Series 8 (Jul 4 - Jul 15)

July 4: "Deep Breath"
July 5: "Into the Dalek"
July 6: "Robot of Sherwood"
July 7: "Listen"
July 8: "Time Heist"
July 9: "The Caretaker"
July 10: "Kill the Moon"
July 11: "Mummy on the Orient Express"
July 12: "Flatline"
July 13: "In the Forest of the Night"
July 14: "Dark Water"
July 15: "Death in Heaven"

July 4: "Deep Breath"

After an 8-month wait since "The Time of the Doctor", it's finally time for Peter Capaldi's debut story.  There was a hint of trepidation for many as they waited for Matt Smith's debut, but this time it's been eager anticipation: Capaldi is, after all, one of the more distinguished and respected British actors going right now -- he even has an Oscar (for Best Live-Action Short Film, 1993's Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life).  He's also one of the oldest actors to play the Doctor -- 55 years old at the time he was cast, the same age as William Hartnell.

The opening scenes show us an energetic Doctor, however, as he bursts out of the TARDIS, confused as he confronts the Paternoster Gang and the giant dinosaur he's inadvertently brought to 19th-century London.  And because it's a new Doctor, it means we get a brand-new title sequence and a new arrangement of the theme tune to accompany it.  The titles are really gorgeous (and inspired by a title sequence by fan Billy Hanshaw!), all clockwork gears and a swirling clockface as the TARDIS travels through time -- and we get Capaldi's eyes in the sequence, so it's nice that they've kept (part of) the Doctor's face in there.  The theme is much stranger, being more ethereal than we're perhaps used to, but it quickly grows on you -- and it's nice to see them willing to expand their horizons.

Stuart Manning's retro-inspired promotional poster
for "Deep Breath" (from Exclusive Doctor Who
Deep Breath poster revealed)
But, anyway, back to the story.  Steven Moffat seems to be slightly concerned about how a much older Doctor would be received by the casual audience, and so that perceived uncertainty is what ends up driving much of "Deep Breath".  Clara is incredibly unsettled by the new Doctor's appearance and behavior, uncertain if this strange new man is in fact the same man that she's been traveling with.  (Although you'd think if there was ever a companion who'd be equipped to handle the regeneration of the Doctor (all right, besides Romana), it'd be Clara, who traveled through the Doctor's timeline and saw all his previous selves.)  She's clearly intended to be the audience's surrogate, but what's interesting is how she's berated for this behavior; Madame Vastra strongly upbraids her ("You thought he was young? ... He looked like your dashing young gentleman friend.  Your lover, even. ... But he is the Doctor.  He has walked this universe for centuries untold, he has seen stars fall to dust.  You might as well flirt with a mountain range"), while the Doctor is initially presented as addled but more likeable.

This is a post-regeneration story, of course, so we get a Doctor who's not completely settled yet.  This is a marked contrast from Matt Smith's debut, where he basically hit the ground running; here, Capaldi is portrayed as addled for much of this, confused about basic human conveniences ("So you've got a whole room for not being awake in," he comments, upon being told what a bedroom is.  "But what's the point?  You're just missing the room").  In fact, Steven Moffat seems to be pushing this new Doctor to be more strange, more unpredictable; because he has the Doctor surrounded by familiar characters, it gives him the license to make the Doctor less audience-accessible.  It's a good decision, and the conversation with the tramp (hooray, Brian Miller's back!) is really quite wonderfully stream-of-consciousness.  (Although I'm not sure we needed to point out, even obliquely, that Capaldi has been in the show before -- is it really too much to accept that there just happens to be another person in the universe (two if you include John Frobisher) that looks like the twelfth Doctor?)  And what's clear -- particularly in the restaurant scene -- is that Capaldi and Jenna Coleman have great chemistry, playing off each other really nicely.  Their interplay and timing is perfect, and you get the sense that Clara is starting to warm to this Doctor, even though he's being insulting toward her ("Hang on.  'Egomaniac, needy, game-player?' ... That was me?" she says indignantly, after realizing what the Doctor said about the ad in the paper that neither of them placed).  Of course, that goes away when the Doctor seemingly abandons her in the Half-Face Man's ship, but it's still nice while it lasts.

The Doctor shows the Half-Face Man what he's become. ("Deep
Breath") ©BBC
The abandonment stuff is clearly designed to make us uncertain of this new Doctor's actions (plus it gives Clara a nice chance to shine, as she confronts the Half-Face Man and dares him to kill her), but no worries, this is still the Doctor, as he comes to her rescue and stops the Half-Face Man and his clockwork cyborgs.  ("You can't patch up a spaceship with human remains," the Doctor says.  "You know, this really is ringing a bell," he adds, in a reference to the series 2 episode "The Girl in the Fireplace".)  It might be a darker Doctor though; the ending is left deliberately ambiguous as to whether the Half-Face Man jumped out of his epidermis balloon or was pushed by the Doctor, and it's certainly clear that Capaldi is very comfortable playing cold steel and fury scenes.

So maybe that's why Moffat felt compelled to provide the final scene, where Clara rejects the new Doctor ("I'm sorry.  I'm, I'm so, so sorry.  But I don't think I know who you are any more," she tells him), only for the eleventh Doctor to call her from Trenzalore, to ask for her help with his future self.  (Thus making this the fastest return to the show for a previous Doctor.)  It's a sweet scene, although it does feel a bit odd; maybe if you haven't fully accepted the new Doctor yet, it's a nice reassurance that it's the same man, but for the rest of us it's a tad redundant; we don't need the old Doctor explicitly telling us that it's gonna be OK.  Still, that's not Matt Smith's fault, and he does a nice job with it -- and it is a nice surprise to see him again.

"Deep Breath" is still a bit difficult to get a handle on; the Paternoster Gang are as solid as ever (although is Strax getting dumber?) and Jenna Coleman shines as the somewhat lost Clara, but Capaldi's Doctor remains a bit of a mystery, even by the end; we're not quite sure who he really is, what he'll be like, and so there's a missing sense of satisfaction as the credits roll.  And unfortunately there's not enough there to really hang on to, and the main threat of the Half-Face Man and his minions isn't quite developed enough to make up the difference.  But that's OK; it's still early days, and we'll come to know who the twelfth Doctor is over the following eleven weeks and beyond -- and there's little doubt that Capaldi will be fantastic in the role, based on what he does with the material he's given here.  It's just a shame that "Deep Breath" is a little too insubstantial a story to really grab hold of -- not bad by any means, but not as good as it could have been.

July 5: "Into the Dalek"

Stuart Manning's poster for "Into the Dalek"
(from Doctor Who: Exclusive Into the Dalek
poster revealed)
So "Deep Breath" was a bit of an oddball story just by virtue of its being a post-regeneration one.  That means that "Into the Dalek" is perhaps a clearer indication of who this new Doctor is and how things are going to go.  And that direction is certainly darker and more sombre than what we'd been generally used to with the eleventh Doctor.

