19 December 2015

Kro Talks: Doctor Who Series 9

A few days ago in places probably not too far away, your two site editors sat down to talk about the latest series of Doctor Who...

Dave: Right, morning Matt!
Matt: Good morning!
D: I thought we could start by chatting briefly about each story before looking at the series as a whole. So what were your thoughts on The Magician's Apprentice and The Witch's Familiar?
M: The opening story was really strange. I think it fits with Moffat's concept that two-parters should have a major twist midway through: in this case clearly that was discovering that he, Missy and Clara had been taken to Skaro. However, in practice it came off like one of those Colin Baker / Season 22 cliffhangers, where the whole first 45 minutes is basically vamping to delay the big reveal and to actually start the story. I mean - the teaser is great: the Doctor on Skaro meeting Davros as a child, What a hook! But you've already established that we're on Skaro, and what the moral dilemma's going to be. I felt like the rest of the episode was just getting in the way of telling that story.
D: Yeah, there was definitely a lot of redundant build-up. That’s the problem with writing a good inciting incident (and this had a very good one) – it needs to make sense in the context of the rest of the story, and vice versa.
M: All the stuff with Missy freezing the planes, the Sisterhood of Karn, the Doctor in a tank in a castle didn't work for me. The Confession Dial stuff felt a bit too clunky, and this whole 'getting the team back together' is tired out after it's been done in The Impossible Astronaut; A Good Man Goes to War; Dinosaurs on a Spaceship... So, thumbs down for episode one.
The Witch's Familiar was much better because it got to the heart of what the story was all about. The Doctor/Davros confrontations were excellent - it really shows what Capaldi needed last year were more opportunities to go head-to-head with a decent opponent. I think they understood that, and it's a big feature of many of this year's stories, that kind of Doctor/villain verbal sparring.
So a qualified thumbs up for episode two. There were parts I didn't think worked - mainly the bits that distracted from the Doctor and Davros. And I'm perplexed by Moffat's apparent disinterest in giving the Daleks themselves anything interesting to do.
D: Yeah I agree for the most part. I think going to Skaro and seeing Davros (both young and old) in those situations was a good move but that wasn't quite enough to hang two episodes on for me. Clara and Missy, once they were back with the Doctor, had very little impact on anything at all.
M: When do you think the Daleks were last used well in the show?
D: Maybe the end of Series 4 but again that was more of a Davros story. Prior to that maybe The Parting of the Ways. You?
M: I'd probably say Victory - they were central to it, and got some interesting moments (especially the scenes in the bunker). Since then, pretty much they've been cannon fodder or kind of incidental. Even in Asylum they sort of milled about aimlessly.
D: Yeah, I think that was working towards a good use of the Daleks, but the way it turned into a reboot, not a rejuvenation (even from the characters’ point of view) turned me off.
M: I'd love to see Capaldi get a proper, balls-to-the-wall Dalek epic before he goes. I'd love to see what he made of something like Dalek: eyeball to eyestalk. I think they were striving for that in Into the Dalek, but it wasn't quite there
D: Yeah, I definitely agree about Capaldi getting a proper Dalek story. Into the Dalek was good but didn't make the most of the opportunity it had I thought

