TV Reviews

TV Review: Doctor Who, Series 9

Last week I reviewed Doctor Who: Series 8, Peter Capaldi’s first season as the Twelfth Doctor. As promised, this week I’m delving into Doctor Who: Complete Series 9*, Jenna Coleman’s last season as Clara Oswald.

Promotional image (with prominently-featured hand-holding) from http://www.farfarawaysite.com/section/doctor/gallery6/gallery.htm

Series 9 wowed me from the get-go in ways that Series 8 hadn’t. In fact, it felt much more similar to Matt Smith’s final season and Jenna Coleman’s first. The Doctor and Clara’s camaraderie was on shaky ground for most of Series 8, but after a triumphant reunion in Series 9’s opening Inception-style Christmas Special, they’re finally on equal, complementary footing again.

And it’s awesome.

“The Girl Who Died.” (This picture is epic.) http://www.farfarawaysite.com/section/doctor/gallery6/gallery.htm

Series 9 is composed mostly of two-parters with only three stand-alone episodes, if you count the bookending Christmas Specials. And except for “Under the Lake”/”Before the Flood,” which have some pretty spooky overtones, they’re excellent!  The moral dilemmas of “The Magician’s Apprentice”/”The Witch’s Familiar” (don’t worry, no actual witches involved), for example, are not only believable but beautifully resolved. Plus, we get to see the hilarious villain Missy again (she is way too much fun) and DALEKS!

Doctor Who meets A Bug’s Life” is the best way to describe “The Girl Who Died,” which I really enjoyed; its sequel, “The Woman Who Lived,” isn’t quite as sharp, but still fun and critical to the complex, tragic character development of Ashildr (the Viking girl seen above, played by Maisie Williams).

“The Zygon Invasion”/”The Zygon Inversion” is my favorite two-parter. It’s just good storytelling. The parallels to current events are obvious but tastefully handled, the high stakes are balanced well with alternating humor and emotion, and the Doctor’s passionate speech at the end is one of my favorite scenes ever.

“The Zygon Inversion.” http://kissthemgoodbye.net/doctorwho/thumbnails.php?album=123

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Clara are closer than they’ve ever been. She makes him cue cards so he’ll know how to respond appropriately in emotional situations; he helps her students with school assignments; he fights tooth and nail for her; she refuses to let him face any danger alone. The guy who once insisted he “wasn’t a hugging person anymore” now literally sweeps her off her feet in unexpected hugs and she cuddles him while they’re at the Tardis console. When he thinks he’s about to die she bellows down the phone at him, “If you love me in any way, you’ll come back!“–while he tells her to her face that one day the memory of her will hurt so much he won’t be able to breathe.

However you want to define it, the Doctor and Clara do love each other–and it affects everything they do. (And I mean, she did admit he’s the only man besides Danny Pink who she would ever marry, so…there’s that.)

“The Woman Who Lived.” (Behold the cuddles!!!) http://kissthemgoodbye.net/doctorwho/thumbnails.php?album=121&page=13

Adventures and possibly romantic fluff, however, are overshadowed by the coming of an ominous Gallifreyan legend, the Hybrid. Nobody really knows what it is except that it’s the combination of two powerful warrior races that will “stand over the ruins of Gallifrey and unravel the Web of Time, breaking a billion hearts to heal its own.” What–or who–is the Hybrid? Is it half-Time Lord, half-Dalek? Half-human, half-Mire, like Ashildr? Or is it not just one person, but two? A Time Lord and…a human?

This question finds its answer in the epic three-parter conclusion: “Face the Raven,” “Heaven Sent,” and “Hell Bent.”

I already knew Clara would sacrifice her life for Rigsy, an old friend from Series 8, in “Face the Raven”–but that didn’t mean her death was any less shocking. As Clara prepares to take Rigsy’s wrongfully-imposed death sentence she urges the Doctor not to take revenge, to be brave, and to be “a little proud” of her. He can hardly speak, and for once there’s nothing he can do; he can only kiss her hand and beg her to stay with him. But Clara knows she can’t stay this time. She whispers goodbye, walks out into the street, and faces her death with quiet courage. I cried and cried. It was devastating.

