Doctor Who: Who's new, who's back, and what to expect from Season 8

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Apr 29, 2019, 7:20 AM EDT (Updated)

It's been a while since we've clapped our eyes on our beloved Time Lord. In fact, the last time we saw him was way back when in December 2013, during the show's Xmas special episode, "The Time of the Doctor."

With season eight debuting this upcoming Saturday, we thought we'd go down memory lane a bit and look back at season seven, peer at the big whopping 50th-anniversary special, and think upon Who's yearly yuletide episode, which saw Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith hand over the TARDIS keys to Peter Capaldi.

But before you dig in remember: Shhhhh! Spoilers!

The story so far (being somewhat a recap of Doctor Who season seven):

Season seven began its verrrry long run nearly two years ago, on Sept. 1, 2012. The first half of the season was made up of five stand-alone episodes that saw the Doctor still having adventures with his trusted companions Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill). But alas, in good old Doctor Who fashion, t'wasn't meant to last. The mid-series finale ultimately saw the departure — thanks to those pesky Weeping Angels AND the Statue of Liberty (you had to be there) — of the Doctor's beloved Ponds in the tearjerker "The Angels Take Manhattan." The Doctor's wife, River Song (Alex Kingston), even returned in time to see her parents' dramatic exit from the TARDIS. 

To us, the shortened first half of the season felt like showrunner Steven Moffat was simply filling up the Doctor's time until the introduction of his brand-new companion, Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman). But what an introduction that was! Instead of seeing Clara in the Xmas special "The Snowmen" — as was expected — the first sight we had of her (which was pretty much the biggest WTF moment of the season for us) was in the Dalek-filled season-seven premiere "Asylum of the Daleks." Except she wasn't exactly Clara, but rather Oswin, or, in the Doctor's words, "Soufflé Girl." Not only that, but it was discovered at the end of the episode that she was actually ... a Dalek! Which of course led to WHAT THE HECK IS CLARA?

Way to go, Steven Moffat!! Hook, line and sinker.

Moving away from the awesomeness of Clara's introduction on Who, one of the few highlights from the first five episodes was, and it needs to be said, that we got to meet Rory's very awesome dad Brian Williams (Harry Potter's Mark Williams). No matter that it was during the rather silly romp "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" (aka THE EPISODE WHERE THE DOCTOR KISSED RORY), we absolutely loved Brian. We wanted, nay, NEEDED more Brian. 

While the addition of Rory's dad to the world of Doctor Who was absolutely brilliant, the total screwup of what should have been an amazing guest-starring stint wasn't. We're talking about Ben Browder, who showed up in "A Town Called Mercy" as Isaac, a tough U.S. Marshal who was guarding an alien. Browder's addition was great, but he was criminally underused.You've got Farscape's very own John Crichton to guest-star on your show! Give him something to do! Browder's appearance may be one of biggest disappointements of season seven.

After the drama that was the mid-season finale, Doctor Who finally returned two months later with the Xmas special. "The Snowmen" featured the return of our favorite trio of Victorian detectives, the Paternoster Gang, and introduced another version of Clara. The Doctor, not knowing who, or more specifically what, Clara was, and finding a third version of her in 2013, became determined to solve the mystery of the Impossible Girl and made her his new companion in "The Bells of Saint John."

The Doctor traveled with Clara for eight episodes, encountering an old enemy in the form of an Ice Warrior in "Cold War," with Clara exploring the seemingly endless rooms of the TARDIS in the excellent and suspenseful "Journey to the Center of the TARDIS." In the season-seven finale, "The Name of the Doctor," the mystery that was Clara Oswin Oswald was finally solved. In order to save the Doctor from having all his victories undone by the Great Intelligence, Clara followed the big bad villain into the wound of the Doctor's timeline from his tomb on Trenzalore, sacrificing herself many times over in order to save the Doctor, and meeting up with all of the Time Lord's previous incarnations in the process.

The mystery finally solved, all eyes then turned toward Doctor Who's 50th-anniversary shindig. In anticipation of the big event, two special online-minisodes aired: "The Night of the Doctor" and "The Last Day." "Night of the Doctor" saw the very, very, very welcome return of Eight Doctor Paul McGann, and finally solved the mystery of HIS Doctor's regeneration into ... NOT Christopher Eccleston's Ninth Time Lord, but into John Hurt's (Alien, Merlin) War Doctor.

Hurt then went on to make his first and — as of yet — only full appearance (he showed up briefly at the end of "The Name of the Doctor") in Who's 50th -anniversary special, "The Day of the Doctor." The full-on extravaganza saw David Tennant's triumphant return as the Tenth Doctor, sauntering alongside Matt Smith's Eleven. The pair made brilliant, timey-wimey magic together as they hilariously bonded over fezzes and eyeglasses, before providing us with a very funny "my-sonic-screwdriver-is-bigger-than-yours" moment (Exhibit A below).

Oh, and speaking of the big BAD WOLF (pun intended) moment, Billie Piper also returned as Rose Tyler ... The Moment. 

In addition to David Tennant and Billie Piper, the funny, action-packed 50th brought back the much-missed Time Lords and Gallifrey. It also finally offered the hilarious explanation behind the relationship between Good Queen Bess (Elizabeth I, played by Joanna Page) and Tennant's Tenth Doctor, and why the heck she TOTZ HATES HIM (see: "The Shakespeare Code"). Along with Piper, the special saw the long-awaited return of those classic Doctor Who monsters the Zygons.