M: Episode 3 and 4 were Under the Lake and Before the Flood. What did you make of it?
D: It was actually one of my favourite stories of the year, but I definitely thought the first half was stronger. I don't know what it is, but water-based stories are always a bit more exciting for me. Perhaps it's the complete isolation. I loved how much was made of it being underwater, and the timey-wimey bits actually made sense, with the team causing the events of episode three in episode four. It was a very solid pair of episodes in my opinion, and possibly the strongest showrunner audition of the year. Sophie Stone's Cass was excellent and I'd far rather see her pop up again than any of the various 'powerful women' from the last few seasons. The only thing that let it down for me was the realisation of the Fisher King.
M: Yes, it was a bit Vervoidy
D: [laughs] Now you’ve said it, I can definitely see it!
M: Are you enjoying the amount of time travel stories there are now?
D: I think it's a good thing that there is more diversity, but I also think it has to be used well. Under the Lake and Before the Flood did in my opinion, but there have been others that have used time travel at the expense of a real story or characters.
M: It struck me that despite its superficial similarities to a Davison/Saward 'base under siege' (yes, I'm thinking of Warriors of the Deep), with lots of military, surname types it was still a very 'Moffaty' story.
D: Yes, same, but I think it had more heart and integrity than either of those two may have managed.
M: The idea of pre-Moffat Doctors nipping back in time to find out how to fix a problem in the present isn't unthinkable, but it's definitely exceptional. I mean, when did time travel in a story really happen? Pyramids of Mars maybe? Image of the Fendahl had a trip to Mars.
D: Yes, I even find it hard to imagine Eccleston or Tennant doing it, partly because it's so difficult to do without undermining the story.
M: Silver Nemesis is the only example that immediately jumps to mind - the Doctor and Ace go back to Peinforte's study
D: Yes, twentieth century examples are a bit thin on the ground.
M: I think it needs to be used carefully, and sparingly. I wonder if the audience watch Doctor Who now expecting there to be a timey-wimey twist, and whether that's to the show's good.
D: The impression I get of the show from the general audience now is that it's trying to do too many things brilliantly, and so not actually doing much particularly well. I get the impression there’s a bit of apathy from casual viewers.
M: The stories that aren't 'timey wimey' - like Sleep No More - are almost criticised for being old fashioned. But limiting Doctor Who to timey wimey is as problematic as limiting it to 'base under siege' or 'exiled to Earth'.
D: I think now the audience would probably more readily question why he doesn't go back in the TARDIS and fix something to escape mortal danger in a 'standard' story, but I don't think that's entirely due to Moffat's influence.
M: Yeah. They used to cover it with 'time paradox' But that excuse went out of the window with The Big Bang.
D: It's a tricky balance. I think you can still have a great story that doesn't use time travel nowadays - like The Zygon Invasion or Kill the Moon - but they're becoming rarer, occasionally favouring gimmicks. It's hard to blame them when the ratings are beginning to drop off this heavily though - not helped by the publicity, or lack of, of course.
M: Oh, the dreaded R-word.
D: Sorry.
M: It's pulling in about 6 million on finals now, which is well down from before, but not yet, I think, in cancellation crisis territory.
D: Yeah, and the Live+7 figures which have just come out show it to hover around the 7 million mark, which is pretty consistent with previous years. Even a recent episode of The X Factor only got around 4.5 million.
M: I imagine the BBC will put a lot of effort into the 2017 series - more publicity, fresh companion, probably Moffat's farewell lap...
D: You believe the rumours that we'll have another gap year in 2016 then?
M: I think a 2016 gap year is inevitable. Do they even have time to make it if not? If nothing's written ready to go in the next month or so, I struggle to see what they'll be able to do in 2016 barring maybe a couple of end-of-year specials, perhaps.
D: I think the rest of the production team would manage - Capaldi has even said recently that he'd do 20 episodes a year - but it's whether Moffat can juggle Doctor Who and Sherlock. In fact, it’s been confirmed that production of 13 new episodes will start next year, so we may be looking at another 2012-style run, rather than 2009.
M: As for Under the Lake / Before the Flood - thumbs up from me. A story where death matters, stunning cliffhanger, nicely balances story between the two episodes.
D: Yeah, I agree. But I think the fact that it was still felt necessary to include an explanation of the bootstrap paradox shows that it's still quite a new device to use as being central to the story itself.
M: In retrospect, it felt like the last proper 12/Clara adventure. From the next story on it's all Ashildr, and Clara is increasingly sidelined
D: Exactly. Episodes 5 and 6 are about Ashildr, episodes seven and eight barely feature Clara (though Jenna is great as Bonnie), likewise for episode nine and she dies in episode ten.

