Just as it has been with every new incarnation of the enigmatic time traveller, the expectations for Peter Capaldi’s first series on Doctor Who were high. He had to make us all forget about that floppy-haired fellow who was obsessed with bow ties, and win us round to a decidedly grumpier Doctor with much bushier eyebrows and a distinct penchant for telling people to “shut up.” As such, the recent two-part finale had potential to be the cherry on the cake for him.
It is safe to say that he, at least, nailed it. Throughout the finale, the twelfth Doctor was on the best form he has been all series, Capaldi relishing his role as a much darker Doctor, but proving a natural at interspersing more comedic elements too (“Can you just hurry up, please, or I’ll hit you with my shoe.”) What really helped him shine, however, was Michelle Gomez’s excellent performance as Missy, whose dry, menacing nature rebounded perfectly off Capaldi. It’s a shame, then, that Steven Moffat places so much emphasis on the decidedly bland character of Danny Pink in these episodes, whose presence has well and truly plagued the whole season. Furthermore, on other occasions Moffat’s dialogue swings too much the other way, becoming so over-the-top it’s almost cringeworthy. How poor Chris Addison’s face must have fallen when he opened his script to discover that his final line was going to be “squeeee.”
On a more positive note, though, it is refreshing to see Moffat take more of a risk with this story. He presents a darker, edgier tale, with some parts growing genuinely quite unpleasant as talk turns to the ideas surrounding death and how much a body feels after they have passed on. Indeed, he achieves an effective air of mystery and intrigue surrounding the Cybermen and Missy’s identity, although this does give way to a lot more exposition and dialogue in the story’s second part.
Though this was a decent finale, series eight on the whole has been rather inconsistent in quality. While Peter Capaldi has effectively distanced himself from his predecessor and firmly asserted his own unique Doctorial style, he all too often seems hampered by the lacklustre writing and plots he is presented with. As a result, it was only in the better episodes of thea series like Listen where he was really able to come into his own. Capaldi’s first series as the Doctor has been far from terrible, but it may actually have been something worse: forgettable. Say what you like about 2006’s laughably bad Love and Monsters, at least we all remember it. But will Robot of Sherwood or Time Heist really be remembered the same way in a few years?
This is arguably a more terrible crime for Doctor Who to commit. In a show so boundless, so creative, so off-the-wall mad, it’s a real shame Peter Capaldi’s first series as the Doctor has left us simply thinking “meh.”