Series 10 marks the end of an era for Doctor Who in a big way. Not only was it the end for leading man Peter Capaldi, but it was also the final series for long-time showrunner Steven Moffat – as well as all the usual writers and directors that had made his era so iconic. It’s (still) up for debate as to how successful this shake up has been, but it undoubtedly makes this series feel far more final than any other in the revived series.
But as Billy Joel once sang, life is a series of hellos and goodbyes and in series 10 we say hello to one of the best characters of the revived era and welcome the return of another. These are Bill Potts and Nardole, both of who help to make series 10 a true high point for the show.
Peter Capaldi is the best Doctor there’s ever been. Or at least, there’s an argument for it. It’s true that every Doctor is someone’s favourite (Matt Smith probably takes the number one spot for me) but Peter Capaldi is perfect for the role. Building on the grumpy, unkempt space uncle persona he so brilliantly built in series nine, he returns here as a professor at a university. Everyone loves his lectures, and anyone who has ever been to uni can imagine this skinny eccentric stalking the halls of the history department. He rambles on about this and that, keeping his students enraptured – even as students ask themselves, just how long has this guy been here? It’s a perfect fit for the Twelve Doctor, a natural denouement following the loss of Clara and River Song. But even here, in his retirement, he has friends and a duty to uphold.
Enter the companions of the series. First is Bill Potts, a young woman working in the cafeteria of the university who The Doctor sees something special in. This leads him to acting as her tutor, eventually taking her with him on his return to the adventures in time and space. Bill is probably the perfect companion. Like Donna before her, she’s funny and can stand on her own two feet – and the romance between her and the Time Lord is minimal. Bill is a lesbian, and her sexuality is actually handled deftly and authentically (as far as I can tell). It’s a part of her character, without being her whole character – as Steven Moffat is want to do.
Acting as a secondary companion (appearing in most episodes) is Matt Lucas’ Nardole – first seen in The Husbands of River Song and then again in The Return of Doctor Mysterio. He is a wonderful, non-human character that brings some welcome levity to the show. Matt Lucas is really very excellent here, managing to get a laugh from me through even the smallest of actions and mannerisms. He and the Doctor argue like an old married couple, and it introduces a dynamic that I don’t think we’ve seen before.
So on top of two very excellent companions, and an established Doctor, it’s just icing on the cake that the episodes themselves are all really great. Even in my favourite series, there’s a dud or two. Here, I thoroughly enjoyed them all. There’s a good mix too, thanks to the variety of writers working on this series of the show. My favourite of the run is probably “Knock Knock“, an episode that should really be much more fondly remembered. It sees Bill and her fellow students looking for accommodation – a nightmare I know all too well. Eventually they agree to stay in a spooky old mansion where things are not quite right. This episode is hilarious at points, allowing Capaldi to stretch his comedic muscles. But it’s also quite terrifying, with a real gut punch of a last-minute twist. Also, the performance from guest star David Suchet is one of the show’s best. If I had to recommend one episode from this series, it’d be that one.
But the truth is, you could pick any of them and have a good time. You have a fantastic sci-fi episode in “Oxygen” – which also contains the Doctor’s pitch-perfect take-down of capitalism (I’m a big fan of Comrade Capaldi), and then there are the fun and standalone “Eaters of Light” and “Empress of Mars” – the former from classic Who scribe and playwright Rona Munro and the latter being the last episode penned by perennial Who writer Mark Gatiss.
But probably the most interesting part of the series is the sprawling, epic three-part story right at its centre. Consisting of “Extremis”, “The Pyramid at the End of the World” and “The Lie of the Land”, this story introduces an new enemy in the form of the benevolent Monks. It’s a really interesting cyber-horror story in its first act, then a classic Who story in the middle, followed by a 1984-like episode as the closer. People seem split on these episodes, but I really enjoyed the scope of what they were trying to do here. And it gives us more time to get to know Bill, making her the star of most of the story. On top of that, it’s an eerie warning for the rise of fascism in the country, one that is only getting more relevant. Yes, it has the usual issue that Doctor Who runs into, with “love” saving the day, but with the world the way it is, I really don’t mind that at all.
Then there’s the closing story. A wild ride involving Cybermen, a 400-mile long spaceship, and some classic Moffat time fuckery. It’s a sad couple of hours for the gang, but I think as two-part finales go, it’s a very strong offering. And aside from everything else going on, we get to see more of John Simm as The Master – a character, actor, and performance I will always enjoy. Whether he’s prime minister, bleached blonde and eating chicken, or getting randy with the female version of himself, he’s always a hoot. And seeing him acting against Michelle Gomez as Missy is almost too much fun. It’s wonderful.
But alas, it must all come to an end. Basically, almost everyone dies by the end of the series – truly wiping the slate clean for the new era. But it is tough to see Capaldi go, because on this rewatch especially, I’ve really come to appreciate what he brought to the role. At first, he seemed harsher and more difficult to love – but the truth is he’s probably the kindest incarnation of the Time Lord we’ve ever seen. His morals were set in stone, and he lived by his mantra. He might have been grumpy at times, but it was in a supremely lovable way. And through it all, you got the distinct impression that Capaldi himself was having an absolute blast throughout.
Remember, hate is always foolish and love is always wise. Always try to be nice and never fail to be kind.
Now we’re heading into the Chris Chibnall era of the show – the most divisive since the show began. And while it is true that a vast number of displeased fan complaints were widely misogynistic, there is legitimate criticism over other aspects. But we’ll delve into these more in the coming weeks. I am a big fan of Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor, and I’m hoping my rewatch will lead to some reappraisal for her tenure so far. Though nothing will change my mind on “Orphan 55”. What a shitshow.