Well that’s that. Peter Capaldi has bowed out as the 12th Doctor after 4 years in the role. Over his 3 series and 4 Xmas specials he’s had numerous very strong showings and has given us several diverse takes on his character, so here’s my tribute to Twelve’s era. First up, my take on his best (and worst) episodes!
Obviously, major spoilers for Series 8-10. If you haven’t watched them by now, that’s not my problem.
12’s Worst Episodes
5. Oxygen (Series 10) by Jamie Mathison – A missed opportunity. Oxygen got bogged down in its anti-capitalism message and forgot to have fun along the way. Zombies onboard a space station really should be scarier than this. The acting was decent, but the direction lacked any drive whatsoever and seriously undermined the tension.
4. In The Forest of the Night (Series 8) by Frank Cottrell-Boyce – Boyce’s first contribution to the series isn’t bad, it just isn’t that interesting. The child actors aren’t terrible (like Angie and Artie in Series 7) but they don’t add much to proceedings, and while Capaldi, Coleman and Samuel Anderson (Danny – remember him?) are all on form, things never spark into life. The direction is good though, and the storyline is inventive enough (trees have reclaimed earth and brought the human race to a standstill). Like Oxygen, it’s environmental message just weighs the plot down a bit too much.
3. The Girl Who Died (Series 9) by Jamie Mathison – ‘We’re Vikings!’. Not very convincing ones mate. Containing some of the worst extras ever to appear in modern Who, it’s a good thing The Girl Who Died also had the wonderful Maisie Williams guest starring, because it’s one of the weakest scripts in series Nine. Only the last 15 minutes (where I suspect Moffat took over from Mathison as lead writer) have any real oomph to them.
2. The Lie of the Land (Series 10) by Toby Whitehouse – A really disappointing ending to the ‘Monk trilogy’. The performances carry it and help avoid it being a disaster, but the Monks are defeated far too easily and the whole ‘fake regeneration’ thing was just silly.
1. Sleep No More (Series 9) by Mark Gatiss. An episode that tried to do something different with its found footage storyline, but is let down by forgettable guest stars and some truly stupid sci-fi (I mean living dust from eyes coming alive? Seriously Gatiss?). It should have at least been scarier, but everytime there was a threat of tension, Reece Shearsmith (absolutely woeful – the worst guest star in Capaldi’s era) turns up with more dull narration to drag proceedings down again. The script itself isn’t actually that bad, but the execution lets it down.
Fortunately these episodes were the exception to the rule in the Capaldi era. Most of his episodes received either a 3.5/5 or a 4/5 from me, with several getting higher than that. So next up, here’s my list of his five best outings as the Doctor.
12’s Best Episodes
5. Listen (Series 8) by Steven Moffat The first episode that really showed Capaldi’s potential. From his opening monologue to the end credits, he holds you attention and never lets it go, while Moffat delivers his most inventive script since Blink. It isn’t flawless, but sheer clever scripting and acting prowess from the three leads ensure it was one of Series 8’s highlights.
4. World Enough and Time (Series 10) by Steven Moffat. Series 10 may have been a bit disappointing, but if you didn’t get shivers/punch the air during the last five minutes of ‘World Enough and Time’, you aren’t a proper who fan. Seeing two Masters on screen together for the first time was immensely engaging, and Moffat’s script made the Cybermen creepier than they have been in decades. If only we’d had fewer spoilers going in…
3. Face the Raven (Series 9) by Sarah Dollard. Well this one was truly heartbreaking as Clara finally oversteps the mark in her attempts to be like the Doctor. Capaldi, Coleman and Maisie Williams are on fire here, and Sarah Dollard makes one of the best debuts I can remember as the writer for arguably the most important story of series 9. The script is excellent, while the direction, acting and Murray Gold’s music combine to make the episode’s climax truly heartwrenching… I do wish Moffat hadn’t undone it in the finale.
2. Dark Water (Series 8) by Steven Moffat. The first two-parter in 3 years got off to a flying start with Dark Water, which takes its time but builds and builds to a jaw-dropping final 15 minutes. Some seriously creepy ideas about the afterlife, the return of the Cybermen and the reveal of just who Missy really is combine to make this a truly great episode. Capaldi, Coleman, Anderson and Michelle Gomez really gave this their all.
1. Heaven Sent (Series 9) by Steven Moffat. The winning combination of Moffat’s writing, Capaldi’s acting, Talalay’s direction and Murray Gold’s music reached its apex here in Capaldi’s sublime one-man (well, almost) show. While personally I find Dark Water more entertaining, Heaven Sent is undoubtedly the better episode and is up there with the best of what Moffat’s ever written. But Capaldi is the unquestioned star of this show – I’ll repeat what I said it my main review – only Capaldi could have carried an episode like this so well. Even Eccleston, Tennant and Smith, all fine actors, wouldn’t have matched him here, and that’s about the highest compliment I can give.
