Hi, all. So you might have noticed that I left off my Doctor Who episode reviews after “The Bells of St. John”. Never fear, though: I’m here to make up for it with a review of all the remaining episodes in one post. Buckle up for mediocre plots, tired tropes, and characters with no character after the jump!
“The Rings of Akhaten” was the episode that started my apathy about writing these reviews, the reason being, actually, that it was… pretty good. Although the face-on-the-sun thing was too cheesily awful for words, the episode had an interesting plot, some great character moments/monologues for the Doctor, and set up some interesting conflicts for Clara (for example, the TARDIS refusing to translate for her). I left it with very few complaints, and so I didn’t really feel the need to write a big ol’ review.
“Cold War” wasn’t as good as “Akhaten”, although in it Clara continued her very welcome descent from sassy Moffat dreamwoman into a normal person with fears and a bit of a personality. This episode contained both a number of callbacks to Classic Who, and what many fans believed were subtle Bad Wolf references (such as choosing the Duran Duran song “Hungry Like the Wolf” for Clara to sing at the end).
“Hide” was mostly notable for the Doctor taking selfies, perpetuating sexist stereotypes of women as both very in touch with their emotions and as controlled by them (and men as the opposite), and, because the parallel world the Doctor visits in the episode greatly resembled both Supernatural‘s Purgatory and Sherlock‘s forests of Baskerville, for its wealth of potential for Superwholock crossover gifsets. It was creepy but not very substantive. One high point is that it did include a woman of color in the role of the first human time traveler.
And then there was “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS”. This episode also featured several characters of color, but… in the role of what were essentially futuristic carjackers. Very forward-thinking. The most frustrating thing about this episode (besides everything) was that it included a lot of good character moments for Clara, in which she is justifiably upset with the Doctor for retaining information and thinking of her as a thing and not a person, but that the end of the episode retconned all that away by resetting the timestream so none of it happened.
I think all that I really need to say about “The Crimson Horror” is that any episode where I’m annoyed when the Doctor shows up is probably not good. I could watch Jenny, Vastra, and Strax have adventures all the live-long day (Paternoster gang spinoff, anyone?), but the Doctor and Clara in this were unnecessary and annoying. The Doctor was very out of character at the end, and the villainess and her daughter were badly written at best. I also think Eleven needs to stop non-consensually kissing characters who both have spouses and whose sexual orientations do not include dudes. He’s two for two right now with Rory and then Jenny.
I really looked forward to “Nightmare in Silver”, mostly because as a Neil Gaiman-penned episode it promised to be of higher quality and include more feminist sensibilities than the rest of the season. Indeed, it was quite good, with Clara at her most personality-having, a compelling plot with actual stakes, and an interesting reimagining of the Cybermen. Warwick Davis was also excellent in a guest-starring role.
And finally, the finale. I was not looking forward to “The Name of the Doctor” at all, and then Blackout (who watched it when it aired at UK time) told me it was great. And then Stinekey confirmed that it was, indeed, well done. So I wasn’t sure what to think. And, having watched it, I pretty much agree. River’s inclusion and the conclusion of her storyline weren’t obnoxious; the editing-in of Classic Who was neatly done, the Whispermen were reasonably creepy; and it was nice to see the Paternosters again. The Fields of Trenzalore were not what I expected, and neither was the reveal at the end, and I was reasonably pleased both times. Although, to be fair, the last thirty seconds of this episode made the whole thing into a commercial for the 50th Anniversary Special. Like, guys? We were gonna watch it no matter what, weird cliffhangers were totally unnecessary.
That all said, here are my general thoughts about the season:
I wish, wish, wish, a thousand times wish that Clara had a personality this season. She is a big bundle of one-liners and paradoxes and not even a little bit like a person. She is always a thing for the Doctor to solve and has no agency in her own story. Even her decision to risk herself to save the Doctor in the finale is made out of duty. Don’t tell me she did it because of her friendship for him—what friendship? When did they grow a friendship in these last eight episodes? The timestream-splitting thing was a reasonable way to explain her “Impossible Girl” status, but now what? Now that she is not a mystery, what happens next season?
I love that we got to see more of the Paternosters this season, although Strax is a routinely problematic character both in his interactions with others and in the way others treat him. For example, he constantly misgenders characters, which is played for laughs to the audience, and others, including the Doctor, refer to him as ‘the potato one’ (also played for laughs). Although I could have done without double-fridging Jenny in the finale, it was nice to see Vastra show some emotion toward her besides general niceness—their other storylines have had a tendency to mute out their romantic relationship until one could argue that they were just close friends.
I wish the writers hadn’t abandoned so many plot things or dug so many plotholes. In “Asylum of the Daleks”, Oswin might have been bi? But there’s no reference to that post-that “It was a phase” line twelve episodes ago. Also, I thought the whole ‘the TARDIS doesn’t like Clara’ thing was really intriguing and could have caused some interesting conflicts, but a few episodes later it’s translating for her no problem. It also communicates directly with Clara using a hologram, which sort of Josses the end of “The Doctor’s Wife” where Idris claims she will never again be able to speak to the Doctor with a personality and human form again. Besides the “Hungry like the Wolf” thing, there were several other hints that Clara might have a connection to Rose Tyler, but that never came to fruition.
Furthermore, the Doctor acts routinely out of character. In some episodes he rather viciously manipulates people; in some he doesn’t seem to care about murder; in some he acts like a bit of a perv, ogling ladies and smooching folks.
This is easily the worst season of Doctor Who since the series reboot, and yes, that includes the one with the farting aliens. At this point I’m not even going to complain about inclusion, although seriously the show could use some writers who aren’t all dudes—I just want characters who are relatable and flawed and human. They don’t even have to be human—aliens are fine and welcome—but they need to have fricking character depth for the love of all things holy. Hopefully this will be improved upon next season, because as of right now Doctor Who has gone from one of my favorite shows ever to the second-worst I force myself to tune into (second only to Supernatural, and closely followed by Once Upon a Time).