New Series Series Eight


Darker, more classic, more complicated, more mature... o rly? by Flynn Sullivan 24/3/15

Peter Capaldi's first series as Dr. Who (pun intended) has fans absolutely flabbergasted. The last season's problems have been fixed! Missy! Clara is given a characterisation! The Doctor isn't a toddler anymore! The stories are imaginative!

  1. Missy. Now, it may be wrong to start out with what sounds more like a pet peeve, but since she drives the plot arc of the series, I feel I should let it out now. This is not the character we knew. That character was an egotistical psychopath, driven to power and glory and simultaneously tempted by the Doctor's offer of eternal friendship and freedom. On the other hand, the character played by Michelle Gomez has no such depth to her whatsoever. For the majority of her first proper story, she goes around giving one-liners and trying to get laid (I am dead serious - where's the classic dignity?).
  2. Clara IS given a characterisation... for the worse. Now, she's probably one of the worst human beings I have ever seen on television. In In the Forest of the Night, she chooses to let innocent children die so they wouldn't be separated from the planets. Basically, she chooses to doom the human race. What gave her that right, may I ask? And why does she have to drag Danny Pink into every situation she's in? And why can't she actually do something and help without going into another one of her ultra-feminist rants? Now, I've got nothing against strong women, but there's nothing sexist about having a female ASSISTANT. The whole story of Dark Water is absolutely criminal. Yes, she was traumatised, but her attempt to force the Doctor to change history should've been enough to pull an Adam Mitchell, at the very very least. And how did she just forget about the finger snap thing?
  3. The Doctor is even more childish than during the Matt Smith era. At least back then, he had a tragic air about him, trying to forget, as the Moment said. But the Twelfth Doctor (despite his rather beautiful, morbid beginnings in Deep Breath) is basically an abused goofball.
  4. The stories are imaginative, but don't really work as stories. The dinosaur in Victorian London, the entirety of Listen, the bank heist (all right, so it does go somewhere, but watch Farscape's "Liars, Guns And Money" and you'll see what I mean), the living moon, the forest-covered Earth, 3W, rain-seed Cybermen. They're all basically concepts that just sit there awkwardly.

And the end result? Most of Series 8 was dead. It's like the show went through the Cyber process (the real one, not the ridiculous Missy one). I do admire the acting talent of Peter Capaldi. He's barely holding it all together though.

A Review by Rem Morrison 12/7/15

Doctor Who fans are some of the most eschatological folks going, reading the past for echoes, seeing the end in an event's passing resemblance to a time when plenty of them were barely born. Last year felt as good a time as any to be doing that - the year after a huge and jubilant anniversary bash for the franchise, the departure of its young and popular lead actor, the announcement of an edgy new one with a streak of darkness and a producer close to half a decade deep in the franchise. And, according to your view, said producer's either experiencing a few wobbles of late or teetering on total creative bankruptcy. Doctor Who Series 8 premiered in August 2014; 30 years earlier, viewers had been taking deep breaths of their own to recover from The Twin Dilemma.

Speaking personally - and absent any secret knowledge of plummeting ratings, a Tory government scheme to cancel the show or Bonnie Langford in the remainder of 2015 - I can't imagine things being in a better place. No individual season of Doctor Who is perfect, and this one's no different. But Series 8 is a thing of beauty; by far the best and most assured run of television the show has produced since Chris Eccleston's season, and before that the final year of Paleo Who.

Not surprisingly, it recalls both; I've already read other reviewers compare Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman's chemistry this season to Tom Baker and Liz Sladen, and, while that's not far off the mark, I'm also reminded of Sylv and Sophie. All season, we see the companion being tested in frightening and capricious ways; what's even more striking than that - even after a decade of the show setting out to work as modern drama - is the way the companion's life and their concerns are suddenly placed front and centre.

Alternatively, it posits some great, lost version of New Who Season 2, where Russell T Davies held his nerve and gave Rose and the Doctor an arc that was more critical than it was comforting. Which is to say that it's not simply emulating the past but instead recalling that the high points of the show are the ones where it seems to confidently and competently embark on the process of change after time in the wilderness. This season rarely feels like business as usual, with even the most predictable hands on deck (hi, Mark Gatiss) doing a couple of interesting things.

It's not an overnight process, of course. What's interesting (and perhaps a little tough on) the first three stories of the year is that they're among the weaker ones, in retrospect. At the time, everyone was excited by Capaldi, cautiously surprised by the development of Clara, peeved at the watery new theme music - but looking back, they're bedding us in a little tentatively and they feel like a bit of a prologue.