For anyone interested, here’s the average score each of Capaldi’s series has got from me:
Series 8: 3.96/5. Series 8 featured several great episodes and no failures, while the Missy arc was the most satisfying season long mystery we’d got since the cracks in time in Series 5. Capaldi’s darker, grouchier take on the Doctor is refreshing even if it doesn’t always hit the right notes, while Jenna Coleman really comes into her own here.
Series 9: 4.04/5. Series 9 is the best modern who has given us so far, and if Chibnall/Whittaker or anyone else bests it I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Two weak episodes and a disappointing season arc aside, everything works. Capaldi gives us the definitive version of his Doctor (edgy and not giving a damn, but somewhat mellowed compared to his first series) and gets some of his best material, while Jenna Coleman’s marvellous performance proves she deserves to be the longest serving companion in Modern Who, and her partnership with Capaldi was clearly something truly special.
Series 10: 3.75/5. A VERY average run despite its strong finale, series 10 was something of a disappointment. Moffat still delivered, but his support writers (with the exception of Rona Munro and Peter Harness) let him down, though Moffat has to accept some blame for the Vault Storyline going nowhere and John Simm’s return being too widely spoiled. Pearl Mackie was excellent as Bill, but rarely got material that let her show off her talents. Capaldi’s Doctor, unfortunately, mellows too much in this last season, into near-forgetability by the end. His performance is still there, but the promise of his darker take on the Doctor has vanished, which was a shame. Like Tennant and Russell T. Davies, I can’t help feeling Moffat and Capaldi stuck around one season too long…
To finish up, here’s my 10 favourite moments from the Capaldi era.
10. We Surrender (Mummy on the Orient Express, Series 8). One of the 12th Doctor’s first truly heroic moments is where he stands up to the Foretold, knowing he only has 66 seconds to make it stand down before it kills him. Great scene.
9. Hello Sweetie (The Husbands of River Song). While most of this Xmas special was focused on comedy, the moment where River finally realizes that Capaldi is the Doctor was very sweet, and Capaldi’s ‘Hello Sweetie’ knocks it out of the park.
8. Those Eyebrows (The Day of the Doctor). Okay, slight cheat, this isn’t in any Capaldi episodes, but come on. Capaldi’s Day of the Doctor cameo was amazing. What a way to introduce a Doctor.
7. Clara Leaves the Doctor (Kill the Moon, Series 8). 12’s patronising behaviour finally comes back to bite him as an upset Clara gives him both barrels and leaves the Tardis in tears. Coleman’s performance was simply marvellous.
6. The Pope Ruins Bill’s Date (Extremis, Series 10). Quite possibly the funniest scene in Who History as Bill gets a girl back to her flat only to find the Doctor has accidentally left the Pope in her bedroom. Talk about a passion killer.
5. Clara Dies (Face the Raven, Series 9). What more can I say. We all knew it was coming at some point in Series 9, but it still hit hard anyway. The fact that Clara is arguably my favourite companion didn’t make it any easier.
4. The Doctor’s Speech (The Zygon Inversion, Series 9) The Doctor’s anti-war speech was a powerhouse of a performance by Capaldi, and even if the Zygon two-parter wasn’t the most memorable bit of Series 9, his speech to convince both sides to stand down gives it a perfect denouement. Who’d have thought Capaldi would surpass this a mere 3 episodes later…
3. You Know Who I Am (Dark Water, Series 8). The Missy reveal was up there with the Daleks surprise appearance in Army of Ghosts and the Master’s initial return in Utopia. It’s one of the best cliffhangers in the Capaldi era, and Capaldi and Michelle Gomez absolutely nail the scene. Well she couldn’t keep calling herself ‘The Master’ now could she 😉
2. Hello Missy. I’m the Master (World Enough and Time, Series 10). Simm’s performance has never been better. The face pull just made it all the more perfect. We knew it was him, but the reveal was pulled off with such gusto that it was epic anyway. This scene alone made the disappointing Series 10 worthwhile.
1. Breaking the Wall (Heaven Sent, Series 9). What else could it be. Not forgetting that Murray Gold delivers his best soundtrack in YEARS for this scene, the moment where Twelve finally escapes his prison after spending millions of lifetimes punching through a near-indestructible wall was both epic and insanely clever. Well done Capaldi and Moffat – we won’t forget this one in a while.
To sum up, while Capaldi’s final series prevents me from labelling his incarnation the best version of the Doctor (Tom Baker is probably never going to be surpassed), he proved beyond doubt that he was one of the finest actors to play the role, easily matching what Eccleston, Tennant and Smith had achieved before him. Good luck Jodie Whittaker, you’ve got one hell of an act to follow…