“Am I a good man?” – Doctor Who: Worst of the 12th Doctor

As a young boy, finding my aunt’s old VHS’ of Day of the Daleks and Death to the Daleks started me on the path to becoming a life-long Whovian. I would devour any episodes I could find, and demand a trip to the Doctor Who museum in Llangollen, North Wales, whenever we visited family.

Jump forward to 2005. The momentous year when Doctor Who returned to television screens. A time where we were excited by the adventures of the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston), and thrilled by the zany exploits of the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant).

While I have loved the new Doctors; Matt Smith’s eleventh Doctor especially; I have been longing for the Doctor to regenerate into an elder incarnation; someone more akin to the first Doctor (William Hartnell) or my beloved third Doctor (Jon Pertwee).

When Peter Capaldi was announced as the new Doctor, I wondered if this may be the best series yet for fans of classic Who. But while there have been some stellar moments featuring Peter Capaldi as the twelfth Doctor, there have also been some truly awful ones. So, with fans having had a week to mull over the events of The Doctor Falls, and series ten as a whole, here is ‘The Worst of the 12th Doctor’ in absolutely no order whatsoever:

[Prepare for spoilers from the entirety of Capaldi’s run, and a fair bit of fanboy rage to go alongside them]

 

Honourable Mention:
The Time of the Doctor, by Steven Moffat

Matt Smith & Jenna Coleman / Picture courtesy of the BBC

To start off, let’s look at one of the first appearances of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, from Matt Smith’s regeneration episode. In this honourable mention, we won’t be looking at Twelve’s somewhat jarring first scene, so much as the content of the overall episode, and how it demonstrates some of the worst traits that show-runner Steven Moffat has brought to the show:

Bland, incomprehensible villains: Think back across the ten seasons of Doctor Who we’ve had since 2005. There have been a lot of this sort of villain, and most of them were spawned by Moffat’s pen. In case they don’t spring to your mind as readily and as irritatingly as they do mine, I’ll list some off for you: Prizoner Zero, The Silence, The Whisper Men, Colony Sarff and the Monks. Some of these may be instantly familiar to you. Some may not. And if they are, then you’ll remember they have one defining trait other than their annoying act of making lip-reading impossible: while they may initially be a bit creepy, they quickly reveal themselves to be fairly dull characters. They take the whole ‘villain of the week’ premise to new levels, as if they’ve been thrown out without much thought put into them, to fill a void where Moffat needed some antagonists.

Everything is ‘sexy’: When the Doctor returned (briefly) in the 1996 TV movie, he brought a new element to the character; that of romance. While the Doctor had had love interests in the past; it was rarely a central aspect of the show. This was touched on once again during Eccleston’s tenure, and became a more prominent facet of the Tennant years. It made sense, as in Tennant, the Doctor had become a far more dashing character. But under Moffat’s direction, during Matt Smith’s stint, things started to get out of hand. Whether it was Amy’s adoration of the Doctor, Tasha Lem’s implied history with the time-lord, River Song’s affection for her husband, Clara’s sudden exclamation of her love for the Doctor or even the Doctor’s pet name for the TARDIS; everything was suddenly sexy. Even random side characters started throwing out the word whenever possible. And the thing is, not everything has to be sexy. Some people like the romantic and sexualised aspects of Doctor Who. And that’s fine. But if you also watch Sherlock, you’ll get a sense that using the word sexy or trying to make things sexy is one of Moffat’s favourite pastimes.

Messy, ‘timey wimey’ plotting: Another staple of a bad Moffat story is that it can be generally all over the place. Either events will be so out-of-control that they just wont make sense and it’ll be brushed past, or instead, again, like on Sherlock, there will be some attempt to make it all seem very ‘clever’. However, despite these claims that some ingenious explanation has been found to resolve something, the consensus from viewers will be that what they’ve just watched was completely nonsensical and utterly ridiculous.

