Series 9

Reader Poll Roundup: Series Nine Edition

Jan
06

When I drew my comparisons last year between Series Seven and Series Eight, I had to do a little handwaving because of the difference in the lengths of those series (thirteen and twelve episodes, respectively). For similar reasons, the switch between Doctors was difficult to quantify. This time I can draw more direct parallels as both the number of episodes and the current Doctor are the same between S8 and S9; S7 will also get a look-in.

Beginning with the average (mean) ratings of episodes, we see the usual ups and downs over the course of the series. To get the average rating for any given episode, each star rating (e.g., 5 stars) was multiplied by the number of votes it got, the results added, and the sum divided by the total number of votes. For Series Nine, we get the following:

 
Although there are some peaks and valleys (more on that later), we see that the ratings were fairly consistent throughout the series. Fully half of them fall within less than a third of a star of each other (from 3.45 to 3.75 stars).

If we rearrange the data to show how the episodes scored from highest to lowest, we can see the trend more clearly (note that the episodes are different colors between the above and below charts; apologies for the vagaries of my visualization software):

A Song of Comfort

Dec
30

Review of The Husbands of River Song
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

Christmas episodes are unusual creatures, trying to be all things to all viewers. There is the expectation that a large number of families, including those who don't regularly watch the show, will be tuning in. Thus, the episode should be easy to follow for those with little or no knowledge of the characters and ongoing storyline(s), and fun and cheerful for those making it part of their holiday celebrations.

At the same time, it has to be satisfying for those of us who follow the show regularly. If it's a complete toss-off, the production team risks alienating its core audience, which is also bad. Thus a Christmas special is a weird hybrid (see what I did there?) of fluff and substance that can be very difficult to execute.

As one might expect, then, there were parts of The Husbands of River Song (THORS—Ha! What an acronym!) that made me really happy and others that made me cringe a little. It's difficult even to generalize which was which. Most of the interpersonal bits were good, though some were not; most of the guest artist bits were pants, though some were not; most of the plot points were eyeroll-y, though some were not. You get the idea: par for the course.

On first viewing, though, I found the good bits outweighed the bad. Moffat's dialog was mostly rich in quotable one-liners, with the occasional battle-of-the-sexes comments that he seems to think are funny (but as far as I'm concerned almost never are). I took the lighthearted feel of a "romp" at face value that first time through, too, which meant that the guest cast (Greg Davies as King Hydroflax, Matt Lucas as Nardole (whom I kept mentally calling Unstoffe at first), and Phillip Rhys as Ramone) were all played at a just-right-for-the-occasion "panto" level of off-the-wall.

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Series Nine Retrospective

Dec
16

All through Series Nine, it felt like we were missing key elements of the overall story and wouldn't understand until it all wrapped up in the final episode. That often happens under Moffat's leadership, but this year—to me, anyway—felt particularly arc-heavy. Now that we've got that broader perspective, I wanted to go back and look more carefully at how it might influence our reading of earlier episodes.

The Magician's Apprentice and The Witch's Familiar

We began on Skaro, bringing Davros, Daleks, and Missy all back on board. As the opening gambit, the first two-parter of the series had to introduce all sorts of ideas without letting on how many of them would come back later. In some cases the recurring elements were glaringly obvious (e.g., the Hybrid); in others it was more subtle (the way the Doctor can come up with a way to "win" and make complex calculations in a tiny fraction of a second). In still others, we got the sense that something might come back, but didn't get hammered over the head with it (the Confession Dial).

Already, too, we got the sense that Clara was nearly ready to fly solo. She's truly "taken the stabilizers off her bike" and acts like a Doctor substitute at UNIT. Rather than the beginning, this is the middle of her arc. Though she will continue to get ever more reckless, she's already short some reck here. Clara is more mature and self-sufficient even than last series, and the fact that her boyfriend is "still dead" (thanks for that, Missy) further reduces her need to give any fucks for her own safety.

Then there's Missy. We've been trained by her previous incarnations to think she would show up again later in any series she crops up in once. Yet after this, she scarpers and only returns in passing mention as the perpetrator of the Doctor/Clara pairing in the first place. (It's so very the Master/Missy's style to try to bring about an apocalypse just to get the Doctor to be her bestie again.) I'm counting that as a pleasant trope subversion.

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The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Dec
09

Review of Hell Bent
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

Moffat couldn't kill a character to save his own goddamn life.

He likes to pretend he's ruthless. He tugs heartstrings with near misses and kills off minor or supporting characters, but when it comes down to it, he's simply unable to commit, even when the narrative demands it.

I had to wonder whether he was trolling himself or just trying to cut off naysayers at the pass when he wrote Ashildr's words pointing out the way that the Doctor's actions earlier in the episode had completely undermined the emotional impact of the previous two episodes. "She died for who she was and for who she loved. She fell where she stood. It was sad. And it was beautiful. And it is over. We have no right to change who she was." And yet that's exactly what Moffat does.

It has become something of an in-joke in fandom that you don't have to worry when a character seems to die, because they'll just come back at some point (I still haven't ruled out a Danny Pink return). I don't think anyone was completely destroyed by Clara's death in Face the Raven because (a) we've become inured to Companion death (hers, even! Versions of her have already died in Asylum of the Daleks and The Snowmen!) and (b) we were all waiting for the end of the series for exactly this reason. There's no "just this once" to Moffat's "everybody lives!"

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Divine Execution

Dec
02

Review of Heaven Sent
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

Heaven Sent is what, back in the day, my Star Trek: The Next Generation-watching friends and I would've called a Mind F*** Episode. You watch the whole thing thinking you understand the basic problem the crew (or, in this case, the Doctor) is facing until the very end, when one new piece of information changes how you look at everything else.

It's a tricky stunt to pull off, especially given the nearly completely solo acting required of Capaldi. In the entire piece, there were only three other characters; only one of those ever spoke, and that was a single line to which the Doctor made no verbal response. In the hands of a lesser actor, it could have been disastrous.

Instead, it was suspenseful and engaging. That first time through, as is often the case with a Moffat script, you can see there are big hints being dropped, but you can't necessarily put together the puzzle (at least I couldn't—YMMV). Once you know the scoop, though, every little detail takes on new meaning, both just when thinking back on it and upon repeated viewing.

However, I found I enjoyed this episode more than almost any Moffat-penned script since he took over as showrunner. Usually Moffat's episodes start to unravel upon closer inspection. That's not the case for me this time. Only one thing bothers me, and it's something I can fan-theory away if I try. In my book, that makes this episode a huge win in the Moffat-as-writer category.

One of the really appealing aspects of this particular story, in my opinion, is how we are allowed inside the Doctor's head more than ever before. Right from the beginning, we see one of the Doctor's oldest fears, in the form of the Veil—a creature that could very easily have come across as melodramatic (or just plain pants), if not for the way Capaldi sold the Doctor's genuine terror.

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