DVD REVIEW: DOCTOR WHO - THE COMPLETE EIGHTH SEASON /CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: VARIOUS / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: PETER CAPALDI, JENNA COLEMAN, SAMUEL ANDERSON, MICHELLE GOMEZ / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 24TH
Peter Capaldi’s first season as the Doctor proved to be something of a return to form for Doctor Who. The series has been playing to diminishing creative returns over the last three series, culminating in the shoddy and irksome season seven which saw the show crash onto the rocks it had been drifting towards for the previous two years. The arrival of the brittle, unpredictable twelfth Doctor not only repositions the Doctor as a mercurial, genuinely-alien adventurer in Space and Time (rather than the arm-waving buffoon he’d become in his previous incarnation) but it makes the show a little more jagged around the edges and, potentially, slightly less family-friendly than it’s been for years.
It’s Capaldi who lifts occasionally mundane and slightly safe material - many of the stories stick rigidly to the show’s preferred post-2005 formula - and most of the scripts fixate upon the new Doctor’s on/off relationship with his occasional companion Clara (played with real gusto by Jenna Coleman) often at the expense of properly developing the actual stories. Added to this year’s mix has been ex-soldier Danny Pink (Anderson), Clara’s fellow teacher and eventual boyfriend. Their story arc is sweet (if a bit hurried) whilst other ‘themes’ present throughout the series - is the Doctor a good man?, the constant repetition of the phrase ‘shut up,’ and the core characters being utterly unable to be truthful to one another - have generally been more rewarding than they’ve been frustrating. Bubbling away in the background is the enigmatic Missy (Michelle Gomez in full-on psychopathic nutter mode - and for good reason, as we eventually discover), harvesting the recently-deceased for purposes which only become apparent in the two-part season finale, the first episode of which where we learn Missy’s true identity, is about as exciting as Doctor Who has ever been.
There is, however, the nagging feeling that the show still isn’t quite firing on all cylinders. There’s a renewed energy and vigour in the production (Doctor Who has never looked or sounded better) but many of the episodes play it a bit too safe and don’t take any real risks. Some just don’t have enough time or room to breathe and there’s a noticeable dearth of really interesting supporting characters - mainly because so much time is spent working on the three series leads. But most of the episodes are lively and colourful affairs, even if it’s clear that an actor of Capaldi’s stature and capability deserves something just a bit meatier and more challenging. He excels in sizzling moments of angry confrontation and his rudeness to just about everyone - especially big-faced Clara - is a joy to behold. The ratio of clunkers is more acceptable than in recent series, too. ‘Time Heist’ is just plain dull, show runner Steven Moffat’s season opener ‘Deep Breath’ is too long and too pleased with itself, and the series only really drops the ball once - but drops it so hard it goes through the floorboards. Frank Cottrell Boyce’s ‘In the Forest of the Night’ is mawkish, nonsensical junk and the fact that it was commissioned at all worryingly suggests that Moffat can’t quite shake off that disturbing and misplaced image he has of the show as a ‘fairytale’.
Some stories - ‘The Caretaker’ and ‘Robot of Sherwood’ - are fun, fluffy nonsense, whilst others - ‘Kill the Moon’ and ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’ - fall at the last hurdle with disappointing denouements (giant egg and malfunctioning futuristic tech again, respectively). But second episode ‘Into the Dalek’ restores the Doctor’s deadliest enemies to their rightful place as his most implacably formidable and homicidal foes whilst Moffat’s ‘Listen’, hailed immediately as an instant classic, is really just an Emperor’s New Clothes grab-bag of motifs and clichés he’s used time and again since he started working on the show. The real series highlight is the witty and inventive ‘Flatline,’ which introduces some creepy new 2D aliens whilst trapping the Doctor inside his shrinking TARDIS. Moffat’s two-part finale is compromised by its second episode, a big and brash affair which tries to emulate the overblown season finales of his predecessor Russell T Davies but frustratingly underachieves due to his inability (rather than unwillingness) to just write a bloody big adventure story without trying to be clever.
But in the final analysis, this is an enjoyable and confident batch of episodes which sees the show getting back on track, hopefully paving the way for even bigger and better things for Capaldi’s second season. This five-disc boxset boasts a more considered collection of special features than recent releases. Fifth Doctor Peter Davison hosts two entertaining BBC America specials where he tries to define what makes ’the Ultimate Time Lord’ and ’the Ultimate Companion’, there are a scattering of brief interview featurettes, all twelve BBC Red Button ’Doctor Who Extra’ episodes (BBC3’s old Confidential strand in all but name and length) and the post-cinema screening ‘Deep Breath’ on-stage Q&A hosted by Zoe Ball. Best of all is the 45 minute ‘World Tour’ documentary which follows Capaldi, Coleman and sometimes Moffat, as they tour the globe in twelve days to promote the new series. It’s a warm and engaging documentary which reminds us just what a huge worldwide brand the series has become and how it’s touched so many people in so many different, creative ways. Sadly neither Moffat or any cast members feature on any of the four commentaries but co-writer Phil Ford and director Ben Wheatley are on fine raucous form on their ‘Into the Dalek’ track, director Paul Murphy flies solo on ‘Robot of Sherwood’ and is joined by FX bods Kate Walsh and Peter Hawkins for ‘The Caretaker,’ and director Paul Wilmshurst is joined by first AD Scott Bates for ‘Kill the Moon’.
Special Features: Commentaries on selected episodes / 12 episodes of Doctor Who Extra / Five featurettes / Cast interviews / Music video / Trailers
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