By Oliver White
Not long ago, I found myself adrift, unmoored, purposeless, slipping into a deep hole as the light slowly faded out. I had reached out to my friends, screaming in terror as I fell, but we had all run out of answers. It was then, when it felt as if my time had run out, that I heard the familiar whoosh of the TARDIS and saw the face of the Doctor, his hand outstretched to me, beckoning.
I took his hand without hesitation, and, as the Doctor always does, he made me better.
Beyond the fact that Doctor Who means a great deal to me personally (the show came into my life at the perfect time and saved me from myself) I consider Doctor Who to be a genuinely fantastic show. Its tone is, and was, far lighter than other major television fare, and yet the show can make you feel as much emotional hurt as all of those dreadfully serious shows. The companions are each great in their own way, even the ones that are not necessarily great characters. The Doctor himself is simultaneously hilarious and terrifying, intelligent and ridiculous, no matter who is playing him at the time. The regeneration concept is an incredibly unique way to keep the show fresh and interesting: different actors play the same character in a different way while still maintaining who the character is at his heart(s).
After a great deal of convincing, I finally was able to convince my wife that the show was worth her time, and she sat down and watched. She fell in love quickly, as I had, and the Doctor made her better, too. We binge-watched the first seven seasons together and patiently awaited the eighth. Well, not patiently at all.
Said eighth season was primed to explode, what with the addition of Peter Capaldi and the continued growth of Jenna Coleman as companion Clara Oswald. Capaldi was inspired casting: coming off Matt Smith, who was the youngest actor to play the Doctor and yet played him with the oldest soul, it was about time for the Doctor to become Midlife Crisis Doctor, an older Doctor that wears sunglasses and plays guitar and might as well buy a Mustang. Capaldi is an incredible actor and a huge fan of Doctor Who, so he essentially casted himself.
The eighth season, for this and many other reasons, was a massive punch in the face.
Disparate and disjointed, with far too much focus on Clara and far too little of Capaldi’s Doctor, the eighth season never got off the ground. Capaldi’s hands were tied, either by himself or the shoddy writing, and his Doctor was grounded almost from the start, forced to play it safe. Clara was the established presence, so the onus of carrying the show was thrust upon Jenna Coleman. She worked hard and did an admirable job with the material given, but her fussy, know-it-all character and overly-inflated importance quickly became a point of contention amongst fans. I understand that her role as basically the Doctor, along with the role of the gender-morphing Master/Missy (Michelle Gomez is amazing, by the way), are really a toe in the water of the Female Doctor discussion, but so much focus was put onto them that we easily lost sight of the show’s title character.
Fast forward to season nine and it’s a whole different ball game.
Halfway through the ninth season, the show has blasted its way back to the quality of the Tennant Doctor, nearly universally considered to be the strongest era of the show. Capaldi’s Doctor is bombastic and sarcastic and swallows scenery whole. Clara has essentially become his foil, and it’s a much stronger dichotomy than it was in the previous season. The season as a whole is far more focused and tighter than the last one, and the fact that each episode is a two-parter goes a long way to establishing some really great side characters and stories for each pair of episodes in general.
While it should be mentioned that Steven Moffat, the primary brain behind Who at this time, does appear to relish in setting fire to sacred cows just to watch them burn (sonic sunglasses anyone?) he has also taken a step outside of the norm of the Doctor to address things the show normally overlooks.
When the Doctor makes rash decisions, even ones that save lives, what are the consequences? How does the world change when the Doctor makes too big a splash on the shores of time?
After all this time, just what feelings actually exist between the Doctor and his rogues gallery? Is the Doctor actually closer to Davros or Missy than he is to Clara?
Beyond these questions the show is posing, what about the more immediate questions that are arising?
What will Ashildr, who the Doctor brazenly brought back from the dead and made immortal a la Captain Jack Harkness, do moving forward? Is she now a villain or another comrade?
How is Clara leaving the show, and how many tears/cares will be shed/given?
Where did Missy go after the second episode? The banter between Missy, Clara, and the Doctor was top notch, and she’s missed (semi-pun intended).
And, seriously, just where in the hell is this season going? There isn’t an obvious throughline connecting things this time around, beyond conceptual connections, but this whole season has turned out to be quite a ride.
I still remember when I first got on this ride, when the Doctor reached out to me. It’s a ride off of which I will hopefully never step, and a ride that I will assuredly never forget.