A nerd’s review of Peter Capaldi’s dynamic premiere as the latest Doctor Who.
FYI – This post is bound to be a little longer than most because there’s so much to cover! If you’re anything like me, you’ve been impatiently waiting for this episode since the Christmas Special when we first saw a confused, bleary-eyed Peter Capaldi regenerate himself into Matt Smith’s “Need for Tweed” uniform. Lots to get to, let’s get started. Geroni…wait, that was Smith’s catchphrase. Just what else do we have to look forward to?NEW DOCTOR, NEW INTRO The Doctor has regenerated. Adios Matt Smith, hello Peter Capaldi. Fittingly, the BBC has snazzed up the show’s intro and music, giving both old and new fans tons to like, including:
- Those badass Capaldi eyes: Awesome, throwback reference to the 70’s, old-school Tom Baker show intro I grew up on. Hoping other fans appreciate this as much as I do. Obviously, the choice has been made (and I think it a good one) for Peter’s peepers to become this Doctor’s signature – much like Tom Baker’s scarf or Matt Smith’s bow-tie. His eyes are conflicted – both contemplative and combative at the same time. Is he pissed? Is he awash in thought? The unique ability to vacillate back and forth, instantaneously, between these two states are what I’m predicting will define Capaldi’s incarnation of the Doctor.
- Galifreyan graphic design sensibilities: I’ve always loved the circular, time fonts and dingbats from the original 70’s version of the seal of Rassilon. There was so much rad design to pull from those old episodes. Today it stills feels alien, mystical, and fresh. I’m glad someone else felt the same way and has decided to feature them prominently. Apparently they are also a part of the new TARDIS interior redesign as well. More, please! I’m guessing their inclusion in the introduction is a hint that much of the Capaldi Doctor’s internal push/pull will stem from his Galifreyan identity.
- The TARDIS materializes in Victorian England with a T-Rex in tow, drawing the attention of The Doctor’s allies/band of misfits, The Paternoster Gang (Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint, Strax the Sontaran).
- It’s difficult to tell who’s more distraught by the Doctor’s most recent regeneration – a very out-of-sorts Doctor or a confused Clara.
- After a brief separation, Doctor and Clara are brought together again after each discovers and answers the same cryptic newspaper ad.
- Together they discover cyborgs beneath London who are scavenging human body parts in order to rebuild themselves and escape to “Paradise”.
- In the climax, The Doctor confronts the cyborg leader in an escape pod high over London before the cyborg falls to his death; whether pushed by the new, perhaps slightly morally ambiguous Doctor or having leaped of his own volition remains unclear.
- In the final moments of the episode, the dead cyborg leader awakens in a garden where we’re introduced to “Missy” – a woman with a sinister vibe who strangely refers to the Doctor as her boyfriend. (PSEUDO-SPOILER: could this be a female regeneration of the Doctor’s arch-nemesis, The Master? Missy -> Mistress -> The Master?)
EPISODE RATING: 3.5/5
- THE GOOD – Firstly, who doesn’t love an episode with Strax the Sontaran’s one-liners? Especially when aimed at Clara (hiss) and mistaking her for a human boy child? Now on to business. There’s metric tons of heavy lifting to be done in the first episode of any season. The first episode of post-regeneration Doctor How has more to do than most. Moffat and Capaldi must also establish the “brand essence” of a newly regenerated Doctor (a character who has had 11 previous versions who were loved & adored by fans around the world for 50+ years) while simultaneously re-establishing this brand new Doctor’s relationships with past companions who knew only his previous incarnation. It’s no easy task, but I think it’s done more than admirably here. If nothing else, I’m left wanting more. More of Capaldi’s “attack eyebrows”, more hints of his emergingly ambiguous morality, more of his angry, sometimes indecipherable, Scottish brogue. If this episode was just a taste, I’m committed to staying for the whole meal and watching PC possibly evolve into one of the greats (Hartnell, Baker, Tennant, Smith). That’s right, I said it and I plan to stand by that statement all season – and possibly longer.
- THE BAD – There were a handful of cringe-worthy scenes in this episode. Every episode has a couple. But these ones seemed symptom of a larger issue which has bugged me and plagued the show since the 2005 reboot – dumbing down/younging-up for the audience. Three instances in “Deep Breath” instantly rubbed me the wrong way: the use of goofy, music during the horseback chase scene, the use of cartoon sound effect when Madame Vestra knocks the Doctor out via psychic-link, and watching The Doctor pinball down the branches of a tree to the ground like Sonic the Hedgehog. An ugh hat-trick. All terrible choices. I’m all for humor, don’t get me wrong. But the super broad, physical, Three-Stooge-esque, prat-fall type stuff is just embarrassing for the actor and insulting for the audience. Perhaps these were the director’s prerogative? Not sure. If you’re listening, Moffat – take heed!
