So the Steven Moffat era of Doctor Who is over, well nearly. Peter Capaldi yesterday finished filming his final scenes as the twelfth Doctor and the Christmas special is all that’s left to come from their time on the show. There was a strange feeling going into season ten. We all knew Moffat and Capaldi would be bowing out, but this season felt like a mini-reboot for the show, post Clara Oswald. I’ll make no secret in saying that season ten is right up there with David Tennant’s final season as the tenth Doctor, season four, as my favourite of the modern era. Here are five reasons why I thought it was so successful.
1. The Season’s Structure
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of Moffat’s long and complex story-arcs. The crack that followed the eleventh Doctor throroughly his tenure was fascinating, as was the mystery behind Missy in season eight. But then there are some things that just get in the way. The Silence and the Hybrid were, in the end, disappointing. Of course, season ten had the mystery of the vault, and then the Doctor’s determination to convert Missy into a more compassionate and ultimately “good” person. But that never got in the way of any story. You could watch Thin Ice and enjoy it without a care in the world for the vault or what was inside. Missy’s cameo in The Eaters of Light also didn’t do anything to tarnish that story either. The seeds were sewn throughout the season, but were done so with subtlety. That subtlety allowed for a good old-fashioned “monster of the week” format. There were no episodes reserved merely to set up the finale, as has been done in the past (Let’s Kill Hitler). Any story-arc more convoluted than what Steven Moffat produced and we may not have met an Ice Warrior Queen, Vardies or the Monks. Paying more attention to the quality of individual stories meant we were treated to episodes The Pilot, Thin Ice and Oxygen, episodes we might not have got, had the season been more focussed towards one bigger plot. Throughout his time as showrunner, Moffat has regularly toyed with the structure of the season, but this time he got it exactly right.
2. Important Social Messages
Never before has a season of Doctor Who delivered so many important social messages. There have certainly been episodes in the past with potent themes. Planet of the Ood tackled slavery, while season nine’s Zygon two-parter heavily featured war and immigration. There are plenty of other examples too, in both the modern and the classic era. But barely an episode passed in season ten without some sort of message. One of the reasons I adore Thin Ice is the scene where the Doctor punches Lord Sutcliffe after his racist tirade towards Bill. It’s rare to see the Doctor react in this way to anything, but it taught an important lesson that racism, or discrimination of any kind, should never be tolerated. It was undoubtedly one of Peter Capaldi’s finest moments as the Doctor. As well as discrimination: capitalism; totalitarianism, and even Brexit were some of the themes in season ten. Even an episode like The Eaters of Life – where there was no strong political theme – taught us that the best way of overcoming a common difficulty is to put our differences aside and unite. I would hate Doctor Who to get to the stage where it was too political. After all, it’s just a mad man in a box having adventures and battling all sorts of monsters with his friends – that’s why the show is so charming. But the show has a prime time slot on national television and is loved by millions across the globe. It has the perfect platform to educate, and to try and remind people to be kind and generous, and I’m glad it made the most of that in season ten.
3. The TARDIS Team
This was only the second modern-era TARDIS team, after the eleventh Doctor and the Ponds, and it was something the show was crying out for. Admittedly, I had reservations about Nardole returning, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Nardole as a character and Matt Lucas as an actor were both close to perfection and exactly the sort of light refreshment the show has been after. I liked the dark tones in season eight and nine a lot, and there was some dark stuff in season ten too, but Nardole was there to offer moments of comedy to keep a healthy tonal balance that a family show should have. The only thing I would still qualm about his return is the lack of information we got regarding his survival after his decapitation in The Husbands of River Song. Some more back story about his species and life before the Doctor would have been nice too. But other than that, he was a terrific addition and his relationship with Bill was so much fun to follow. Bill was always mysterious about Nardole, and rightly so. He could go from threatening to kick her arse to squeaking “It’s me, Nardy”, in seconds and the comic performance from the pair was excellent. Bill’s character was also brilliantly handled by the writers and by Pearl Mackie herself. Her decision to consent to the Monks in The Pyramid at the End of the World was the only moment where I thought her character was let down by the writing, but I suppose that had to happen for The Lie of the Land to work. Her relationship with the twelfth Doctor was like a magnificent mash up of all the good bits of the relationships Ace and Donna Noble enjoyed with the seventh and tenth Doctors respectively. She obviously had huge respect for the Doctor, who was acting as her tutor basically throughout the entire season, but she wasn’t afraid to question or challenge him when she thought he was out of line. The trio’s chemistry was instant and never wavered for the whole run. It’s a shame TARDIS teams went out of fashion, they were so successful in the classic era. Moffat’s attempts to revive them will hopefully lead to them being a constant through the the Chris Chibnall era. After all, three brains (or more) are better than two.
4. The Finale
One of the main differences in the modern-era of Doctor Who to the classic is the emphasis on season finales. These days, an entire season can sometimes -perhaps unfairly – be defined by its concluding story. The stakes are usually higher, the enemy far more dangerous and everything else scaled up to make it look like a blockbuster movie. Season ten was a bit different. The stakes weren’t higher. If anything, they were reduced. The Doctor was prepared to sacrifice himself for the sake of a handful of people on a colony ship. This is what made the story so effective though. Such a small battle by Time Lord standards was the perfect setting for the Doctor to make one last stab at recruiting the Master/Missy to stand with him. No finale has depicted the character of the Doctor as well as this. Season one’s Parting of the Ways came close, and season eight’s Death in Heaven briefly skirted over the issue, but The Doctor Falls did a stellar job of encapsulating everything that makes the Doctor such a monumentally magnificent character. He doesn’t do what he does for glory, to be heroic, or to win. He does it to be kind and to help as many people as he can, and I suppose this ties in with the social messages placed throughout the season. Just be kind.
5. Peter Capaldi
I could get out a thesaurus and type out all the alternatives to “exceptional”, but that wouldn’t do justice to Peter Capaldi’s flawless performance in his final season. Never before has an actor playing the Doctor performed with such consistency throughout their tenure. Whatever line he was given, whether it be dark, humourous or enigmatic, you could tell the thought the actor had put into how he should deliver it. His speech to Missy and the Master in The Doctor Falls will probably fall just behind season nine’s war speech as his finest moment on the show. The Doctor had the challenge of being blind this season for a few episodes, a challenge for Capaldi too, but one he rose too with his usual convincing style. His lecture about life and time in The Pilot and punching the racist Lord Sutcliffe in Thin Ice were impeccably performed scenes that should, and hopefully will be remembered for years to come by Doctor Who fans. He will be a great loss to the show after Christmas.
For me, season ten along with season four, are the strongest of the modern era. Knock Knock was the only noticably weak episode, but it would probably stand up as average at worst, if placed into most other seasons. The dynamic between the TARDIS triumvirate and the stunningly high level of acting from everyone made this season so entertaining. What do you think? Where does season ten rank among its nine modern-era predecessors?