Discussing Doctor Who: Season 9 Review

Doctor Who season 9

Traveling through time and space, season 9 went all wibbly wobbly, but I’m here to break it all down with my friend Kevin Harvey, author of All You Want to Know About The Bible in Pop Culture.

Previously, we talked about each episode from the season: “The Magician’s Apprentice” and “The Witch’s Familiar,” “Under the Lake” and “Before the Flood,” “The Girl Who Died” and “The Woman Who Lived,” “The Zygon Invasion” and “The Zygon Inversion,” “Sleep No More,” “Face the Raven,” “Heaven Sent” and “Hell Bent.”

We’ll talk about our favorites from this past season, some of our disappointments, and where we are heading next.

What are your overall impressions of season 9?

Aaron: In trying to evaluate it, I want to place it among the Twelfth Doctor’s seasons, Clara’s seasons, and since the reboot in 2005. Season 9 is easily Capaldi’s best season. He finally found his version of the Doctor. He’s not playing a derivative of someone else’s version. He captured the role and secured his place as a great Doctor.

Season 9 is also Clara’s best season. I know we’ve had some fun bantering about your love and my disdain for Clara, but my main issue with her character was the poor storytelling and inconsistencies they had built into who Clara is—that all changed this season. We’ll get more into Clara later, but I felt this was the strongest season for her and strongest season as a whole since she began her run.

So where does 9 fall among the seasons since the reboot for me? Season 5, the first season for the Eleventh Doctor, Amy, Rory and Steven Moffat as head writer, is still my favorite season. Season 4, the Tenth Doctor’s final season, is extremely enjoyable (despite my not enjoying Donna Noble as much as others). Those two are in the top tier for me. I would place this season in the next tier with season 1 (yes, I know the special effects are bad, but the stories are great), season 2, and season 6.

Kevin: Clearly, your opinions on Capaldi’s best season, as well as Clara’s, are in my mind indisputable. Of course season 9 was by far the best for both. Anyone who thinks differently probably also says that the fourth Indiana Jones movie is the best of the series. So let’s not waste time there.

But I will have to dispute your arguments on where season 9 falls all-time. I commend you for not falling into the prisoner-of-the-moment trap and instantly thinking this was the best season ever. And I don’t fall there either, but I definitely have to give it more props than you.

For me, Season 6 is an absolute classic season from beginning to end. You have the best two-parter ever in “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day of the Moon.” The TARDIS comes to life in “The Doctor’s Wife.” The jaw-dropping twist at the end of “The Almost People.” “A Good Man Goes to War.” “Let’s Kill Hitler.” And my favorite Christmas episode ever in “A Christmas Carol.”

So if the storylines of Season 6 is for me unrivaled by any other season, I would have to place Season 9 as a firm second place (with a fairly big margin between the two), due mainly to the job of Peter Capaldi. I was a bit worried last year when we got the oldest Doctor ever, and with good reason since Capaldi was just trying to be an older Matt Smith at times. But this year he took his differences and ran with it, making the Doctor into his own.

And then when you add the incredible improvement of Clara’s story, Missy, Ashildr (Me), and the best ten minutes of Doctor Who ever at the end of “The Zygon Inversion,” you have a season that will stand the test of time of being an all-time great.

Which story (not just episode since so many this season lasted multiple weeks) was your favorite?

Kevin: As much as I just gave this season so many props, when I go back to think of all the episodes, I give all of them a strong B+ or A- (other than “Sleep No More” of course), but none of them stand out as being an instant classic, on a level significantly higher than others. So it’s tough to pick out a favorite, but I would suppose I’d have to go with the two-parter about the Zygons.

As I shared a few weeks ago, the Zygons when in Zygon form are not my favorite villain. Easy to kill and not very scary looking. But that’s the beauty of how amazing Steven Moffat and his other talented writers are. Those two episodes were as strong as they were not because of effects or scary villains but because of the writing. First you have the paranoia of not knowing if someone is human or Zygon, including it turns out, Clara.

The political parallels told in the story concerning war were strong no doubt, but definitely not over-the-top or way too Hollywood liberal, as we usually get here in the States. And then of course, there’s the Doctor’s speech in the end about forgiveness, which needs to find its way into pastors’ sermons everywhere. I can’t think of a better picture ever on TV of true biblical forgiveness.

Aaron: I agree that the Zygon episodes gave us the Doctor’s most memorable monologue of the season and of Capaldi’s run. That was a great story. I also really appreciated the two-part finale. But I think the season’s high point was it’s first story.

“The Magician’s Apprentice” and “The Witch’s Familiar” were absolute classics to me with the inclusion of Missy, Davros and the Daleks. Looking back now, it set the course for so much of this season with the Doctor’s relationship to Clara. She had a callback to her first appearance on the show in “Asylum of the Dalek” as she found herself trapped inside a Dalek shell.