And with that, let’s move on to Capaldi’s actual episodes…

#1: In the Forest of the Night, by Frank Cottrell-Boyce

Peter Capaldi & Abigail Eames / Picture courtesy of the BBC

Some child actors have talent. Most do not. To be fair to them, they are just children. But knowing that fact doesn’t make watching a whole episode based around children any easier. In fact, it’s rather telling that two out of three of the big child-centric episodes from the last few years (Nightmare in Silver, Kill the Moon and In the Forrest of the Night) are on this list (and the only reason that first one isn’t here is because it didn’t happen during Capaldi’s tenure). Children, for the most part, haven’t had the training or time to grow in the craft of acting, and throughout this episode, that is glaringly obvious.

Unfortunately for them, even if they all had the necessary talent to command an onscreen presence alongside Capaldi, the fact of the matter is that this episode is so ludicrous that it would make no difference.

The episode sees the Doctor arrive on Earth, only to find that the whole planet has suddenly sprung up a giant forest. As the episode goes on, the forest is revealed to be a planetary defence mechanism, preparing to stop an incoming solar flare. And after it’s served it’s purpose? People just forget it ever happened apparently.

This raises a few questions: the first is, well, what was the point of this episode? And the second, far more important question is… who the fuck greenlit this shit? It’s nonsense. Absolute nonsense. There’s no drama in the story’s proceedings, and the conclusion lets us know that it was all for nothing. That is bad television.

And the worst part is… that’s not even the worst part. Throughout the episode, Maebh (played by Abigail Eames, seen above), who is able to commune with the various sprites orchestrating this biblical flood of trees, reveals that her teenage sister has been missing for some time, i.e. before the forest appeared.

But as the tree’s burn up after saving the planet, the missing sister is found squatting in a bush right outside their house.

What.

 

#2: Extremis, by Steven Moffat

Peter Capaldi / Picture courtesy of the BBC

Unfortunately, In the Forest of the Night isn’t the only pointless filler episode we’ve had in recent years. This season had its own in Extremis. The start of series ten’s first multi-episode story introduced us to the menacing Monks, who had been running simulations of human history and could, as we would find out in later episodes, manipulate reality itself.

The episode has glowing reviews all round, but I’m going to tell you why it’s actually a piece of shit.

The episode is told in two parts; half of the story is dedicated to revealing the mystery behind the vault that the Doctor has been guarding, while the other half follows the Doctor, Bill and Nardole as they answer a summons from the Pope himself, and investigate the ‘Veritas’, a text that leads anyone who has read it to commit suicide.

It’s an interesting premise, but it’s fraught with issues. The first is the matter of the vault. After five weeks of fans pondering who or what could be hidden in the vault, it turns out to be exactly who everyone would expect. Why even keep it a secret? Why not reveal that it’s Missy in the first episode, and have subsequent episodes delve into why she’s locked away or what the Doctor’s plans are for her?

Secondly, the monks. Once again, we get some vague, creepy (or at least, they’re meant to be) villains, who hiss everything they say and whose words don’t quite move in time with their lips. You could put this down to the TARDIS translating their speech at the wrong speed, but just a few episodes later, Bill explicitly points out that the TARDIS translate function also does lip syncing.

But the main issue is that if you were to pluck this episode completely out of the series, nothing would change. And not in the way that the one-and-done stories could be taken out but the overall theme of the series would remain the same. I mean it serves no purpose. Any character development is undone by the stories end, and the mystery of why a pyramid appears in the next episode is ruined because we already know who the bad guys are and what they can do. A line of dialogue in The Pyramid at the End of the Earth from the monks could give us all the exposition we need to understand that the Monks have been running simulations of human history, and then we could have been treated to another episode that actually offers something to the series.

Also, this episode messes with the continuity of The Return of Doctor Mysterio and Forest of the Dead.

 

#3: Kill the Moon, by Peter Harness

Picture courtesy of the BBC

There are probably worse episodes than Kill the Moon, but there are few that are quite as stupid.

