WARNING: the Kandyman himself does not appear. Shame.
So, the first series of The Time Lord has come to an end.
In their About Time books, Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood make a (surprisingly compelling) argument that Doctor Who died in 1969 with The War Games. With the complete change of cast, a new mythology and colour television, the show from Pertwee onwards was never truly the same again. Of course given Miles is now saying he not now nor has ever been a Doctor Who fan (it just helps contextualize his true calling as a cultural anthropologist) and Wood's ideal world had show end in 1966 with Hartnell and John Wiles leaving western civilization with an abstract concept of Doctor Whoishness (ala Pythonesque humor), maybe they aren't the most objective of viewpoints.
Nonetheless, I can see where they are coming from. Not once has the last twelve episodes given me the gut reaction I'm watching Doctor Who, no matter how many Daleks, Cybermen, UNIT troops or namechecks of the Pond Family tree it offers up. Doctor Who, in my opinion, has roughly been the same show from the first episode of The Rescue onwards. Seriously, that's the first episode of true Doctor Who with a main character who is a likeable, brave hero rather than bitchy comic relief or an unreliable troublemaker for Ian and Barbara. Anyone can scream abuse at a Dalek casing, but only true Doctors could do the scene where they get Vicki to come out of her shell and genuinely want to travel in a TARDIS.
Yes there have been bumps in this road, and for every such heartwarming moment we've had a Twin Dilemma or Scherzo or Waters of Mars where our hero betrays this fundamental core of the character as someone the audience likes, but they're not like anything under Capaldi. The Sixth Doctor, we were repeatedly told, was going to be awesome when he settled down. The Eighth Doctor and Charley ultimately became an even stronger bond, and not from the fifth base sex stuff. And Ten was, after all, suffering clinical depression and survivor guilt before he got over himself and saved Wilf.
But this new Doctor - do I even bother naming him since, canonically, even he has totally lost count of which one he is? For the first time we've had a regeneration story where the message is not "same man, new face" but that he will be nothing like the last guy. Or, to be exact, the last twelve guys. The entire narrative has Capaldi insisting that not only is he in no way, shape or form going to be like Matt Smith but that Smith to Troughton et all were phonies pandering to the human demographic.
So the new Doctor isn't just going to be different to all prior Doctors, but they have all been damned as cowardly liars who hid their true faces. The Rescue has been undone and now the Doctor's true self is the paranoid, racist idiot from Edge of Destruction who was so utterly useless he needed Barbara to stop him blowing them all up. More than once.
And yes, this Doctor is certainly not a professional adventurer and savior, is he? Every story hinges on him discovering his arrogant belief is entirely wrong and all he's done is endanger people you'd think he really should want to save. The Half-Face Man isn't some Moriarty manipulator; a good Dalek is possible; Robin Hood is real; there aren't monsters under the bed; Clara can fancy someone who isn't Matt Smith; Clara will see the funny side of repeatedly being abandoned to death; the Orient Express won't be a trap; Clara does not see the Doctor as a sociopathic monster; the trees are evil and the Earth is doomed; no Cybermen can override the emotional inhibitors; the Master is telling the truth; Clara and Danny are happily back together...
The constant avalanche of incredibly stupid mistakes is all the more exasperating because he keeps ignoring the theme of the season - as Maeve says "Trust more, fear less." This whole series has had monsters who are actually not evil - the Clockwork Men kill only for survival; Rusty wants to save humanity from the Daleks; the Teller just wants its wife safe; the spiders are just bacteria on an egg containing a benevolent star whale; the trees will save mankind; the Cybermen are helpless tools. Even Missy is on an admittedly-warped attempt to become a good person and win the Doctor's approval. The only outright monsters are the Boneless, and typically they are the same ones the Doctor spends all story trying to prove misunderstood and oblivious to the harm they cause.
It's a fascinating thing to regard Capaldi's Doctor to Malcolm Tucker. Much as we all laughed at the idea of a furious, cluster-f-bombing Time Lord, the truth is Tucker is more like the Doctor than the genuine article. His conviction never wavers, his understanding of human beings is perfect, and he is genuinely disgusted at the thought of "innocents" getting harmed in the battles he must fight. More interestingly, Tucker is both feared and admired; while his coworkers dread his appearance in their lives, they trust his judgment and follow his plans which more often than not are the only way to save the day. Indeed, anyone who has watched The Thick of It will know the show is far more frightening and disturbing when Malcolm ISN'T swearing.
Now, let us regard the Capaldi Doc. In universe, he is without doubt the least popular Doctor ever. Even John Hurt got more support from other characters. Clockwork Droids and Daleks claim moral superiority over the jerk, children and potential companions run a bleeding mile rather than spend time with him, no one likes what he has to say or how he has to say it. Danny Pink's brutal dismissal of the Doctor as an arrogant elitist soldier wins the argument every single time. Even when Clara gives the slightest sign of wanting to be a full-time companion, she describes it as a shameful addiction. Indeed, we see she's willing to consign children to death rather than risk them becoming like the Time Lord. For the first time ever, an outgoing Doctor cameos to ask everyone to stick with the manifestly-defective replacement.
While Capaldi's incredible charisma ensures the Doctor remains watchable, the show itself looks upon the character as more trouble than he's worth. Even without his unreliable, troublemaking antics, he is not a man who can save the day. In Deep Breath, he commits murder. Into the Dalek, his antics achieve nothing beyond the death of innocents. Kill the Moon has his (understandable) desire to prove a point culminate in ignoring his best friend where she flat out begs for his help. Earth makes him their ruler in Death in Heaven, and five minutes later all bar one of his followers have been brutally murdered.
