General consensus seems to be that Doctor Who‘s quality has been in decline for the past few years. Some put that down to Matt Smith and incumbent Doctor, Peter Capaldi, not living up to the high standard set by fan-favourite David Tennant. Others blame the writing behind the show – placing the blame primarily on showrunner Steven Moffat, whose writing on both Who and his other show, Sherlock, can be seen at times as convoluted; leaving fans confused and disappointed.
For those fans, season ten of Doctor Who may be a bit of a relief. While there are exceptions, season ten generally stays away from ridiculously messy plots, as Steven Moffat seems to have taken a back seat from writing full episodes by himself. As a result, when Moffat does show up for a full episode, he brings us his A-game, giving us new Who gems such as World Enough and Time and The Pilot, which introduces us to Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts; the Doctor’s fabulous new companion.
Mackie truly does shine in this show. Her presence as as a mixed race LGBT character is a breath of fresh air. While sometimes they seem to go out of their way to remind you that yes, she likes women and not men, it’s not hammering you over the head with it like Moffat did with Madame Vastra and Jenny in Capaldi’s first episode, Deep Breath. This change of pace makes Bill seem like a much more genuine character, and on top of that, she’s not got some strange mystical importance to her like previous companions. She’s just a regular person who gets wrapped up in the Doctor’s adventures, and that’s how a companion should be. The way she talks and reacts to situations makes her feel very natural, and makes her the perfect gateway character to the show.
However, the character of Bill isn’t the only thing to rave about. Fellow companion Nardole (Matt Lucas) is an absolute joy, and keeping him around after the Christmas episodes was a stroke of genius (even if the timeline of events leading to him becoming a companion contradicts itself slightly – as laid out in the episodes Extremis and The Return of Doctor Mysterio). While Doctor Who is no stranger to humour, Matt Lucas provides a great comic-relief character, and adds to the perfect chemistry the three leading cast members share.
Another joy of this series is the creative mixture of bantering and social commentary. Episodes from series ten cover a wealth of topics from capitalism to student living, giving something thought provoking and appropriately humorous whenever it does (even the obligatory jabs at Donald Trump that every TV series has now). This meshes well with the villains of the series, who, while mostly forgettable, compliment the stories they feature in nicely. There are exceptions, of course. The centre of the series focuses on a group of characters called ‘the Monks’, who are bland and somewhat pointless, temporarily dragging the quality of the series down (in terms of the villains, the story, the series overall theme and dealing with issues such as blindness).
However, another kind of exception are the villains of the final episodes. They are exceptions because they are anything but forgettable (perhaps due to the fact they’ve been introduced in previous seasons), namely Missy, the returning Master and the original Cybermen. This trio of villains coming together with various nods to classic Doctor Who provide a sufficient amount of threats, and show the true potential of Doctor Who – taking something ridiculous, cringey or somewhat pathetic, and making it something bizarrely creepy and threatening.
However, all of that pales in comparison to the Doctor himself. Peter Capaldi has given his all to this show, and in each and every episode, bad or good, he’s been fantastic. The emotion, the wit, the charisma; Peter Capaldi has proven himself time and time again that he was a great Doctor. Playing the Doctor was a role that Capaldi deserved and made his own, it’s just unfortunate that he came at a time when the show perhaps didn’t deserve someone quite as good as him. Fortunately, he’s been given a strong series to go out on, and the last few episodes in particular give him a chance to tug at our heartstrings, as his impending regeneration is continuously teased.
Fortunately, we seem to have one hell of an episode coming up this Christmas, where both Capaldi and Moffat will take their leave, doing so, for the first time, with a series finale that wasn’t a major disappointment after the penultimate episode – in fact, it wraps up Capaldi and Moffat’s tenure quite nicely.
Prd: Steven Moffat & Brian Minchin
Written by: Steven Moffat, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Sarah Dollard, Mike Bartlett, Jamie Mathieson, Peter Harness, Toby Whithouse, Mark Gatiss & Rona Munro
Dir: Lawrence Gough, Bill Anderson, Charles Palmer, Daniel Nettheim, Wayne Yip & Rachel Talalay
Cast: Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas, Michelle Gomez & John Simm
Doctor Who is available on BBC iPlayer.