Big Actor, Small Vehicle.
This is a rebuilding year for The Doctor. It’s a whole new cycle of regenerations, a very different outlook on life, the universe, and everything, and certainly a new approach to storytelling by Steven Moffat.
Gone, but not forgotten is Matt Smith. In “Deep Breath” We had this wonderful moment that should have signaled Clara Oswald’s divorce from Doctor Bow Tie for good. She, of all people, has seen all the older and weirder incarnations of The Doctor, including The War Doctor. When Madame Vastra parks Clara’s butt down in her parlor for the “black veil” chat, Clara bites back at the idea that she’s smitten by #11’s youth and charm and that’s all she sees. Clara makes a statement that sounded like Moffat speaking to all the fangirls who see The Doctor that way.
I am not sure who you think you’re talking to right now, Madame Vastra, but I have never had the slightest interest in pretty young men. And for the record if there was anybody who could flirt with a mountain man she’s probably standing in front of you right now! Just because my pretty face has turned your head do not assume that I am so easily distracted.
I loved this. For fans who used Clara to Mary-Sue their way into a fantasy life with The Doctor, this was Clara’s declaration that she is not the next Rose Tyler or River Song. She was The Doctor’s friend perhaps in an even more sisterly way than Donna Noble. I could hear Moffet’s own voice in there telling the audience “He’s an older man. Deal with it or move on.”
Yet later in the episode, Doctor Who breaks down and caves into the fan base by doing something never before seen in the series. The former Doctor literally phones in an appeal to Clara (and the viewers) to give the old man a try.
Subsequent episodes focus on a tiresome romantic triangle between The Doctor (who is shown acting all dopey and lovesick in cutaway shots while Clara talks to her boyfriend) and boyfriend Danny Pink, a war veteran with as-yet undefined issues who is often the victim of the lies Clara tells to cover up her relationship with The Doctor even after Danny and The Doctor meet.
Also, The Doctor suddenly dislikes all soldiers. For no reason. And Danny is a soldier. Danny is not the cause for The Doctor’s unexplained shift from being a scientific advisor for UNIT or a friend of the Papal Mainframe (which employs military clerics) or any number of military or paramilitary agencies or his willingness to take on soldiers, warriors or police as companions… he just needs something to fill a plot hole later in the series, I guess.
Somehow, The Doctor can’t process that Danny Pink is a Maths teacher and insists on calling him the “P.E.” teacher. I’m not sure what form of discrimination this is, but it’s certainly willful.
One of the cool things about this season is that we’re back at Coal Hill School, where we first met The Doctor more than a half century ago. Coal Hill, as we learned in the 50th Anniversary Special, has a distinguished Chair of Governors.
This relationship triangle really eats up a lot of time. Clara and The Doctor have a breakup in “Kill the Moon” (aka “Moon Chicken”) that is resolved by the Mummy episode the following week. In fact, Clara starts lying to Danny about it all, which makes this whole thing even more ridiculous.
If there were any clues as to how this all relates to the climax, if ANY of the silly or contradictory behaviors in this season were hinting at things to come, that might excuse them or help drive speculation. But right now, we know that Danny can be manipulative of Clara, Clara is deceptive to both The Doctor and Danny, and The Doctor…is, well, I have no idea what’s wrong with him.
Capaldi is fantastic in every damn scene. He reminds me of every classic Doctor at different times. Even his wardrobe choices (under the very Pertwee-an coat) nod to other incarnations. It’s all very subtle, but it feels very “classic era” at times.
Next week is the first half of the season finale. This whole time Moffat has thrown little vignettes that told us absolutely nothing about Missy, her so-called afterlife, or how she’s tied to The Doctor. In one sense, she is a brilliant JJ Abrams-style teaser that gets all the fans speculating across the entire 10 weeks leading to the big reveal. In each episode, there was an opportunity to advance that story or at least throw the audience new clues as to what the hell’s going on. Instead, we’re treated to new bit players being introduced to the afterlife.
Moffat has held off revealing anything until the end. Unfortunately, this leads to some bad creative choices to force a resolution that doesn’t quite make sense (like The Silence having been confessors for the Papal Mainframe all that time or solving a “fixed point in time” by having River kill a robot duplicate of the Doctor instead of The Doctor…. etc.
This was to be a new beginning for The Doctor and the series. Instead, we’re dealing with baggage left over from the previous season. Matt Smith’s shadow has not been extinguished by the production’s brilliant new Doctor, but only because the writing insists on pointing out that Capaldi is OLD and DIFFERENT. The writing insists that The Doctor is somehow smitten by Clara despite every other foundational change in his character.
For a new Doctor’s inaugural season, we’re focusing a lot on the companion. Even Rose Tyler and her extended family were supporting characters to Nine and Ten. Here, we spend a lot of screen time on loving medium shots of Jenna Coleman and her big, pretty eyes. If her story was interesting, that would be fine. But her time is dedicated to the sit-come antics unworthy of her talent or this series.
I hope I’m wrong and get blown away by the reveal. But right now, I’m hoping Series 9 sees Clara go off on her own to be replaced by a robot or an alien or someone not pretty and young who will follow convention and fall in love with The Doctor.