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Summary

The tenth season of modern Doctor Who had a great finale that pushed the Twelve Doctor to his limit and Pearl Mackie made a great companion. However, the series as a whole is a mid-ranking entry in the Doctor Who canon.
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‘Doctor Who’ Series 10 Review – Some Great Episodes in a Sea of Decent

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It’s the end of an era, Peter Capaldi’s time as The Doctor is ending and stage actress Pearl Mackie has taken over the role as The Doctor’s Companion. Whilst Series 10 had a couple of great episodes it was made up mostly of episodes that can be best described as decent.

The tenth season of Doctor Who sees The Twelve Doctor undercover as a university professor where he and Nardole (Matt Lucas) guard against the contents of a mysterious value. The Doctor uses his position to take canteen worker Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) under his wing, and make her his personal student and companion to venture across time and space.

Steven Moffat’s time as the Doctor Who show-runner has mired with complicated storylines ingrained in the show’s vast mythology and Peter Capaldi has suffered from having some of the worst storylines in the modern era of the show. Because of this, the tenth season acted as a soft reboot of the show using Bill as an audience proxy: the Doctor gets to example facts to his race and the rules of time traveling. This is especially true for the first three episodes of the series.

Most of the episodes in Series 10 are standalone adventures and many of them are lighter stories: episodes like “Empress of Mars” and “The Eaters of Light” are swashbuckling romps as Romans, Picts, and Victorian soldiers battle alien threats. These episodes were perfectly entertaining but they are hardly going to leave a lasting impression and this is indicative of the series as a whole: mostly unmemorable.

The highlights in the series were the episode “Oxygen”, “The Lies of the Land” and the two-part finale. These were the darker episodes in the series and since I like my Doctor Who being on the darker side they easily appealed to me. “Oxygen” was basically Doctor Who version of Alien, focusing a crew on a spaceship who not only have to survive against a small area of space zombies but were also the victims of their employers and the extreme form of capitalism they follow. “The Lies of the Land” was dystopia story where Earth is taken over by an alien race, rewritten Earth history, and the episode has an air of the George Orwell novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. The finale, “World Enough and Time” and “The Doctor Falls” were the most emotional episodes as it pushes The Doctor and Bill to their limit as they face old enemies from The Doctor’s past.

An issue affecting the tenth season of Doctor Who was it was too reference-heavy. As already mentioned “Oxygen” and “The Lies of the Land” shared plot and visual from other sources and other episodes like “Extremis” was basically The Matrix – whilst “The Eaters of Light” is based on a Scottish legend some audience members may think of the films The Eagle and Centurion. Other episodes were also rehashes of previous Doctor Who: “Smile” had similar plot points to the Series 5 episode “The Beast Below”.

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The weakest episode in the season was “Knock Knock” which saw Bill move into a new house with fellow students which sees them haunted by alien bugs. David Suchet gave a sinister yet emotional performance as the villain but it was just a filler haunted house episode and had an ending that was too much like a Simpsons Halloween special. “The Pyramid at the End of the World” – the middle part of “Monk Trilogy” – was also a weak episode in the series: it had interesting ideas about whether humanity could sacrifice its freedom for safety but it was just a debate between The Doctor and generals from America, Russia, and China. However, these episodes fall into the realm of mediocrity – they are certainly not a “Love and Monsters” or “Kill the Moon”.

Pearl Mackie’s role as Bill was heavily promoted before the broadcast of the first and she has the distinction of being the first openly gay full-time companion. Mackie was an incredibly likable presence as the companion. Compared to Amy Pond and Clara Oswald who were made out to be special women who will save the Doctor – Bill was an ordinary woman. She was smart, witty and a little geeky and acts like a sci-fi fan given the opportunity to travel time and space. Whilst she was gay, it was never overstated: it is referred to a few times but for the most part, it was treated as she’s gay, deal with it. Racism was also a theme in a series with Bill being on the receiving end of prejudice in the third episode “Thin Ice”.

From this point on, the review will go into SPOILERS.

Series 10 acted as a soft reboot but for long-time fans, it was just re-establishing facts they already know. It is was also the worst time for Doctor Who to have a soft reboot because as well as Peter Capaldi leaving as The Doctor, Mackie only lasted one season as The Doctor’s companions – making her appearance almost pointless. Bill was turned into a Cyberman and later transcends into a higher form of life. This is a huge disappointment because she has a relatable screen presence and Mackie showed she had the comedic and dramatic ability for the role. At least she was given an emotional send-off and, hopefully, Mackie will land more roles. Getting rid of Mackie as the companion is obviously a way to give the new showrunner a clean slate for his version of Doctor Who.

Capaldi got to show off his acting skills, giving grand emotional moments throughout the final episodes. He gave an impassioned speech asking his nemesis to help him against the Cybermen, when battling the Cybermen The Doctor states all his previous victories against the cyborg and the most impact was when he refuses to regenerate. Capaldi acted similarly to how he did in the great episode “Heaven Sent” and he was given a much better send off than Matt Smith received. The setup for the Christmas Special is certainly intriguing.

Series 10 is far from a bad season of Doctor Who: it has the best finale since Series 5’s and Peter Capaldi was given a proper send-off: it’s the least the show could do considering Capaldi had some of the worst Doctor Who stories in the modern era. However, it was plagued by having too many middling episodes and few that will join the pantheon of great episodes the show has offered.

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Kieran Freemantle
I am a film critic/writer based in the UK, writing for Entertainment Fuse, Rock n Reel Reviews, UK Film Review and Meniscus Sunrise. I have worked on film shoots. I support West Ham and Bath Rugby. Follow me on Twitter @FreemantleUK.