M: Might as well ask now - should Clara have been in Series 9? Did it add much to her character?
And would Last Christmas have been a better exit?
D: I think Death in Heaven would have been the best time to exit, but in answer to your question, no I don't think it added anything to her character. She wasn't a teacher at all this time, had very few 'character' moments, and was still a halfway house in terms of commitment to the TARDIS.
M: I kind of felt that Clara was treated like Amy in Series 6 - she's there to give the Doctor something to defend, but the season is more interested in the mysterious immortal time travelling femme fatale.
D: You're exactly right. Except Ashildr isn't Clara's daughter - OR IS SHE?
M: I think one of the many things RTD got right was limiting companions (after Rose) to a year. Makes sense to do 2 years if they're seeing the Doctor through a regeneration, but no more.
D: I think Clara could've worked this year if we'd had another companion along - as long as she wasn't sidelined due to them of course.
M: Amy's story was done with The Big Bang. After that she exists to pop out River Song and give the Doctor a reason to get angry and dark in A Good Man Goes to War. She loses any agency once Amelia's story is done.
D: I think that's true to an extent, but I also thought hers and Rory's exit in The God Complex was great. Series 7 didn't need to feature them, but it would've been too much to introduce Clara and another new companion in the same episode.
M: Yep, and I think The Girl Who Waited is stunningly good. But one good story and a decent exit is still a waste of Amy. I'd like a Sarah and Harry-type team. Amy and Rory were... not Sarah and Harry, in any respect.
D: [laughs] No they were not.
M: And then the whole 'I'm sterile now, let's get divorced'? Yuck!
D: I didn't even like the Amelia story that much if I'm honest. I quite enjoyed Series 5 as a whole, but the arc didn't do much for me,
M: Even so, you can see how Amy's arc is kind of her story, she's the main character in it. After it's done she's just incidental
D: Oh, yeah, I get that - I just didn't like it that much. I didn't dislike it either though. I got really excited last year when it looked like we were getting a 1963-style set up, when rumours were that it was gonna be Clara, Danny and Courtney in the TARDIS for the second half of the series. I was really disappointed that turned out to be wrong.
If we veer back on track for a moment, what were your thoughts on Ashildr and her first two episodes?
M: [laughs] Yes. I haven't rewatched either of those. Which sums up how I felt about them: I enjoyed them well enough at the time, no urgency to watch them again.
D: On the subject of rewatching, I don't think I've seen any episode of the Capaldi era twice except for The Caretaker and Kill the Moon.
M: I thought both the Ashildr episodes looked gorgeous, decent monsters in both. Not convinced in either by Maisie Williams.
D: I thought The Girl Who Died was a bit rubbish in the same way as Robot of Sherwood. The Mire looked amazing though, and The Woman Who Lived was another very middling episode for me. It didn't quite commit to either of its moods (the loneliness of eternity and the jollity of the highwaymen backdrop) and as such left me a bit dry. Thankfully Ariyon Bakare was in a heavy costume so can return in a part worthy of him.
M: I liked the concept of a two parter linked by character rather than plot. They were perfectly acceptable, but no more. In an odd way, they reminded me of one of those X-Files or Buffy episodes from a later season: the kind of thing a show does when it's mature and running on fumes; everyone can make it on autopilot. That's probably a super harsh judgment - I'm sure massive effort goes into making each story. They're just episodes that kind of exist because they need to do 12 episodes. I don't feel I learned anything about the Doctor or Clara from it.
D: I agree that a tremendous amount of work goes into every episode, it's just a shame that the show sometimes feels like it's coasting.
M: Whereas a new companion - seeing their reactions, that could have given it something extra.
D: Yeah. It's a bit disconnecting how everything is taken in Clara's stride in the first part.
M: Looking back at The Doctor's Daughter - another mid-season episode when everyone can make it in their sleep, but Donna's reactions; the idea of the Doctor having even a cloned daughter; even Martha proving she can make it on her own on an alien world - these all told us things about the characters and advanced the series.
D: That's a really good example, and I think that's something that RTD brought to the table that perhaps Moffat and his script editors don't.
M: I think it's why you need a new character every year. The show needs to renew itself all the time. It's amazing, even in the 1960s every year had basically a new cast. That keeps it constantly moving.
D: Yeah, it's only in the 1970s and 80s that companion begin to outstay their welcome, and then it becomes really obvious
M: Even then, they reformatted the show around a stable cast. So Seasons 8-10 reinvented Doctor Who quite radically, but using the solidity of Pertwee and Manning to disguise the fact that Seasons 8 and 10 are wildly different in tone and approach
D: I agree, each of those three series builds on the last on the knowledge that they have a firm grounding Pertwee and Manning, because Season 11 is basically Season 10 part two.