But I think there's been a focus on those darker moments and not on the lighter ones sprinkled throughout.  Yes, there are things like the Doctor's brusque reaction to Blue's brother's death, and the question of "Am I a good man?" that's going to sort of be an undercurrent for this series -- and, rather infamously, his line describing Clara: "[She's] my carer.  She cares so I don't have to."  And there's the slightly odd prejudice that this Doctor has against soldiers, which (while he hasn't been their biggest fans up to this point) hasn't really been the case up to this point.  (Then again, he did just spend something like 800+ years fighting to defend Christmas from various soldiers, so maybe that's what caused him to sour on them.  Or they could just be setting up another series-long theme that's going to rear its head with Danny Pink, and they're just not terribly clever about it this time around.)  But there are also defter moments, elements that sparkle, like his initial interaction with Journey Blue's uncle Morgan ("Oh, it's a roller coaster with you, isn't it?"), or his compliments to Clara ("Do I really not pay you?"), or his promise to Gretchen Alison Carlisle ("I will do something amazing, I promise").  It is darker than before, yes, but it's not a total darkness.  (That said, I think I see what they're going for with the Doctor's comments on Clara's appearance -- that he genuinely doesn't understand humanity's quirks and doesn't realize that he's being insulting -- but hoo boy, we're perilously close to just straight-up sexism here, which is worrying in a show that's generally been reasonably good (albeit not perfect) about avoiding such things.)

Still, a character study of the new Doctor isn't the sole purpose of "Into the Dalek" (although it certainly forms a key part).  The main part of the story (the Doctor and company being miniaturized and put inside a Dalek to find out why it's become moral) is fairly interesting and taut, and the trip through the Dalek, while being rather daft, is handled with enough serious intent to paper over any major feelings of silliness.  There's a certain extent in which this is simply a sort of quest storyline -- first to find out what caused the Dalek to acquire a sense of morality, and then to try and get it to feel that way again, once the Doctor has repaired it.  And we get some exciting set pieces, such as our heroes fighting the Dalek's antibodies as they make their way through or sliding through the feeding tube.

The Doctor confronts Rusty. ("Into the Dalek") ©BBC
But no, this really is about examining the Doctor in the face of a Dalek, and while the idea of there being such a thing as a "good" Dalek is explored, what's interesting is the Doctor's reactions to this: first disbelief, then disappointed resignation when he learns that that sense of morality was the result of a damaged power cell, and finally determination to get the Dalek to feel that way again.  "See, all those years ago, when I began, I was just running," he says to the Dalek.  "I called myself the Doctor, but it was just a name.  And then I went to Skaro.  And then I met you lot and I understood who I was.  The Doctor was not the Daleks."  His determination to get Rusty the Dalek to see the beauty of the universe is interesting, but just as interesting is Rusty's twisting of the Doctor's intents.  "I see your mind, Doctor," Rusty says, after the Doctor plugs his memories into the Dalek.  "I see your universe. ... I see beauty. ... I see endless, divine perfection. ... I see into your soul, Doctor.  I see beauty.  I see divinity.  I see hatred. ... I see your hatred of the Daleks and it is good. ... Death to the Daleks."  Despite the Doctor's best efforts, Rusty takes away the wrong lesson (one which ties into "Asylum of the Daleks" and the Daleks' concept of hatred as beautiful) and goes away, convinced that the Daleks should be killed, when all the Doctor wanted was to introduce Rusty to the beauty and wonder of the universe.  (The "You are a good Dalek" bit just feels like a crib from "Dalek", rather than the more serious point I think they wanted to make, however.)

It's a bit of a melancholy note to end on, which is probably why we get a bit more of the initial stages of the relationship between Clara and fellow schoolteacher (and former soldier) Danny Pink, which does help a bit.  But overall "Into the Dalek", despite the premise, does a good, if not spectacular, job as they explore the character of the Doctor and what it means to be a "good" Dalek.  It's not brilliant, but it is solid.

July 6: "Robot of Sherwood"

Stuart Manning's poster for "Robot of Sherwood"
(from Doctor Who: Robot of Sherwood
exclusive poster revealed)
It's definitely a romp; there's no argument there.  Mark Gatiss wants to deliver a thrilling action-adventure, with lots of swordplay and banter and Robin Hood.  Of course, the problem is that there's not a whole lot here beyond that; anyone wanting something more substantial will have to look elsewhere.

They're clearly having great fun "doing" Robin Hood; the battle between the Doctor and Robin on the footbridge is good fun (and the spoon bit is pleasingly absurd), and the archery contest between Robin and the Sheriff (with the Doctor thrown in for good measure) is pretty entertaining as well -- and I like Capaldi's Pertwee-esque "Hai!" as he knocks a sword out of Robin's hand.  Tom Riley makes for a good Robin Hood, and while the laughter does feel a bit theatrical at times, there's at least a story purpose behind it: "Why are you so sad?" Clara asks. "...Because the Doctor's right, you laugh too much."  And Riley handles the other aspects with ease, clearly comfortable in the role.  Meanwhile Ben Miller provides a good foil as the Sheriff of Nottingham (even if he distractingly looks like the Anthony Ainley Master), with the right amount of charm matched with villainy to make him suitably hissable.

The problems arise in the characterization of the Doctor.  It's nice that he doesn't believe that Robin Hood could possibly be real, and his disbelief does lead to some entertaining moments (the examination of the Merry Men, for instance).  But the problem is that the script and the direction don't go far enough to make us wonder if this is indeed a trick; despite occasional hints (the weather's wrong, the Sheriff's knights are robots, and the stuff in the spaceship that is the closest this story comes to making you question Robin's veracity -- and look, a shot of Patrick Troughton as television's first Robin Hood256), they never actually push the angle that this is fictional, and so we find ourselves siding with Robin and Clara against the Doctor.  He's surprisingly close-minded, and it takes him an awfully long time to come around.  (That said, it's a lot easier to imagine Peter Capaldi as unpersuaded than Matt Smith or David Tennant -- proof that Capaldi has already made his mark in the role.)

Robin, the Doctor, and Clara in the Sheriff's dungeon. ("Robot
of Sherwood") ©BBC
And while I'm aware that I'm in something of a minority opinion on this, I don't find the petulant banter and one-upmanship between the Doctor and Robin particularly entertaining -- if the Doctor doesn't believe Robin is real, I don't see why he would stoop to reacting to him, and besides, why would this Doctor let Robin get under his skin so much?  "Into the Dalek" showed us a Doctor who's rather oblivious when it comes to human behavior, but his reactions to Robin here are all too human, and thus don't quite gel with what we thought we were getting with the twelfth Doctor.  (None of this is to disparage Capaldi, by the way, who's coping admirably; this is a problem with a lack of consistency in the writing across episodes.)  What this does do, however, is make Clara stand out more, as she's willing to accept Robin Hood as genuine and she more than holds her own when verbally sparring with the Sheriff of Nottingham.  Jenna Coleman is fantastic to behold here, providing a strong female character to outwit the Sheriff in their conversation about the "lights in the sky" -- and, it must be said that she looks incredibly beautiful in the outfit for this episode.

The actual plot, about circuits and repairing a ship, feels a bit derivative, as we saw something similar in "The Fires of Pompeii" (y'know, the one Capaldi was in before he was the Doctor), but the end duel between Robin and the Sheriff is suitably exciting, and it allows Robin to show that he's learned something from the Doctor.  (There was going to be a scene during this battle where the Sheriff was beheaded, revealing he was a robot, but this was edited out of the final broadcast in the wake of ISIL's beheading of journalist Steven Sotloff earlier that week.  The series 8 boxset doesn't include it either (apparently BBC Worldwide were still wary about its inclusion), but it was in the early version leaked prior to broadcast and thus isn't terribly difficult to find online.  Frankly, it's not really that exciting a scene and the only thing the episode loses from its omission is an explanation for the episode's title.)  It's thus nice to see that the Doctor and Robin have both developed respect for each other.  (All the stuff with the gold arrow at the end is painfully stupid, though.)