Doctor Who has always played with the fantastical, but sometimes it goes just a tad too far. Fine, we can suspend our disbelief that the only people available in the future to deal with a threat to the entire planet are one savvy scientist lady and a couple of morons, but… the moon’s an egg? An egg?!

No. Just no. While this is a better episode than In the Forest of the Night, since the lead up to the twist offers some entertainment and promise, and the Doctor and his companions do have some influence on the events of the story; the fact that we’ve got to the stage of the Moon being a giant space egg to a creature that lays an egg LARGER THAN ITSELF within seconds of it hatching is just too much.

 

#4: Hell Bent, by Steven Moffat

Peter Capaldi / Picture courtesy of the BBC

If you go back to the Matt Smith era, you’ll find Moffat delivers a pretty mixed bag when it comes to writing finales. The Big Bang and A Good Man Goes to War were fine. The Wedding of River Song wasn’t great, but The Angels Take Manhattan and The Name of the Doctor were actually pretty good.

But during the Capaldi years, things started to lean more bad than good. While the most recent series finale rounded things out quite nicely, the two finales before it have been severely underwhelming.

The problem is that they just squander their potential. Heaven Sent was one of Capaldi’s best episodes. It was thrilling, thoughtful and the stakes were high while the scale remained small. And then, after the Doctor navigated his way through the terrors of his confession dial, he came out back on Gallifrey.

Gallifrey has been mostly absent from NuWho, spending the first seven series’ destroyed, and the next two displaced in time and space. So when it finally made a proper return, you can imagine fans were pretty excited. What was going to happen? How would the Doctor interact with his long lost people? Would they touch upon a whole decade of his remorse at thinking he had killed them all? There was so much potential in this episode.

But what we got was a scene of the Doctor eating soup and then going on a potentially universe shattering romp to save Clara, who died two episodes earlier. Gallifrey’s situation barely changed, the mystery of ‘the hybrid’ was given a half-hearted attempt at a resolution and Clara’s death, one of the most powerful moments of the series, was undone indefinitely, as she went off travelling in a TARDIS stuck in the shape of an American diner. 

Sometimes, Doctor Who gives us little visual cues that are worth a chuckle. This was not one of them.

 

#5: Death in Heaven, by Steven Moffat

Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman & Samuel Anderson / Picture courtesy of the BBC

Like Hell Bent, Death in Heaven is another episode that completely squanders any potential the penultimate episode set it up with.

While Missy proved to be a fun addition to the cast, everything going on around her was just a giant mess.

Ever since their conception in the sixties, the Cybermen have given us a chilling look at the dangers of technology and provided a intriguing threat to the Doctor and friends. But with the exception of last weeks season finale, over the years, since their return in Rise of the Cybermen / The Age of Steel, they’ve become less threatening and more drone-like; simply there as a pop-up army to do the bidding of whatever evil genius has shown up this time.

The entire series thread, wherein the Doctor has been questioning whether he is a good man is also ridiculous. Sure, we all have moments of self-doubt, but even if you’ve just had a bit of an identity crisis, the thousands of years saving lives should probably have given him a hint of what the answer was. Furthermore, the point of antagonism in this debate was Danny Pink, a character whose best moment came when he was hit by a car and died in Dark Water.

Yes, I know that’s a bit morbid, but that guy needed to go.

Throughout the series, he tries to argue that the Doctor is an officer; a man who sends others to die in his place. If the Doctor was still a man of mystery like he was back in the sixties, this may have proved to be an interesting argument, but we’ve now been watching his adventures for the better part of fifty years, and know that he’s always on the front lines saving lives and that he is always the smartest man in the room; in pretty much any situation, he knows what he’s talking about.

So having Danny constantly try to gain the moral high ground by questioning him just doesn’t work, because it just outs Danny Pink as an unlikable idiot. Killing him off is one of the better decisions the show has made in recent years. Bringing him back as a hypocritical cybernetic zombie was not.