The return of the Dalek’s planet mirrored the season ending return of the Doctor’s planet. And I’ll never forget Missy poking Davros in his eye. That, my friend, is a classic moment.

Let’s ignore “Sleep No More” (for a host of reasons). Outside of it, what was the most disappointing story?

Aaron: There were some parts of most stories I found disappointing (even if I enjoyed them). Again, “Sleep No More” is the weakest (for a host of reasons), but if I’m thinking about disappointing, “Under the Lake” and “Before the Flood” did not capitalize on the amazing opening story as much as I thought the show would. But overall (and this may be a surprise), I found “The Girl Who Died” and “The Woman Who Lived” to be the most disappointing story.

“Disappointing” is the key word. I loved “The Girl Who Died.” It is definitely one of my favorite episodes from the season, but “The Woman Who Lived” missed as a follow-up. Leandro the lion was a bad villain. Unless they return to Sam Swift, we have another immortal that seems thrown in there for no reason.

Eventually, we saw how important Ashildr aka “Me” was to the story, but her character often seems aimless or at least flighty. And this was the start of her character changing rapidly within the same story. The story wasn’t bad at all, but it was disappointing for me.

Kevin: Leandro the lion was indeed such a bad villain, that I had forgotten about him. “The Woman Who Lived” was a decent episode, though, with it showing us the consequences of someone (Ashildr) receiving an immortal life who was never meant to. And Sam Swift was an extremely likable character that I would love to see return some day.

So as far as “disappointing” I’d have to go with “Face the Raven.” Not because of Clara’s death, because we knew that was coming, but because of how sudden it seemed. Just like back in “The Angels Take Manhattan,” when you sat down to watch what you thought was going to be a normal hour of Doctor Who, and all of a sudden Amy and Rory were gone forever by the time the hour ended. But at least there we got a top-tier episode.

In “Face the Raven,” we got what came across as a lazy way to kill Clara and get the Doctor to Gallifrey. And now that Clara is alive and Gallifrey ended up not playing as pivotal a role in the final episode as one might’ve thought, that makes “Face the Raven” that much more disappointing.

As she is done for the foreseeable future, what do you take away from Clara’s run as companion?

Kevin: Listen, I loved Jenna Coleman’s presence on the screen even when she was just known as “Souffle Girl.” There was just something about her screen presence that made you (well, at least me) want to see more of her. And then of course we did when she returned in “The Snowmen,” and I loved her there too.

But I’ll admit, when we finally met the real Clara Oswald in Coleman’s third episode, “The Bells of Saint John,” it took some time for her to make her impact in the Doctor Whoverse. And by the time she was getting comfortable, she lost Matt Smith and was paired up with the oldest actor to play the Doctor ever. So I think she deserves a little slack from those tough on her at the beginning. After all, she basically played three different characters and then had to switch Doctors.

But Clara now leaves the Doctor a different person than he was when he first met her—a better person. I don’t know if that can be said about the impacts of the other companions. Sure, we love Rose and Amy, but did they affect the Doctor in ways that Clara did? Did they call him out and challenge him the way she did in “Kill the Moon”?

She had the audacity to get truly angry at him when Danny Pink died, to the point of banishing themselves trapped inside a volcano. Her opposition at times to the Doctor made him a better man, in an iron-sharpening-iron kind of way. And I’m hoping that he doesn’t forget that impact, even though he has forgotten her.

Aaron: My issues with Clara were never with Jenna Coleman. They were always the muddled way they presented her. On a show built around the impossible, it seemed odd for the Doctor to find Clara to be so impossible. The only thing impossible was for her to be able to match the Eleventh Doctor’s relationship with Amy. Before Capaldi, she was shaping up to be another Martha Jones—a good character at the wrong time. This season she and the Twelfth Doctor connected and became best friends.

I often forget it, but she had the longest run as a companion since the reboot. Despite that, it felt like the audience would forget her, just like the Doctor did—until this season. She definitely made a huge impact on the Doctor and the show. Plus with her and Me spinning around time and space in a Tardis disguised as a U.S. diner, we never know when she might make some type of cameo or return.

What are you most looking forward to next season?

Aaron: When Clara started, I said I wanted to see her with her own Doctor because she was struggling as a follow-up to the Eleventh’s relationship with Amy and Rory. Now, I want to see Capaldi interact with a different companion. Those relationships are always able to bring new features out of the Doctors.

I can always hope for the creation of a new monster that rivals the Weeping Angels in terms of being a great new villain. But I definitely hope we see Capaldi interact with some classic monsters like the Cybermen and the Daleks again.

One of the bigger points of next season should be the Doctor’s new relationship with Gallifrey. How much influence will they exert on the show? How angry are they at him for breaking all the rules to save Clara? I’d be glad to see them as a mostly off-screen relationship that complicates adventures.

