Raven
4 The Zygon Inversion/The Zygon Invasion
7 The Witch's Familiar/The Magician's Apprentice
5 The Husbands of River Song
3 The Girl Who Died/The Woman Who Lived
8 Sleep No More
6 Under the Lake/Before the Flood

You can read my review of Husbands of River Song and my series 9 overview here
http://antonbinder.blogspot.co.uk/

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David Brain 1 year, 9 months ago

As I have noted elsewhere, I'm not sure I am willing to actually include Sleep No More in a formal ranking list, since I think that it belongs in a wholly separate list of, for want of a better phase, "stories that didn't happen" - or, rather, stories that don't so much stand outside the usual format as point at it and laugh.
The previous two entries in this list are, of course, Love & Monsters and (more contentiously) Blink. My position is that Sleep No More also really belongs in this (extremely elite) company, and should not really be counted as part of season 9 at all...
[For the record, I don't consider Turn Left - or even Midnight - to qualify for this group; they are surprisingly standard stories by comparison.]

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Jane Campbell 1 year, 9 months ago

No one's probably going to read this, so it should be "safe." Anyways. Haven't done a full rewatch yet, and haven't done my standard analysis on the back half of the season, so as always it's possible things will shift in the future. But that's always possible. Good goddess, I'm so banal.

Hell Bent
I thought Heaven Sent was going to end up here, but this is the story I keep thinking about. It's so subversive, and there's that restaurant (so important, actually, in Clara's arc), and so much of it is so visually striking. This is the one I want to watch over and over, so it goes here, top marks.

Heaven Sent
Impeccable direction, and I'm a sucker for existential Eternal Return stuff. And so much Capaldi, I can't even.

The Girl Who Died
Well, I love the title. And the alchemy. And that striking visual at the end. It's a fun romp; I love fun romps. And Ashildr's actually someone I like here. So.

The Husbands of River Song
I'm a sucker for River, and the whole Darillium stuff is lovely bit of closure. The rompy stuff before it was a lot of fun. Interesting how the Three Kings (the three different heads acquired by the robot) end up demonstrating three "opposite polarities" to the Doctor.

The Zygon Inversion
Clara in the pod. The speech. The iconography of the boxes. And this is what prompted Jack's brilliant essay. So there's that.

Face the Raven
I find myself less interested in revisiting this -- it's already started to drop. Clara's none too bright here, screwing herself over, but I still really respect her approach to death. And I really like Rigsy.

The Witch's Familiar
I really love Clara in the Dalek, and the little story at the beginning, and some really neat twists, and the pun. Marvelous.

The Zygon Invasion
I'm finding I'm not liking the two-part structure. The first parts don't pay off -- they're oriented towards setup, and I end up just being irritated by the structure rather than getting to appreciate the episode on its own terms. Probably because it doesn't have its own terms -- it ultimately depends on what follows. But at least this one marks a turn into something really interesting and necessary.

The Woman Who Lived
Great title. But kind of fluffy, and not in a good way -- the whole Lion Man stuff is really weak. But the two-hander bits with Williams and Capaldi is delightful.

The Magician's Apprentice
Early on, I actually like Under the Lake more than this, but that was before I knew what it would lead into. So now Apprentice comes out in front. Great iconography, and some wonderful Missy/Clara.

Sleep No More
I've only seen this once. It's my hope it'll rise in the rankings with some analysis, that the conceptual bits will help it to rise above the boring runaround.

Water
Oh well.

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UrsulaL 1 year, 9 months ago

No luck for no one reading this!

I've been missing your take on episodes, and just in general the old "Mirror Thread" chats. This season has been very much about complex, multi-episode character arcs, and I've been trying to articulate what I think I'm seeing but not having much luck pulling the ideas into coherent form.

Plus, really grappling, almost in a "Jacob wrestling with God" way, with previous takes on Doctor Who. Four-part story arcs, the Doctor's interactions with women, etc. Most directly with addressing Donna's mind-wipe.