But the emotional highlight of the anniversary special was without a doubt a very touching reunion of sorts as the Eleventh Doctor met with the very mysterious Curator, played by beloved Fourth Doctor Tom Baker — who'd previously sat the 25th-anniversary out. It was perhaps because of this that this momentous meeting felt even more extraordinary. We betcha there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

The greatness that was Doctor Who's 50th anniversary was then followed, a month later, by the 2013 Christmas episode, "The Time of the Doctor." It was Matt Smith's swan song as the Eleventh iteration of the Time Lord, and brought another changing of the guard. We frankly didn't think it was possible to outdo the Tenth Doctor's emotional regeneration, but Steven Moffat showed us once again why he was showrunner and he made darn sure that HIS Doctor wasn't going out without an even bigger BANG.

Having Eleven use the energy from his big whopping regeneration — which was given to him as a gift by the Time Lords when Clara finally answered the Question, thus enabling him to destroy the enemy spaceships that hovered over Trenzalore and the town of Christmas — was brilliant, if a tad bombastic. But it did fix the looming problem Steven Moffat was facing. No more regenerations left, my dear Doctor? No problemo! Let the Time Lords provide you with a fresh new batch! Annnd voila! 

The Doctor, still in his Eleventh incarnation's form, managed to make it to the TARDIS to say a final goodbye to Clara — and, in one of Doctor Who's most emotional moments EVER, to the "ghost" of Amy Pond. If "Raggedy man, goodnight," didn't make you cry (we were actually bawling our eyes out by that time), then you probably don't like rainbows and kittens and unicorns and we don't know what will make you cry.

The Doctor then made his way back to the TARDIS console in a sad, quiet moment before BAM! there's Peter Capaldi's wide-eyed Twelfth Doctor, looking quite as mad as his previous incarnation.

Who left, who arrived, who returned:

Ah, season seven. You killed us dead quite a few times. We had to say our goodbyes to our beloved Ponds, knowing they would never, ever return to Doctor Who because of some wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey timeline thingie technicalities. Their daughter, River Song, returned for two episodes, and there was a teary-eyed goodbye between her and Matt Smith's Doctor in "The Name of the Doctor."

Everyone's favorite trio of Victorian detectives, the Paternoster Gang — who, if you'll recall, were first introduced to us in the season-six episode "A Good Man Goes to War" — made a very welcome return appearance in three episodes: notably in the Christmas special "The Snowmen," and the seventh season's finale "The Name of the Doctor." A first version of Clara showed up in "Asylum of the Daleks," only to die. Another Clara appeared in Victorian London in "The Snowmen," only to die again. The Doctor finally encountered a third version of Clara Oswin Oswald in 2013, and she finally joined him as his new companion in "The Bells of Saint John."

"The Power of Three" saw the exciting arrival on the Doctor Who scene of the late Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart's daughter Kate Stewart as head of UNIT's Scientific Research. She returned for the 50th's big bash "The Day of the Doctor," which saw the introduction of quirky scientist Osgood (Ingrid Oliver).

What we're looking forward to for season eight:

First off, no midseason break, so hooray! Oh, OK, there's something else: a brand-new Doctor; one we've been promised will be tonally very different from his recent predecessors. We're really looking forward to seeing the darker Doctor that Peter Capaldi will portray. It'll be a nice shift in tone that we hope will re-energize the beloved sci-fi series and will provide a springboard for, well, darker episodes.

With the arrival of the Twelfth Doctor, we're also hoping to see a tighter, one-season-long story-arc. The introduction of the Eleventh Doctor had a story arc that spanned three seasons, with the end results being more or less satisfying for the fans, but less so for the casual viewers.

New Doctor, new monsters. We're used to Steven Moffat introducing us to a plethora of new Doctor Who beasties and villains, so we're hoping to see the introduction of brand-new monsters that'll manage to spook us off in the same vein as the Weeping Angels, the Silence and the Vashta Nerada. The new monsters and villains will include the Scovox, the Teller, the Sheriff of Nottingham, droids and a half-faced cyborg, Ms Delphox, Missy/Gatekeeper of the Nethersphere, and Robot Knights.

We're also looking forward to the possible introduction of another brand-new companion (besides Danny Pink, we mean) during this year's upcoming Christmas episode, since Jenna Coleman is sadly reportedly LEAVING Doctor Who during this year's yuletide special.

Notable upcoming season-eight guest stars:

Season eight will see the eagerly anticipated return of Neve McIntosh as the Silurian Madame Vastra, Catrin Stewart as her lover and partner Jenny Flint, and Dan Starkey as Sontaran Commander Strax.

As for the rest of the stellar roster of season-eight guest stars, they include Da Vinci's Demons' Tom Riley, who'll be on hand to play a real-life Robin Hood; the wonderful Hermione Norris (Spooks, Outcasts); Rome's David Bamber; Michelle Gomez (The Book Group -- she is perhaps a little less known on this side of the pond, but is a much-loved actress in the U.K.); Primeval's Ben Miller; and British comedian Frank Skinner.

Jemma Redgrave will also be back as Kate Stewart, and so will Osgood, who will have switched her obsession from the Fourth Doctor to the Eleventh by swapping the long scarf for a bow tie, because, you know, bow ties are cool.

On the rumor side, there have grumblings that Alex Kingston may be putting in a repeat appearance as our good Doctor's wife, River Song.

Now that we've taken a bit of a look back at season seven and made a list of what we'll be looking forward to see in Doctor Who's eighth season, let's have a closer look at the episodes coming up next.

Doctor Who season eight will premiere on Aug. 23. What element of it are you most looking forward to? Let us know in the comments, or on Twitter at @syfywire.

(via Doctor Who TV for the episode list)