- THE FUGLY – My one glaring (and recurring) point of contention with the series has been The Doctor’s current companion, Clara Oswald, It’s fairly well documented that the broader Who-niverse also has a largely love/hate relationship with her character. Me? I loathe/despise/detest her. I can concede she has a tough act to follow, having to replace the beloved Amy Pond – whose seasons were largely a delight. But Jenna Louise Coleman has done little to provide relatable dimension to her character even though much of the past season was dedicated to bringing her backstory to light. After almost a full season’s worth of her episodes, I find I still don’t care. She’s remains flat and lacking depth/nuance – a bit of a lump, really. Clara has absolutely no sense of awe or wonder. She’s a control-freak who constantly bitches at DW and jumps at every chance to be contrarian. It’s meant to be endearing and spunky, but it just comes off as ungrateful and spoilt. Jeez, lady. You’re a pain in the Galifreyan ass. We’re traveling through the entire expanse of time and space, at least pretend you’re having a good time, will ya? If I were the Doctor, I’d drop Clara off at the nearest star cluster occupied by the Daleks and let her big, whiny, bug eyes try to nag their way out of being exterminated.
CAPALDI’S DOCTOR: “Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s the keys to the TARDIS, baby.”
Nowhere in the episode does the above quote appear. I made it up. And with good reason. It sums up how I feel about the new Capaldi Doctor. Listen, I loved Matt Smith. I didn’t want to, but I did. I thought he was too young and would lack the depth and complexity to play the last living Time Lord. And, although his seasons of the series were fantastic, I may have been right as they largely stayed away from the survivor’s guilt aspect of the character. This is EXACTLY why I’m stoked Steven Moffat brought in Peter Capaldi – an actor of great emotional depth who has played a spectrum of roles from sinister to humorous each with equally excellent results.
We’re already beginning to see the potential of that switcharoo paying off in spades in this first episode. This is a different Doctor. We meet him terribly discombobulated, trying to make sense of himself post-regeneration. Physically, he is older, less the charming hipster Smith was and more a menacing, curmudgeonly grand-dad whose face’s resting state seems to be a permanent scowl. He is as confused by his appearance as we might be. He obviously dislikes his “attack eyebrows” – which I predict will be used to legendary effect in coming episodes and will come to be lovingly revered by fans everywhere. However, it’s not all bad. The Doctor delights in a new Scottish accent which gives him permission to “complain about things”. He exhibits a touch of mania, swinging pendulum-like from inquisitive to intimidating within the same conversation. Even as we learn more about him, we are still not sure who he is. Put it this way, I wouldn’t want to be on the business end of said “cross” eyebrows. In a fight, crazy is more dangerous because crazy has nothing to lose. I definitely get that sense from Capaldi here. He’s a bit unhinged and possibly a tick imbalanced – I love it.
A word about his outfit – When it comes to the Doctor, the clothes have always helped to make the man. While I do like the publicity photos we’ve seen recently of his overcoat with the red satin interior (it does gives him an air of mystery – I think Phantom of the Opera meets 20’s stage magician), I do think there’s something of an edge missing. Capaldi’s Doctor may yet be evolving into something of an in-your-face anti-hero. As such, I actually liked the fingerless gloves he “acquired” from the homeless man in the alley. They gave a touch of rogue to his appearance that could (hopefully) become quite appropriate.
Did he steal the overcoat from the man in the alley? Why did he do an about face, leaving Clara to fend for herself in the depths of the cyborg scavengers’ lair? Did he coax the cyborg leader off the ledge or did The Doctor push him? The idea of a slightly “Dirty Harry” Doctor has awesome appeal. I’m excited to see where Moffat takes him and us throughout the rest of Season 8. I hope it requires a seatbelt and I hope we do get to see those “attack eyebrows” come off their leash and kick some serious cosmic keister.
“I’m the Doctor. I’ve lived for over 2,000 years – not all of them have been good. I’ve made many mistakes, and it’s about time I did something about that.” How’s that for a statement of purpose? Hell to the yes. Let’s do this thing.
Doctor Who S8E2 “Into the Dalek” airs Saturday 8.29 at 9pm EST on BBC America.