\This review does contain spoilers//
The Doctor has regenerated and now that you’ve said your goodbyes to Matt Smith is it time to see Peter Capaldi in action and he doesn’t disappoint. This feature length episode begins in Victorian England as a Tyrannosaurus stomps around Parliament. This creature is roughly the size of Godzilla, but the British Inspector seems to only be able to respond in the most British way imaginable. “What’s this dinosaur fellow doing in the Thames?” Really Inspector? Dinosaur fellow? Anyway, we are quickly introduced to a couple of series regulars, Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint. The reptilian Madame Vastra is particularly well used in this scene do to her intimate knowledge of the dinosaur (a distant relative of hers no doubt). Jenny uses a peculiar Sonic device designed by an 13 year old (seriously it was!) to determine that there is something lodged in its throat. That something happens to be the TARDIS, which explains why the dinosaur is there while simultaneously giving the 12th Doctor a grand entrance into series 8 via a Jurassic dry heave.
After Madame Vastra provides an absurdly convenient solution to keep the T-Rex at bay for awhile, the Doctor emerges a sporadic mess. His forgetfulness of people and their names combined with his age particularly reminded me of someone with dementia. Knowing this was all due to him adjusting to his new body, I could not wait for it to be over to see how he truly acts when he is firing on all cylinders. Capaldi’s performance during these scenes was still great and loaded with humor, but seeing the Doctor scared and confused made me extremely uncomfortable.
Much of the episode focused on Clara and her difficulty to accept the older Doctor. Despite the fact that she has witnessed multiple iterations of the Doctor other than Matt Smith including David Tennent and the much older John Hurt, you would think she would have a full grasp on what exactly regeneration entails. The purpose of her trepidation toward Capaldi seems to be more for the sake of the audience (specifically those who might not be willing to accept the new Doctor). It’s understandable to want make the transition as easy for viewers as possible. I have no doubt that there will be a ratings drop by the second episode. They just want to make that drop as small as possible by literally having Matt Smith plead to them to give Capaldi a chance.
Clara isn’t the only one who is having trouble accepting the new Doctor. The Doctor himself has a crisis over his new appearance as well. Some of my favorite bits of the episode was his criticisms toward his own appearance. His commentary on his “angry” eyebrows was a lot funnier than his remarks regarding his “kidneys” seconds after he regenerated. It gets more interesting when he says he is sure that he has seen his face before. We as the audience know that he actually has seen the same face in the series 4 episode ‘The Fires of Pompeii’ when Peter Capaldi played Caecillius, but it’s not clear if that is the face he is referring to. However according Tor.com, Steven Moffat said in an interview that he will be borrowing the 12th Doctor’s origin from Russell T. Davies who had an idea in mind specifically for Peter Capaldi. This episode suggests that the Doctor’s appearance is not as random as I’ve previously imagined. Vastra suggested that 11th Doctor looked young because he wanted to be accepted and flirt with women and now the Doctor suggests his current appearance may be based on a face he has previously seen, similar to the real theory that we cannot dream new faces for strangers in our dreams; they are always people we’ve seen before.
From the opening of the episode I had mistakenly assumed the main conflict would be centered on the dinosaur, but it doesn’t. The T-Rex takes a backseat storywise and we are introduced to a new threat in the Dr. Who universe, the “reverse cyborg” Half-Face man. The half-face man and his reverse cyborg minions fit in nicely with the Dr. Who universe (though they could use more personality) and the episode did a good job exploring the thematic implications that come with the character; namely the mirroring between him and the Doctor. The metaphorical mirroring is also supported by a literal mirroring when the Doctor holds up the silver platter and they both look at their reflections. This happens during a scene where the Doctor tries to convince the half-face man that he is no longer his original self. He had replaced every part of himself over and over again, but considering that amount of times the Doctor has replaced his entire body it can leave him to wonder if he is still same person. This question alone has the potential to change the Doctor in unexpected ways. Is murder still against his programming or did the half-face man leap to his death?
Overall, I did really enjoy the episode. I was most disappointed by Clara’s role and lack of chemistry with the Doctor. I hope this improves now that the 11th Doctor gave her the motivation boost she needed, otherwise the rumors of her leaving this Christmas might not be soon enough. Madame Vastra was great and sassier then ever and while Strax provided practically nothing to the plot he still was great for comic relief. Peter Capaldi definitely won me over and was the highlight of the episode. Even when he reminded my of someone afflicted by dementia, he did so convincingly and with full commitment. I think this Doctor has the potential to be my new favorite and I can’t wait to see what in store for the rest of the season.
side notes and nitpicks
- As for the villain’s master plan, it is fine for awhile until we find out that he has been replacing parts of his ship with human remains. I can accept replacing parts of yourself constantly to become more human, but I have a lot of trouble accepting the idea of making a ship out of human remains. Even if he has figured a way to keep the parts from decomposing faster than he can replace them, it is still an incredibly impractical to presume body parts would be a suitable substitute for machinery in a spacecraft. Nevertheless this robot is not exactly the brightest baddie Doctor Who has faced and perhaps his views on body parts are connected to his apparent religious devotion the “promised land” that blinds him from seeking logical solutions. Perhaps the concept could have flew over better with me if he had a console made where teeth and eyeballs replaced buttons and a finger acted as a lever, but a big hot air balloon made of skin is a bit over the top.
- I am not a huge fan of the new title sequence or the new rendition of the theme. The basis for the new title was actually a fan-made youtube video by Billy Henshaw. I figure if they were going to take their basis from a youtube video they should have gone with Neonvisuals impressive fan-made intro.
- I feel like not breathing is a strange solution to fighting back the robots. I bought it when Clara held her breath to avoid being noticed in the first place, but after they noticed her that trick shouldn’t really work. All these cyborgs are fighting Madame Vastra, Clara, and Jenny Flint and suddenly they hold their breath and they completely disappear as far as these robots are concerned.
- When Clara speaks to Madame Vastra she strongly states she has NEVER had any interest in pretty young men. However, later in the episode Strax examines her subconscious seeing “muscular young men”. You can say that Strax’s machine might not be accurate or he was looking so deep in the subconscious that even Clara was unaware of it, but on the surface it seems like she does like young men and she lied to Vastra in order to win an argument.
- A new character by the name of Missy welcomes the half-face man to paradise. No one knows who she is, but I wouldn’t doubt she is connected to the mysterious ad in the paper. Could she be the new Master?
- One of the funniest things the Doctor did was put the dead man’s face on Clara’s face for no reason other than to show her it’s a real face.