We’ve been rewatching the Peter Capaldi episodes of the last 3 seasons of Doctor Who, leading up to the super exciting regeneration episode that’s coming tomorrow.
Australians only get to celebrate Doctor Who Christmas on Boxing Day because of the inconvenience of living in the future. So to get a little Doctor Who into my Christmas Day… recovering from a virus combined with my kids enjoying a new game system means that I have nothing to do this afternoon but blogging or napping… here’s my top 12 Twelfth Doctor episodes!
A fantastic action-and-humour fling with Madame Vastra doing a lot of the emotional heavy lifting, a sharper soft-reboot for Clara’s characterisation, and a giant dinosaur in Victorian London. But mostly for the Doctor himself, all fierce personality and Scottish sleepy ranting. This was his Robot; his Spearhead from Space. It set up the Twelfth Doctor as an uncompromising grump with a sharp wit, but did so in a more entertaining way than many of the episodes that followed in the same season.
Trapping the Doctor in his own TARDIS and letting Clara play him in an adventure of her own made for a fun rapport and was less frantic than some of the other attempts at letting this ferocious Twelfth Doctor be funny in Season 8. His acid relationship with Rigsy was a lot less unpleasant than his unpleasant dynamic with Danny in the same season, and there’s actually nothing more entertaining than Capaldi entertaining in a box, so.
Dark Water/Death in Heaven
By far the best thing of the entire Capaldi era has been the fantastic, epic season finales, full of rich characterisation and cinematic drama, all directed by Rachel Talalay. They almost make up for the seasons being shorter. This one, with the sneaky Cyberman placement, the brilliant and longed-for Missy reveal (they’re REALLY doing this?? REALLY?) and the emotional gut punch of killing Danny Pink in a plot twist worthy of Press Gang (I’ve been meaning to write an essay for years about how many old Press Gang writing quirks are present in Season 8), this was a fantastic blockbuster ending for a season full of high highs and messy WTF lows. Though the whole thing about cremation was, I maintain, DEEPLY irresponsible. So many amazing moments, chief of which is the sequence with Clara stealing and destroying the keys to the TARDIS.
The Woman Who Lived
My recent rewatch really surprised me how great Season 9 is, full of really crunchy two parter stories (though it did make it go REALLY fast when we were watching it week by week). I’m counting this as separate to The Girl Who Died because it has a different creative team, and because the first story with Ashildr and the Vikings was really good, but this follow up tale of Lady Me and the Doctor facing the consequences of his brief moment of kindness/indulgence is wall to wall fantastic. The contrast between Me’s immortality (without continuity of memory) is such a fascinating idea and so much more difficult than the way immortality has been portrayed in the show in the past… and Capaldi is at his best up against a female character who challenges him. Maisie Williams is extraordinary, acting her socks off in front of a performer nearly 3 times her age.
The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion
By far my favourite of the Kate Stewart/Osgood stories, this follows up really well on the threads left hanging from the wonderful 50th anniversary story Day of the Doctor, and the previous season’s finale. The crunchy consequences of the Zygons living among the humans raise more questions than they answer, Osgood is marvellous, and Evil Zygon Clara adds another fantastic, sadly-more-interesting-than-real-Clara version of the character to Jenna Coleman’s repertoire.
Face the Raven
I wish we’d had more Capaldi stories where he has a gang! He works so well with a group instead of the “traditional” duo. This caper with Rigsy and Clara is a better story for Coleman than Capaldi, but gives him some marvellous material, showing his Doctorish range from cheerful criminal plotter to devastated vengeance-threatener. I feel guilty putting this in instead of Magician’s Apprentice/Witch’s Familiar which is clearly a better Capaldi story, is a genuinely good Dalek story (they’re getting rarer) and has Missy to boot, but I love this one more for no particular reason.
Heaven Sent/Hell Bent
Another epic season finale. Heaven Sent is a glorious piece of work between Capaldi, Moffat and Talalay, an absolute ripsnorter of television, though I don’t personally enjoy watching and rewatching it like many of the others because one character emoting at walls is never going to beat out two characters emoting at each other, for my personal taste. However, Hell Bent (what’s WITH all the religious references, Moffat?) has literally everything I want as a massive Doctor Who story including Time Lord revolution and the devastatingly smart inversion of everything terrible about New Who (erasing Donna, companions acting as if life with the Doctor was the only happiness, etc). The resolution was so strong for all 3 key characters — the Doctor, Clara and Me — and did so many interesting things, and the use of the diner made this so very iconic. A joy to rewatch.
The Husbands of River Song
Did I say fixing everything wrong about New Who? This intergalactic, time-travelling diamond heist episode takes everything even slightly skeevy about River Song and the Doctor’s constantly unbalanced relationship with her, and gives us a beautiful missing piece of the puzzle: one in which they both have near-equal experience with each other, but we also get a glimpse into what her life looks like when it’s not revolving around the Doctor. It’s so great, the continuing lack of a River Song spin off series is a crime. PLUS Alex Kingston and Peter Capaldi have a sizzling chemistry and for the first time we (and River) actually believe that he loves her, instead of going through the motions of how amusing it is to have a wife. All this, and an extended honeymoon off camera that we never thought they’d get to enjoy: a perfect Christmas present.
A fascinating new era for the series and a kinder, more grave and thoughtful Doctor. I adore this episode so much, not only because the relationship that the Doctor has with Bill is so warm and smart, the closest thing we’ve had to a real, no questions platonic relationship between Doctor and companion since Donna (OK and maybe Rory). I could watch the Doctor as Professor forever, and the hint of the last 70 years gave me life. This is a Doctor who has loved and mourned River, is more closely in touch with his history, and has his ex best friend locked in a vault BUT WE DON’T KNOW THAT YET. I love this season, less for the individual stories, and more for the relationships between the key cast members. Even Nardole is good which I don’t think anyone saw coming after his nothing role in The Husbands of River Song. This show we love? It can change, and keep changing. I love it.
I don’t think I loved this story quite as much as many of my peers, mostly because I don’t see the point of a Regency story without ballrooms and with so few women in it (the lack of a real Clara and Jane Austen adventure continues to niggle) but it’s a gorgeous set, an important story in how it addresses race and class instead of gliding over these things Tennant-style. Bill is great in it. Capaldi is great in it. Everything is great. All stories should be this good.
The Eaters of Light
Romans and warriors and magic wibbly things. This is again, a gorgeous character story and almost a pure historical (I SAID ALMOST) and it makes me happy when I think of it. The final scene with Missy slides this one from great to unforgettable.
World Enough & Time/The Doctor Falls
Of all the epic Capaldi finales, this one was the most epic. No PRESSURE, Twice Upon a Time. The banter between Capaldi and Missy was sparkling, every scene was emotionally perfect, and the whole John Simm reveal, despite being flagged, was… well, I was fooled long enough for it to make me shriek out loud in sync with my eldest child, and what more can you ask? The wrench of Cyberman Bill, the amazing romcom snark of Capaldi and the Two Masters, the creeping horror of the end…. and the magical, COMPLETELY JUSTIFIED Chekhov’s Girlfriend save in the final instance was just perfect. (not to mention sending Bill off to further adventures as she graduates from the TARDIS…) I love every second of this two parter. Doctor Who doesn’t get better than this.
Almost made the list: Oxygen, Last Christmas, The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar, Listen, Mummy on the Orient Express, Extremis/The Pyramid at the End of the World (but not The Lie of the Land), The Girl Who Died, Time Heist.