This season of Doctor Who has been an amazing ride. As Season 10 draws to a close, it feels like showrunner Steven Moffat has brought back the show we wanted all along.
Doctor Who has changed a lot in the eight years since Moffat took over after Russell T. Davies, for better or for worse, but for the last few seasons, many fans were becoming certain that it was for worse. In the past few years, many of us have become frustrated at the direction the show took, especially after season 6, protesting sprawling storylines that were too difficult to follow, overused villains, and badly-written female characters.
It may be unfair to disregard the excellent actors, directors, and writers who worked on the show. After all, there is a tendency to blame the head writer for everything we don’t like about a show, and then look back at their work with nostalgia. But the fact is that after so many years of watching the Doctor’s adventures, it becomes harder and harder to surprise an audience, and to get a positive reception to an overly-convoluted plot.
That’s not to say that no one enjoyed seasons 7, 8 and 9. There are many fans for whom the past few seasons were favorites, but many of us found ourselves enjoying episodes merely for the nostalgia factor: they reminded us of what made us love Doctor Who, instead of providing it. We clung to the small references to the past that we got, but couldn’t find our footing in the current story. The exploration of the universe, of humanity, the love and awe that we associate with the Doctor, was missing.
But then, in the midst of episodes that didn’t quite cut it, a few episodes began to gradually stand out. Notably, the appearance of Me, and the Doctor’s 7,000-year battle to free the TARDIS from Azbantium. They were dark episodes, but we began to see a glimpse of the soulfulness we remembered: the same mix of darkness and light that attracted us to Moffat’s earliest Doctor Who episode, “The Empty Child.”
And then, just as we were debating whether it was worth placing our hopes in yet another season, a new era began: Bill Potts, companion extraordinaire, joined the Doctor, and from the first episode of Season 10, something felt different. Doctor Who was back.
Because as much as we love Doctor Who’s twists and turns, and the underlying angst that keeps the love we have for the Doctor just shy of pain, none of that is worth anything without a quirky, smart, unique companion… and a series of amazing places in which the episodes happen.
So far, in the 11 episodes of season 10, we’ve visited at least three different planets, explored Ancient Scotland and 1814’s London, solved a problem at a space station, got lost in a colony ship near a black hole, and found plenty of adventures on modern-day Earth as well — including a simulation. It’s been a fascinating variety of stories, but more importantly, the stories themselves have had heart. We’ve seen a happier Doctor, an empowered Bill, and maybe even a slightly more considerate Missy.
All this, with the added companionship of Nardole and Missy, is making Doctor Who feel like home again. Even when the situation is at its most dire, and the scenes are terrifying, there’s an underlying sense of awe and hope: a love that embraces the universe and everything it has to offer.
It’s a pity that we’re enjoying ourselves so much just as this era comes to a close. Moffat’s departure coincides with Peter Capaldi’s — who will be replaced by a new Doctor, yet to be announced — and possibly also Pearl Mackie, unless there are other plans for her.
But maybe that’s the best way to end an era — with a fitting send-off. Season 10 has definitely surpassed its closest predecessors, and we’ll enjoy rewatching it in the future. For Moffat, this has clearly been an opportunity to show us the best he has: his ability to make us laugh, his talent at compressing a feature-length-worthy idea into 40 minutes, his ability to mix aliens with history seamlessly, and his skills with horror. All of this, while still allowing the Doctor to empower both the characters in the show and the audience.
After such a great season of Doctor Who, it’s going to be hard to say goodbye to Steven Moffat. After all, we owe him many of the most memorable moments, from the classics of the first few seasons, to every second since David Tennant left the show. As frustrated as fans might have been at times, it’s important to be thankful: half of this reboot of Doctor Who has been Moffat’s work, and it’ll be remembered for years to come.
(That being said, we really, really hope he doesn’t kill off Bill Potts tomorrow!)