Doctor Who 08:01

Well, here we are again. After eight long, excruciating months, everyone’s favorite time traveler is back on our television screens in an extra-sized debut for a brand new Doctor. And what a debut it is, thanks to some sharp acting, a surprise return, a new mystery or ten, and some lovely moments. But there was some troubling aspects that made me tear my hair out in frustration.

Before we begin, a few things: 1) This post is going to contain massive amounts of SPOILERS scattered throughout. 2) As a thought exercise, rewatch the Series 2 opener “The Christmas Invasion” because I’m going to make reference to that. 3) Did I mention the SPOILERS yet?

Okay, take a deep breath, and here we go…

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Let’s start with the good news, Peter Capaldi is (in the words of dear Malcolm Tucker) fucking brilliant! From his first “Shush!” to Strax, to his frantic running through Victorian England in a nightgown looking like a demented Scrooge, to a stone cold moment with this week’s villain (more on that in a bit), Capaldi and show runner Steven Moffat use the extended episode to make an important point: this may still be The Doctor, but this particular Doctor is unlike anything we’ve seen before. And that’s by NuWho standards at least, even though long-time fans of the show have seen older actors play The Doctor before (William Hartnell was fifty-five when he created the role in the first episode, which puts him about the same age as Capaldi was when he started filming). Frankly, after the manic pixie acting we got from Matt Smith’s last season and the heart-throb that was David Tennant’s take on the role, it’s refreshing to have someone older in the part.

Even better, it seems that Capaldi is pulling from the great tradition of The Doctor having absolutely no social graces and absolutely no time for anyone’s bullshit. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a heart; Capaldi nailed the absolute anguish and hurt that he was feeling in the face of Clara not really seeing him as The Doctor. But it’s this tactlessness that has been missing from The Doctor, and it really is a nice change of pace to have a Doctor who isn’t necessarily the nicest person in the room (his hilarious bit about taking standing up cat naps when other people are talking was hilarious).

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That said, everything reinforced that this Doctor looks old; from the new TARDIS design with old bookcases and wingback chairs, to his reference to the round things from the original TARDIS set to his pitch-perfect costume (which evokes the feeling of an aged British punk who’s now wearing Saville Row tailoring to go with his Doc Martens) reinforces his age and not in a good way. This ageism runs smack up against Clara who just can not believe how old he is; a reaction that rings false as (a) he’s over 2000 years old by now, and (b) more to the point, she is one of the few beings in the universe that has seen every single incarnation of The Doctor thanks to inserting herself throughout his timeline. If anything, this episode is the funhouse mirror of the Series 2 premiere “The Christmas Invasion” where the companion who really should know better has so many issues that it takes a deus ex machina phone call to finally convince her even in the face of literally every other character taking her to task for not recognizing The Doctor. This isn’t Jenna Coleman’s fault; she actually takes the contrivances that Moffat’s script gives her and makes Clara’s distrust believable. But once again, Moffat has trouble with his women characters in giving them something of a brain that could think this through.

On the one hand, this episode was one of the most intense examinations of the concept of regeneration as a whole in the entire history of the show; featuring a Doctor whose faculties are completely scrambled and a companion who is completely distrustful of The Doctor. On the other hand, Moffat oversells the point of Clara’s mistrust by actively saying that she doesn’t know who the Doctor is any more. And on the third hand, he actually gives Clara some much needed motivation and character but turns it wrong by saying she’s a control freak who delighted in playing with a god who looked like a pretty boy. While I won’t go too deeply into the implications of this (because Tom and Lorenzo said it better than I could have hoped) I will say that once again Moffat does nothing to quell the charges of sexism in his writing on the show.

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Even the good things in this episode (and there are a lot of them) were hampered by a bunch of silliness that could have been trimmed. Ben Wheatley’s direction is crisp and tidy and visually stunning. The Paternoster Gang are back in business and Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax were in fine form thanks to Neve McIntosh, Catrin Stewart and Dan Starkey. The villain was a clever reuse from one of Moffat’s most iconic scripts for the series (which I won’t reveal, but you all know which one I’m talking about). And then there was the ambiguous moment at the end when we all asked ourselves “Did he jump or was he pushed?” But there was a lot of filler that could have benefitted from a slight trimming of the episode to make it that much tighter.

All in all there was a lot of good in this series premiere of Doctor Who, thanks to some tight direction and a captivating performance by Peter Capaldi and an improved performance by Jenna Coleman. But given the complaints he’s received as show runner-not only last season but with this opening episode–is there any hope for Steven Moffat?

And now some random bits:

* “Ooh! I’m Scottish! That means I can complain about things!”

* “Who frowned me this face?”

* “These are attack eyebrows!” Oh hell, that entire scene with the homeless man was just fantastic!

* If you think I’m harping on the criticisms towards Moffat in terms of sexism, check this out.

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* That Phone Call! While I did squeal when I saw that Eleven was calling it did take the wind out of Capaldi’s sails. We are here to focus on the new guy, not dredge up the old one again.

* Give that this is yet another concept he’s returned to with this week’s villain, does Moffat have anything new to say about Doctor Who?

* “I have the horrible feeling that I’m going to have to kill you. I thought you might appreciate a drink first. I know I would.” (Yes, this is the moment that made me scream “Day-yuhm!”)

* Just like the cracks in the wall returning for “The Time Of The Doctor,” so to does the phone call from Clara’s first episode “The Bells Of Saint John,” where the woman at the computer shop give the TARDIS’s phone number to her. Now with whoever placed the advertisements to get them to meet, we have to ask who is pushing these two together?

* “Oh you’ve redecorated! I don’t like it.” And now Clara gets to use the Second Doctor’s great joke.

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* Finally, we meet Missy (or as she was originally billed “The Guardian of the Nethersphere”). But who is this deranged woman in Mary Poppins drag? And why is she in the garden that looks eerily like the one in “The Girl Who Waited?” Given the layout and the way she danced around it, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was inside the TARDIS. But we shall see…

* Before I go, how cool was it that the new opening sequence was designed by a fan? Here’s the original version of it for comparison:

NEXT TIME: Grab Coolio and Raquel Welch as we get ready to take a Fantastic Voyage….into a “good” pepper pot…

Photo & Video Credits: BBC

ONE MORE THING: Tonight, Monday, 25 August is the 66th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on NBC. Head over to l’étoile‘s Tumblr page for my predictions of who I think is going to win tonight.

Originally Published on 25 August 2014 as part of “The Idiot Box,” my television column for l’étoile.

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