Fiddling while Rome burned comes to mind. In the middle of a national political crisis, I've spent my time watching Doctor Who series 8, three episodes per evening. Luckily, the DVD arrived just as I had run out of Downton episodes. Last night, when I'd finished watching the finale, I somewhat half-heartedly checked the news online and found out an extra election had been called. Well, what do you know.
I doubt a new election will bring much joy, but the new Doctor, Peter Capaldi, certainly did. I recently cheered on his Richelieu in The Musketeers: this time around, my feelings are more friendly approval than swooning villain-fangirliness. Which only goes to show how convincing Capaldi is as a) a hero b) an alien. Like Clara, his companion, you sense that cuddles are not on the menu, and their relationship developed interestingly in a quite new direction. Clara's boyfriend Danny, when he thinks he's cracked the whole mystery, exclaims:"You're an alien! And he's your space dad!" He's not as far wrong as all that.
For a comparatively new Who fan like me - I've watched and loved the whole new series from Christopher Eccleston onwards, but I still only have the slightest acquaintance with the old one - a Doctor-companion relationship without any hint of flirting makes a refreshing change. For the old hands, this is the rule rather than the exception, but the first companion I saw was Rose, whom the Doctor actually fell in love with. Then came Martha (one of my personal favourites among the companions), who fell in love with him. Then, it's true, came Donna ("I just need a mate" "Well, you're not mating with me, sunshine") - a very chaste friendship, but the Doc and she were still mistaken for a couple more than once. Then came Amy, who loved her boyfriend deeply, but still occasionally fancied the Doctor in his new Matt Smith guise. And then, finally, there was Clara, who did not seem completely averse to Doctor Smith's boyish charms either.
You see what I mean? Enough of the flirtatious Tardis bantering already. When her and the Doctor's relationship shifted, Clara had the chance to become something more than Amy make two. As usual, there is tension between the Doctor and the companion's boyfriend - who is an ex-soldier to boot, and a good counterweight to the Doctor's occasional hippie-ishness - but this time, the Doctor's disapproval is more that of a stern father-in-law than of a potential love rival. This doesn't mean he has to go entirely without flirting, however: to his own discomfort, he is thoroughly flirted with by the head villain, or rather villainess, of this series. She's called Missy, short for - on second thoughts, I'm not telling.
Missy, played with great relish by Michelle Gomez, is a treat. That she, like Capaldi, is Scottish adds an extra dimension to their scenes together - there's a bond here which the Doctor may deplore but never quite get rid of, and the accent highlights it. Also, I must admit that it was tremendous fun to watch a baddie with the safety catch entirely off. That's not how I usually like my villains, I know. Normally, I want them to have limits, rules and psychologically credible motives. Missy doesn't need any of that. She kan kill off a likeable bit-part player on a whim, and you're still up for more. I don't know if it's the fact that she's female (i.e. role model as opposed to villain object of pining affection), or if it's the whole alien thing. Anyhow, I hope we'll see more of her: I don't know how they'll explain it, but in Doctor Who, there's always a way.
The whole series eight was entirely satisfactory, without a single dud episode, though of course it was impossible to like them all equally. The connecting story arc, with mysterious glimpses of what looked like an afterlife, was more or less resolved in the finale, which was a mercy: in the Matt Smith era, we got story arcs spanning over several series, and very confusing it was too. Yes, the explanation of the afterlife scenario was a tad overcomplicated and not without plot holes, but I can live with that. Bring on the Christmas special (er, Santa Claus? OK, fine) and series nine. And let's hope the Doctor won't have to regenerate for a wee while yet.