I’m not sure when the ‘After Image’ thing became a fixture in DWM. Or even, actually, why it’s called ‘After Image’. It’s a handy spot, though, for a reviewer. Sometimes thoughts will occur, as I’m writing about individual stories, that just don’t go with the flow. So I think, “I’ll save that back for the ‘After Image’.”
When it came to it, I’d forgotten most of those nuggets.
I did know I wanted to say something about the over-arching storyline regarding Missy (could never make it fit in the episode pieces), and that I felt I had to get to the fact – pretty early on – that I hadn’t enjoyed this year’s run as much as normal. Inasmuch as these things aren’t important, that felt quite important, so that what I’d written before didn’t look in anyway veiled. I also want to try and communicate the point-of-view that, although this was my reaction, it didn’t mean anything profound. I do honestly recognise that for a lot of people, Doctor Who in 2014 was better than ever.
And, genuinely, I do think Peter Capadli is brilliant.
Missy was driving the car. It’s the only explanation.
We’ll come back to that, but with another stint of Doctor Who fading into the distance, we reach the point where this idiot with a box-out has to grapple together some cogent words about the last 12 weeks of adventuring.
There’s no point in my trying to be vague about this. I didn’t enjoy Doctor Who this year as much as many others have. Does that mean I’d sum up the series as divisive? Well, no. Weighing responses across the media and online, I’d go so far as to say that despite my feelings, this has been the most lauded run for a while, people responding positively towards the tilt in tone which has brought us a more challenging Doctor. To me, though, the twelfth’s pricklier inclinations run counter to my own sense of what the character should be. Or what I want him to be, anyway. “Yeah, [Clara’s] my carer, she cares so I don’t have to,” he said in Into the Dalek. A bitingly funny line. But where some equate such cynicism with ‘proper’ drama (which would never betray us by being embarrassing or soppy), to me it feels as though the character has strayed too far into the dark. I see the Doctor as an optimist, a man who will assume the best of everyone, until he’s given reason otherwise. Not someone who would send a little lost girl packing (as he initially does in In the Forest of the Night), or round upon people because of their line of work (his instant ire for Danny Pink and Colonel Ahmed).
True, he has been purposely engineered this series to make us question if we like him, and that’s a valid route to take. But at times I wondered if I even recognised him. Unlike 2013, this hasn’t been the year of the Doctor – at least, not my Doctor.
None of this is a reflection on Peter Capaldi’s performance. When he is given the chance, Peter Capaldi is the Doctor. I’m thinking of his hunger for knowledge in Listen, his silly dance in Flatline, that end-of-episode debrief with Clara in Mummy on the Orient Express and the “I am not a good man” speech in Death in Heaven. Such moments see the actor curving in and around the script, eyes blazing and hands twirling. This is a Time Lord on fire, the ice-cold incarnation finally igniting. I hope for more.
Missy at the wheel, then. Since The Bells of Saint John she’s been manoeuvring the Doctor and Clara together, their companionship forming the crux of her master plan. I’m guessing that’s because she needed the schoolteacher to prompt the Doctor into investigating the afterlife, thereby bringing him into her clutches at the 3W institute. But how to push Clara in that direction in the first place? It prompts visions of the villain spending an unhappy morning negotiating the road that circles around the park, waiting for Danny to pop out just so. All the while churning over in her mind quite what it is she can possibly do with the Half-Face Man’s remains. What was she thinking? Come to that, why did she place that advert in the newspaper in Deep Breath? How did it serve her plan?
The big story arcs in Doctor Who never come together properly, and thus it’s unfair of me to submit this one to such rigorous interrogation. From the Bad Wolf enigma to Missy, our resolutions have always raised far more questions than they’ve answered. The occasional insertions of an evil Mary Poppins this year have provided an additional element of sport that many have enjoyed kicking about. She’s the Rani! Romana? A version of Clara (Miss C, geddit?). But to be honest, I’ve tended to tune out during those bits. That I know nothing will be revealed until a certain point makes them seem quite intangible. They’re small promos which, in truth, can float between stories with no bearing whatsoever. It’s the illusion of something joined-up…
So what will 2014 be remembered for? In part, the début of Jamie Mathieson. His terrific scripts for Mummy and Flatline absolutely keyed into that essential Whoishness which we can all spot but never really encapsulate. It has also been the year of Michelle Gomez’s revitalised Master and Jenna Coleman’s equally invigorated Clara, now let off the leash of the Impossible Girl. Most of all, it belongs to Peter Capaldi. Granted, I’ve been grumbling about how the Doctor has been written this series, but in him, Doctor Who unquestionably has a leading man who is every inch its equal; as ceaselessly inventive and magnificent as Doctor Who itself – and with the same potential to go anywhere and do anything.