Kevin: I echo all that, especially how Capaldi will show a new side to the Doctor when he gets a new companion. But other than that, it’s tough to say what I’m “most looking forward to,” because I have no idea what directions they plan to take the show in. You never know with Moffat. He could made Gallifrey a central storyline, or he could go an entire season with barely a reference to it. Who knows? So how about some of the things I’d love to see in my dream season?

I’d love to see Capaldi with iconic characters and villains from seasons past, to see how they all interact together. I’m already loving the idea of seeing River Song for the Christmas episode—how about more of that? Maybe we don’t even need a full-time companion for a while. Let’s see Capaldi with River, with Jack Harkness, with Martha and Mickey. Even Capaldi with Craig (James Corden) would be a blast. As far as villains, I definitely want to see the Weeping Angels return.

Though I don’t expect much, if any, of that to happen, I will say I hope we get more Missy. Michelle Gomez was amazing in the role of the Master, and probably my biggest complaint about Season 9 was that we didn’t get more of her.

Favorite quotes from this season?

Kevin: Thinking back on twelve episodes of quotes, I find that the ones that remain memorable are the more serious ones, not the hilarious quips Capaldi has become so good at. Such as:

“The day you lose someone isn’t the worst…. It’s all the days they stay dead.” (from “Heaven Sent”)

“Here’s the unforeseeable. I forgive you. After all you’ve done, I forgive you.” (from “The Zygon Inversion”)

“How did you know I was here? Did you see me?” (Clara) “When do I not see you?” (the Doctor) (from “The Magician’s Apprentice”)

Aaron: Since you gave some of the serious lines, I’ll try to balance it with some of the quips.

“Go find Vikings on other planets. The universe is full of testosterone, trust me.” — Clara (from “The Girl Who Died”)

“I don’t know, but I’m pretty certain it’s not so they can all form a boy band.” — the Doctor explaining why ghosts want more people around (from “Under the Lake”)

“Bootstrap paradox. Google it.” — the Doctor breaking the fourth wall and giving the audience a homework assignment (from “Before the Flood”)

And to end this: basically, all of Missy’s lines in the opening story and every time the Doctor pulled out the human interaction cards.

What was your most impactful spiritual takeaway from the season as a whole?

Aaron: You cannot call your two-part finale “Heaven Sent” and “Hell Bent” and not invoke some sense of the afterlife in your show. That has always been an interesting point of Doctor Who—its unabashed embrace of something beyond this life. Just last season, we had Danny Pink communicating beyond the grave.

So often in science-fiction shows, the writers and creators are so wary of introducing any supernatural element that it avoids every possible instance—sometimes in the clunkiest of ways. But Doctor Who, and perhaps Battlestar Galactica, understands that involving things beyond the explanation of science can only enhance the show and make it more relatable to the vast majority of the audience who accepts the existence of the supernatural.

Another aspect of Doctor Who that makes it so impactful, is how it stresses the importance of the individual and our choices. The Doctor saving Ashildr has long-lasting repercussions. Clara’s life, which on the surface was just the life of a young, single English teacher, rippled far beyond her time And not just because she time-traveled, but because of her relationships: she mattered to people.

Much like C.S. Lewis argued, Doctor Who reminds us that individuals are vastly more important than cities or civilizations. Those will crumble and fade away, but the individual will remain while becoming “immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

Kevin: In “The Girl Who Died,” the writers came up with a fairly clever way to give a reason for Peter Capaldi playing the role of the Doctor, despite him already playing a minor character on a previous episode. And the takeaway from “the face reveal” was the Doctor’s realization that he still needed to “save the one.” In that particular episode, that “one” was Ashildr, but the “one” for the entire season was Clara.

Knowing the end for Clara was coming, the writers really strengthened the relationship between her and the Doctor, and showed us someone in the Doctor who would do absolutely anything for the one he loves. Of course, this was shown in no better way than in him spending 4.5 billion years inside his own personal hell, when he could’ve left at any time if he had only confessed the identity of the Hybrid. But more important to him was the chance to save Clara.

The Gospel writer John refers to himself multiple times as “the one Jesus loves,” because that was how he saw his identity. And after Clara learns of how long the Doctor spent trying to save her, how could she not identify herself as “the one the Doctor loves”? But it’s not just John. It’s not just Clara. It’s every single “one.” The one sheep, the one coin, the one son (see Luke 15). You and I are also “the one Jesus loves,” the one he saved.

Though I do not expect the writers to have the Doctor love his next companion in the same way that he clearly loved Clara, if he did, that would be an accurate picture of the way each of us are loved the same by Jesus, to the point of him going to hell and back for every single one of us too.

For more about Kevin, he blogs at BibleInPopCulture.com, where he talks about the intersection of faith and culture, and you can catch him on Twitter at @PopCultureKevin.

Join us next time when Kevin and I wrap up or Doctor Who discussions with the Doctor Who Christmas special: “The Husbands of River Song.”

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Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.