Since its return to television screens ten years ago, Doctor Who has consistently wrestled with complex questions of how to be a good person in a bad universe. Its titular Doctor, of course, takes the brunt of these dilemmas and is – as a result – one of the most fascinating, self-aware characters on TV. This is far from the only divisive question that surrounds Doctor Who, however, with yet another turning the focus onto the premise and production of the stories themselves; just how dark and serious should they ever be allowed to become? With season 9 of the beloved series now returning to our screens, both of these questions return immediately to the forefront of our minds.
It’s no secret that Doctor Who laboured a little in 2014, which truly was a shame. No fault could be placed at the feet of Peter Capaldi, taking the role for the first time as the Twelfth Doctor, who mastered the complexity of the role with the panache and gravity that most commentators would have expected from such a gifted actor. In truth, the writers have had to face up to the first unsuccessful period that the show has had to experience in the past decade. Too many of the episodes felt flimsy or throwaway, and the tone was so inconsistent that it became hard to ever really understand where the events were heading.
Further weaknesses of the previous season came in the way The Doctor himself was marginalized by an overused companion. Jenna Coleman’s Clara Oswald essentially became the star of the show with season 8, leading to some joking that Capaldi’s character was more companion to her than he was lead of his own show. Now, with the news that Coleman will be leaving the show this year, the natural order seems to be correcting itself. This year, viewers will be treated to far more action from the titular Doctor.
As season 9 opens, it wastes no time in making use of its greatest strengths to immediately recapture the attention of an audience that may only have returned out of loyalty, rather than excited anticipation. When “The Magician’s Apprentice” opens the series, we see The Doctor doing what The Doctor does best; arriving just in time to save someone in peril. When the threatened child in this episode reveals his name to be Davros – the eventual creator of the vicious Daleks – The Doctor finds himself wrestling with what to do next. In a dilemma that harkens back to Genesis Of The Daleks, our hero is faced with the question of whether he should save the life of a child who would grow up to cause the deaths of millions, or seal his fate and spare the universe from the creation of the Daleks? And you thought you had to make tough calls at work!