I dunno, a lot of people seemed to really like this, and it does make a nice contrast from the previous couple episodes, but "Robot of Sherwood" (which really is a silly title, even with the proper context) never quite clicks for me.  I wish there had been something more to weight it down, either to really sink one's teeth into or to make it genuinely funny (instead of just mildly amusing), because as is it's an incredibly lightweight piece of fluff.  That's not the worst thing in the world, of course, but it does mean there's not ultimately much here to engage with; this ends up being about as consequential as a summer breeze.

July 7: "Listen"

Stuart Manning's poster for "Listen" (from
Doctor Who: Exclusive Listen poster revealed)
And now it's time for something a little different.  Apparently, Steven Moffat had grown a bit tired of writing all the big "event" episodes recently ("The Day of the Doctor", "The Time of the Doctor", etc.) and decided he wanted to write something smaller.  "Listen" succeeds in that goal: it's basically a chamber piece -- there are only really five characters in this, and two of them are played by the same actor -- without a clear monster to latch onto.  "Listen" is instead about fear, about what might be lurking in the dark, and definitively proves that Moffat can write the small stories as well as the big ones; this establishes the mood early on and sustains it throughout the entire story.

This episode continues the trend of making the twelfth Doctor into a unique character; it's difficult to imagine any of the other Doctors beginning an adventure because they want to test a speculative theory, but here Capaldi makes it seem like the most natural thing in the world, as he wonders why there are no creatures capable of perfect hiding, and then realizes that if there were, how would we know about them?  It's the Doctor's own curiosity that directly leads to the events of the story, in a way that makes sense for this Doctor.

Interspersed with this is Clara's first date with Danny Pink, which seems to be something of a total disaster on both sides -- although, to their credit, both of them seem willing to forge ahead rather than giving up altogether.  It's nice, from a story point of view, that this actual first date is less of a meet cute than their interactions in "Into the Dalek" were, as it allows us to actually start to care more about them as characters, instead of being coerced into liking them.  This is where Clara really starts to bloom as a character, now that all that Impossible Girl stuff is over, and Jenna Coleman is clearly relishing the opportunity to do something a bit different in the show.

Clara, Rupert, and the Doctor look at Rupert's now-empty bed.
("Listen") ©BBC
But that awkward relationship beginning is what ends up spurring the rest of the episode, in that it's Clara's distraction regarding Danny that ends up taking the TARDIS off course in the first place, which leads to some very suspenseful moments.  Steven Moffat and director Douglas Mackinnon do a fabulous job of building an atmosphere of dread using only words and quiet images -- we're not even certain if there is actually anything to be worried about, as they're careful to leave things nebulous.  It's sometimes easier to believe there really is a creature -- how did a kid get on Rupert's bed without anyone noticing? -- and sometimes easier to think that, no, it's all in everyone's heads -- which is what the ending points at.  And along the way we're treated to some fine acting from Remi Gooding, as young Rupert, scared but brave as he wonders about what's on his bed while he's underneath, and from Samuel Anderson, who gets a chance to shine both as Danny and as future pioneer time traveller Orson Pink, trapped at the very end of everything.  (Although note that Orson's wearing a spacesuit with a Sanctuary Base 6 logo on it, which thus makes an appearance something like 20 centuries too early.257)  And some really fantastic acting from Clara at the ending, as she grabs the young boy's foot and immediately realizes what she's done.

Ah yes, that ending.  It's really nice to see that they're just as willing as ever to take risks and not to have any sacred cows (although even then, Moffat is careful not to explicitly say that this is the young Doctor -- that's just Clara's assumption).  Taking us back to the very early days and suggesting that Clara might be partially responsible for the Doctor's future attitudes (with both the comment that she heard the Doctor say earlier in the episode ("Fear is a superpower"), as well as from "The Day of the Doctor" ("Fear doesn't have to make you cruel or cowardly") and all the way back to An Unearthly Child ("Fear makes companions of us all")) is a bold move that pays off.  It ties together the past and the future in subtle ways, and it makes the Doctor even more relatable than he's ever been before.

It's difficult to describe just how astonishingly good "Listen" is.  It's a gorgeously written story, designed to do nothing more than make us afraid, and at this it's a smashing success.  The scope of the story is both wide (four different time zones, a suggestion that Orson Pink and Clara might be related, and that ending) and narrow (again, there are only really five characters in this), and it's frankly a masterclass in how to write suspense.  There are some people who were dissatisfied with this story, which you can sort of understand (as under one interpretation "Listen" is nothing more than a shaggy dog story), but frankly the finished product is so good that even if you believe there wasn't really anything there you don't feel cheated, because the journey has been so compelling.  "Listen" is not just one of the best episodes of series 8, but of the entirety of Doctor Who.

July 8: "Time Heist"

Stuart Manning's poster for "Time Heist"
(from Doctor Who: Exclusive Time Heist
poster revealed)
Somewhat surprisingly, Doctor Who hasn't really done a heist storyline before, but now they've remedied that with "Time Heist".  Except this isn't your standard heist, which helps make this more interesting than it otherwise might have been.  No, instead of watching a lot of elaborate planning and then seeing the heist come together and then go wrong, leading to lots of improvising, here the Doctor and his three colleagues have to figure out what the plan is on the fly, as they're chased through the Bank of Karabraxos by security guards.

The opening of this story, before they get involved in the heist, is the best version yet of the Doctor's comments about Clara's appearance.  They're not potentially mean-spirited but instead are simply looking at things from a different angle.  "Why is your face all coloured in?" the Doctor asks, mystified; and, "Are you taller?"  "Heels," Clara replies.  "What, do you have to reach a high shelf?" the Doctor wonders.  These sorts of jokes do a much better job of getting the Doctor's cluelessness about such things across than cracks about her weight; more like this, please.

The heist stuff is entertaining as well; as I mentioned, the four of them -- the Doctor, Clara, augmented hacker Psi, and shapeshifting Saibra -- are trying to work out what the plan is on the fly.  All they know is that the Bank is one of the most heavily secured locations in the universe, and that they all agreed to participate before they got their minds wiped by the worms from "The Snowmen".  And so because they don't know what's going on, they're as much in the dark as we are, which maintains a lot of the suspense for the audience.  And it is exciting, watching them bluff and evade their way past each stage to the next, while security seems to resolutely stay one step behind.

The Teller and Ms. Delphox establish a plan of criminal intent in a
customer while the Doctor's party looks on. ("Time Heist") ©BBC
The Teller is a pretty impressive creation, and it gives us a story reason why the bank robbers are as much in the dark as we are (if they knew what their intentions were, then the Teller would know and feast on their criminal brains) -- plus it gives us a very dangerous presence that's constantly tracking them.  Guards are one thing, but the Teller...  It's a nice extra bit of tension to some already somewhat tense proceedings -- it's the Teller that causes Saibra and Psi to each use their "exit strategy" (although even on the first broadcast my initial thought was, "Hmm, that looks more like a teleport effect than a disintegration one..."), rather than anything else.  Our new colleagues Saibra and Psi are very likable as well -- neither of them seem like hardened criminals (even if Psi can fill his head with lots of criminals and villains to entice the Teller258), which helps, and Jonathan Bailey and Pippa Bennett-Warner do a great job with the parts.

