How did Doctor Who go from grasping at straws to having one of the best seasons in years? Amazingly, in just two simple steps.
There are a lot of people who like Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor. There are a lot of people that will (rightly) point to episodes like “The Girl Who Waited” and excellent new characters like the Silence to help really drive the point home that following the monumental popularity and goodwill that David Tennant’s tenure as the Tenth Doctor generated, Matt Smith’s run in the big blue police box was just as good as his predecessor.
Except those people would be wrong.
While there will be some great episodes associated with the 11th Doctor—especially when you factor in the Series Six arc of companions Amy & Rory dealing with their pregnancy amidst all of their incredible time adventures—it was by the time the show reached Series Seven that it was obvious that showrunner and Sherlock scribe Steven Moffat was running low on ideas, episodes like “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” and “The Angels Take Manhattan” really pushing the credulity of a show that already dealt with monsters, time paradoxes, and all sorts of otherworldly wackiness. Things seemed to be taking a turn once Jenna Coleman was brought on as Clara, the quirky, fast-talking girl that almost-flirted with the Doctor and seemed to match him on a basis of pure witticisms. When we first met her in 2012’s “The Snowmen”, we find out she leads the strange double-life of being a barmaid as well as a governess, and, most interestingly, was the same girl that was featured in the pivotal episode “Asylum of the Daleks”. Mysteries abound for this sassy new companion.
However, as she spent more time with Matt Smith, that initial pep of energy that she gave us withered away, as her matching Smith on a quirk-for-quirk basis proved to more grating than it was endearing. Although fans were thrown a bone with the wonderful 50th anniversary special, during which Clara had a mercifully brief role, by the time we reached the Neil Gaiman-penned “Nightmare in Silver”, Clara was commanding an army of reluctant soldiers and still offering wry faces and goofy grins even as the soldiers she was leading were dying all around her. It was ill-fitting for the character, and basically painted her as someone made of all quirks and zero emotion. Even with Matt Smith’s halfway-decent send off, there was still a sense of lacking to his final run in he TARDIS, and while some of it could be attributed to tired scripts, having a companion that was simply not interesting on any notable dramatic level is what ultimately marred the last of Smith’s tenure.
Thus, when Peter Capaldi was announced as the 12th Doctor, it was noted how his character would be unlikable at first, but the audience would grow to love him. True Whovians knew this was a bad omen, as the last time they tried that, it was when Colin Baker was the Sixth Doctor, and the producers at the time wanted to make him an absolute jerk that slowly worms his way into the audience’s heart with his gradual reveal of honest emotions. Instead, Colin Baker’s incarnation just came off as a jerk ... and little else. He was saved by a few decent scripts (see: The Trail of a Time Lord), but his character went down as one of the more contentious Time Lords in the canon, and not in the lovable and curmudgeonly way that Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker had done so well.
Thus, “Deep Breath”, Capaldi’s first episode, was a bit of a strange one to start of Series Eight with: he’s making passes at a female dinosaur, being somewhat dazed throughout the episode as he’s finding the limits of his new body (and the audience is getting used to his accent)—it made for a strange stew. However, despite his non-violent victory over the strange Victorian androids, what was most interesting about the episode is how the Doctor really pushed Clara into the action without a safety net, at one point locking her in a room where she was clearly in mortal danger. It was an odd move, but in truth, this leads to one of the two reasons why Series Eight has been one of the most out-and-out spectacular since the surprisingly satisfying Donna Noble-starring Series Four (with Tennant and Catherine Tate) ...