M: Talking of the Pertwee years, what did you think of this year's UNIT epic?
D: Ooh nice link. This was actually the one I reviewed for the site, and I think I chose well. I really liked both parts, though the first much more so than the second. It was a solid story from pretty much every angle, I thought.
M: Unlike TGWD/TWWL, I thought it had a real weight to it.
D: It was nice that in the year of Genesis of the Daleks Redux, we also got Terror of the Zygons Redux - both fortieth anniversary nods too.
M: That's something I've noticed with Capaldi - he's much more rooted in the real world than Tennant or Smith. You get the same kind of grittiness as with Eccleston.
D: Yes, as Capaldi put it - London, what a dump. I've said it before, but to me, Capaldi's Doctor is very much Moffat's take on Eccleston's.
M: Less the big dramatic locations or fairytale villages in Gloucester, more waste grounds in Bristol or side streets in Wandsworth. I thought it was really effective, even if I was screaming at the soldiers at the church for being so dumb.
D: Yeah, that was the one point I wasn't so sure on. I think it would've been stronger for me if he had shot her and it had turned out to have been his real mother rather than the other way round. Also, that bit was scored really weirdly.
M: The only part that didn't work for me was the bit everyone else praises: the showdown between the Doctor and Bonnie. I thought Capaldi and Coleman were great, but the script itself wasn't up to the job. If you're positioning the Zygons as alien ISIS, having the Doctor reason them to a peaceful solution is fatuous, at best, and grotesquely offensive at worst.
D: The showdown wasn't particularly well executed. In theory, it's a great resolution, but like you say the script didn't do it justice.
M: And after ISIS murdered a jet load of Russians and attacked Paris, implying that we can go and negotiate with their leader and within a day they'll be best friends with us... Yuck! I got what it was trying to say, and I think it was a good, moral speech. But to have it work, and be the resolution to basically ISIS – facile.
D: And the Doctor's solution was completely impractical given the rest of the story anyway. You can tell that bit came mostly from Moffat. And Bonnie becoming Osgood at the end was just stupid in my opinion. How can you go from wanting to destroy the human race to actively becoming one of the most human Humans? It jars massively with Peter Harness' setup. He proved he could handle a 'talky' resolution well last year but I think he should've put his foot down here and said it wasn’t enough.
M: It should have been a speech made earlier in the episode. The actual resolution needed something more. Ideally, the Zygons themselves dealing with their radicals. It would have made a much more compelling resolution. I wonder if I'm reading too much into it, but when the episodes actually direct you to identify the Zygons with ISIS, not to follow through with it I think exposes the climax to this kind of criticism.
D: Other things that could have been improved: why only make one Zygon 'invert'? Why him? Too much box-ticking in the second ep, I think. Plus the Doctor had it all planned from the start - like in The Witch's Familiar, like in Hell Bent. In episode two, it was almost Curse of Fatal Death silly. "Well I anticipated you anticipating me anticipating you making me give up all my regeneration energy."
M: Yeah. So two thumbs up for episode 7, and a side thumb for episode 8.
D: I think we're in agreement there. Episode 7 was easily my highlight of this year, as in 2014.

D: So, Doze No More, AKA Please No More.
M: [laughs] I didn't hate it. I liked Gatiss trying something new
Me neither, but it was a definitely a thumbs down for me.
M: I didn't think it entirely worked.
D: Yes. Again, the ideas are sound but the execution didn't work. Well, I say the ideas are sound, exploring sleep deprivation is a nice topic, but the monsters being made of sleep dust was a bit rubbish.
M: But on balance I'd prefer a Sleep No More to a weary Magician's Apprentice or the banal competence of TGWD/TWWL.
D: Yeah I much prefer the show trying new things and failing than resting on its laurels but that doesn't mean I thought that much of this as a finished product. It was also a waste of Reece Shearsmith.
M: Yeah, I think it was unsuccessful, and the execution was off (the found footage idea really didn't work). I think Gatiss was probably inspired by the MR James adaptation he did a couple of years ago - The Tractate Middoth - which had a similarly dusty monster.
D: You’re probably right, actually.
M: It was kind of like Revelation of the Daleks for me: you have to admire a writer consciously trying to do something outside their comfort zone, even if the result is mixed to say the least.
D: Yes I thought the direction hampered it a lot too. Same with the next episode, in fact.