So we have a lot of fun as we watch the four of them maneuver their way through the bank, but it's the scene in the private vault that's the best, as the Doctor works out what exactly is going on, tells Director Karabraxos to call him sometime, and then has the Teller look through his brain to find out for certain what's really happening -- which includes one of the best Capaldi lines yet ("What do you think of the new look?" he asks the Teller, indicating his outfit.  "I was hoping for minimalism but I think I came out with magician") -- to confirm that this isn't a bank heist but rather a rescue mission, to rescue the only other living member of the Teller's species.

It's an entertaining ride from start to finish, with a satisfying happy ending and no sense at any point that you've been cheated out of anything, or that they've had to cheat in any way.  (The biggest "cheat" is how the most secure bank in the universe has all those big "do not enter" ventilation shafts around, and that might be more a design issue than a scripting one.)  "Time Heist" is a fun, strong story -- writer Steve Thompson has finally come out trumps with one of his Doctor Who scripts.

July 9: "The Caretaker"

Stuart Manning's poster for "The Caretaker"
(from Doctor Who: Exclusive The Caretaker
poster revealed)
I'm not quite sure what to make of this episode.  In some respects it wants to be a comedy, much like Gareth Roberts' last two scripts, with the Doctor attempting to blend in at Coal Hill as the school caretaker.  (Incidentally, is this whole setup an in-joke harking back to Remembrance of the Daleks (where the headmaster thinks the Doctor is applying for the job of caretaker), or is it simply a coincidence?)  However, they don't push very hard on this "effort to blend in" storyline, so as a comedy it doesn't quite work.  There also seems to be an effort to see what happens when Danny finally encounters the Doctor, but the result seems awfully heavy in such a lightweight vehicle.  Oh, and there's some stuff with an alien death machine called a Skovox Blitzer, but that's frankly incidental to either storyline -- although its brutal killing of a policeman is also at odds with the lighter tone "The Caretaker" wants to adopt.

In theory this should work.  There's something inherently right about the idea of the Doctor as a school caretaker, something that should lend itself to lots of entertaining situations about the Doctor failing to grasp why he has to keep cleaning bathrooms or mopping floors or replacing light bulbs, all the while trying very hard to blend in and failing miserably.  But somewhere along the way this went astray.  The Doctor does blend in; sure, he's a little odd at times, but he's able to clean and fix things as he goes about his plan to save the planet.  He can clean a window, even if the significance of the graffiti scribbled on it eludes him.  He looks completely at home screwing around with a junction box while talking to Danny and Adrian.  He even knows where the paper towels are.

Danny confronts the Doctor. ("The Caretaker") ©BBC
This is the environment in which Danny is introduced to the Doctor, and it's not what you'd expect.  There's little whimsy to be found here (despite Peter Capaldi's best efforts to make all the insulting comments jokes).  The Doctor is angry, and Danny is betrayed -- he doesn't find it wonderful at all, he just wonders what else Clara hasn't been telling him.  This does make the confrontation between the two of them in the TARDIS more powerful than it otherwise would have been: the Doctor may hate soldiers and think they're inherently stupid, but Danny accuses the Doctor of being an officer, and it's not a charge that the Doctor has a ready response to.  "One thing, Clara," Danny says.  "I'm a soldier, guilty as charged.  You see him?  He's an officer. ... I'm the one who carries you out of the fire.  He's the one who lights it."

It's these conversations that ultimately unbalance the whole thing; Danny Pink is far too proud a person to just brush this stuff off, and the Doctor's far too prejudiced to see past the "soldier" aspect of Danny.  (At least, one hopes that that's the prejudice involved.  As Graham Kibble-White pointed out in Doctor Who Magazine, there's a streak of clueless racism at work in this story -- the three troublemaker students we see are all black, and Danny must be a PE teacher rather than a maths one (and can't be the object of Clara's affections) -- hopefully because he's a soldier and not because he's black.  Oh, and there's the Doctor's mistaken belief that Adrian is Clara's boyfriend: the intention of the episode is because he vaguely resembles the eleventh Doctor, not because he's white, but once you see these things in a different light it's hard to unsee them.  I do think that this is a completely unintentional subtext, but the fact that that no one on the production team noticed this is slightly worrying.)  These are weighty topics that "The Caretaker" doesn't have easy answers to (partially because they're holding some of them back for the series 8 finale), but because of that they sink everything else, and the ultimate impression is that "The Caretaker" is uncertain of what it wants to actually be -- something rather surprising for this phase of the show.  This isn't the comedy story with some darker elements thrown in; it's an examination of darker topics that occasionally adds a joke or two.  As an exploration of the fractious relationship between Danny and the Doctor, and what it means to be worthy of the Doctor's trust, this is fairly engaging, but by most other standards "The Caretaker" falls short of the mark.

July 10: "Kill the Moon"

Stuart Manning's poster for "Kill the Moon"
(from Doctor Who: Exclusive Kill the Moon
poster revealed)
There's a basic question at the heart of "Kill the Moon": is a story still good if you take a reasonable storyline and some tense direction and motivate it with the some of the most brain-meltingly stupid "science" ever committed to video?

Because the basic storyline is actually pretty good; something we thought was a lifeless celestial body is actually an egg that's finally starting to hatch, and it's potentially going to cause all sorts of havoc -- so, a decision has to be made: let the moon hatch or kill the thing inside?  There's nothing inherently wrong with that, and in fact it's a nice bold idea, making a moon a space egg.  There's also a lot of tense direction early on; the first half of this episode is properly scary, with lots of shadows and strange spider creatures lurking in the dark, ready to pounce and kill hapless astronauts and lunar miners, and the couple times they do are genuinely frightening.  Director Paul Wilmshurst does a good job of providing us with a tense atmosphere to inhabit, and the decision to film the lunar surface stuff on Lanzarote259 (which was Wilmshurst's idea) is a really good one -- these scenes really do look like a barren lunar surface.  And then we match this with the performances on display: Hermione Norris is face-punchingly frustrating as Lundvik, but that's exactly what she's designed to be, and Norris always makes it seem like her fatalistic approach is a part of her character.  Tony Osoba (ooh, another old Who veteran) and Phil Nice don't get much to do, but they're just as good with the little they get, playing people not really meant to be astronauts but making the best of a bad situation.  And Ellis George does a surprisingly good job as Courtney Woods, frequently acting like a teenager but not to the point where we just want to lock her in a cupboard and walk away (as opposed to, say, last series' Angie Maitland).  And Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman are frankly astonishing in that final scene together -- Clara looks incredibly hurt and betrayed and angry at the Doctor for being patronizing, while the Doctor genuinely doesn't understand what the problem was.  This gives us a taste of what it would actually be like to travel in time, to deal with these big decisions, and neither actor shirks from giving it their all.  On the basis of the performances alone, "Kill the Moon" succeeds.

The problem is the science (and we're using this term very loosely) that writer Peter Harness uses to move his plot along.  So the mass of the moon has increased, somehow -- this is so they can get away with everyone walking normally across Lanzarote without having to rig up a bunch of Kirby wires and harnesses, and it gives Capaldi the opportunity to take a gravity reading with a yo-yo, just like Tom Baker in The Ark in Space.  Fine.  But then we're later told that the mass of the moon is unstable, which is why Courtney starts to float while people in the next room remain rooted to the floor(!).  This is while they're under attack from single-celled organisms that nevertheless look like spiders -- complete with joints, teeth, and the ability to spin spiderwebs -- which seems like a bit of a stretch for prokaryotes.

