When Steven Moffat took over as executive producer of Dr Who I had high hopes for the series, given his long-established credentials as an excellent writer in more than one genre. Sadly what he produced was disappointing, with his first season introducing the worst title sequence & theme tune in the history of the series, a very poor TARDIS set and barely a memorable episode other than the season opener.
After 4 seasons of weak stories and inconsistent plotting – albeit punctuated by the odd gem such as The Doctor’s Wife – before Season 9 started I wrote a post pondering whether it was time for Steven Moffat to hand over the keys to the TARDIS.
Finally Steven Moffat Delivers
Season 9 came as a real surprise, as it delivered a series of pretty consistently strong stories accompanied by high production values.
Warning: Some spoilers follow for anyone who has not yet seen this season.
Plotting was much tighter this year and there was a much needed return of 2-part stories separated by the time-honoured tradition of a cliffhanger.
Gone was the tedious will-they, won’t-they bickering between Clara and the Doctor that wasted so much screen time in season 8.
Finally Peter Capaldi was given a chance to shine – and he certainly rose to the challenge, with some great dialogue throughout … plus single-handedly stealing the show in Heaven Sent.
Story By Story
The Magician’s Apprentice / The Witch’s Familiar
This 2-parter was a strong season opener and I wrote a separate review of this story.
Under the Lake / Before the Flood
Under the Lake saw the return of gripping, behind-the-sofa Dr Who. Even though the hand coming through the wall was predictable, I still jumped! The great premise and cliffhanger of this episode were sadly let down by Before the Flood being 45 minutes of run-around in which very little happened, culminating in an illogical conclusion. Despite the disappointing resolution, overall this was a highly enjoyable and (re)-watchable story.
The Girl Who Died
A wonderful single-parter that reminds us that sometimes the Doctor’s actions have consequences … and starts off a theme that runs through the other episodes in the season.
The Woman Who Lived
Whilst in some senses this was a “sequel” to The Girl Who Died, this was in my view by far the weakest story of the season. It felt like someone had taken plotlines from The Visitation and some random Dick Turpin story, added the resolution to The Terror of the Autons, thrown them in a blender and hoped something good came out. It didn’t.
The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion
This was a long-overdue return of the Zygons who – aside from a relatively minor appearance in The Day of the Doctor, where they had to compete for screen time with no less than 3 Doctors – had not been seen since their original debut in 1975.
This was a brilliant edge-of-the-seat adventure that kept you guessing until the well-conceived conclusion. It cleverly combined elements of menacing action adventure, a guessing game of “who’s the Zygon” and a barely disguised social commentary on the worrying issue of youth radicalisation.
Sleep No More
This was a departure from traditional storytelling and the only adventure in which I can recall the traditional theme tune being absent since the death of Adric in 1982. Quirky, edgy and different, it’s worth a watch.
Face the Raven
A hidden London street beyond the perception of ordinary folk and filled with magical creatures, sounds more like something that would typically come from the pen of J K Rowling. Despite this apparently borrowed premise, this is a wonderful story that underlines both the value and drawbacks of friendship, and reaches a dark and shocking conclusion.
This episode was for me the gem in Season 9. An extended 55 minute episode with Peter Capaldi brilliantly carrying most of the episode on his own, with the only supporting cast comprising fleeting glimpses of Clara and probably the scariest monster since the weeping angels.
The writing was Steven Moffat at his best and its reveal of what is actually happening at the end of the episode left me just as stunned as The Sixth Sense – maybe others saw it coming but I certainly didn’t.
A welcome and well-realised return to Gallifrey, coupled with a brief but excellently delivered performance by Donald Sumpter as a war-tired and increasingly deranged Rassilon.
This episode formed a solid conclusion to a great series and managed to combine a powerful performance by Peter Capaldi with a sad farewell and some nice nods to the past.
Although it is a shame it took 4 pretty lacklustre seasons to get there, it feels as if Steven Moffat – perhaps aided by the arrival of recent colleagues – has finally found his place at the helm of Doctor Who. If he continues to turn in work of this quality then I, for one, will be happy for him to stick around.
Roll on the Christmas special.