So I'm really curious to hear your take on the visuals, as it often helps me in sorting out character stuff.

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Anton B 1 year, 9 months ago

Yeah. We read ALL the comments Jane. There's nowhere to hide.

You always manage to see something unique. I was stunned by your Three Kings observation. Why has no one spotted that?

Your listing pretty much mirrors mine except I rank Magican's Apprentice higher simply because I can't disassociate it from its sequel and it was a barnstorming series opener. On its own it probably would drop a few places.

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EvilBug 1 year, 9 months ago

I love Face the Raven. Nice way to kill your companion - Clara made a perfectly reasonable move, but lost because of some unknown unknowns.

Too bad Hell Bent had to ruin it. When will postmodernist hackery end?

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kmt75 1 year, 9 months ago

If I'm willing to spend the next 4 billion years hitting submit I may get through the captcha.

Husbands of River Song (A+) - best episode since Asylum of the Daleks, or I should say the only episode I've genuinely enjoyed start to finish and actually wanted to rewatch since Asylum of the Daleks. Sweet, funny - a great character piece. Heartbreaking in that it shows how wasted Capaldi has been.

Heaven Sent (A) - 1st runner up for Capaldi's brilliant performance.

Face the Raven (A) - should have been the last we saw of Clara.

Davros' two-parter (B-) - Perfectly acceptable Doctor Who, although the guitar on a tank scene is hard to watch.

Whithouse two-parter (C) - Doctor Who by numbers. Not terrible. Not great. Just there.

Woman Who Lived (C) - Because it's not as bad as the rest.

Heaven Sent (D) - The usual great big mess of a finale made worse by two of the more annoying characters in the show's history. And I thought I hated Tegan and Adric.

Zygon two-parter (D) - This was really well done but I find Harness' stuff morally repugnant.

Sleep No More (D-) - Not even trying.

The Girl Who Died (F) - The single worst 45 minutes in the history of the show. Exponentially worse than The Twin Dilemma. Made me question why I ever thought watching Doctor Who was a good idea. Everything about it from the script to the acting to the direction to the effects to the music is pathetically amateurish. And Arya is so bad in the Me/Ashildr role. ...

Overall (C-) - Better than Series 8, which had nothing near as good as the Christmas special or Heaven Sent. And, no Danny Pink. But the bad was really, really bad.

I love Capaldi. He's been utterly wasted though. Two seasons of playing second fiddle to the most irritating companion in the history of the show.

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UrsulaL 1 year, 9 months ago

Speculation: We've just met the season 10 companion without being told. Season 10 will be the Doctor and River, 24 years of adventures, home to Darillium every night.

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encyclops 1 year, 9 months ago

Yes please.

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EvilBug 1 year, 9 months ago

Oh god please no.
At least with a new character we might have a series before she is completely ruined by Moffat's super special most important snowflake companion writing.

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Varsha Venkatesh 1 year, 7 months ago

I'm a little late to the party but I felt the need to add that this series seems to have done well as far as critics are concerned. It's 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and every critic that I follow (Den of Geek, AV Club, IGN etc) has called this season the best/one of the best of the revival series. From my rather unscientific survey it seems to me that the British press seems to be rather down on this season and the previous one. Different tastes or expectations maybe?

From all the series rankings I've seen in the British press (metro.co.uk,Digital Spy) the RTD era does better than the Moffat era anyway. However,series 9 seems to do better than series 8,6 and 7. I'm not sure how seriously we should take the AI's since there is a substantial divergence between the scores given by younger viewers and those given by older viewers.

Personally, these two seasons have been the high point of the revival series. It's been bold, daring and ambitious. I would rather have that than safe and by-the-numbers Doctor Who. I'll enjoy it while it lasts. I'm sure that the BBC will focus group itself into undoing whatever has been accomplished in these two series for the sake of appealing to the wider audience.

P.S: Love your reviews, Phil.

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