The creature inside the Moon flies away. ("Kill the Moon") ©BBC
Then there's the big vote on whether or not to kill the moon with the bombs aboard the shuttle.  (Incidentally, this desperate team of astronauts from Earth had come equipped with one hundred nuclear bombs, despite not knowing what the problem with the moon was, other than that it's getting more massive.  So what exactly was the original plan?  Nuke it into submission somehow?  Hope they'd convert enough moon rocks into radiation to balance everything out?)  Clara broadcasts to the entire planet and asks them to vote: lights on, save the creature; lights off, kill it.  Except she only gives them 45 minutes, which means only half the planet gets a vote.  And we're looking at the night side, so an awful lot of these people are already asleep and have their lights off anyway -- so I guess they're voting for murder even if they don't know it.  Plus we see all the lights go out, which suggests less that the people of Earth (well, North America and western Europe) are unanimous in their desire to kill the moon and more that a small group of people have gone to all the power plants and turned them off.  That's democracy for you.

(And if we're nitpicking...  Hermione Norris, playing Lundvik, was 47 when they filmed this.  "Kill the Moon" is explicitly set in 2049, which suggests that Lundvik was 12 years old in 2014, when Courtney is from.  So why does Lundvik reminisce about her granny using Tumblr, as if it were some ancient thing instead of something around while she was the right age to be using it herself?  Oh, and we're told the mining team that went missing were Mexicans.  So one of the set dressers has put a smegging poncho over one of the chairs.)

Look, bad science isn't exactly a new thing for Doctor Who, but that doesn't automatically make it bad Doctor Who -- The Evil of the Daleks wants you to believe that you can build a time machine with 144 mirrors and some static electricity, and that's hardly a much maligned story.  No, the problem is that here the pseudo-scientific gobbledegook is just being used to get from point A to point B, and meanwhile "Kill the Moon" is taking itself so seriously.  It's a shame; the actors and the direction are doing a great job of making this suitably thrilling.  But if it wants us to take the rest of it so seriously then it can't keep flinging silly nonsense at us and expecting us to swallow it.  That's not clever, it's lazy.  Have a big idea about the moon being an egg by all means -- that's a great bold idea -- but if you're going to do so, be prepared to follow through and make it believable.  Don't just make things up based on half-remembered secondary school science classes and expect that that's good enough.  Because it's not, and it's frankly insulting to think that it would be.  This ruins "Kill the Moon" more than any dodgy acting or unconvincing set would have done.

(And I'm sure it's completely unintentional, but once you get the thought in your head that this is just an excuse to explain why the Moon doesn't quite look right in The Moonbase, it's really, really hard to shake that idea...)

July 11: "Mummy on the Orient Express"

Stuart Manning's poster for "Mummy on the
Orient Express" (from Doctor Who: Exclusive
Mummy on the Orient Express poster revealed)
It initially seems like Clara and the Doctor have made up after the events of "Kill the Moon" -- after all, they're both dressed up and stepping aboard a swanky passenger train travelling through space, but it's quickly clear that this is a "last hurrah" for Clara, before the Doctor leaves and never comes back.  And so it's time for a posh soiree through the stars, complete with a killer mummy only the victim can see that gives you exactly 66 seconds to make peace with yourself before it kills you.  Y'know, your typical passenger train story.

But then that's one of the great things about Jamie Mathieson's debut Who script -- it takes two separate ideas and puts them together in a way that feels completely natural.  There's not really any good reason for a mummy to be stalking people on a space Orient Express, but the two styles merge so well that you never mind.  It means that we get a lush setting and a properly scary monster.  And make no mistake, the mummy, aka the Foretold, is scary.  Visually it's really good, inexorably stalking its victims, shuffling its feet, with old bandages hanging from its emaciated frame, and the conceit that once you see it, that's it, there's nothing you can do, is nicely scary as well.  Adding into the mix the fact that only the victim can see it, and so therefore there's nothing anyone can do to help you, is also a good move.

And what's really wonderful about this environment is that the Doctor fits right in.  Capaldi seems incredibly at ease moving through the train cars, talking with people (the gag where he opens a cigarette case and offers Professor Moorhouse a jelly baby is lovely) and trying to figure out what's going on.   He also gets along really well with Chief Engineer Perkins, who acts as the Doctor's surrogate companion and has a nice line in dry wit.  "Passenger manifest, plan of the train and a list of stops for the past six months," he says, presenting the Doctor with a number of documents.  "Quick work, Perkins," the Doctor replies.  "Maybe too quick."  "Yes, sir.  I'm obviously the mummy," Perkins says mildly.  "Or perhaps I was already looking into this."

But the best moments are when the facade drops and the "computer", Gus, reveals that it's lured a number of experts on board the train to examine the Foretold, so that it can weaponize the technology.  The lab scenes show the Doctor being callous and heartless, but because he needs to be in order to stop the Foretold from killing more people.  "Tell us what you can see," he tells Moorhouse.  "Even the smallest detail might help save the next one."  "The next one?" Moorhouse replies.  "You mean you can't save me?"  "Well, that is implied, isn't it?  Yes, this is probably the end for you.  But make it count," the Doctor urges Moorhouse.  "Details, please."  We get a couple deaths like this, with the Doctor being as clinical as possible in order to save more lives, while the Foretold gets to be suitably terrifying as it advances on its victims.  (Oh, and the ticking clock in the corner every time the Foretold appears is a nice touch.)

If there's a downside to this episode, it's that Clara ends up being sidelined for most of it -- but that means she gets to spend more time wrestling with her conflicted feelings about the Doctor, which at least confronts that particular story thread.  Yes, she was mad at him (and that anger briefly resurfaces here, when she learns that the Doctor was invited aboard (rather than just arriving in the right place by chance) -- "You knew.  You knew this was no relaxing break.  You knew this was dangerous. ... You see, this.  This is why I'm leaving you.  This.  Because you lied.  You lied to me, again.  And now you've made me lie.  You've made me your accomplice"), but she's finding it increasingly difficult to actually give up travelling with the Doctor -- to the point where she's willing to lie to Danny about it.  So it seems we're not done with Clara just yet.

The Doctor is stalked by the Foretold. ("Mummy on the Orient
Express") ©BBC
And happily, Mathieson gives us something of a happy ending.  "One minute with me and this thing, it would be over!" the Doctor had earlier boasted, and then he gets to make good on his boast, as he takes the next victim's mental worries and implants them in himself, in order to make himself the next victim so that he can stop the Foretold.  It's a brave move that allows him to figure out the Foretold's motivation ("You are a soldier, wounded in a forgotten war thousands of years ago") and how to stop it ("We surrender!") before it kills everyone else, and it leads to him saving the lives of everyone still alive on the train (despite Gus's efforts to asphyxiate and then blow up everyone aboard).  It's a powerful reminder that, despite the new persona and the lack of empathy on the surface, this is still the same Doctor as ever.  (And the shots of the Doctor, framed against the pink sky, are really gorgeous -- kudos to director Paul Wilmshurst and his team.)

It's a properly scary monster placed against a gorgeous backdrop, and it gives us our best version of the twelfth Doctor yet.  Not only that, but Mathieson's script is a great balance of serious intent matched with a light touch.  All this and a whole score of great actors besides.  "Mummy on the Orient Express" is a solid, highly entertaining episode; more like this, please.

