Doctor Who Series 8: The Big Picture

Back when Series 8 started, I had ALL THE AMBITIONS. I was going to fully blog about every episode of Doctor Who as it came out and, well, maybe I was overly ambitious. *eyes blog, empty of all reviews except for the one of “Deep Breath”*

Now I’ve got less than a week, and I still want to do something. So…

My overall impression of Series 8 was, this is the best Doctor Who has been in Moffat’s tenure. It’s got a cohesive character arc for both the Doctor and for Clara.

Clara, in particular, grew a character. In the back half of S7 she was a plot device, a mystery for the Doctor to solve, and the writers gave her whatever traits would be useful in any given episode. Things happened to her, but they didn’t seem to have much of an effect on her. A big part of the problem was, she didn’t seem to want anything. She was drifting through life with no clearly defined goals. Which was similar to Rose before she met the Doctor, but unlike Rose, Clara didn’t seem dissatisfied with her lot. Rather, she seemed to be waiting patiently for her real life to begin.

This year, though, Clara wants something. Even better, she wants two things that are, during a good chunk of the series, incompatible. How she deals with wanting both to keep travelling with the Doctor and a relationship with Danny Pink at home shows her character. It’s not the best character, but the fact that she fucks it up makes her more like a real person and less like a plot device.

As good as it was in a lot of way, there were some missed opportunities. In particular, to do with U.N.I.T. It’s obvious that Moffat wanted to echo Season 8 of the classic series, and on a superficial level, he did. The Master is a presence, U.N.I.T. makes an appearance, and in some ways, the way the Doctor’s grumpiness plays off Clara’s enthusiasm echoes the Third Doctor’s interaction with Jo.

But in a bigger way, he failed. Because Season 8 was about building the U.N.I.T. family. It wasn’t just the Doctor and Jo with occasional encounters with the Brig, it was about the Doctor interacting with these people on a daily basis. It was about forming relationships, so that when Benton or Yates went into harm’s way, we were worried about them, too.

Contrast that with Series 8. U.N.I.T. shows up for the last two-parter. A character we’ve never met before gets killed off within a few minutes of our acquaintance, and it means nothing. How much more impact would that have had if this was a character we knew and cared about?
Also, having the 3W plot appear only when it becomes relevant to the Doctor and Clara is a major missed opportunity, both to build intrigue and to integrate the U.N.I.T. characters into the story throughout the series.

Contrast Series 8 with the Master’s previous outing as series villain. References to “Mr. Saxon” were seeded into the episodes, starting as far back as the previous series, but more frequently as Series 3 progressed.

There could have been a lot of ways to integrate 3W in a similar way. Clara could have a conversation with her gran about end-of-life planning, or with her dad about something he read in the paper. It could have appeared in a headline or an ad in the paper. On a bigger scale, Clara and/or the Doctor could have an encounter with the U.N.I.T. team that’s investigating it, or Clara is called in for an inexplicable interview with Kate Stewart, or any of a lot of different things to make it obvious that something big is going on.

Because the premise of the two-parter is big. It’s so big that for Clara, and by extension the viewers, should have seen signs of it in the world around her. Not only that, but the story could have brought the U.N.I.T. team in as a part of the series as a whole, not only its last story.

(Also, they should have totally brought Katy Manning in for a cameo.)