At this point, we have just breezed through the first eight series of (Nu) Who, and have finally reached Series 9. This series not only showed the hey day of the Twelfth Doctor’s (Peter Capaldi) adventures alongside Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), but it was a strong series overall, with darker and more classic tones. Aside from old and new characters and villains, the series featured three two part stories (something that hadn’t been done since the Classic Era), and stand alone stories that were very much connected with each other. In fact, there was only one story in the entire series that truly stood alone.
Showrunner Steven Moffat wrote both of the Christmas episodes that bookended Series 9, wrote the first two episodes and the last two episodes, and co-wrote two episodes alongside Jamie Mathieson and Peter Harness, respectively. Harness also wrote one episode on his own, as did Sarah Dollard, Mark Gatiss, and Catherine Tregenna. “Doctor Who” favorite Toby Whithouse was also featured in this series, with a two part episode.
Paul Wilmhurst and Douglas Mackinnon directed one Christmas special each; while Daniel Nettheim, Justin Molotnikov, Rachel Talalay, Ed Bazalgette, Daniel O’ Hara, and Hettie MacDonald, directed two episodes each.
This series truly stood out from the rest because it not only had great stories with great scripts, direction, and acting, but it also heavily was built upon the character groundwork and story arcs that were actually had been established since Series 8. Coleman and Capaldi also reached new highs in this series, with episodes that allowed their characters to grow, and that allowed both actors to stretch as actors, and in doing so, truly gave performances that will not be forgotten in quite a time.
Interestingly enough, Moffat was braver to experiment with the format of the show, as compared to the previous series in (Nu) Who, and it was even tighter and more cohesive than Series 8.
The biggest addition to the “Doctor Who” family was “Game of Thrones'” Maisie Williams, who originated a character who became integral to the series’ overall story arc.
Both of the Christmas episodes, despite not being as connected to Christmas as much as “Christmas Carol” was, were amazing, and earned spots in my list of Top 5 Nu “Doctor Who” Christmas specials.
The music in this series wasn’t as phenomenal as the music in Series 8, but there were particular moments in which Murray Gold’s music truly shone and soared.
It also has to be said that it was in this series that many started to like Clara more, and it was also in this series that many started making the Twelfth Doctor either their Doctor, or one of the Doctor’s in their top five. Personally, this series did make the Twelfth Doctor my second favorite Doctor after the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant).
My only gripe with this particular series is that the big reveal at the end was a little bit underwhelming, but even that didn’t detract from the overall enjoyable experience I had with this series.
All in all, this series was a strong one that wasn’t afraid to experiment with how they told their stories, and that allowed both Coleman and Capaldi to stretch their acting muscles more. And, in rewatching it, I felt that this series was one of the strongest in Nu Who.
Before we move on to the series proper, lets first talk a little bit about the two Christmas specials that bookended the entire series- “Last Christmas” and “The Husbands of River Song”
Like its predecessors, these two had very little to do with the holiday itself, except for it being set on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. However, this did not detract at all from these two specials, which have both made my list of favorite “Doctor Who” Christmas Specials.
“Last Christmas”, as a stand alone story, was really well-done. I loved how they explored having dreams within dreams, and utilizing Santa Clause (Nick Frost) to be that part of our subconscious that is trying to help save ourselves. It had an “Inception” feel to it, it keeps you on the edge of your seat, and the dream crabs were great creatures for this story.
With regards to plot points, the Doctor and Clara finally told each other that they had been lying to each other to keep the other happy, when in fact, they weren’t. I also loved that little bit of extra time that Clara had with Danny, even though he was only a dream. That ending with old Clara gave me the feels as the prosthetic work was great, and because those scenes, in a way, mirrored the scenes that the old Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) had with Clara before he was granted another cycle of regenerations.
Also, interestingly enough, non-Whovians will enjoy this as well, and it only took a little bit of extra explaining for the character plot points I just mentioned. I tried this one with my mostly non-Whovian family, and they actually really enjoyed the episode.
“The Husbands of River Song” was a gem of a special, allowed us to see River Song (Alex Kingston) one last time on screen, and we were finally treated to the magical pairing of Capaldi and Kingston.
I loved how, this time around, it was River who didn’t know this particular incarnation of the Doctor, and I loved the scene when she finally realizes who he is. Capaldi was just great in this episode, from his version of “it’s bigger on the inside”, to the loving glances he gave to River.
However, it was only all building up to those magical final scenes, which got everyone crying. Here, on their last date, at Darillium, the Doctor gave her the sonic screwdriver that we saw in “The Silence of the Library” (in fact, they played that episode’s music as well), showed her how it works (however, in my headcanon, I honestly do believe he did that to save a copy of her in advance), and then in the end, told her that one night on Darillium is equivalent to twenty-four years. This, of course, made everyone happy, because finally, these two can settle down, and actually live like a married couple before she goes to her death. (Also, in her timeline, River had just come out of the events of “The Angels Take Manhattan” prior to this.) All of that, plus Gold’s fantastic score with the Towers of Darillium, just took my breath away.
I’ve always thought of River and Eleven as more of their dating phase, and Twelve and River as their actual marriage phase.
