Here are my traditional end-of-season rankings for Season 8, excluding the two-part finale and the Christmas special.
1. The Caretaker
The heart of season 8, and for my money, the episode where the characters’ conflicts are dealt with most powerfully and convincingly. There’s real peril, both emotional and physical, and the script is full of the sort of funny and touching moments that we almost take for granted from Gareth Roberts.
It seems old-fashioned to wish for actual monsters with actual malicious intent, but this episode proves they still have a place in modern Doctor Who. Fantastic concept, very well thought out by Jaime Matheson and beautifully executed by the visual effects team.
In which the Doctor proves he has a weaker grasp on zoology than a first grader, and that Clara is (slightly too neatly) responsible for key developments in the psyches of the two men in her life. Still a devastatingly effective episode on so many levels.
4. Mummy on the Orient Express
The sort of generous, genre-colliding premise the show used to do all the time and has become a bit parsimonious about of late. So many wonderful sights and sounds, terrific mummy effects, and exciting sequences, let down a bit by the disappointing “twist” reveals and a bit of a lame solution to the central problem.
5. In the Forest of the Night
Flawed in its very foundation, including the atrocious “science,” the bathetic ending, and so many on-the-nose lines, but a beautiful attempt nonetheless that’s greatly enjoyable for most of its running time.
6. Deep Breath
There’s an awful lot of frustrating dithering around for a while, including some really squirmy business with Vastra and some Smith-hangover dialogue for Capaldi, but once this story gets down to business it’s solid stuff. The Doctor hasn’t seemed this dangerous before or since.
7. Into the Dalek
Not especially good, but not actively bad either. More stake-in-the-ground characterization for the Doctor, even if the comparison between him and the Daleks has never seemed so forced.
8. Robot of Sherwood
Largely inoffensive, but not nearly as funny as it would like to be, and not nearly as interesting as it would otherwise have to be. The sort of episode that the term “romp” was coined for, and perhaps the easiest one of the season to just stick on and enjoy (even “The Caretaker” has plenty of heavy moments), but ultimately pretty forgettable.
9. Kill the Moon
Excellent scenery dressing up a script that, to its credit, is at least about something. Unfortunately the premise is beyond even Doctor Who‘s ability to render plausible, the science is distractingly nonsensical, and the subtext problematic at best. A noble failure, but a failure nonetheless.
10. Time Heist
The pieces are quite good: the Doctor’s cyberpunk heist crew, the mysterious telepathic monster, the delightfully amoral villain, the welcome escape from Earth. So why didn’t I love this as it was fully assembled? One twist too many, perhaps?