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Doctor Who Series 8 review

If one word defines new Who's eighth season, it's “risky”. In many ways this is the most thrilling, unexpected year of TARDIS travel for quite some time, but nothing in it is easy, starting with the Doctor himself. Peter Capaldi's “grey-haired stick-insect” is a far more bristling, austere character than Matt Smith's bouncy Time Lord. He's Gregory House meets Malcolm Tucker, with a dash of Johnny Rotten. When he smiles, he's terrifying.

That you never know what this Doctor will do, that the words “timey-wimey” never pass his lips, that he can be both brutal and tender within the same scene are all huge positives. And yet, his constant spikiness occasionally grates. You yearn for him to give Clara an easier time. Jenna Coleman, incidentally, is a revelation. Freed from the “impossible girl” baggage, Clara finally feels alive and real. It's her story this year.

The episodes themselves are mostly top tier, with only the daft “In The Forest Of The Night” and the deranged final act of “Kill The Moon” letting the side down. “Into The Dalek” worries at the Doctor's morality in a way that's more Heart Of Darkness (Heart Of Dalekness?) than the pitched Die Hard In A Dalek. “Dark Water” probes at the afterlife and its revelations are chilling. The season itself ends not on triumph, but with a series of lies.

If that all sounds awfully dour, then we should note that the season also contains the old-school adventure of “Mummy On The Orient Express” and, in “Flatline”, the closest Who has come to a new “Blink”. Then there's “Listen”. Moffat's best script since “The Eleventh Hour”, it manages to be creepy and moving while being, essentially, about a kid in a blanket and a knackered door. Season eight is not without its wobbles, but as an attempt to inject surprise and danger into this show again, it's a huge success.

Extras: The set contains the complete run of Doctor Who Extra, but you've likely seen those already. More interesting is "Earth Conquest", a 45-minute feature nominally about the worldwide tour the cast took to promote season eight. In fact, it's more focussed on the extraordinary creativity of fans. “Stop apologising for being brilliant,” Capaldi says to an artist at one point. He really is the Doctor, isn't he?

The Ultimate Time Lord and The Ultimate Companion are two lengthy pieces of promo fluff first aired on BBC America. They should be rubbish, but Peter Davison is an inspired host, and the huge range of guests interviewed (McGann, Moffat, former companion Janet Fielding and more) make these surprisingly good fun. Also enjoyable is the “Deep Breath” Q&A hosted by Zoe Ball, though there's little new info to be gleaned. The same can be said for the barrage of short two-minute featurettes (four of which are exclusive), which have almost nothing to say. Trailers are also included, as is the complete version of Foxes's cover of Queen.

There are four commentaries across the set. “Into The Dalek” is good, with director Ben Wheatley and writer Phil Ford making for amiable companions. “The Caretaker” is also enjoyable, but “Robot Of Sherwood” and “Kill The Moon” are bland. "The science is complicated here," says director Paul Wilmshurst, of “Kill The Moon”'s ending. No shit.

There are also some irritating omissions. Doctor Who Live – Peter Capaldi's TV reveal – is absent, as is Strax's cinematic intro to “Deep Breath” (both are on the standalone “Deep Breath” disc, completists). There are no deleted scenes, so the heavily-publicised beheading in “Robot Of Sherwood” and an additional Rustie scene from “Into The Dalek” remain on the cutting room floor (or, in poor quality, on YouTube). Perhaps the production team didn't want to canonise them by including them here, but their absence is annoying.

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Five Plus Ten

Peter Davison chats to his son-in-law (who also happens to be rather famous) in The Ultimate Time Lord.

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Down Under

Peter Capaldi rocks a very, er, special shirt during the Australian leg of the world tour.

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Having A Ball

Zoe Ball quizzes Capaldi and co in this “Deep Breath” Q&A, recorded after the episode’s London premiere.

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Interior Design

Production designer Michael Pickwoad takes us on a short tour of the newly refitted TARDIS.

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The Grand Moff

Steven Moffat talks about the new season in four exclusive two-minute featurettes.

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