If I had to pick the best season of the revived Doctor Who, I would be hard-pressed to name a better one than the just wrapped up Series 9. A combination of new format, Peter Capaldi settling in the role of the Twelfth Doctor, a villain extravaganza and good scripts made every Saturday night an edge-of-the-seat affair. Sure, there were stumbles – “Sleep No More,” I’m looking at you – but even when there were, they were interesting stumbles.
What were the best parts of the season?
10. Seriously, SO Many Great Villains
In Hollywood there’s a rule: The more bad guys you try to cram into a superhero movie, the less good it will be. Spider-Man 3 and Batman & Robin are the best examples of how this usually works. More bad guys leaves less room for those characters to develop.
Somehow Doctor Who managed to overcome this. The first two-parter features Daleks, The Master, Davros and two new monsters all in the same 90-minute span, and yet it never feels crowded. In fact, Julian Bleach’s Davros and Michelle Gomez’s Missy probably have their best moments in the series so far. The same is true with the finale, in which Rassilon shares top billing with Weeping Angels and even a Cyberman. Doctor Who broke an almost ironclad rule of evil overkill this season, and it was amazing.
Ingrid Oliver personified every fanboy and girl when she took on the role of Osgood last season. Working with UNIT, she is an unabashed fan of The Doctor all the way down to dressing like him. In the Zygon adventure this season, she branched out to become a more solid presence, growing and assuming a more mature mantle. Plus, I deeply appreciate her fashion shout-out to the Eighth Doctor, my favorite.
8. The Sonic Sunglasses
I know I’m in the minority here, but I was a huge fan of the loss of the sonic screwdriver. Reliance on the device has made writers lazy and it acts as a deus ex machina far too often. The sunglasses often served the same purpose, but by making them a simple set of glasses, they at least highlighted how slightly ridiculous the whole thing was. Sad to see them go, honestly.
7. The Axe Battle
The Doctor playing guitar is simply too cool for words. Whether he’s throwing out puns hundreds of years before they could be understood between riffs or forlornly playing a sad tune in a diner, the guitar became an expression for The Doctor when words wouldn’t work. It’s a nice addition to the character that I deeply look forward to his next incarnation making fun of.
6. Two Really Great Incidental Characters
The casting in Series 9 brought some new and interesting blood to the show. Two stand out in particular. The first is Sophie Stone, who played Cass in “Under the Lake / Before the Flood”. She's a deaf actress, and the show handled her disability remarkably well and she came across as capable, brave and amazing. The second was Bethany Black, who appeared as 474 in “Sleep No More,” the first openly trans person ever on the show. 474 was an underused gift of a character, a grunt grown to war but arguably the most feeling person on the ship even if expressing it was childlike and difficult. Both appearances opened up the show to more diverse representations, and they were welcome moments of differences.
Of course, as guest actors they were overshadowed by…
5. Maisie Williams
Game of Throne actress Maisie Williams appeared in four episodes this season, each time as the same character and yet each time radically different. As she traveled the eons of immortality, she continuously became a new person, but without The Doctor’s burden of memory to bear her down. It’s clear that Williams is more than just Arya Stark, and there are a fair number of fans calling for her to have her own spin-off.
4. The Showdown on Gallifrey
Since “The Day of The Doctor,” fans have been waiting for The Doctor to go find his home planet, and in the end he did. Of course, he had to do it the hard way in order to get around Rassilon’s twisted plans, but it only led to one of the greatest showdowns since the Eleventh Doctor told the Atraxi to run.
Stationed at his childhood home in the wastelands, The Doctor defied the military, the High Council and even Rassilon himself by drawing a simple line in the sand with his boot. He faced down each party that came to try and extract him without a word until he had humiliated the founder of Time Lord society and banished him from the planet. It was one of the most wonderfully gutsy moves in The Doctor’s career, and all the more so that he didn’t even have to talk his way out of it.
3. The General’s Regeneration
Ever since “The Doctor’s Wife,” fans against the idea of a female Doctor have been arguing circles around the idea that Time Lords can change genders on regeneration. “An off remark about an unseen character doesn’t count,” they said. Then Missy showed up, and the matter seemed settled. However, with The Master’s penchant for body stealing, some fans still held out.
Then The Doctor shot the general of the War Council, who promptly regenerated into a woman. She even remarked that her last incarnation was her first as a man and that she didn’t much care for it. For all that showrunner Steven Moffat’s track record with female characters is spotty, I cheered to see him grab fandom by the face and say, “GENDER SWAP REGENERATION IS A THING. DEAL WITH IT.”
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2. The Hartnell Cameos
The First Doctor was referenced at least three times this season, and it was lovely to see. His portrait hid a safe in Osgood’s home and an unknown actor portrayed him in a flashback of Missy’s. More than any of that, it was a rush to see the original Tardis control room again near the end of the series and watch Peter Capaldi strut around it. It may not have had the impact Matt Smith’s cameo did in An Adventure in Space and Time, but it was a subtle nod to the show’s longevity and hopeful future.
1. The War Speech
I cannot describe this perfect moment of television better than it describes itself. What a great season.