Review – Doctor Who season 8 premiere

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The episodes that introduce each new incarnation of Doctor Who always fill me with a great deal of internal anguish. On the one hand, I’m always excited to see what each new Doctor brings to this iconic role. But a part of me can’t seem to feel like I shouldn’t accept the new Doctor, simply because he’s not the old doctor. So it was with a bit of trepidation that I watched Deep Breath the season premiere of the latest season of Doctor Who, which introduces us to the most recent man to pilot the TARDIS, Peter Capaldi.

To be perfectly honest, Matt Smith was not my favorite Doctor. I’ll be a Tennant guy until the day that Gallifrey falls (It falls no more, in case you’re wondering). But as Smith fully enveloped his role as the 11th Doctor, I found myself being won over by his sometimes awkward, sometimes arrogant charm. And by the time we had to say goodbye to him last season, I really didn’t want him to go. But as is the case with every Doctor before him, go he must. And now, it’s Capaldi’s turn to show us what new tricks everyone’s favorite Time Lord has up his sleeve.

The premiere opens in Victorian London, with a well CGI’d dinosaur and a few other familiar faces. The reptilian Madame Vastra, her wife Jenny, and their Sontaran manservant/muscle, Strax are watching this giant T-Rex tear through the Thames when he spits out a familiar blue police box. Lo and behold, the latest Doctor and his faithful companion, Clara Oswald are on the scene. But it appears that the latest regeneration has done a bit of a number on the good Doctor, and he rambles on rather unintelligibly from one subject to the next. But after a good night’s rest, he appears to be back to his old self.

“Old”, being the operative word here, as a lot of the episode appears to be centered around Clara’s unwillingness to accept the new Doctor as “her” doctor. “He doesn’t look renewed, he looks older,” Clara opines in a moment of honesty. It almost appears as if showrunner Steven Moffat has decided to tackle viewer’s tendencies to resist accepting a new doctor head on, by projecting our own fears and concerns onto Clara. When Clara asks Jenny how she would feel if Vastra had changed and “wasn’t the person you…liked,” the implications are pretty clear. Yet as the Doctor slowly regains his boundless energy and whimsical confidence, it quickly becomes evident that this Doctor is, well, the same as all Doctors before him:  A whirling dervish of cunning and daring, that always finds a way to succeed, and always come back for his friends.

The actual story of the premiere, around an ancient race of cyborgs that steal human body parts in an attempt to reach “The Promised Land,” is a bit convoluted and doesn’t have near the emotional or intellectual depth of some of the truly great episodes of Doctor Who. But it does set up a few really creepy set pieces that highlight the unnerving nature of seeing some of Doctor Who’s great villains. In particular, a fantastic scene in a restaurant where Clara and the Doctor discover that everyone else in the room is a cyborg is particularly unsettling in a delightful way. But ultimately, the main plotline serves mainly as filler to the bookends of Clara’s unwillingness to accept this new Doctor, and to her eventually coming around on the new Doctor (with an assist, by [SPOILER ALERT] the 11th Doctor!).

So what’s the final verdict on Capaldi’s Doctor? It’s much too early to say. He shows glimmers of the Doctor’s internal strength and resolve, and his scene with the episode’s main villain in the final 10 minutes is electric. But so much of the premiere focuses on the Doctor struggling to get his bearings on his new body, that we don’t quite know what to make of him yet. Still there is definite potential for Capaldi to take this role to some interesting new places. And I trust that he will do it. After all, he is The Doctor.

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