Doctor Who: Reflections on Season 9: What Made it Great

On December 5th the Ninth Series of Doctor Who (or as we old-timers call it, “Season 35”) came to a close, giving us Peter Capaldi‘s second outing as the Doctor and bringing to a close the Doctor’s friendship with Clara Oswald. It was a season that gave us Daleks (no big surprise there), a return of Davros, a major reappearance of the Zygons, and a brilliant new encounter with The Mistress, as well as some new monsters and one particularly important new recurring character. I found myself enjoying the show in ways that I hadn’t in previous seasons, my excitement growing each week. As I wrote reviews of each episode I found myself, more than halfway through the season, still referring to it as “the best season of the Modern Series.” But now that the whole season is complete, including the big trilogy of episodes that loosely make up the finale, do I still feel that way? Is it still the best season of New Who?

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Doctor Who: Reflections on Season 9: “Hell Bent”

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Doctor Who has always been about rebellion. It has been about the Doctor rebelling against the society in which he was born. It was always said that the Doctor stole a TARDIS and left Gallifrey because he was bored, because he staunchly disagreed with his people, the Time Lords, who held immense powers but refused to use those powers to aid others. He has repeatedly come into conflict with the Time Lords because of his chosen lifestyle; at times they’ve opposed him and actively sought to end his adventuring, and at other times they’ve taken advantage of it and used him to accomplish something that they couldn’t be seen to be involved in. In “Hell Bent”, the Doctor, after billions of years, steps out onto the surface of Gallifrey to commit his boldest act of rebellion yet. Because, you see, while this episode looks like it’s about Time Lords, and about Gallifrey coming back into the universe, and about the political fallout of the Time War, and about the fulfillment of the prophecy of the Hybrid, it really isn’t. It’s really only about one thing: a man who is losing his best friend and will take any action necessary to rescue her and keep her safe. Even if that means defying his own people. Even if that means threatening all of time and space.

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Doctor Who: Reflections on Season 9: “Heaven Sent”

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With “Heaven Sent” we have a unique occurrence in the history of Doctor Who — an episode featuring the Doctor and no other character. We’ve had other similarly unusual situations in the past: “Ark in Space” part 1 includes only the Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry, with no guest characters. Same with “The Mind Robber” part 1 with the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe. The Season One 2-parter “The Edge of Destruction” features only the main cast for the entire story. The one-episode adventure “Mission to the Unknown” does the opposite trick, featuring only supporting characters with no involvement by the Doctor or his companions. But we’ve never had a story to feature the Doctor — or any single character — exclusively. That premise alone is an enticing one that immediately brings a million exciting possibilities to mind. But what we’re given here is a mostly quiet narrative on loss mixed with some new revelations about the Doctor, the reintroduction of some of the threads from earlier in the season, and a set up for the season finale. That’s quite a lot of material to deliver with only one actor on hand (that must have made for quite an interesting table read!)

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Doctor Who: Reflections on Series 9: “Sleep No More”

Well, that was  . . . interesting.

And no, that’s not intended to be snark. It really was interesting. It has certainly sparked a lot of discussion and debate around ye ol’ internet. But there’s a huge difference between debating deep meaning or interesting philosophical points and debating because no one quite can figure out what the hell is going on.

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Doctor Who: Reflections on Series 9: “The Zygon Inversion”

Ladies and gentlemen … I think we may have just reached the pinnacle of Modern Doctor Who.

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The strength of many Doctor Who 2-parters lies in the second part. We’ve seen innumerable occurences over the past ten years where a fantastic Part One is followed up by a confusing, wonky, or weak Part Two. But this is not the case here. This story, from the start of last week to the end of this week, has built and developed in a believable way, going from strength to strength, ratcheting up the tension and keeping the viewer engaged throughout.

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Doctor Who: Reflections on Series 9: “The Zygon Invasion”

If I’ve not said it before (and yes, I have), this is the best season of Doctor Who in the post-2005 era. And the show has upped the ante with this week’s surprisingly realistic and gritty episode, “The Zygon Invasion.”

In Doctor Who‘s greatest era (that being the Hinchliffe/Holmes era of the mid-70s), the show was known for its homages to classic sci-fi/horror films and literature. In a sense, we have a revisiting of that philosophy in “The Zygon Invasion,” which is essentially Doctor Who‘s take on District 9, Alien Nation, as well as the obvious and perpetually Zygon-related comparison to Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

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