“Face the Raven.” http://kissthemgoodbye.net/doctorwho/thumbnails.php?album=125

Turns out there are more powerful forces at work, though, and the Doctor ends up trapped in a mysterious castle in an unknown universe for a very, very long time. I really don’t want to spoil the reason why–I don’t even think I could without a long-winded explanation of Gallifreyan traditions–but suffice it to say I have never, ever, watched anything like “Heaven Sent” before in my life. It was so well-done, so intricate, and so original, I could probably watch it three or four times and still catch something new.

(Can I just say, too, what an incredible actor Peter Capaldi is? I already knew he was good, but he was absolutely breathtaking in this one.)

The diamond wall of “Heaven Sent.” http://kissthemgoodbye.net/doctorwho/thumbnails.php?album=126

After the otherworldly mysteries of “Heaven Sent,” however, we go straight into the grand finale, “Hell Bent,” in which the Doctor finally finds himself back on his home planet and does everything he can to get Clara back. It’s an emotional roller-coaster from beginning to end, with the Doctor at the end of his rope, chaos on Gallifrey, Clara’s return, and stunning revelations–but it ends with the Doctor and Clara getting to save each other one last time. And it’s right and it’s good…even if it’s bittersweet.

“Hell Bent.” (Yes, he has a guitar. Guitars are cool now.) http://jenna-coleman.com/gallery/thumbnails.php?album=558

We learn who the Hybrid is, and we learn why it–or rather, they–are so dangerous. But we also get to see the Hybrid heal its own heart, just as the prophecy foretold. It’s an appropriate end, in my opinion, for the Clever Boy and the Impossible Girl, both of whom have been sacrificing everything for each other since the very beginning.

I have a feeling I’ll be revisiting my personal collection of Doctor Who DVDS for many years to come. I know there’s a lot more of the show out there–50-plus years’ worth!–but I’ve already laughed and cried and scolded and critiqued and fallen just a bit in love with (*ahem*) Certain Characters…and whenever I do that, it usually means I’ve found myself a good story.

So even if the Doctor and Clara’s tale is all I ever get to see, I’d say it’s been well worth the emotional investment.

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8 thoughts on “TV Review: Doctor Who, Series 9”

  1. Wow! What a wonderful review! God bless you 🙂

    I really loved this series. If you want, make sure to rate every episode on IMDb (hopefully high ratings 🙂 ).

    I hope you enjoy watching as you continue. Clara was good but I thought the new companion was a breath of fresh air. What do you think of the new Doctor (Jodie Whittaker)?

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    1. Aww, I’m so glad you liked it!! Thank you so much for commenting, too–it always makes the hard work of putting together an article so rewarding 🙂

      Oh, I’m sure I’ll enjoy more of it at some point! I live in a rural area so library trips are few and far between, but I definitely want to borrow other Doctor Who series when I get the chance. I especially want to watch the Ninth Doctor, since he’s the only “New Who” Doctor I haven’t seen yet. And thankfully I’ve also caught several episodes of Ten and Eleven (pre-Clara) on BBC America in the past!

      I admit I’m skeptical about the Thirteenth Doctor, but I’ll be staying informed 😉

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  2. Finally got around to reading this review—I love it! You touched on all the things I particularly enjoyed about this season of the show. S9 is probably the best overall series since the revival, actually. I had one or two quibbles with the season arc and the finale, but over time, my criticisms of it have softened quite a bit. It was just so beautifully-acted that I’m willing to overlook minor stuff at this point. Plus, since the regeneration, my Twelve nostalgia is an an all-time high, so I’m less cynical about even the lackluster episodes than I used to be. XD Not that I’m determined to hate Thirteen, I’m just…not entirely sure about her. We’ll see. New Doctors always come with an adjustment period.

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    1. Aaah, I’m so glad you liked it! Coming from you, a longtime Whovian, that means a lot! And yes–SO beautifully acted, especially where Peter Capaldi is concerned (although Jenna Coleman is fantastic too!). I am pretty sure my mouth hung open for the last ten minutes or so of “Heaven Sent.” Still haven’t recovered from that, haha. And while “Face the Raven” would’ve been heartbreaking enough with Clara’s death, Twelve’s stunned, fragile reactions to her final instructions just about did me in.

