Season eight of Doctor Who started with a new Doctor and many uncertainties. However, it was clear within the first half-hour of the season premiere that Peter Capaldi had been perfectly cast as the Twelfth Doctor. What followed was a strong run of episodes that marked a departure for the show while still maintaining the basic structure it's always had. With the two-part season finale airing this week and next, we're taking a look at how this season was a game changer for the show, and could potentially usher in a new era for the long-running sci-fi series.
1. An older, darker Doctor
Yes, the Doctor looking older is a topic that's been thoroughly discussed already. It was even the focus of "Deep Breath." But what comes with the gray hair and lined face is a world-weariness that David Tennant and Matt Smith couldn't quite nail even at their best. The Tenth and Eleventh Doctors got very upset when they couldn't save everyone. But Twelve knows that death comes with the territory. In "Mummy on the Orient Express," people had to die in order for him to figure out how to stop the monster.
He's not somber by any means; he's just as curious as ever and delightful to watch. But he's more introspective: less floppy-haired, and more focused on the mission at hand. And as much as we loved Ten and Eleven, this has been a welcome change.
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2. Character development for Clara
When Clara (Jenna Coleman) filled the role of companion in the second half of last season, the loss of Amy and Rory was still noticeable. And while she was likeable enough, the mystery surrounding her doppelgangers throughout time was her defining characteristic. Now that she's free of her Impossible Girl arc, she's been able to come into her own as a companion. She can take charge of a situation, and lets the Doctor know when he takes things too far. She rightfully called him out for abandoning her in "Kill the Moon," leaving her to make a huge decision that she couldn't handle.
Past companions of the new series traveled with the Doctor full time. Clara has a job and a boyfriend, and while she has trouble managing her double lives, she's not dependent on the Doctor. She almost walked out on him completely, and even though she changed her mind, it was her decision. It's nice to see a Doctor-companion relationship without romantic undertones, unlike what Clara had with Eleven.
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3. A psychological exploration of fear
It's been a while since there's been a truly terrifying episode of Doctor Who, in the realm of "Blink" or "Midnight." Perhaps that is why "Listen" is widely considered the best installment of Who in years. "Listen" is similar to "Midnight" in that we never find out what the monster is, but the episode takes it one step further by creating doubt that a monster even existed. Whether there was really a monster or not doesn't matter, because the episode was really an examination of how we deal with fear. The Doctor took a fear from when he was a child and went looking for an explanation in an attempt to rationalize it. It was gripping and relatable, since almost all of us have fears and cope with them in different ways.
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4. A look at what it really means to be the Doctor
In "Flatline," Clara took on the role of the Doctor when he was trapped inside the TARDIS. And she rocked it. The episode was basically a confirmation that a female Doctor would be awesome. But she was faced with making the tough choices, even when there were no right answers. Under pressure to save everyone, she had to bring out the best in her temporary companions, even if that meant lying to them. She was ultimately successful, and the Doctor respected her actions. But he was a bit sad to see her emulate him, afraid of her becoming cold and detached. The Doctor may be called a hero, but he's not always righteous. He didn't want to see Clara become too much like him.
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5. Less timey-wimeyness
While season arcs can be great, the show really needed a break from the time-twisting mysteries. The past three seasons have had some over-arching stories that actually brought down the show at times. The mysterious Missy has shown up in a handful of episodes, but in a way that hasn't majorly interrupted the plot. Questions about Missy and her so-called Promised Land will be addressed in the finale, and maybe there will be a big reveal that retroactively changes the entire season. But for now, we've enjoyed this series of stand-alone episodes, and we're excited to see what the next season will bring.
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Photo Credit: Ray Burmiston/BBC Worldwide