Doctor Who: Series 10 Review

Here’s my view on the highs and lows of series 10, as well as my opinion of what the show needs to do in Series 11.

Summary:

I had two thoughts at the start of the series that are still true by the end of it. 1. Bill is something we haven’t seen before in Modern Who: a realistic companion, whose fears and sense of wonder seem just like how any human would react to a chance to travel in time and space, and how they’d react to it. 2. This series feels more like a run in the classic 1963-1989 series than it does a series of modern 2005-2017 Who. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (some of the classic series runs are really very good – any modern fans who are curious should check out the series from 1970, 1974-77, 1979, 1982 and 1988-1989 – they all have some cracking stories) and for a while the new feel seemed fresh and worked for the opening 4 episodes as the series had a steady if unspectacular run. Unfortunately, the show never picked up the pace or impetus until the two part finale. The Monk trilogy started well and set things up intriguingly for the third part conclusion, but then Lie of the Land brought the whole thing to a unsatisfying halt. The Vault mystery was initially gripping but the answer was too obvious and too uninteresting compared to the question (always a mistake with season long mysteries). There were other problems too, as Nardole varied between hilarious and downright annoying depending on who was writing the episode, and at the series end I have to question what he really added to it all. Why not have Missy acting as a temporary companion throughout the series, try to rehabilitate herself before the Master throws a spanner in the works in the finale? Then you could ditch Nardole and the Vault and cut the fat out of the series. There was also a perplexing lack of action for much of the run, and while Doctor Who isn’t meant to be all guns blazing or fun of fights like Game of Thrones, it should strike a better balance than this series did, with only 2 episodes (Empress of Mars and The Doctor Falls) giving us some decent action scenes. The direction standard varied considerably as well, compared to the wonderfully shot series 9, and I hope at least half of this series directors aren’t asked back again. Murray Gold’s soundtrack had the odd standout moment, mostly in the two-part finale and Bill’s theme, but I can’t help feeling he should stand aside and let someone fresh take over – he’s not at his best anymore. While Moffat’s 5 episodes were solid, the other writers’ efforts were all a bit average (Rona Munro and Mike Bartlett were the only ones to excel) and while there were no disasters, there were no classics either. The two-part finale was very good, but is probably the only thing this series will be remembered for. Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie gave their all, but for me neither got as much to work with as Capaldi and Coleman did in the last two series. Michelle Gomez and John Simm were brilliant, I just wish both had slightly more screentime.

Overall, this is my least favourite season of Modern Who. Its not bad, just forgettable and it fails to make the most of its potential. Normally I can name about 8-9 episodes I’d be itching to rewatch when a series finishes. This time that number is down at 3-4. Moffat has always excelled as a writer, but for me, this series showed it is the right time for him to step down as showrunner. The show needs some change, and not a moment too soon, it looks like we’ll get some.

Episode Ratings: (Episodes ranked from best to worst)

World Enough and Time: 4.5/5 – If not for early spoilers and a slow pace, it would be a classic.

The Doctor Falls: 4.5/5 – Cool, emotional, full of fan-service but underuses the Master and overshadows the Cybermen too much.

Extremis: 4/5 – A great episode let down by a disappointing final twist.

The Pilot: 4/5 – A solid, fresh, if unspectacular start.

The Pyramid at the End of the World: 4/5 – The realism of the science lab’s security procedures and a slow middle prevent this going any higher.

The Eaters of Light: 4/5 – A fun, old school filler episode let down by an all too predictable and simple resolution.

Knock Knock: 4/5 – Creepy and effective but with a familiar and all too easy ending.

Smile: 3.5/5 – A black-mirror esque story of technology gone wrong serves as a fun filler episode and allows the Doctor-Bill friendship to develop nicely.

Empress of Mars: 3.5/5 – A well-acted, action filled runaround, but nothing we haven’t seen a dozen times before.

Thin Ice: 3/5 – Has its moments and Bill continues to be a breath of fresh air, but the plot is wafer thin and the villain too pathetic one-dimensional to be threatening.

The Lie of the Land: 3/5 – Decent episode but woeful finale to the Monk trilogy. Wasting 20 mins on a plot that goes nowhere doesn’t help. What exactly was the point of the Monks?

Oxygen: 3/5 Terribly directed and not remotely scary enough. Shame, because the script and the performances are quite good.