      Sounds like we have similar sentiments about Thirteen, too. I’ll be keeping an eye on things from afar, but honestly? I’m way more interested in finishing up Twelve’s arc and then going back and watching the Ninth and Tenth Doctors.

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      1. You’re very welcome! Yeah, honestly, I feel like Twelve was *The Doctor* even more than his predecessors in many ways, even though the majority of people seem to prefer Ten to him. Having seen/listened to all of the prior Doctors at various points, including the classic ones, I’d say Capaldi captures all their best qualities while adding great new touches of his own. So I don’t know if any future actor *or* actress could really feel right to me as his replacement. I’m torn between thinking that a woman in the role is a good decision and thinking that it’s a mistake. It all depends on how they handle it, I suppose. If it descends into a lot of political pandering, or Thirteen just doesn’t feel like the Doctor to me, I might regretfully jump ship. I do like Jodie Whittaker, though—she’s done a lot for Down Syndrome activism, which I think is wonderful.

        I think you’ll enjoy Series 10 once you get around to it. There are some particularly amazing twists with Missy in it—I suppose you might have seen spoilers about all that by now, but even so, I think you’ll be surprised by some of the stuff that happens. I liked some of the character traits of Bill, the new companion, and she does have a nice dynamic with Twelve, but it was Missy who really stole the show for me. And I’m sure you’ll have a good time with Nine and Ten as well. Nine is very underrated.

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      2. Okay, so…out of all the *classic* Doctors, which one is your favorite? I’ve seen Capaldi compared with Tom Baker a lot, especially after his speech at the end of “The Zygon Inversion.” I’ve read that he really channeled Baker in that one. (And I know Tom Baker from the old BBC adaptation of The Silver Chair. I loved his Puddleglum so much as a kid!)

        I know Jodie Whittaker from Cranford, so when I heard she was going to be the new Doctor I was like, “Ohhhh, you mean Peggy Bell–yes, I know her!” And she does seem like a precious person! But yes, the political pandering has me concerned. I’m getting a bit fed up with this “oooh let’s gender-bend everything” trend. Just this morning I heard about a new show where they’re gender-bending Sherlock Holmes. And THEN there’s talk that the new Mulan movie won’t even have a male villain, but a female one instead. I mean, COME ON. Let me have my male characters, even the evil ones. I don’t need an all-woman cast to feel empowered, thank you very much.

        (*cue the feminists turning out in angry droves to pelt me, a woman, with rotten tomatoes*)

        Is it bad that I find Missy as amusing and intriguing as I do? She’s got a bit of a Moriarty twist, but without being as *insane* as him. She has much clearer motivations than just “I do it for the lulz”–and in some weird way, deep down, she cares about the Doctor? I’ve seen a few spoilers about her role in Season 10, but I still don’t know exactly how it all turns out.

        What I really want to see, though, is “The Return of Doctor Mysterio.” I’ve seen a few scenes on YouTube and I was absolutely enchanted by it!

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  3. Thank you for this. I am relatively new to the Doctor having begun watching the reboots last November because my 13-year-old discovered it and really loved it. I was skeptical, but I started with Matt Smith’s Eleventh Hour and fell head over heels. I admit, I’ve had a hard time warming to Capaldi and particularly paired with Clara. You have given me a new perspective. I think I’ll have to revisit series 9.

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    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post–and thank you for commenting! I’m very new to the fandom as well: I started watching DW after I saw Jenna Coleman in Victoria, and that was only about six months ago. Sometimes I just have to roll my eyes at it, haha–but overall, it’s such a fun, charming, cnaracter-driven, and often very compelling show. Plus, it’s ultra-British, which makes my little Anglophile heart happy.

      And yes, it took me some time before I warmed to Peter Capaldi as well! Twelve is just so different from Matt Smith’s Doctor and it was pretty jarring when he first regenerated, but he grows and softens so much over Series 8 and 9. He’s definitely my favorite Doctor now. And Clara changes in lots of wonderful ways, too. She didn’t have to “work” to love the Eleventh Doctor–he was lovable right off the bat–but her relationship with Twelve proves that real love isn’t based on fleeting emotions: it IS a promise, like Twelve said in Series 8. And they go from not really knowing whether or not they can stay together, to risking *everything* for each other. That’s pretty neat character development, in my book 😉

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