M: Face the Raven was problematic for me
D: Same. Clara was doing a perfect impression of the Tenth Doctor.
M: Explain! Explain! EXPLAIN!
D: Every one of her lines could easily have come out of Tennant's mouth and the way she was acting - not reckless, but carefree - was just like him circa Planet of the Dead. I thought of it about halfway through, and watching with that in mind, they did seem very similar. For example, I can imagine Tennant leaning out the TARDIS over London and me loving it, but here it just made me cringe a bit.
M: I feel like Moffat hadn't decided what Clara's Achilles Heel was. Was it she was trying to be too much like the Doctor? Or was it that she had a death wish? Or in his mind, is that the same thing? Because I think the episode (and the season) flits between the two: one moment she's trying to be the Doctor, the next she doesn't seem to care that much whether she lives or dies
D: I get that these are supposed to be 'the glory years' and so you've effectively got two Doctors in the TARDIS, which is why Capaldi has to reign her in a couple of times this year, but she's very inconsistent whether she's working for the greater good or simply having a good time – she never seems to be doing both at once.
M: That kind of undermined her sacrifice. If she does it because she has a death wish, it's just the fulfilment of that. If she does it because she's becoming like the Doctor and assumes it's what he would do it becomes heroic. But the problem is, she doesn't seem to do much to be Doctorish and solve the mystery, she just expects the Doctor to pull the rabbit out of the hat and save her because he always saves her. And I think in trying to have its cake and eat it (she's reckless / she's Doctorish) it fails to clarify which is true, and we're left wondering who Clara is. Which is not what you want in her climactic moment.
D: That's it. The majority of the time, the Doctor is about saving people no matter the cost, but she seems to want to be heroic with him to fall back on if she messes up. But that mentality kind of sets her up both doomed to failure and as a bit carefree.
M: So it didn't quite feel like the cathartic moment it set itself up as.
D: No, and as such Heaven Sent loses a lot of its emotional worth. For me it only works if he’s fighting to retain what knowledge he has of the Hybrid (though why it’s such a secret I don’t know) rather than to avenge the memory of a cipher.
M: She dies as she lived - essentially unknowable. Is she a childminder or a schoolteacher? Is she Orson's ancestor or isn't she? Was she splintered through time or not? Impossible Girl right to the end. A mass of contradictions.
D: She wasn't mysterious, just anonymous.
M: Oh that's good. Add to this I felt the episode was too blatantly setting up the death, and manipulating us into caring, and I wasn't totally sold. So only a qualified thumbs up.
D: Yeah, plus the seven-minute flight of the Raven devalued things quickly for me.
M: God, Tennant managed to visit all his companions in the time it took the bird to fly down the street!
D: [laughs – a lot] Maybe it got lost?
M: Well, there are a LOT of Claras. It probably pecked at the ones in Arc of Infinity and Dragonfire on the way. Or did that not happen anymore once the Time Lords saved the Doctor on Trenzalore?
D: Shame it didn't get the rest of Arc of Infinity and put us all out of our misery. One question I have - if the curse and the Raven were only given to Ashildr to get the Doctor to reveal what he knew of the Hybrid (yuck) why did she kill the other bloke?
M: TIMEY WIMEY That's why