First off is Deep Breath, an odd duck that's not quite as effective as The Eleventh Hour, The Christmas Invasion or even Rose as an introduction/relaunch story. Funnily enough, the post-regeneration story it resembles the most is Robot, though it's plenty more exciting and competent. You've got a showboating and disoriented Doctor resting up at the HQ of the previous era's recurring regulars only to vanish and a companion who gets investigating of her own accord. Besides that, you've got a story that's positively comfort food. We're in the realm of Hinchcliffe Victorian horror pastiche here, and, as Hugh Sturgess pointed out in his review, this time the target's Sweeney Todd, all eateries, elaborate trapdoors and body horror.

The devil's in the presentation. Coming off the back of 2013, the story luxuriates in its pace. It's happy for the Doctor to absent himself for about 25 minutes while Clara adjusts to life with the Paternoster gang; the conversations that are essential to move the plot forward, like Clara and the Doctor's reunion, unfurl slowly. Madame Vastra and Clara's conversation about veils and appearances, meanwhile, had me looking at my watch in disbelief. It's the sort of nice conceit the show hasn't had the time for in a couple of years.

If anything, it even drags. There's some painfully unfunny Clara and Strax slapstick and that a touch of that lazy, glib Moffat edge (how many times do we need it drilled into us that Clara is a bossy control freak?), but it's enlivened in the back third by two cracker scenes. The first, of course is Coleman's tour de force turn confronting the half-faced man when she's abandoned by the Doctor. The dialogue's good - thinking back, I can't remember the last time we stopped and had a proper back-and-forth with a main antagonist, not just a couple of speeches and an explosion - but Coleman gives it a knife-edge vulnerability, selling the terror of the situation with a surprisingly physical performance.

The other is when the half-faced man gets in his dine-and-dash escape pod and Capaldi's there waiting for him, two glasses of scotch already poured. In the midst of the hour's scrambling and panicking, it's the big moment he's been waiting for, and it oozes patient menace. I love the whole riff about progressive augmentation being a matter of broom handles and mops, and Capaldi immediately sets a pace and style that radically departs from his recent predecessors. The open-ended resolution is, I think, pretty frightening either way you read it - our new Doctor is a bloke that either talks his enemies into killing themselves or does them in himself, though perhaps the stakes feel a little too minor here for it to really chill the bone.

Maybe it's better that Deep Breath went that way than Into The Dalek, a story I expected to go in roughly the same direction (a Dalek turns good under the Doctor's troubled instruction and blows itself up, taking out the bad ones). What actually happens is slightly different and actually quietly radical in terms of the series' origins. We've known that the Doctor bloody hates bumping into his worst enemy - but, after the Eccleston season, we never really got a sense that his seething hatred of them has been a central motivation across all his travels, and that it was eating away at him. It's a rug-from-under-the-carpet moment when it's revealed, even if the denouement is really just Capaldi standing in front of a stock footage green-screen and yelling and even if the actual callback to Dalek the episode at the end feels halfway between considered and tossed-off.

In between, we've got 2010s Doctor Who showing how well it can do the Terry Nation/Eric Saward Space War stuff. The female pilot who aims a gun at the Doctor in the cold open is called Blue instead of Tarrant, but the Fantastic Voyage + Daleks premise of the thing is pure 60s comic-book stuff, with the visuals to match. Director Ben Wheatley does a fantastic job on the battle scenes, too; between the low-stakes economy of the storytelling and the competence of the cast (Capaldi and Coleman are again very good, but the grizzled marines are all capable fodder too), it's a lot like watching a folk memory of Resurrection of the Daleks. You know, before you saw it as the mess it was through adult eyes. It's simply a lot of good, visceral fun.

Then you've got the bloody Gatiss story, and wellThe Idiot's Lanternit's fine. Contra Night Terrors or Victory of the Daleks or the "be nice to the abuser" end of The Idiot's Lantern, it's not something you'd feel physically embarrassed to watch in front of another human being, but it's also pretty inessential. Very early in his run, Capaldi has to work with some pretty thin comic material, spending an eternal middle act clad in irons and being shouty against Tom Riley's Stepford Robin Hood. It's probably one of his weaker outings for that, not helped by the way he's reduced to an extra with good eyebrows for a bowdlerised and confusing denouement where Robin and the Sheriff of Nottingham do battle. It's a little like a mid-tier Hartnell historical where all the stuff just... happens in front of the cast.