Highlights:

  • The Doctor Punches a racist (Thin Ice)
  • The Pope ruins Bill’s date (Extremis) – Perhaps the funniest Who scene ever!
  • Bill makes a bad deal with the Monks (The Pyramid at the End of the World)
  • The Doctor and Missy chat in the Vault (The Lie of the Land)
  • The Master meets Missy/Bill turned into Cyberman (World Enough and Time)
  • Missy kills the Master/The Master kills Missy (The Doctor Falls)
  • Heather returns and saves Bill (The Doctor Falls)
  • The First Doctor Returns (The Doctor Falls)

Low points:

  • Nardole being irritating (Smile, Thin Ice, Oxygen)
  • Veritas turns out to be a simulation (Extremis)
  • The Doctor’s Fake Regeneration (The Lie of the Land)
  • The Monk’s are defeated by Bill’s Love for her mum (The Lie of the Land)
  • The Doctor and Missy’s relationship is left unresolved (The Doctor Falls)

Series Rating: 3.5 out of 5. It wasn’t bad but it was nowhere near the standard we’ve had since Series 5 onwards (discounting parts of the mixed 6th series).

What does Chibnall need to do in Series 11 (and beyond)?

  1. Give us a good new recurring monster/villain: The Monks potential was largely squandered and all the other aliens were one-offs I doubt we’ll see again. While Moffat’s reign has given us some great one-off monsters and villains (The Dreamlord in Series 5, House in Series 6, Solomon in Series 7, The Foretold and The Boneless in Series 8, The Fisher King and The Veil in Series 9) we haven’t had a classic new-who recurring monster that’s worked since ‘The Silence’ in series 6. Apart from them, The Ood and the Weeping Angels (who are long overdue a return) there haven’t really been that many original New-Who monsters which fans have taken to (The Slitheen and Judoon were okay, but there’s a reason neither have showed up except in cameos since Season 4). I think its about time we got another, and maybe a fresh pair of hands like Chibnall’s can come up with one.
  2. Bring Back the Weeping Angels: Sure Moffat’s the only writer whose ever used them as the main villains of an episode, but that doesn’t mean that someone else can’t do them well. They are a damn sight scarier than the overused Daleks and Cybermen, plus as we’ve only had 3 stories where they’ve played a big part, there must be plenty of new stories that can be told with them.
  3. Use a Classic Villain other than Daleks or Cybermen: The Daleks’ overuse in Modern Who is infamous, and the Cybermen are starting to have a similar problem – they’ve appeared (and been beaten too easily) on too many occasions to be the same hit they once were (also the number of stories that haven’t been told using them must be running pretty low right now). But then again, Classic Who also gave us Sontarans, Silurians, Ice Warriors and Zygons, all of whom have been used sparingly. The Zygon population on Earth leaves an obvious plot for any writer who wants to go there and the Sontarans haven’t got a full on appearance since Series 4, which as they are arguably Classic Who’s Third Best Monster is a bit of a shame. The Ice Warriors really need a two-parter (not written by Gatiss) to show their full potential as well. Given Chibnall has written two Silurian stories in the past, I’d imagine we might well expect them to return. Even if they don’t get a full return, you could at least bring back Strax, Vastra and Jenny couldn’t you?
  4. Give us more two-parters: The Two-parter format of Series 9 worked wonderfully, with only the sole standalone episode (Sleep No More) disappointing. Two-parters tend to be better than solo outing because they aren’t as rushed (there are exceptions on both sides but if nothing else who doesn’t love more cliffhanger endings?). I’m a big fan of three part finales as well, as both Series 3 and Series 9 gave us a hell of a finish (okay, admittedly the third part in both cases was flawed, but the build up to both was downright epic).
  5. Ditch the companion stereotype. Give us something different: We’d had 10 series, yet all the main companions fall into the same segment of society from the same planet in the same time period. Donna, Jack, Bill and Rory all felt fresh because they offered a slightly different type of companion (they were either slightly older, or male, or had a different sexuality). Aside from family/background, there isn’t a hell of a lot of difference between Rose, Martha, Amy and Clara (Don’t get me wrong, I loved all four of them). What i’d argue its time for is a bit more experimentation. How about a companion from a past era (which would give a ton of storytelling potential) or an humanoid looking alien (classic Who did this a lot in the 70’s and 80’s and it worked really well). Or perhaps more simply, make the main companion male have two men in the Tardis for a change (a friendship/bromance would certainly offer something different). Equally if the next Doctor’s female, two women might well have a different dynamic, as would a female Doctor with a male companion. Whatever Chibnall does, I really hope he shakes things up a bit with the Tardis crew, the show needs to start offering something new or its lifespan won’t be as long as it should be…

Speaking of the new Doctor, I think I am hoping for a woman this time. If it works for the Master…

 

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