Showrunner(s): Steven Moffat
Air Date (US): 23rd August, 2014 – 25th December, 2014
No. Of Episodes: 13
Following a two-year absence from the air (specials not included), Doctor Who returned to our screens last August boasting a new lead, new stories and… well, pretty much the same of everything else. Notably however, Peter Capaldi stepped into the iconic TARDIS, taking over from Matt Smith to become the 12th Doctor so far. While the cult BBC show had previously struggled under Steven Moffat’s direction over the past few years, a fresh acting face was arguably the change it needed to re-ignite the fire in its stories once again…
Given the standard of work he delivered on The Thick Of It, it was clear from the very beginning that Peter Capaldi was always going to make a great Doctor. Despite this, he did have his fair share of naysayers at the beginning (sadly from the younger demographic, still bemoaning the loss of Matt Smith). It’s safe to say the grumpy Scotsman proved them wrong, adding a darker maturity to the role, along with a wonderfully entertaining new dynamic between his ageing Doctor and his youthful companion in Clara.
“Fear is like a companion. A constant companion, always there. But that’s ok. Because fear can bring us together. Fear can bring you home… Fear makes companions of us all.” – Clara Oswald
Indeed, it was Jenna Coleman who arguably benefitted the most from this changing of the guard. Despite exploding into the role early on, Clara ultimately regressed in the latter part of Season 7 – becoming the focal point for fan criticism over many of the writers’ weak and confusing plots. Season 8 could not have been more different for her. Clara shed the trope of ‘nagging companion’, and evolved into so much more, building meaningful, engaging relationships with the Doctor and Danny in the process.
The guest cast, while strong, was ultimately overshadowed by the show’s two fantastic leads. Samuel Anderson suffered the most from this. Despite initial appearances, Danny Pink was ultimately only played a bit-part role this season. He did always deliver when called upon though – particularly in the heartbreaking two-part finale. Michelle Gomez was captivatingly bonkers as Missy – delivering equal parts of insanity and menace to one of the best Who villains in years. It’s just a shame we did see more of her.
Despite initially getting off to a shaky start, the show quickly found its rhythm around its fourth episode – and from then on it was plain sailing. What immediately stood out about Season 8 were the strength of the individual episodes. Episodes like Mummy On The Orient Express, Flatline and Time Heist offered some great new weekly Who plots to be remembered. One terrible piece aside (*cough* magic trees *cough*), the standard of writing in the mid-t0-late portion of this season was the most consistent its been in years.
“I’m not a good man! I’m not a bad man! I’m not a hero! I’m not a President! And no, I’m not an officer! You know who I am? I am an idiot with a box and a screwdriver, passing through, helping out.” – The Doctor
Similarly, the big episodes represented a marked improvement from the early-Moffat era. Heavily criticised for indulging in overcomplicated plots and egotistical tangents since his reign as show-runner began, Steven Moffat reigned back on the complexity this season, and the show flourished for it. Dark Water/Death In Heaven is probably his best season finale to date, while the incomparable Listen really showcased where the man’s real talents lie. It was undoubtedly his best work on the show since Season 3’s Blink.
Deep Breath, 23/08/14
Introducing Peter Capaldi – one of the grumpiest Doctors yet! The episode was overlong, with a routine clockwork robot story, but Capaldi’s interactions with Clara and a hobo were fantastic. An emotional Matt Smith cameo topped it all off at the end – 8/10
Into The Dalek, 30/08/14
Another disappointing Dalek episode from Steven Moffat that displayed too many of the same faults from the Smith/Moffat era. A jumbled story, poorly developed secondary characters and a somewhat callous turn from The Doctor didn’t help either. – 7/10
Robot Of Sherwood, 06/09/14
An overly whimsical tone, dull villains and and a questionable plot (featuring robots in the Middle Ages) made this a bit of a dud. Not even The Doctor/Robin Hood’s fun squabbling could make this memorable, while guest star Ben Miller was woefully underused – 7/10
Moffat replicated his Blink and Silence In The Library form with this frightening yet thoughtful thriller. By going back to basics with the ‘monster under the bed’, he crafted a wonderful episode that managed to be both as mysterious as it was terrifying – 10/10
Time Heist, 20/09/14
A brilliantly scripted space-heist thriller, full of plenty of entertaining little twists and turns. The supporting players were wonderfully realised – so much so that you truly cared about their fate. Time Heist was a great call-back to the Russell T. Davies era – 9/10
The Caretaker, 27/09/14
While sorely lacking in excitement and a decent villain, The Caretaker managed to devote more time to its three leads – fleshing out their characters and relationships in a very entertaining fashion. The temporary Courtney/Doctor alliance was hilarious – 8/10
Kill The Moon, 04/10/14
Visually very strong, Kill The Moon was a wonderfully acted tale of morality and moon-eggs that ultimately faltered a little in the execution. An incredibly divisive episode, it suffered from an incredibly messy plot – yet it never stopped being entertaining – 8/10
Mummy On The Orient Express, 11/10/14
Yet another Season 8 space-set adventure that delivered plenty of excitement and thrills. The mystery and horror elements really made this episode – along with a conflicted, thought-provoking sub-plot between the Doctor and Clara. Great stuff! – 9/10
They just keep on coming! This was another fantastic episode from the Season 8 creative team. With the Doctor indisposed, we got an interesting shake-up of the Doctor/Clara dynamic – along with some truly terrifying villains thrown in for good measure – 9/10
In The Forest Of The Night, 25/10/14
Magic f***ing trees?! This was a real outlier in amongst some of Doctor Who‘s best episodes in years. A forced green theme and an incredibly weak storyline undermined the beautiful visuals and some good performances from both kids and adults alike – 6/10
Dark Water, 01/11/14
Outstanding. Moffat delivered one of his best episodes ever – managing to make it witty, scary and heartbreaking all at the same time. Michelle Gomez was on fire as the maniacal ‘Missy’ (aka The Master), while Clara’s loss was both shocking and emotional – 10/10
Death In Heaven, 08/11/14
While perhaps not as impressive as it’s lead-in episode (causing some to see it as a little anticlimactic), some strong character work between Danny and Clara and Michelle Gomez being… well Michelle Gomez ensured this finale still worked. A bit rushed though – 9/10
Last Christmas, 25/12/14
While technically only a Christmas special, the episode offered some much needed closure on the Doctor & Clara’s shared arc for the season. Nick Frost & Faye Marsay were great guest acts too. Fun and emotional, this topped off a great year for Doctor Who – 9/10
It may not have been perfect, but there were evident signs of progress throughout Season 8. Capaldi’s introduction may have played a part in that, catalysing a great new dynamic between his Doctor and Clara, but the real improvement came in the writing room. Sadly, Matt Smith (another great Doctor), was never afforded the strength and consistency of the scripts currently being produced during his time. Hopefully, the writing will continue to strengthen, enabling Capaldi & Coleman to reap the benefits into Season 9 and beyond.
MVP: Jenna Coleman
Season Rating: 8.4