On the other hand... after taking us to crap, sanitised versions of Victorian Cardiff, the 1953 Coronation, WWII and a contemporary housing estate, it's interesting to see Gatiss actually play up the "heritage themepark Britain" shtick at length with a consciously lurid, ersatz version of medieval Nottingham, acknowledging the unreality of the setting. And it's interesting to once again see the Doctor take a back seat as protagonist to Clara. Even that final exchange between the Doctor and Robin, two myths recognising something of themselves in the other, is operating at a thoughtful level a Gatiss script usually doesn't.

The gentle sense that we're straying from business as usual is then thoroughly reinforced by Listen, which is every bit the story it's been acclaimed to be in the months since. The first time I watched it, I could tell it was ambitious, but struggled to figure out what, structurally, was going on. It starts with a deeply-atypical premise - the Doctor wants chase a recurring trope in dreams through time and space - but depending on when you pause it you're watching a Moffat rom-com or one of his "the everyday becomes frightening" spookers. Then we're in the far future, and then we end up somewhere I would have under no circumstances seen the show taking us. Like the best side-trip stories of the past - The Mind Robber, Warriors' Gate, Midnight - it doesn't answer all its own questions neatly, and it's all the more remarkable for that.

In between, the three regulars are showcased exceptionally well. It becomes apparent here that we're dealing with the same Doctor that lied about a bung fluid link to go exploring Skaro; there's a depth of obsession here that goes beyond reason and propriety and conceivably makes him an unsafe person to be around. Meanwhile, Coleman gets exceptional material: we already know she's smart and brave, but here she's asked to make mistakes, be awkward, lie when she's not comfortable and show compassion to two terrified children. Samuel Anderson starts to come into his own as Danny Pink, too; he imbues the soldier-turned-maths teacher with an innate strength and dignity that previous love interests on this show have usually had to be invested with retroactively.

A word on that ending, too - some people hate it, feeling it gives away too much about the Doctor and the show's mythos. I disagree - we get an oblique little snapshot into the Doctor's early life, and what it reveals isn't incongruous with what we know about the character from 50 years. Best of all, it's at the service of the story and not vice versa. That last, irresolute little sting as Clara clamps her hand around the boy's ankle gives me shivers. Throughout Listen's many moments of serene unease, we're made to feel like something incredibly scary or incredibly comforting - maybe both - is unfolding before us. And damned if that isn't the whole show in microcosm.

In Season 5, Listen would have kicked the arc of the season's Big Bad into gear; from here on, Moffat has us deal with an emotional chain reaction instead. The going is still a bit rickety though. Time Heist (along with Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS before it) seems to consolidate Stephen Thompson as the Bob Baker and Dave Martin of the 21st century. Simply put, there's too much bloody going on, a kitchen sink's worth of cool sci-fi ideas brewed under the influence of a lot of puzzle-box Moffat storytelling. Like The Claws of Axos or The Mutants, it just gets by on the better visual chutzpah.

Douglas McKinnon, who we've just seen thrive with the right tale to let unfold in Listen, directs this one like a swathe of video game cut scenes, with some pretty irksome transitions and a lot of surprisingly deathless corridor runs (in more ways than one). That said, some of his touches come off: he sells the sudden chaos in the cold open so well that I (and others) missed the Architect's identity in plain sight, hiding under a daft voice filter and a cloak. The actual ending is a bit meandering as well, like Hide, only not as tight. In another season it would be mid-tier, and it's impressive (and a bit harsh) that it seems like a clunker in its surroundings.

Then The Caretaker comes along. Like Gatiss before him, Gareth Roberts is in his element with this one. Though Capaldi's performance doesn't have the romantic overtones of his three predecessors, he's set up as one corner of a raucous runaround love-triangle farce. Beyond what happens with the mains, it's Roberts' thinnest, really; another bloody robot lost in time, this time a War Machine gets holed up in a school only to be self-destructed by a cool somersault.

All of which is flannelling; the first half of the ep is the first time Capaldi and Coleman have been given any comedy worth its salt. The scene where Capaldi hovers at the window and tries to hold court about Jane Austen is great, as is his simpering performance when he assumes Clara has paired herself up with a Matt Smith-lookalike.

