The Doctor Who Regeneration Review is a weekly column cataloging all the times Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor nearly regenerates, or dies, in the latest episode of BBC America’s popular science fiction show. Since this is the
Scottish “cross” character’s final season — a fact the showrunners have enjoyed teasing in the promos — we decided to tease back. Most items are serious, some silly, and all measured with the Doctor’s 💕.
Last week’s “The Empress of Mars” offered Doctor Who fans one of the current season’s best episodes to date thanks to the return of the Ice Warriors, a Martian race of reptilian fighters who first appeared in 1967 during Patrick Troughton’s tenure as the Second Doctor. However, much of its acclaim undoubtedly belongs to writer Mark Gatiss, who revived the recurring enemy for 2013’s “Cold War.” The Sherlock co-creator has since become one of Doctor Who‘s senior writers alongside showrunner Steven Moffat, which is probably why “Empress” bears so little of the latter’s mark.
“The Eaters of Light” writer Rona Munro, on the other hand, manages to create a wonderful one-off story that nonetheless finds itself buried under Moffat’s weight. The ancient Scottish setting (Munro hails from Scotland), inter-dimensional monsters that consume light, and the mysterious disappearance of the Roman Ninth Legion together present a rather creative adventure-of-the-week story. Unfortunately, it flails under the showrunner’s series-long arc involving Missy (Michelle Gomez) and her vault. One of the Doctor’s most troubling character traits — his penchant for convincing others to sacrifice themselves — pops up as well.
Many Doctor Who episodes since the reboot lead to the same climax: something terrible is about to happen, the Doctor declares his sacrifice alone will prevent it, and one of the supporting characters steps in at the last minute to save the Doctor and everyone else. There is nothing inherently wrong with this narrative, but it has happened quite often since Moffat became showrunner in 2010. He even called himself out for it in the season eight finale “Death in Heaven,” in which Clara Oswald’s (Jenna Coleman) boyfriend, Danny (Samuel Anderson) admonished the Doctor before sacrificing himself to save the world.