Even the much lauded aspect of the new guy - his rudeness is just his desire to focus on helping people - is slightly exaggerated. Only in Time Heist is it really used and even in Mummy on the Orient Express, whereupon the situation literally calls for it, has Perkins and Clara disgusted by his pragmatism. No one is willing to understand this Doctor, and he himself is horrified at the effect he has on Clara, on Daleks, on fictional disguises he uses. There's a hint that this is all down to deep-rooted psychological trauma; not only is this new Doctor uncertain as to his link to Hartnell-Smith, after a thousand years on Trenzalore he is anti-soldier and also finds it hard not to percieve black-and-white conflicts where he is automatically superior. His constant attempts to make scenarios more complicated and subtext-full gives the impression of Alan-Stevens-style desperation to give more meaning to things. Can it be a coincidence the first time he really, properly smiles is the moment he realizes all this angsting about his morality has been a complete waste of time? In Day of the Doctor, Clara points out that good men do good things, they don't sit in their blackboard-filled TARDIS control rooms brooding about it.
Of course, Clara herself bears little resemblance to the final companion in Doctor Who. After falling into the generic girl role (unavoidable given all the anniversary celebrations) she is redefined as a proper human being but certainly not a good role model. She has a psychotic desire for total control in any and every relationship she has, constantly threatens physical violence to her friends (not joking either), drinks heavily, becomes a compulsive liar and finally becomes willing to murder helpless villains in cold blood. On top of that, the Master actually considers Clara very similar to herself (hence choosing her as a companion). Ironically, her attempts to humanize the alien Doctor have left her an emotional wreck and (according to hints on screen and internet gossip) a soon-to-be-disfunctional single mother.
It is, and I've probably ruminated about this before, quite similar to Coupling and Press Gang. These enjoyable romps by Steven Moffat suddenly change tact in their final series - the premise of a bunch of friends with mutal interests become a gang of miserable, disfunctional losers who hate that self same premise and can barely stand to look at each other. It's as if Moff suddenly has a bad day and goes "Bah, life is never like that! Happiness is immature!" and puts the characters through hell before axing the show.
It seemed he went through that with Season Fnarg+1, whereupon the whacky fun-loving Doctor becomes an immoral mass murdering monster who deserves to be shot dead and all his friends are hugely truamatized and broken individuals who are destroyed simply because they travelled in the TARDIS. The format of the show becomes a torture to dread, the jokes become dark one-liners to break uncomfortable silences, and everyone walks off leaving the hero alone.
Before I go further I must stress I like The Time Lord. It's certainly not a bad show, being quite well-written and certainly well-acted. But isn't it dark? Literally, almost every story seems obsessed with tombs and vaults at night patrolled by slow-moving monsters who take their time to kill you because as soon as you see them, you're dead meat (ie, the Teller, the Boneless, the Foretold, etc.). It's like The Time Lord has been inspired by the grim doubt and monster-maze format of The God Complex, but then turned all the lights off and removed all the visual gags. Where's the fun? Where's the adventure?
I'll tell you where, Mark bloody Gatiss, that's where.
Because this new show is a chore to watch. It's high-maintenance. You sit down to watch nice people slowly murdered by monsters while the Doctor makes mistakes and the increasingly-unhinged Clara yells at him for it. The season finale doesn't just have a Cyberman invasion, it reveals the afterlife is a trap and everyone you ever lost has been turned into a cyborg zombie and then been brutally blown up - and even if someone you love gets a chance to come back from the dead, they'll choose to alleviate their own guilt rather than make you happy. As said on screen, sometimes you only get bad choices - and this show has become a run of them. Why would anyone want to watch this show recreationally? Robots of Sherwood has fun performances, swords fights, consistent comedy... If you had a rough day at work, you'd put it on to lighten the air. The rest? Well, presumably you've overdosed on happy drugs and need a serious comedown because you can't find your boxset of Torchwood: Children of Earth.
Speaking of Torchwood, while it was clearly assembled to be a golem-like glob in the shape of Angel I can't help but feel that The Time Lord is closer in spirit. Relentlessly grim and nocturnal with an immortal central character who comically has no social skills, bridging the cusp of good and evil and uncertain which way he should go and left unsure if he's doing any good. What about his beautiful companion who goes off him, flirts with another guy and ends up revealed to be put at his side by a being of pure evil who, for a change, has manifested in this series as a woman and has a warped utopia-defies-the-means attitude? Even Danny and Clara's love affair feels like a brutally-realistic play on Fred and Wesley...
So, in conclusion, I see next-to-nothing of Doctor Who in this dark-both-tonally-and-in-lighting-quality series of moral ambiguity, senseless death and emotional torment. They could have renamed it Incredible Robert Baldick: The Next Generation, for all it mattered. It's got a police box, some monster props and a revamped UNIT era, but ironically it feels like someone got the franchise of Doctor Who rather than trying to continue the original show. Ironically, just what Tat Wood wanted, even down to the "grittiness" of Wiles' error. So, good for you, Tat.
So, sure I'll be watching the next episode. I'm confident enough to say I'm fan of the show, and certainly it's a better attempt to continue the series than that last series of Jonathon Creek. But it's certainly no longer a children's show adults adore, and it doesn't seem to be family entertainment any more. Maybe in a few years when Capaldi steps down and some woman gets the job, it will regain that element it has lost - the joy die viere where episodes could be enjoyed rather than endured, where new adventures weren't something to dread, and the Doctor was actually a character people should aspire to.
In conclusion, I can do no better than completely misquote Christopher H. Bidmead:
"It's a brilliant show - but it shouldn't be called Doctor Who."