And while the actual mechanics of the story line are barely there, it's what happens in the middle that's interesting. Danny Pink should gormlessly blunder into the TARDIS and stumble his way through to the climax. Instead, halfway through, he comes off the best of them. Clara's lied to him in an increasingly insulting way, while the Doctor simply comes off as a bully. Our sympathies are clearly placed with the non-companion in a way they haven't been before.

Then there's that scene: "You can always spot the aristocracy. It's in the attitude." Amid all the running around and missed connections, it's easy to miss one of the only class-based critiques that's been levelled at the Doctor. For all Pertwee's hobnobbing and wine-quaffing, his arrogance was never actually reckoned with on the show itself. Here we see a Doctor admonished in a way that casts everything from UNIT to picking-and-choosing one's interventions in lesser human affairs to that unwieldy notion of "turning people into weapons" into a new light - and not an entirely sympathetic one.

It's all taking us to a darker, thornier place. I watched The Caretaker with a couple of non-fans who hated it; they asked if the show was all domestic light-ent with characters being histrionically mean to each other. Taken on the one episode alone, they have a point. But it's such a set-up for Kill the Moon, where this line of criticism kicks it up a notch for the best episode in years.

On the box, Kill the Moon is a scare-the-pants-off-them base under siege procedural, with a couple of particularly nasty deaths and a bit of light tension about whether the year 2049 will actually turn out like the year 2049. It's good but not great. But when the nature of the predicament is finally revealed, it's the kind of classic double-bind that RTD threw at us when he was on form. Whimsy and horror in short succession - the daft revelation of what's changing the moon's density threatens to suck all the gravity out of the situation (sorry), but then the Doctor does something that's awfully surprising and shocking.

Again, the situation we're finding ourselves in doesn't really have a precedent. We've seen the Doctor be conniving, selfish and manipulative before - but it's been either thoroughly petty and short-lived or sustained in the service of a bigger picture. Despite some talk of fixed moments, that's something that never really becomes clear here. The Doctor's refusal to intervene feels borne of spite and not wisdom, and it fairly crackles. Murray Gold's on fire here, too: notice how everything stops dead from Capaldi's first "Nothing", before that shivering string trill as Clara watches him get into his tear about Hitler. Everything sets this up to be very wrong, and makes it clear that all bets are off.

(And it's not essential either way to your enjoyment, but I like to think that the show's actually lampshading Let's Kill Hitler here - the point in the past few years where I actually began to fear the wheels were falling off.)

Whatever your qualms about the science, it sets up this extraordinary moral showdown that aims for the kind of radical optimism (and radical pessimism) that people haven't been able to see on television anymore since... I don't know, The Parting of the Ways. Three strong women hold the fate of the world in their hands; faced with the possibility of a collective decision to reject fear, humanity (well, the First World) opts for the kill switch; one person has to make a fundamentally anti-democratic (but right) decision because the rest of us are too angry and scared; and we look up, and out again, and reach for the stars.

Extraordinary stuff in itself - the epilogue, where Clara rounds on the Doctor, puts it in the "instant classic" tier. Any lingering guilty sense that the Doctor's conduct today makes him an unknowable, mysterious badass is dispelled. His protestations are awfully small and feeble in front of Clara's rage, which Harness manages to put in the most simple, human terms. Coleman is simply remarkable; it's a turn that cements her, to my mind, as the best female regular the show has had, hands-down.

After that, the two Jamie Mathieson eps - which, while there's plenty to commend and talk about, I enjoyed on both this and my repeat viewing as two of the purest moments of television the series did this year, or virtually any other. As light on any grand arc as most of the rest of the season, it keeps inexorably pushing the main emotional themes forward at this point - the Doctor, doing unpleasant if necessary things and obliviously using Clara as needed to advance them; Clara, unable to leave a life behind that's terrifying and even amoral to its onlookers; Danny, waiting on the other side - but for what, and when?

Mathieson's been touted as a possible successor to Moffat as showrunner, and I don't think he'd be a bad candidate. These don't have the showoff ambition of The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances or Blink, but what they do have is an excellent grasp of atmosphere and structure. They're fundamentally very well-conceived - witness how Mummy on the Orient Express milks the 66-second gimmick of how the monster kills its victims to advance what we know and what's emotionally at stake each time, and gives us a surprisingly loathsome villain in a season mostly low on them.

