2017 was a year of beginnings and ends in the world of Doctor Who. On one hand we kicked off with an episode suitably titled ‘The Pilot’, specially designed for new viewers. We met Bill who slotted into the role of the Doctor’s companion smoothly, and Nardole was made into a series regular to the (short-lived) disappointment of fans.
On the other hand, Steven Moffat embraced his final year as showrunner with throwbacks to the past, and Peter Capaldi’s last adventures as the Twelfth Doctor thematically tied up some loose threads.
But how did it measure up overall? Have opinions of particular episodes changed with reflection and retrospect? Appreciation of art and entertainment is incredibly subjective, so first let’s break all this down bit by bit.
Companions in Doctor Who have always existed to bridge the gap between our own world and the Doctor’s. By seeing everything through their eyes, we are constantly reminded of the universe’s brilliance. When Bill was introduced as the new companion this sense of wonder was emphasised even further, essentially making Series 10 a jumping on point for viewers with no prior knowledge of the show.
Bill was asking all the right questions, giving us a rundown of the basics (time travel, two hearts, regeneration etc). She also demonstrated a love for learning, setting her apart from the rest of the university students and bringing her to the Doctor’s attention early on.
Unfortunately by going so far back to its roots, early episodes in Series 10 ended up being a little too simplistic. Great for new fans getting a grasp of the show’s concepts, but for those long-time viewers hoping for more complexity in Capaldi’s final series, this only felt dragged out and unnecessary.
This isn’t to say that these episodes didn’t have their merits. Both ‘Smile’ and ‘Thin Ice’ were conceptual in their examinations of grief and racism respectively, but other than those moments where Bill learnt a little bit more about the Doctor, they lacked any significant developments.
‘Knock Knock’ followed in the vein of the previous episodes as another standalone story, and yet its take on the familiar haunted house trope was in equal parts creepy and fascinating. Series 10 really started to take off at this point, as we also started to get more hints as to what exactly was inside the mysterious Vault.
When ‘Oxygen’ aired for the first time we finally got an episode that was clear would be remembered and often revisited in the future. In my opinion, this episode has only risen in esteem since my first viewing. It toyed with everyone’s common nightmare of being trapped in the void of space, and delved into the horrifying science of the situation.
‘Oxygen’ also set up a brilliant mini-story arc that lasted for several episodes. The Doctor’s blindness raised the stakes considerably and demonstrated that despite having several super-human abilities, he is not invincible. This new condition really put him to the test, and it interacted wonderfully with the plots of the following episodes. Even better, the cure for his blindness wasn’t a simple resolution either. It had very real consequences, and if anything it set up more problems for our characters than before.
Moving into ‘Extremis’ we happily received the trademark Moffat story of the series. A simple concept with huge, reality-warping ramifications that no one saw coming, Moffat was right on point with absolutely everything. The Vault story arc also started to wrap up as we discovered that Missy was the prisoner. With this at an end, we got an entirely new arc to replace it – Missy’s promise to be good. The simple question of “What is in the Vault?” was fun for a few episodes, but I doubt anyone would have stayed interested for much longer had this question been the sole focus of the entire series. Developing it into a much more character-centric arc did great justice for Series 10 as a whole.
While Doctor Who often puts humans at odds with alien invaders, ‘The Pyramid at the End of the World’ suggested that we as humans might be our own worst enemy. At this point we started getting into the thick of the Monk trilogy, and the simple use of ideas such as the Doomsday Clock contributed to some great storytelling. Unfortunately, the promising start of ‘The Lie of the Land’ that alluded heavily to Orwell’s 1984 ended the Monks’ story all too easily and abruptly, delivering a disappointing conclusion to an otherwise intriguing premise.
Some ground was regained in the surprisingly decent ‘Empress of Mars’, marking my favourite Mark Gatiss penned episode to date. And while I ripped into ‘The Eaters of Light’ the following week, I have been forced to admit to myself since then that it may not have been as bad as I had previously thought it to be. Other than the unexciting monster, it was a beautiful episode in retrospect. The supporting cast was well developed, the dimension portal had some interesting consequences, and even the ridiculous crow subplot isn’t as bad now looking back at it.
Moving into the final two-parter of series 10 we were gifted with ‘World Enough and Time’ and ‘The Doctor Falls’. Both tonally different but thematically similar in their writing, they were thought-provoking, time-twisting, character-driven stories that brought several plotlines from this series to their conclusions.
The tragedy of Missy has always been that she desperately wants the Doctor as her friend, and yet her nature has always pushed her back into committing treacherous acts. This has been ingrained in her character since Series 8, although it was never truly given the time to develop until now. Putting her relationship with the Doctor in the spotlight has served them both very well this year. It is a little easier to accept that we may not see her again knowing that this is how she went out.
The Twelfth Doctor has also gone through significant changes during his tenure. From his days as a grumpy granddad in Series 8, to living through a wild mid-life crisis in Series 9, and finally settling down as a mellowed professor this series, he is finally comfortable with who he is. All his questions concerning whether he is a good man have been resolved, and after working very hard on improving himself he is finally at peace with the person he has become. So understandably, with the threat of regeneration potentially resetting everything he has learnt, he does not want to go through the trauma of this all over again.
This is where we are left as we go into the Christmas special. We can expect that David Bradley’s First Doctor is going to remind his twelfth incarnation exactly why change is necessary, giving him that little push to regenerate into the Thirteenth Doctor.
Series 10 has not been the most amazing Doctor Who series to date, but it is perhaps one of the most consistent. In terms of individual episode quality it has not been as strong as Series 8 or 9, as it produced more middle-of-the-road episodes with fewer memorable classics. Despite this, the story arc following Missy’s redemption has been hugely rewarding and undoubtedly tops the “Who is Missy?” arc of Series 8, and the “What is the hybrid?” arc of series 9.
Even if (somehow) the upcoming Christmas special is disappointing, nothing from this point on can taint the fact that in series 10 both Moffat and Capaldi have left a legacy that will be appreciated for many years.
What did you think of Series 10? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!