July 12: "Flatline"

Stuart Manning's poster for "Flatline" (from
Exclusive Doctor Who Flatline poster revealed)
Ooh, another milestone: "Flatline" is Doctor Who's 250th story.  (This assumes the same things about what stories count as "Planet of the Dead" assumed, and further that "A Good Man Goes to War" and "Let's Kill Hitler" are separate stories -- not as uncontroversial a claim as you might initially think.)  Plus Jamie Mathieson's second script comes right after his first one -- which means he joins that small group of writers who've had back-to-back stories air.260  And just like "Mummy on the Orient Express", "Flatline" is very very good at providing a scary scenario with an implacable enemy.

There are, in fact, two things that are working in this episode's favor.  The first is the nature of the Boneless, as the threat is slowly unveiled bit by bit in a logical way, leading to them stalking our heroes through sitting rooms and atmospheric tunnels.  The second is the way the Doctor is trapped inside the TARDIS (yep, this is the Doctor-lite episode), which means that Clara has to step up and "be" the Doctor for this episode.

The first one is fascinating.  There've occasionally been stories dealing with the idea of two dimensional beings (although not really on televised Doctor Who), but "Flatline" takes the idea very seriously and provides us with a clever rendition of the idea.  The key thing about the Boneless is that they're totally unfathomable; we know that they're methodically working their way through people by pulling them into their two dimensional world, for some purpose that might be scientific, or might be malevolent, but that's about all we know.  Like the Foretold in the previous story, the Boneless don't speak with us, so we can only infer their motives, and that makes them more scary.  Do they really not know that they're killing people when they pull them into two dimensions, or do they not care -- or are even actively murdering people?  That's creepy enough, and it's aided by a lot of good artwork on walls, CG effects, and some fantastic forced perspective tricks (the one where George appears to be standing near a wall, and then the camera pans to show that he's been flattened against all the surfaces is the best one) -- watching the Boneless stumble forward in their borrowed forms is creepy and visually impressive.

The Boneless approach. ("Flatline") ©BBC
The second thing -- Clara being the Doctor -- is good because it not only gives Clara a chance to step forward and save people (with the Doctor's help, of course -- but the final solution is her idea), but it gives her the opportunity to see things from the Doctor's perspective.  She knows that it's up to her to keep everyone alive, and that she'll have to lie to them in order to achieve that, because, as the Doctor says, "it's true that people with hope tend to run faster, whereas people who think they're doomed—"  "Dawdle.  End up dead," Clara finishes.  ("So that's what I sound like," the Doctor remarks.)  So she has to keep herself composed while trying to save everyone from something totally bizarre, and all the while the group is fragmenting -- Fenton is depicted as a terrible human being, someone so close-minded that psychic paper doesn't work on him and who dismisses the deaths of his fellow workers as being those of "Community Payback scumbags".  (Incidentally, what is actually happening when Fenton knocks the TARDIS out of Clara's bag?  He suddenly yells, "Give me that machine!  Hand it over!" for no clear reason whatsoever (he might be going for the 2Dis, but it's not obvious) -- as if they needed a reason for Clara to drop the TARDIS and that was the best they could come up with.)  It's a testament to Clara's skills that she's not only able to keep her cool under pressure, but also to come up with the answer to get the Doctor back so that he can send the Boneless back to their own place.  It also means that she now has a better understanding of what it actually means to be the Doctor.

The Doctor, despite this being a Doctor-lite episode, gets quite a bit to do, as he looks through Clara's eyes to help figure out what's happening.  There are also some fun gags with the TARDIS -- the shots of him looking through the doors (which are now tiny for him) don't always work (there's just something slightly off about the look of the thing), but moments like passing her a sledgehammer or walking his way off the train tracks like Thing from The Addams Family are cute.  He may not be personally on the scene, but the Doctor is just as much a part of events as Clara is.

"Flatline" gives us a solid script with an imaginative concept, matched with excellent direction from Douglas Mackinnon and great special effects, which all combine with good performances to provide a tense, highly watchable episode.  I asked for more like "Mummy on the Orient Express", and Mathieson definitely delivered -- "Flatline" is an outstanding episode, content to work within its limitations but pushing them as far as it can, to great success.

(All that said, the most worrying moment in "Flatline" wasn't in the episode itself, but in a commercial that aired during the BBC America broadcast for a company called Fathead, which makes high quality life-size posters of people that you can put on your wall -- usually athletes, but they can be of anyone.  Watching a child attempting to hug the Fathead of his soldier father was, in the light of this episode, incredibly disturbing.)

July 13: "In the Forest of the Night"

Stuart Manning's poster for "In the Forest of
the Night" (from Doctor Who: exclusive In the
Forest of the Night poster revealed)
It's something of a coup, getting Frank Cottrell-Boyce to write an episode of Doctor Who.  He's well known as a screenwriter and the author of the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony, as well as the author of a number of children's books.  So perhaps it's not surprising to find that his contribution to Doctor Who is a semi-magical fairy tale of trees growing over night, of children who've been rejected but some of whom hold the answers to what's going on.

It's a pity it's all somewhat dull, though.

I'm not actually sure what the problem is, to be honest.  Is it a matter of the direction not getting across the magical realism feeling that the script is going for?  Is it a more basic problem of scripting, of something being missing that should have been there to make this click?  Or is it some combination of these things and more?  Because this seems like the sort of story idea that should suit Doctor Who to a T -- a forest springing up overnight is a fantastic concept, and the visuals of traffic lights overgrown with greenery and Nelson's Column surrounded by trees and vines are very striking.  Really, the only issue there is the lack of basically anyone else around -- for being in the center of London, there aren't many people wandering around the new forest, are there?  But then that makes the students of Coal Hill's "Gifted and Talented" group more special, because they're the ones who get to explore this strange new wilderness.

To the credit of both Cottrell-Boyce and casting director Andy Pryor, the children we see here aren't thoroughly irritating or wet, but instead are both real people and rather charming (the best one is Samson, who rebukes Danny Pink's "let's all pitch in" sensibilities by getting the "team" to move as a unit by replying at one point with, "We will [do this], if you stop calling us a team").  Ruby is shown to be smart but literal-minded, while Maebh has a special affinity with the trees (so long as she's not drugged into ignoring them, in a somewhat pointed commentary on overmedicating children).  In fact, the issue here is that there's frankly not enough of this; we should get a better sense of who these children are, that they are in fact real people instead of troublemakers and problem children lumped together under a euphemism, but that only happens with a couple of them, and it would have been better if they'd extended the favor to more of them.

Danny and the Doctor talk to Maebh while the others look on.
("In the Forest of the Night") ©BBC
So there are some problems here and there, but they shouldn't be enough to drag things down.  However, the biggest problem with "In the Forest of the Night" is that there's no threat whatsoever.  All right, there's a small wolfpack and a tiger, but these come up and then are dealt with in short order, and there's nothing to replace them, despite an early half-hearted attempt to paint the trees as sinister.  The story is instead relying on the magic of the situation to sustain things, and while it works in places (such as when the tree spirit things are talking through Maebh, while the Doctor makes them visible with the sonic screwdriver), everything else sags a bit.  And unlike, say, Warriors' Gate (where "do nothing" is arrived at as the correct solution only after a lot of effort to do the opposite), here we're invited to simply marvel at how wonderful nature is, able to save the planet from destruction.  Which isn't a bad thing by any means, but it also doesn't make for compelling drama.

