Tuesday, December 15, 2015

More Ups and Downs With "Doctor Who"

Spoilers ahead for the recently concluded season.

We come to the end of another year of "Doctor Who," the second with Peter Capaldi that also said goodbye to Jenna Coleman as his companion, Clara Oswald.  And thank goodness.  While I've grown attached to Capaldi over the past year, as I usually do with each successive Doctor at about this point in their tenures, I've come to the conclusion that I don't care much for Clara at all.  She was always too flat and entirely too clever, difficult to sympathize with because she was so lacking in human foibles and flaws.  She was at her best last year, during her tempestuous romance with Danny Pink, and without him she regressed into the too-perfect Impossible Girl who was occasionally more alien than the Doctor.

It's strange because the other two female characters who played big parts this season have strong similarities to Clara, but I enjoyed them far more.  First, there's Missy, embodied by the priceless Michelle Gomez, who was only around for the premiere episodes, but will surely be back for more appearances in the seasons to come.  She remains my absolute favorite part of the Capaldi era, a hilariously amoral, lunatic force who has completely drop-kicked the angst of the previous incarnations of The Master in favor of having more fun.  And she proved that having her for an ally might be worse than having her for an enemy, in a fun two-parter that started the year off with a bang.  I was disappointed when she didn't pop back in for the finale, especially considering where it was set.

Then there's the new girl, Ashildr, also called "Me," who becomes an immortal being thanks to the Doctor's intervention in an early episode, and pops up again in several subsequent ones.  Maisie Williams plays her as someone with a lot of potential for good or evil, who has to be reminded regularly that she's fallible and that she actually does have a heart.  Like Clara she's too clever and almost impossible to faze, but the show treats that as a symptom of her distancing herself from her own humanity, a flaw rather than a strength.  That's what makes her character easier to stomach.  Ashildr is intriguing, but I don't think that the show has made the best use of her - at least not yet.

I've heard many claims that this is the best season of "Doctor Who" in a while, particularly in the way that it returned to the old two-parter format.  Overall, I found it about on par with the last Capaldi season, but with stronger highs.  The beautifully bleak "Heaven Sent" episode is one of the series' best without question, featuring a tour de force performance from Peter Capaldi.  I like how his Twelfth Doctor has evolved, becoming softer-edged and more eccentric.  He's more vulnerable and less in control than he's been in a while, which makes me very excited for his post-Clara adventures.

However, I really disliked "Face the Raven," where Clara's fate is sealed, and had very mixed feelings about "Hell Bent," where she parts ways with the Doctor for the last time.  I admit that something about their relationship never sat right with me, and it's honestly a relief that it's over.  I feel bad, because Jenna Coleman's clearly very talented and I think she'd be fantastic in other roles - I preferred her as some of the other versions of Clara a few series ago.  I think a lot of it came down to Steven Moffat's writing and all the messy inconsistencies of who she was supposed to be.

Finally a couple of odds and ends.  I liked seeing Gallifrey again, and I hope that we'll get some more material involving the Time Lords that isn't just limited to saving them from or consigning them to oblivion.  The Zygon storyline still doesn't do much for me, but I like the direction that Osgood has taken, and the continued presence of UNIT and Kate Lethbridge-Stewart.  I'm missing the Paternoster Gang though.  At least we're getting more River Song this Christmas, in a special that looks nice and comedic.

So while I'm giving this series of "Doctor Who" a mixed review, I'm more optimistic about where the show is going.  Looking forward to next year and the next companion.

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