You’ll have heard that Doctor Who is back, that there’s a new guy holding the sonic screwdriver and scampering about in the TARDIS, but perhaps you haven’t managed to watch any of the new episodes just yet. “He’s a bit old,” you might say. “I liked David Tennant for a while but then the stories got all angsty and romantically awkward…”
As a big fan myself, I can admit that the series has its ups and downs, just like anything on TV (except some of the top quality shows on Netflix which are near flawless), but whether you enjoy Doctor Who or not comes down to one thing – suspension of disbelief.
Letting yourself be absorbed into that world is crucial to enjoying it, as you have to remember that this is a children’s show after all, aimed first and foremost at 10-12 year old boys (though probably any youngsters are in the cross-hairs these days).
So, without further ado, This Is Entertainment presents five reasons you should boot up BBC iPlayer (or, in fact, most of your favourite on-demand streaming services) and begin your time travel adventure once again.
The companion isn’t just a damsel in distress
Ever since Doctor Who came back in 2005, the companions have been the audience’s window to the Whoniverse more than ever before, meaning, more often than not if you don’t like the companion, you don’t like the show.
Jenna Coleman’s Clara Oswald, who is the current hanger-on, has managed to really add depth to her character this series. Gone is the slightly painful and teenagery love angle and Clara is finally a force to be reckoned with, standing up for herself, getting out of trouble without the Doctor needing to swoop in and even telling the Doctor off when he gets a bit over-excited, like a hyperactive dog getting a tap on the nose with a copy of The Sunday Times.
There’s still a lot more developing which can be done, and the seeds of a new romantic entanglement have already been sewn, but the early signs look good, and at least a little more believable than they were before. Plus the fact that her everywoman identity isn’t central to the plot this series helps take some of the pressure off as well.
The Daleks are scarier than ever
OK OK, so some people find Daleks scary, others don’t, and certainly this series isn’t out to change your mind if you’re dead set against it, but Episode 2 story Into The Dalek is a really interesting take on ‘a Dalek episiode’ which effectively calls back to the end of 2005 series 1 – the fact that the Doctor would make a good Dalek.
For all our relating to the companion in the show, we really all aspire to be the Doctor himself, meaning any suggestion that he might not be a good man makes us feel uneasy. It’s times like that that the show uses its emotional resonance to its fullest effect however, making us question the morality of our hero.
Already this series the Doctor has dealt some hefty emotional blows to Clara and even abandoned her in a helpless situation – this is not something you’d expect from a hero.
In meeting broken Dalek ‘Rusty’, the Doctor’s tendency to want to fix and control everything around him gets the better of him and, inevitably, it costs lives. The Dalek voice, provided by show veteran Nicolas Briggs, is definitely silly, but nonetheless still menacing, particularly when the things he says really hammer home how dark the Doctor really is.
Someone remembered that fun is fun
Heavy storylines are all well and good, but some of the most memorable moments in the past few years have been comedy-based rather than drama, such as Matt Smith and David Tennant’s screwdriver standoff (complete with Doctor inspecting glasses) or Smith attempting to fend off the Daleks with a jammy doger.
This series might have been described as more dark, which it probably is, but there also seems to be an injection of much needed fun into proceedings after some heavy storylines at the end of Matt Smith’s run.
Robot of Sherwood portrays this most outwardly, but each episode so far has built in a strong element of comedy, much of which comes from Capaldi himself – swordfighting with a spoon is probably my favourite idea so far.
Of course it isn’t all about comedy, but when you’re sitting down with the family on a Saturday night for some entertainment you want something which is fun and you don’t necessarily wangt to have to pay attention to every tiny detail to get it, which leads neatly on to…
You don’t need to watch every episode to ‘get it’
In series 6 and 7 things got a bit complicated, let’s be honest. Series 5’s cracks in the wall (which admittedly reappeared later) were a fairly consistent thread running through that series, and another great example of Steven Moffat taking something everyday from his children’s childhood (i.e. a crack on the wall) and making it something to be really afraid of, a formula Moffat returns to for Listen.
The reason 6 and particularly 7 with its ill-advised mid-series break struggled is because there were too many long-running plot threads and the audience couldn’t quite keep their head around what was going on. The beginning of 7 part 2 is the biggest example of that in that it’s a struggle to remember why our heroes are on the run, let alone why they are in random different parts of America.
The stories for this series are far more self-contained, and so it makes the show far easier to dip in and out of. Obviously you should already be religiously tuning in to every episode, but if you’ve made it this far down then you either are already and are just enjoying my ramblings, or you like the show enough to be engaged with it but it can occasionally have problems holding your attention.
Already in the series we have had an introduction, a dark episode and a light episode, plus there’s been the customary introduction of a figure from history – although this time around it is the (possibly) fictional Robin Hood. There’s plenty of scope to delve deeper into the characters as the series goes on, but so far the balance between action and reflection has been spot on.
Peter Capaldi is just fantastic
For series 8, a new doctor provides a clean slate. Personally I have a lot of love for Matt Smith (as if you needed to ask) but Peter Capaldi brings the gravitas which not only comes with age – a fact which is played on nicely in the show – but also just his manner in the part. Capaldi’s long-term love affair with the show itself is well documented, and the passion he has for the role is already showing through strongly after only a couple of episodes.
The first episode is always a rag-tag of different emotions and feelings as the Doctor as a character finds his feed after changing every cell in his body by regenerating (sounds painful…). The initial quips – “Who invented this room?! It doesn’t make any sense; it’s only got a bed in it!” – give way to a realisation that The Doctor isn’t sure who he is, setting the tone of self-discovery for this series and leading to a line of comparisons between The Doctor and other characters.
Capaldi sells this instantly, unashamedly calling out things as silly or ridiculous, just as the audience might when faces with the sort of fantastical which is bread and butter for The Doctor. Due to his love of the show, Capaldi fits into both the stylish costume and mannerisms of his doctor quickly, making the character equal parts likeable, mad and dangerous.
There’s always the next story to look to with Doctor Who, but the series has made a strong start (not least for wisely self-containing the introduction in a near feature-length opener) and stands to get better and better as it continues. Here’s hoping the payoff at the end matches our collective anticipation.
James Michael Parry