Flatline, meanwhile, shows that Mathieson's interested in playing with iconography and not continuity. He takes craply executed bits of Fear Her and Logopolis (sorry) and makes them sing! By the by, he continues to develop Clara's ascendancy. The premise of "companion gets to be the Doctor for a day" - have some laughs early on, lull everyone into a sense of hope and comfort, get a couple of people killed - does a lot to deconstruct the Doctor, where Clara's got to as a character and even the very premise of the show.

And aren't those monsters bloody terrifying? The uncanny valley sight of them lurching forward in the subway with their stolen human forms is good, but I prefer the nice 70s tree root mural in that person's flat that turns out to be... ugh. Look: I was hugging my knees at the end of both of these, dreading what would happened next, waiting to see it unfold. It's a feeling I haven't had watching this show as an adult.

In the Forest of the Night, then, can't help but feel like an odd little interruption before the climax, like one of those train lines where there's a stop three minutes before the terminus no one remembers. At its heart, it's digging into a realm of British children's fiction that critic Lara Armstrong once described as "those books that revealed the secret strangeness in the midst of the everyday". It conjures up an almost elemental, dreamlike state in which trees sprout from the roads and transform central London into something wild and old.

Which is to say that I had dreams that looked like In the Forest of the Night as a child, and some ropey child acting and CGI wolf eyes can't displace that impact. Other than that, it's a gorgeous looking production: stark, warm and haunting, with lots of well-conceived shots like the first POV when Maebh steps into the TARDIS. In fact, it coasts along nicely on that child's dream logic: the excitement tempered with the fear, the amazement in seeing wild animals cast loose, the fear of a visored face. Even the risible science at the end equates with everything I knew about ecology up to age 8: the trees are our friends, and if we look after them, they'll look after us.

On an adult level... well, look. There's another gutpunch moment in here that's one of my favourites of the season, where Clara won't abandon Danny or the children and tactfully sends the Doctor packing in a bookend to Kill the Moon. And I really appreciated Abigail Eames's stimming as Maebh, a tactfully-performed part by a fine young actor. But all the mental illness/don't medicate people/PTSD is just communing with the faeries stuff is really muddled. Then, not content to let the children embrace some loss and grief on screen, we get one more insulting fairytale twist in the final seconds - more insulting for my outer adult or my inner child than any of the science, really.

But, but, but... it felt like there was a real mob out to get this one, that simply despise efforts like this (and before it, The Rings of Akhaten). I'm glad Moffat's defended In the Forest of the Night in interviews; New Who churned out crap, autopilot monster stories like that Sontaran two-parter for half a decade and decided those were 'for the kiddies', and these rich, strange, experiential tales are a change for the better. This is the same show that produced noble failures like The Happiness Patrol and Paradise Towers, and it's richer for it.

The finale is a mixed bag. It's not just the Cybermen that put me in the mind of Army of Ghosts/Doomsday, it's the languid dread of the first and the absolute bedlam of the second. The big difference is that it positions some of its most remarkable emotional fireworks at the start of Part One. We finally see just how far Clara will go for Danny and just how far the Doctor will go for Clara. The story will show us this again, of course, but it's a welcome chance to soak in the best Doctor-companion interplay all season, to enjoy the slower pace. And we get - finally! - that wonderful gesture of warmth from Capaldi's Doctor: "Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?"

Dark Water is particularly weird, the more I think about it. Even if you'd guessed it weeks in advance, here's a series of red herrings to get to the season antagonist's identity, as the Doctor and Clara wander a mausoleum and get exposited to and ravished by in no particular order. Meanwhile, Danny's stuck in a whimisical Matrix of the dead with a very funny Chris Addison - only for the tone of what's going on in there to get very, very grim the same time it does in the outside world. The three words that form the mausoleum's slogan, when they're revealed, are another level of macabre I'm astonished Moffat was able to get away with, though I suppose he dials it back in the finale, revealing it all to be in the service of a greater dastardly scheme.

Not that you'd know unless you were watching closely. Death in Heaven is a rollercoaster ride, but it's the kind where you put out your neck on a badly engineered turn and you get wet when you weren't told you needed togs. The good parts are very good, the bad parts supremely misjudged, and the parts glossed over in the rush to the finish are a bit irritating.