M: Anyway, what did you think of Heaven Sent?
D: A qualified success. The cyclical nature of the trap was very good but I didn't buy into the reason he was put in it, which devalued it somewhat.
M: Yes, it's a problem with the whole season though.
D: Also, the logic of the trap didn't quite make sense, like what rooms reset (why was there another set of clothes?) but then that's fair enough for a land that is strongly implied to be of the Doctor's imagining.
M: The Confession Dial was a trap for the Doctor. Presumably the Time Lords gave it to Missy.
But the whole trap setup in Face the Raven was stupidly convoluted.
D: Yes. Classic Time Lord convolution we haven’t seen the likes of since the 1980s.
M: I think ignoring that, Heaven Sent was impressive.
D: Same. It's the kind of episode you absolutely wouldn't have got 10 years ago, which is both good and bad. We finally found out what was in the Confession Dial though - him.
M: The fairytale nature of the prison was very neat, and I think some of your points about the clothes just make it seem all the more nightmarish. It was the first wholly successful Moffat episode since Day of the Doctor? Probably even before that.
D: Yep, I think maybe since The Snowmen? It's Moffat at his most Moffaty. It's the Doctor slowly going insane. I did think it was a bit careless of him not to write 'carry the shovel' in the sand though. Would've saved him a lot of time.
M: He does do better set up than resolution. I think that's a criticism you could make of his whole era. The set-up of the Crack, Silence and Trenzalore arcs was better than the resolution. The question is always more interesting than the answer. And even the two-parters, Time of Angels, The Impossible Astronaut and Dark Water are much better than the second parts. I think only The Magician's Apprentice bucks the trend.
D: Even going back to Silence in the Library I'd say that's true, though I know a lot of people like Forest of the Dead.
M: Heaven Sent is clearly a better piece of work than Hell Bent. Two thumbs up for Heaven Sent. A thumb down I think for Hell Bent.
D: A thumbs down? Wow. Mine was just kind of sideways. Please go on.
M: The first half was awful. Why bring Rassilon back to expel him? What was the point of the extra 20 minutes of running time when there was probably only about 35 minutes of plot?  I hated all the Gallifrey stuff. Apart from the fan-pleasing thing of having Gallifrey in it at all, what did it tell us that was new?
D: Yeah me too. It was pointless. The Hybrid was apparently the unstoppable force that is the Doctor and Clara? Yuck.
M: It was like the opening two-parter in miniature: a nice idea lost under extraneous, and bad material.
D: I'm glad you've said that because I actually thought Hell Bent was very similar to The Witch's Familiar.
M: I can see your point: all that Matrix cloisters stuff was like the buried sewer Daleks: the grim underbellies of Gallifrey and Skaro; the desert wastes outside the city. Interesting parallels
Big elaborate plans to get the Doctor onto the planet... But once there, nothing interesting is done with either the Daleks or the Time Lords. They just mill around while the Doctor does what he does.
D: I actually meant thematically, but now you put it like that there were quite a lot of more overt similarities too. More than that, it was blown up to be something huge, but ends up being very quiet indeed, and even less satisfying than I expected. And Donald Sumpter was terrible.
M: The male to female, white to black regeneration, which was apparently done to prove it could happen, was my least favourite bit. And NOT because I'm a sexist racist. It just painted the Doctor in a bad light - willing to kill the 10th General to buy a bit of time - to reiterate what we've already seen in Master/Missy and Mels/River.
D: There's no point filling the show with women - the 10th General and Rassilon aside, pretty much the only speaking characters are female - if they're all going to be exactly the same 'holier-than-thou', wise-cracking archetype.
M: And we've got River at Christmas...!
D: Exactly!
M: I didn't really enjoy anything before they escaped from Gallifrey. Then, I thought the scenes with the Doctor, Clara and Ashildr were marvellous. They saved the episode for me. Maisie Williams seemed to have found her mojo finally. Clara gets a cool send off - an immortal with a TARDIS. I liked these bits.
D: I thought the send-off was OK. I liked that we thought it was going to be the Doctor talking to an echo/Clara that doesn't remember but it turned out to be him that didn't remember, but I'm not sure about her gallivanting around the universe. If her death is so important and she keeps on being so cavalier, how's Ashildr supposed to save her from dying all the time?
M: Was the Hybrid really answered? Or is it going to be like 'Silence Will Fall' - a thing that keeps cropping up in later series? I guess Rassilon is on the loose as well now. I thought it was kind of disappointing that there was no story of freeing the Time Lords from the Time Lock. You could have done something with that - Doctor is so desperate to save Clara he'll unleash them back on the universe, risk Time War II, for her. Surely once the Daleks know they're back, the war will start again. Or does that major plot point from The Time of the Doctor no longer apply? Also - the Doctor's memories are like Rory and presumably Clara's: he remembers being trapped for billions of years even though he was reset every day.
D: I agree. I heard Gallifrey was back around the time of the first two episodes, so I was looking for clues. When the regeneration thing came up, I assumed it was tied to both Time and the impending return.
M: Does Rory remember being an Auton even if it never happened? Was Clara splintered in time even though the Doctor's death on Trenzalore was averted? Does anyone care?
D: I don't, I know that much.

