Regenerations have hung heavily over Doctor Who for a while now it seems. Ever since the Doctor was warned about Trenzalore we’ve head multiple Doctors, his death – more than once – secret incarnations, the end of a regeneration cycle and, spectacularly, the beginning of another. But that wasn’t the end of the story. This new regeneration harks back to the “classic” archetype; alien, difficult, rude, grumpy and, well, old. And just when the Doctor himself is getting used to being less matinee idol and more renaissance man, his best enemy goes and shows up in a skirt and his best friend is reincarnated as a zombie cyborg.
Identity and the perception of it has been a theme for a long, long time in the series, so much so that now it’s almost a trope, a signature of Moffat’s Second Age, and Series 9 – BBC1, 19th September – continues these themes and plays with those perceptions.
There are lots of returns in the new series. Returning old enemies – some you know about, some you don’t. Returns to places as well. Returning friends – both old and new. Return of the roundels as the console room gets a tweak! Return of the crazy hair as Peter Capaldi is finally allowed to express his Doctor without being shoehorned into “as far from Matt as possible”. Return of the two parter and therefore the return of the cliffhanger. And, of course, the return of the Master.
Episodes one and two hark back to many classic Who episodes – many, many Who episodes – in which the Doctor and Clara face threats from many sides – but perhaps not one side you’d automatically think they would – and explanations are forthcoming about the Master’s survival – both from s8 and perhaps before. He’s not become a She randomly.
Identity and perception are again important in Ep 3 – prepare for a surprise, one of many this season - and writer Toby Whithouse gets his teeth into a meaty 2 parter. But even your perception of two parters will be stretched this year. This series should really be seen as a 12 parter – the episodes mostly all link, and themes and events resonate across the series in a much more insidious way than the usual “Bad Wolf”esque arc.
No clearer is this shown in the “two parter” The Girl Who Died/The Woman Who Lived – whilst these are indeed two parts of the same story, they are written by different writers and have very, very different feels. And both include a character the Doctor will have a very significant history with!
Much more traditionally a two parter is the Zygon story Invasion of the Zygons/Inversion of the Zygons by Peter Harness. This is an action adventure far more in tune with old school Who, or indeed, RTD’s era, in which the Doctor and UNIT battle a worldwide Zygon invasion. Again, though, identity and perception are important, as the Zygons epitomise this series main conceit. Don’t let the familiarity box you in though!
The last third of the series is much more experimental. Mark Gatiss gets to go spooky and scary and all out horror, at last, with a very clever, if by now not new, twist on the series which might even not have credits! A brilliant Halloween Special, this could be Mark’s best to date.
Episode Ten is a divisive one which will probably blow fandom apart, and has cleverly snuck itself under the radar until now. Well done Episode Ten!
The two part finale falls into this “no it really is a two parter!” style with two very distinctively different episodes, one of which had Peter Capaldi exhausted! Alone he may be, but, as always with the Doctor, he’s never really alone, is he?
I’ll leave ep 12 hanging in the air, I think, as the “returns” trope is turned to 11 and we’ll be left with our heads whirling with events and locations.
I am very much looking forward to s9, and I’m loving the way it’s subverting what we know and trying different things. I can’t wait to get into reviewing it! Stay tuned!