Let's look at those backwards. Hopefully it's not a spoiler to say that Michelle Gomez's Missy turns out to be a returning character known for her fiendishly overelaborate schemes. In many of her previous appearances those schemes tended to be A: a bit rubbish and B: make for rubbish episodes. Here, A's certainly in full effect. In particular, why does Missy need to preserve conscious human minds to make her Cyberman army? It seems like it's an Achilles heel compared to just animating a bunch of corpses, and I'm not sure we ever get an answer beyond "it makes for good melodrama". Likewise, all the robots and cyborgs that wanted to get to heaven this season... where are they? They're not Cybermen or humans, and we never see them.

The answer to basic structural questions like this is ostentatiously lazy, and I'm still not sure whether I admire it or hate it. Missy's completely bonkers to the point that she almost deforms the narrative around her, so whatever extravagances her plan has are okay, because she's bonkers, and the decisions she makes along the way that might undermine the plan are because she's bonkers too. But the final idea - that it doesn't matter if the scheme's crap, that it's a desparate, hateful, extraordinary plot to put the Doctor in a uncomfortable position where he emotionally suffers - is almost good.

And everyone gets put through the wringer, no mistake. We have to get through some chaff to get there, mind. Part of it is odd production choices; bloody Gold, for example, ends a good season by marking the particularly nasty murder of a recurring character with daft, tootling camp. Elsewhere, there's your typical end-of-season indulgence: a yawn of a stunt with Capaldi having to skydive into the TARDIS, for example, that feels like it was ordered by the same BBC execs that did the car chase in The Runaway Bride.

But when it's good, cripes. Contra the messy joins around them, the cast are giving it their all. Capaldi's badgering meaness to the UNIT staff around him at the start creates a great sense of unease that's paid off when Missy's plan is revealed, and from the moment Gold mucks up that killing, the stakes absolutely skyrocket - even Capaldi's roared "SHUT UP" gives this a sense of urgency, like things are too serious for even the Doctor to bother being witty anymore. Coleman literally steals the show at the start (with a bonus trick that made me cheer; watch out for the title sequence) and holds down her end from there, while Sam Anderson is doing very well having to play Danny under a tonne of body-horror makeup (though I'm particularly a fan of his silent body language before he reveals himself).

There's another way that it's like Army of Ghosts/Doomsday or any other RTD finale. Davies understood that his big resolutions were usually going to be a bit pat - the trick, then is that your deus ex machina gets its pound of flesh, that it comes at a price. Rose gets stuck on the other side of that magic portal. Donna loses all she's gained in a year's travel. Bloody Children of Earth. And so here, it's the same. Clara loves and loses in an especially protracted and cruel way - and the context to this is a season when she deferred that love, lied about it and tried to box it into a roster in a way that we're all guilty of sometimes. In the end, it's too late. The Doctor, meanwhile, has spent a season increasingly (and intentionally) at the margins of his own show as a potentially inadequate hero. And he's left especially feeble here; one last time, a soldier does the dirty work of sacrifice for him. And while I'm glad he's not the one who pulls that trigger at the end, there's a sense of exhaustion and hopelessness etched on his face here that's hard to shake.

Then, after a season where both regulars have dissembled, concealed, and repeatedly enabled each other to lie, there's this one final act of borne of love. The Doctor and Clara are both heartbroken, but they each try and protect the other from it. Capaldi's silent acting, alone and punching the TARDIS console, is absolutely bloody harrowing - but I'm a bigger fan of that ineffably sad scene in the café, and that last tentative embrace. "Never trust a hug. It's just a way to hide your face."

Series 8's reach often exceeds its grasp. The loose ends are particularly frayed, and the efforts to let the story breathe run head-long into the fact that most of these tales have to punch in and out in 45 minutes. (Is it fair to say that Doctor Who's compressed running time is the modern-day equivalent of bad CSO and cardboard sets? In the same way, all the genius is having to unfold under this ferociously limiting restriction that the BBC won't give quarter on.) But nothing in Who's got closer in terms of emotional power, variety, surprise and ambition in years. In Capaldi, it's got a consummately watchable lead; in Coleman/Clara, it's done the impossible in retroactively expanding a pretty bland character and giving a talented actor more to work with.

Most of all, Moffat's done something that's very, very hard for anyone in his position in TV to do. I'd like to read a less-fannish interview with him one day about it, but I suspect Series 8's the product of some serious critical reflection - a conscious acceptance of what's been missing, and an attempt to put it right. I think that's what I admire most. When everyone's arse-on-laurels I'm always waiting for a fall; when they're trying to do something different, I'm confident this wonderful show is in rude health - with a rude Doctor to boot.