M: What did you think of the season as a whole?
D: Difficult to call. Overall probably weaker than last year. I felt it was too jumbled and inconsistent despite some good episodes, scenes and ideas
M: I think it was stronger than last year, though this discussion has probably cooled me on it a bit.
D: Oh, sorry then!
M: Last year, I thought Capaldi's Doctor was too austere. I like what he's done with the role this year.
D: There's lots to enjoy but I just preferred last year, even if it did have Robot of Sherwood, Death in Heaven, Last Christmas and In the Forest of the Night. I prefer the 2015 Doctor on balance, but I'd prefer somewhere between the two. Weren't we promised an explanation as a big plot point for the Doctor getting a red jacket too?
M: [shrugs] Clara told him to wear it? I think there were 4 strong episodes, probably 5 middling ones and 3 weak. On balance that's about the same hit rate as last year, but I felt like this year's high points were stronger than lasts.
D: I'd agree on 4 strong episodes, but all the rest were pretty much as unengaging as each other for me. I think last year's more middling episodes, like Time Heist or Into the Dalek, were of a better standard than this year's middling ones.
M: Maybe - the novelty of a new Doctor?
D: One thing that did disappoint me was that my main theory was wrong. It was pretty common knowledge that Clara was going to die, so I thought that a lot of the episodes might be after she's died from the Doctor's perspective. But with him having forgotten her, that's been completely disproved. We even chatted about it as weeks went by, spotting the red herrings here and there
M: Yes, the structure of the series wasn't as consciously different as in the Matt Smith seasons. I suspect with Capaldi some of that has been reigned back a bit. One thing I did find this year - I actively looked forward to each new episode. Last year (and, sadly, the year before) I was much more ambivalent. Overall, I don't think it's as strong as Matt Smith's first year, but it's probably my favourite since.

D: Out of all the various supporting characters we've met this year, which (if any) would you like to see back?
M: Hmmm. I don't think I'd want to see any of them back. I prefer when the Doctor moves on. It's a big universe, and I don't expect him to keep bumping into the same people. I certainly wouldn’t want any of the new ones to come back.
D: What about Faye Marsay? Would you like her to be the next companion?
M: No.
D: Good.

D: In terms of Moffat's five series, I think both of Capaldi's and Matt's first are definitely the strongest three by a country mile.
M: I'd like the next season to be quite externally focused - not introspective stuff about the Doctor's nature or how he's a fetish object ('Am I a good man', 'I am the Doctor so basically run' type stuff).
D: Yes, that's what I want to see too. The types of stories are almost instrumental to that.
No I agree. I thought RTD had the balance right with family as supporting characters because it made sense for them to recur.
I read an article yesterday which I didn't entirely agree with but made some thought-provoking points. It said that television isn't about the story any more, it's about how the story is told. I think in Doctor Who at the moment, it's far more about the plot than the characters it's happening to, and I'd like to see that change.
M: It depends what they mean by story. For me, the story is about the characters...
D: Yep, me too and I think that’s what they were getting at. It’s why shows like Cucumber and Chewing Gum appeal to me so much.
M: The Doctor goes back to medieval times, meets a snake man and Missy, goes to Skaro - that's just a bunch of stuff that happened.
D: The fact that he anticipates it all just makes it worse.
M: I think you should have a strong story and tell it in a compelling way. Turn Left, for example, is about a woman realising that she's better than her mother has always told her, and can do more with her life than she believed, but it's also told in a very different way.
D: I think that’s a great example of a character telling their own story, not just being the driving force in it. I hope series ten – whenever it eventually rolls around – will be more oriented around characters the audience can invest in. I know it’s very easy for me to sit here and say that, but more effort in that department would be appreciated.

D: How would you sum up this series in a sentence then Matt? For me, it's been interesting, engaging, but not fascinating or particularly stimulating.
M: A hybrid of successful and unsuccessful elements, often in the same episode.
D: Thanks, hope to chat again soon!
M: Thanks!

Check out all our reviews of Doctor Who Series 9 here.

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