Okay – this, I think, is the one where I’m going to say Season 8 of “Doctor Who” has clicked, and all the pieces have snapped together in a pleasingly familiar and yet genuinely fresh and different configuration. For the first time, for a whole episode, Capaldi’s Doctor felt like the Doctor. Yes, he’s rude, high handed and frequently grumpy but he’s still the Doctor at hearts, as evidenced by the awesome moment at the end where he grunts his (technically still pending) approval of Danny as Clara’s boyfriend.
The story of the Doctor going undercover at Clara’s school made the episode feel a little bit “Sarah Jane Adventures” at times, and the cute yet homicidal killer robot could have been lifted straight from that series but the sci-fi plot of this adventure was largely ancillary to this episode’s greatest strengths: the characters and character defining moments which divided and united the cast. Even the introduction of a pluckily misunderstood ‘disruptive influence’ schoolgirl as a pseudo companion didn’t drag the episode down.
Jenna Coleman is on fire as Clara in this, standing up to the Doctor more and more as she gets closer and closer to Danny at the expense of her reverence of the Time Lord. Capaldi is magnificent here, toying playfully one minute, edgy and dark the next, he skirts the very limits of likability as he pushes and probes Danny Pink, but only to make sure he’s worthy of Clara. Speaking of Danny, Samuel Anderson finally gets something substantial to do and man does he deliver – I don’t think the Doctor’s met anyone like this before, someone who is not only unafraid of him but willing to go toe to toe and throw the Doctor’s greatest neuroses back in his face. With it looking like young pupil Courtney Woods joins the crew for at least their next adventure, we’re really, really close to replicating the days of the Doctor, Barbara, Ian and Susan – making it feel like “Doctor Who” has an orbital period of 50 years or so.
Incidentally, this seems to have been the episode where the 12th Doctor really ‘arrived’ for Mertmas. Due to its stupidly late start time, he watched it early Sunday morning during breakfast and was so taken by it, he watched it again almost immediately and then went back and watched all the previous episodes he’d not bothered with since “Deep Breath” – apart from “Listen”, of course. I’m not a monster!
It took me a second watch to fully appreciate this episode too. My first take was it was a bit lightweight and forgettable, but once I tuned in to what it was really about, I was blown away. There’s an audacity to what Moffat’s doing these days but he’s doing it with such panache that I’m admire him more and more, even when I don’t necessarily agree with some of the decisions he’s making. To paraphrase Danny Pink’s thinly veiled swipe at Moffat’s critics, it doesn’t matter whether you like this version of Doctor Who or whether you hate it; it’s whether it’s good enough. And however you feel about it, this is Who of this highest quality. It’s almost so good, I could retrospectively go back through the previous episodes and give them all an extra mark (which would be a very Moffat-esque thing to do). Roll on next week’s Moon spiders!