I dunno, there's not really anything wrong with what we got from "In the Forest of the Night", but there's not enough there to really keep things going.  Visually this is quite nice, and the storyline is sweet (even if a bit silly -- but as we're already dealing with a fairy tale-esque story the tree stuff isn't as egregious as "Kill the Moon" was), and there are some great character moments (such as the Doctor refuting Clara's urging of him to leave Earth when they think it's doomed by a solar flare by using her words from "Kill the Moon" -- "This is my world too.  I walk your earth, I breathe your air" -- which is a nice way of bringing things back around).  It's just a pity there's no clear threat to really keep things moving, and so the final effort is a bit dull.

Oh, and the happy ending of Maebh's runaway sister returning at the very end is so hideously twee as to be gag-inducing.

July 14: "Dark Water"

Stuart Manning's poster for "Dark Water"
(from Doctor Who: exclusive Dark Water
poster revealed)
Exciting news for those of us who care about such things (and don't we all secretly?) -- "Dark Water" is the start of our first two-parter since 2011's "The Rebel Flesh" / "The Almost People".  "Dark Water" / "Death in Heaven" is one of those two-parters where the first half leads to a completely different second half (as opposed to, say, "The Hungry Earth" / "Cold Blood", where there's a very clear through line from start to finish); here the first half is a somber affair, with little in the way of action and lots in the way of thoughtful creepiness.

It starts with the most horrifically mundane death ever: Danny Pink talking to Clara on the phone and struck and killed by a car as he's crossing the road.  It's a surprisingly boring death for this show -- but that's the point.  He didn't die sacrificing himself, or fighting for his beliefs, or even to show that the villain really means it; he died in a traffic accident.  What it does, however, is spur Clara into desperate action; her best friend has a time machine, after all, and so all she can think of is getting Danny back, by changing the past, which leads to one of the most dramatic moments of series 8: Clara threatening the Doctor to either bring Danny back or be locked out of the TARDIS forever.  It's a powerful moment, watching Clara toss in spare key after spare key in order to make the Doctor help her, and even when you know it's a trick it's still just as impressive.  But what's best is that even after all that, after seeing how far Clara was willing to go, the Doctor is still willing to help.  "You're going to help me?" she asks.  "Well, why wouldn't I help you?" the Doctor replies.  "Because of what I just did," Clara says.  "I just—"  "You betrayed me," the Doctor replies somewhat harshly.  "Betrayed my trust, you betrayed our friendship, you betrayed everything that I've ever stood for.  You let me down!"  "Then why are you helping me?" Clara wonders.  "Why?" the Doctor asks, genuinely confused.  "Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?"  And just like that, we know -- we for certain know -- what kind of man this Doctor is.  He may be brusque and tactless and totally alien, but he still cares deeply.  He's still, emphatically, a good man.

A big moment, but it leads to some suspenseful scenes, as the Doctor and Clara travel to what might be the afterlife and what seems to be a mausoleum.  This is where we're finally getting a payoff for all those Missy scenes scattered throughout the previous episodes, of people being brought to the Nethersphere after they die.  And since Danny's just died, he's currently in the Nethersphere, trying to work out what happened, which is why the TARDIS has arrived at 3W in the first place.  These scenes apparently were cause for concern for some viewers, as it depicts a world where the dead are still conscious and feeling things that happen to their bodies, but it's hard to know what exactly is going on.  The sales pitch by Dr. Chang is very smooth, but the Doctor doesn't believe a word of it and it's not hard to see his point of view -- other than Danny's presence, we don't have any genuine evidence that things are as 3W says they are.  There are things to make us wonder though; the off-screen screaming could be staged, but the boy who Danny accidentally killed when he was a soldier -- the thing that clearly made him give up the soldier life -- seems too real to be a fake.  Although it could be a clever manipulation to make Danny give up his emotions so that he can become a Cyberman.

The Cybermen reveal is a good move, by the way; despite knowing that they were going to be in this episode (from both all the publicity photos from when the Cybermen were marching outside St. Paul's (again) and the "Next Time" trailer at the end of "In the Forest of the Night"), it took me an awfully long time to realize that the bodies inside the "dark water" tanks that only revealed organic matter were full of Cybermen, and that the 3W logo was in fact a Cyberman eye, with the teardrop motif and everything.  Perhaps sharper viewers than me were wishing they'd just get on with it, but it was a pleasant feeling as the pieces finally all fell into place, right when presumably the production team wanted them to.  It also sets the stage for the next episode, with Missy in control of Cybermen, populated by minds snatched up by a piece of Gallifreyan tech -- the Matrix data-slice261 -- and all ready to do her bidding.

Missy reveals her identity. ("Dark Water") ©BBC
It's nice to finally get the Missy stuff out in the open, and Michelle Gomez is clearly having a ball in the role, pretending to be a welcome droid and then killing Dr. Chang -- but only after he says something nice, because "[t]his is going to be our last conversation, and I'm the one who's going to have to live with that."  Missy is clearly a psychopath, but she also has a sense of humor, which makes her even more frightening -- she's someone you could potentially reason with who's still going to kill you.  Her chemistry with Peter Capaldi is really good -- Missy is loving the fact that the Doctor doesn't recognize her, and she's clearly enjoying putting him on the back foot (the kissing scene being a prime example of this).  They also do a good job with the misdirection of Missy's identity -- being called a Time Lady and such (my brother in fact was convinced that this was Romana, and that the Mistress stuff was related to K-9's term of address for her); it's a shame the bit of location filming misdirection -- "I'm the Random Access Neural Integrator" -- wasn't kept.  But while Cybermen are on the march, leaving St. Paul's cathedral (that's a nice twist, by the way, putting 3W inside a London landmark like that but not telling us until we step outside), the best part is her revelation of her true identity to the slow-on-the-uptake Doctor:
DOCTOR: Who are you?
MISSY: Oh, you know who I am.  I'm Missy.
DOCTOR: Who's Missy?
MISSY: Please, try to keep up.  Short for "Mistress".  Well, I couldn't very well keep calling myself the Master, now could I?
If "Death in Heaven" is as good as this episode has been, we're in for a smashing series 8 finale.

July 15: "Death in Heaven"

Stuart Manning's poster for "Death in Heaven"
(from Exclusive Doctor Who Death in Heaven
poster revealed)
It's an admirably cheeky moment, this opening, as after Clara (attempting to prolong her life) tells a Cyberman that she's not Clara Oswald, she's really the Doctor, they alter the title sequence so that Jenna Coleman's name comes first, and that it's her eyes we see instead of Capaldi's.  These are the sorts of little moments that make this show something special.

If "Dark Water" was the tense, brooding first half, then "Death in Heaven" is the action-packed second, with lots of thrilling moments -- Cybermen rising from graves!  Flying around the planet!  Tearing apart an airplane! -- packed into an hour-long episode.  But for all that, it's still the smaller character scenes that ultimately provide the best moments here.  And to the credit of writer Steven Moffat and director Rachel Talalay, it's clear that that's the point; the Cyberman army, for all its new tricks, takes a backseat to the machinations of the new Master.

Michelle Gomez continues to have an absolute riot of a time as the new Master, providing us with a character who is absolutely insane and knows it and doesn't care.  She delights in telling people that they're going to die (her interactions with Osgood being a prime example of her insanity) and she seems completely self-assured, as she knows that her Cyber-pollen plan has already taken effect and there's nothing anyone can do about it.  ("Throw away your weapons, Man Scout, it's all over," the Doctor tells Colonel Ahmed.  "How can you win a war against an enemy that can weaponise the dead?")  There's something incredibly appealing about Gomez's homicidal quirkiness, but it's made very clear that she's a killer, and what's more, that she's killing people for fun.  This combination means she's a very dangerous opponent.

