How Doctor Who Got Its Groove Back

(There are SPOILERS here.  You’ve been warned.)

I’ve been a fan of the rebooted British TV series Doctor Who for quite awhile now, and for the most part, I’ve enjoyed it.  For the uninitiated, Doctor Who follows the adventures of The Doctor, a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey.  He usually has a companion while traversing time and space in his ship, the TARDIS.  The Doctor is also able to regenerate into a new body when his existing body dies, a nifty trick the show uses to rotate actors in and out.  A total of twelve actors have played The Doctor over the years (plus the “War Doctor,” who exists somewhat separately from the official timeline).

Matt Smith portrayed the Eleventh Doctor, and toward the end of his tenure, I became somewhat bored with Doctor Who.  The fault didn’t really lie with Smith, who I liked in the role, but rather with the writers.  Many of the episode plots in Smith’s last season and a half just didn’t grab me the way others did.  While some of them (like “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS”) were good, some of them were unoriginal, such as “Night Terrors,” which personified a child’s nightmares.  Some of them were also just plain bland, such as “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship,” whose plot can be summarized by its title.  In another example, the sixth season finale, The Wedding of River Song” was a little too complicated for its own good.   To be fair, none of these episodes were clearly bad, they just didn’t live up to the high standard that the show had set in the past.

Matt Smith, as the Eleventh Doctor
Matt Smith, as the Eleventh Doctor

So, after a great 50th anniversary special and a so-so Christmas special after which Smith left the show, I was hoping the new Doctor, Peter Capaldi, would inject some new life into the series.  And boy did he.  From his first episode, it was clear that Capaldi had the potential to be one of the best Doctors the show had seen.  In a contrast to Smith’s fast-paced, frenetic Doctor, Capaldi’s doctor was more brooding and charmingly grumpy.  That isn’t to say he’s some sort of curmudgeon, though.  He’s a likable character, showing The Doctor’s light and dark sides very well, showing off the kind of acting chops that he has built up over a 32-year career in film and TV.

Peter Capaldi, in one of his better jokes in his role as the Twelfth Doctor.
Peter Capaldi, in one of his better jokes in his role as the Twelfth Doctor.

Doctor Who’s writing also markedly improved between the tail end of Smith’s tenure and the beginning of Capaldi’s.  Capaldi’s second and third episodes were some of my favorites of the season.  “Into the Dalek” is very interesting in that it explores both the psychology of the Doctor’s mortal enemies, the Daleks, and The Doctor himself.   Some of the most interesting past episodes of the show had examined the lives of different real and legendary historical figures, some of them even “explaining” certain mysteries about their lives.  I’d lamented in the past that Doctor Who hadn’t had an episode like this for some time, until “Robot of Sherwood” broke the streak.   The episode fused an alien plotline with the Robin Hood story.  Other episodes feature other creative plots, such as one in which the moon is revealed to be an egg for an alien creature, and another which examines a monster that lives inside of walls.  We also get a deeper look into the personality and life of the Doctor’s companion, Clara Oswald, who teaches at Coal Hill School and forms possibly the cutest romantic relationship ever with fellow teacher Danny Pink.

The season finale caps off Doctor Who’s resurgence very well, with Danny Pink’s death immediately grabbing the viewer’s interest and holding on tight.  The Doctor and Clara attempt to resurrect him, which leads them to a showdown with another of The Doctor’s old nemeses, The Master.  The Master is later revealed to have formed an alliance with the humanoid cyborgs known as Cybermen, another old enemy, and have reanimated all humanity’s dead in order to conquer the planet.  In an emotional few scenes, Danny is revealed to have been “upgraded” into a Cyberman, and essentially sacrifices himself to help The Doctor foil The Master’s plan.  The entire finale is an emotional roller coaster from start to finish, and recaptures the spirit of the show.  The whole episode left me eagerly anticipating this year’s Christmas special, in which Doctor Who will finally examine the story of Santa Claus.

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