The series started off with the two part “Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar”. This was such a wonderful, intense, emotionally packed premiere, as you not only had Capaldi, Michelle Gomez, and Coleman pull off great performances; but because this was almost like the Twelfth Doctor’s version of “The Genesis of the Daleks”. Also, there was a real sense of danger from the Daleks, and it was interesting to once again explore these creatures, especially when Missy made Clara go inside a Dalek tank, in which, I think, the fandom collectively got flashbacks of Oswin Oswald. This was also the first time that the hybrid was mentioned. This was Moffat paying homage to the Classic Era, while handling “Doctor Who” lore well. And, of course, we see here that the Doctor will choose compassion over genocide any day. (Question though, how much regeneration energy did he end up losing?)
Whithouse’s “Under the Lake/Before the Flood” two parter was wonderful as well, with the right balance of time travel, a big threat (that everyone wanted to see more of), and characters that you could get invested in. All of that made this “base under siege” story new and refreshing, in a way, with a lot of water.
I loved how one of the crew members of the team in the base was a big fan of the Doctor’s, and actually name dropped Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman), and Rose Tyler (Billie Piper); and mentioned things that have happened in the past, and one that I hope will be used in the future.
I liked that the second part took the time to explain the Bootstrap Paradox so that it would be less confusing as the episode went along, and it was here that the Doctor was beginning to try to reign in Clara, who was behaving more reckless and Doctor-like in their adventures.
She also got the same check by the Doctor in the next story, “The Girl Who Died”, which is also connected to the episode that came after that, “The Woman Who Lived”.
“The Girl Who Died” was a wonderful light hearted romp, and Maisie Williams, who portrayed Ashildr, really knocked it out of the park. In fact, she pretty much killed it every time her character recurred during this series.
I loved how this Doctor translated the baby’s cries, as he felt more emotional about it, and we went back to the Doctor concocting a smart but simple plan to outwit his enemies. It was here also that the Doctor finally realized why he chose his current face- it was to remind him to save people.
“The Woman Who Lived”, although the action parts and the villain was weak, was a great character piece for Ahsildr, or Lady Me. Here, we see Ashildr as someone who is weary of the world and wants to travel with the Doctor, but ends up realizing that they couldn’t possibly travel together as they are too much alike. It also sends home the fact that sometime, the results of the Doctor saving people aren’t that great at all.
“The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion” was a two parter that wonderfully followed up the Zygon storyline, and brought back UNIT, Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave), and Osgood (Ingrid Oliver). Aside from these episodes having lessons that have real world implications, Coleman shone as she had to spend most of the two parter as her Zygon version, Bonnie. These episodes were also the episodes that solidified the Twelfth Doctor as my second favorite Doctor, because of that dialogue he had with Bonnie when he was trying to show both Bonnie and Kate why war is never the answer. In that speech, he dredged up his experiences in the Time War again, and you see him here go through the whole gamut of emotions, but most specifically, his pain and anger.
Gatiss’ “Sleep No More” was the only true stand alone story of the entire series. Now, I did like the fact that they tried something different, with it being more of a found footage kind of thing, but the thing is, in the end, and even in the second watch, the entire plot didn’t make any sense at all.
Sarah Dollard’s freshman contribution, “Face the Raven”, was a wonderfully written, well plotted out, and character driven story; which gave Clara a beautifully tragic exit. The thing is, we all knew that Clara’s recklessness, which allowed the Doctor and Clara to unhealthily enable each other, was going to be her undoing, and so, her death here did make sense.
Williams also reappeared here, now calling herself Mayor Me, a woman who has dedicated herself to making sure that the inhabitants of her trap street are safe from the prying eyes of human kind.
Moffat really outdid himself with “Heaven Sent”, which was basically just a Peter Capaldi monologue all throughout. I was horrified when I learned that this was his confession dial, and it was being used against him as a torture chamber. However, the performance that he gave, the direction, editing, and the score, just made this such a beautifully perfect episode. This episode was not only gorgeous but was an acting masterclass in itself.
I also loved his TARDIS mind palace, and that every time he’d be conscious again, the whole room would reboot.
Many didn’t like the fact that Clara was brought back in “Hell Bent”, but in order for the Doctor and Clara to become the feared hybrid, it was very much necessary for the Doctor to kick Rassillon out, become Lord President, and use his power to extract Clara from the last heartbeat before she died, which, if he did succeed in saving her, would definitely fracture time and space.
In the end, standing in the ruins of the end of time, with an older and wiser Me, he realizes that he had gone to far, and was preparing to mind wipe Clara so that she would be able to live. I like the fact that Clara actually had a say in this, and left it up to chance. And this time around, unlike what happened with Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), he’s the one who got mind wiped.
I also think, honestly, that letting Clara become the Doctor, in a way, with her own TARDIS and her own companion, travelling through time and space before going back to Gallifrey to bring her back to the trap street and her death, was the best way she could have possibly gone out. Also, Ashildr had her wish fulfilled, as she is now travelling, and although she is new to it, she will be able to ground Clara with her wisdom.
That ending, with the new sonic screwdriver, and getting ready to take off, was a wonderful way to begin a new chapter in his life.
Williams was definitely a wonderful addition to the show, as she was able to show us one character, in various stages of her life, every time we met her.
So, all in all, this was a strong series with stories that will go down in history as some of the best, while being a series that actually had three two part stories, something that hasn’t been done since the Classic Era. Aside from this, it was a very character driven series, with an overhyped story arc, that in a way, made sense in the end.