And yet the twist is that she's gone to all this trouble of harvesting dying minds and creating a new race of Cybermen from the bodies of the dead (although one wonders how they get enough material to cover themselves in metal/plastic -- surely the Cyber-pollen can't be that good?) in order to give it to the Doctor as a gift.  ("Happy birthday," she tells him.  "Oh!  You didn't know, did you?  It's lucky one of us remembers these things.")  She wants to show the Doctor that they're really not that different, the Doctor and the Master, that they're still at heart the same people who were childhood friends, and so by giving him an army she'll make him like her.  It's a marvelously insidious scheme that demonstrates that despite the outward changes, this is still the Master.  (Thus cementing Neil Gaiman's throwaway line in "The Doctor's Wife" suggesting that Time Lords can change sex -- although, predictably, there was an element of fandom who objected strongly to the change, though for no obviously compelling reason.)

Clara hugs the Cybernised Danny. ("Death in Heaven") ©BBC
So yes, while the action sequences are entertaining -- watching Cybermen all over the UNIT airplane is a great image, and we get things like fan favorite Osgood's shocking death and Kate Stewart being sucked out of the craft -- it really is the character moments that anchor everything.  The Cyber-converted Danny Pink, still in possession of his emotions (since he didn't delete them) as he's strapped inside the Cyber-suit, is a frankly impressive display of acting, even before he removes the faceplate.  The way the actor inside (I'm guessing it's Jeremiah Krage) lowers his head after listening to the unaware Clara tell him that "I am an incredible liar" is fabulous, and the scenes of Danny inside the suit, his face pale and distorted by implants, are disturbing.  And he's predictably not in the best mood, which is likely why he's so antagonistic toward the Doctor -- even more so than usual.  "Clara, watch this," Danny says.  "This is who the Doctor is.  Watch the blood-soaked old general in action.  I can't see properly, sir, because this needs activating.  If you want to know what's coming, you have to switch it on.  And didn't all of those beautiful speeches [about pain being a gift] just disappear in the face of a tactical advantage?  Sir."  But it's the confrontation with both Danny and the Master that finally lets the Doctor realize who he is.  He's faced with a terrible choice (either accept the Cyberarmy as his or let the Cyber-pollen clouds rain death and destruction down on the living), but he finds the right decision. "Thank you," he tells the Master.  "Thank you so much.  I really didn't know.  I wasn't sure.  You lose sight sometimes.  Thank you!  I am not a good man!  I am not a bad man.  I am not a hero.  And I'm definitely not a president.  And no, I'm not an officer.  Do you know what I am?  I am an idiot, with a box and a screwdriver.  Just passing through, helping out, learning.  I don't need an army.  I never have, because I've got them."  He puts the decision to end things in the hands of Danny Pink, a soldier, allowing him to choose his own fate to save the lives of others.  Thus the Earth is saved.  I'm less convinced of the decision to create a Cyber-Brigadier, which does feel a tad ghoulish given that Nick Courtney has passed away, but it does at least provide a way of dealing with the Master that doesn't involve either Clara or the Doctor committing murder.

It's not exactly a triumphant ending, and the closing moments of the Doctor and Clara lying to each other (the Doctor about finding Gallifrey, Clara about having Danny back -- Danny chose to send back the child he'd killed as a soldier instead of himself) are quite downbeat.  But what "Death in Heaven" makes clear is that the Doctor is not the Master.  It tells us that love is an incredibly powerful force, and that it's the relationships we create that define us, for good or ill.  Despite the superficial trappings, "Dark Water" / "Death in Heaven" is a thoughtful examination of these themes, and if the finished product lacks some of the impact of previous series finales, the difference is made up in those character moments.

Still, no wonder Santa shows up (in the middle of the end credits!  Another cheeky move!) to tell the Doctor he and Clara can't leave things like that.

Series 8 has marked less a change of direction so much as a change of emphasis; in principle there's nothing really radically different about this year's run of stories from the previous year's, but what's changed is the focus on the characters.  Series 7 was about big ideas, about the mystery of the Impossible Girl and the upcoming 50th anniversary story, while series 8 wants to examine our heroes.  Who is this new Doctor?  Who is Clara Oswald, now that she's not the girl who was "born to save the Doctor"?  What is it like for these people to travel and see the things they've seen, and make the decisions they make?  These are opportunities that both Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi seize eagerly.  Coleman in particular flourishes, as Clara gains some nuances and becomes a more three-dimensional character, and you can tell that Coleman appreciates the chance to flesh out Clara's character.  Peter Capaldi does just as well (even if the material he's given occasionally doesn't work -- and here I'm thinking of the odd insults he has to deliver to Clara in the early parts of this series), as he strives to give us a Doctor that's markedly different from the last two Doctors and succeeds in doing so without alienating viewers.  This is an actor who loves the show, and that affection bleeds through every move, every line of dialogue, so that even when he's being brusque and unlikeable it's still clear that this Doctor is the same man as ever.

It's something of new ground for the show, to make the focus land so squarely on the Doctor and his companion, but it works; not only do we get more of an insight into these characters, but it also results in perhaps the most generally accessible run of episodes since series 4.  You don't need to have been watching all the previous episodes to understand what's happening.  And while series 8 has been a bit more uneven in quality than series 7 was, it rarely descends to levels of unwatchability, and there's always something entertaining or compelling going on.  It does sometimes feel like you have to work a bit harder at this series, but there are plenty of rewards for those willing to do so.  Even after 51 years, Doctor Who can find new things to say and do, and that's perhaps no clearer than in the whole of series 8.


256 Surprisingly, given it was 1953 and these went out live, a small section of the second episode (the studio material) still exists.
257 Steven Moffat tried to get around this after the fact by suggesting that the Doctor gave him the suit, but that doesn't work as the file footage of Orson leaving also shows the patch on his suit.
258 Ooh, it's a bunch of quick references in the images here, including a Terileptil, an Ice Warrior, Kahler Tek, a Slitheen, Captain John Hart from Torchwood, Androvax and the Trickster from The Sarah Jane Adventures, and, er, a Sensorite.  (Given their behavior in The Sensorites, one wonders how a Sensorite became a hardened criminal.)  Oh!  And Abslom Daak, Dalek Killer, in the show's first direct reference to a character created for the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip.
259 Yep, the same place where they filmed Peter Davison's penultimate story Planet of Fire -- which is why the working title for "Kill the Moon" was, cheekily, "Return to Sarn".
260 The others are Ian Stuart Black (The Savages and The War Machines), Chris Boucher (The Face of Evil and The Robots of Death), David Fisher (The Stones of Blood and The Androids of Tara), Christopher H. Bidmead (Logopolis and Castrovalva -- although that spans a season break), Pip and Jane Baker (The Trial of a Time Lord Part Fourteen and Time and the Rani -- but that one's a bit of a technicality and spans a season break), Russell T Davies (various), and Steven Moffat (various).
261 This is a clever bit of writing, as we've known as far back as The Deadly Assassin that the Matrix can snatch dying minds and upload them to a large network (hence "Matrix"), which means that we're immediately on board with the idea of living minds being snatched up and stored -- although, intriguingly, Steven Moffat doesn't hold the viewers' hands here: either you recognize the reference and make the connection, or you simply move on.  It's not explained at length, which is, I think, a wise move.