Welcome to “Talk And Review of the Doctor In Series 8“, a new fortnightly segment where I ramble about Doctor Who‘s eighth contemporary series for 1200 words each. You might ask, quite rightly, why I would add a slew of reviews to a blogosphere already saturated with content on the good Doctor and, in particular, Peter Capaldi’s turn as the new mad man with a blue box.
Honestly? Mostly boredom. I’ve been in a writing drought for the past few weeks, and this was what I felt moved to scribe for all my unassuming readers. Also, I’ve been doing a fair bit of reading Alasdair Wilkins’ and Keith Phipps’ excellent reviews over at The AV Club’s Doctor Who section whilst procrastinating from my PhD research, and as much as I usually like to leave TV and movie stuff to the experts – given that my critical specialty is predominantly the graphic novel medium – I thought I’d take a stab at it (with a spoon and a black glove, but we’ll cover that next time).
Now, a couple of things to keep in mind; until I feel like it, this’ll just be covering the current Capaldi run. I know I’m late to the buffet as the season’s just passed the 1/3 mark but better late than never, right? I’ll do the episodes in pairs, not only to save you the trouble of reading twice as many words for the next two and a half months but also to give myself time to articulate thoughts in at least a slightly pretending intelligent way. Also there are 12 episodes for the 12th Doctor so that tallies neatly.
So – that opening, then?
Say what you will about Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor, but I liked him. I just didn’t like his last run of episodes.
No, it’s not just because those stupid love triangle shenanigans and complete inability to handle Clara Oswald as a companion thoughtfully, and it’s not (entirely) because of the interminably long and poorly-rationalised breaks between season chunks, although those do contribute to my apathy towards most of Smith and writer Steven Moffat’s run in the latter-day episodes. Things felt distinctly unfocused and both uninteresting for the viewer as well as uninterested on the part of the characters. Granted, high points like The Angels Take Manhattan and Nightmare in Silver were enjoyable, and I’m one of the many who loved The Day of the Doctor and the few who loved The Time of the Doctor, but on the whole the show just lost a bit of the vim and verve that characterised my being glued to the TV during David Tennant’s and early Matt Smith’s episodes. Serviceable, but forgettable.
As if consciously trying to eschew the recent past’s antithesis to excitement, Series 8 of Doctor Who comes out swinging and quite neatly establishes that we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto (or Gallifrey, I dunno, that seemed like too obvious a joke to make). Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor is a hard-edged man with an insane streak, and Clara actually has more depth than a tabletop. The emotional horror’s been ramped up a bit just like Moffat’s previous excellent work in Blink and Silence in the Library. The scripting is sharp, the comedy is great and not overwrought, and both of the first two outings kinda fast-track Capaldi’s initial tabula rasa to the Doctor’s role and forge him into an instantly recognisable character as similar to and distinct from his predecessors.
In other words, Doctor Who is back, ladies and gentlemen.
Approaching Deep Breath and Into the Dalek with the bias of having seen the subsequent two episodes (another pitfall of starting this late), it’s obvious there are growing pains going on. Granted, that’s to be expected whenever there’s a production or actor regime change on the set of the BBC’s flagship show, but things feel a little more wobbly than they did when Matt Smith took the keys to the TARDIS and spent most of his first episode in his predecessor’s ragged garb. Much of Deep Breath in particular seems a little padded for the movie-length runtime, with the plot regarding clockwork droids and Victorian London only really coalescing towards the end of the second act during the most tensely-acted restaurant scene I think I’ve ever witnessed. Before then, when the boulder gathers enough moss to get from a stumble to a roll, we’re concerned mostly with finding out who our new protagonists really are; the Doctor’s not the only one rediscovering identity, as Clara’s now been blessed with a modicum of characterisation besides just being a pretty TARDIS ornament for the 11th Doctor to fawn over.
That characterisation also plays a bit part in making Into the Dalek work as much as it does. While I understand wanting to get the new Doctor/Dalek debut episode over and done with so the season-long story can get into gear – with Smith having something similar in his first season’s Victory of the Daleks – this time round it feels a little less of a throwaway plot and more of a character study that happens to feature a plot where people get shrunk and stuck inside a genocidal cyborg (and hey, I can think of worse plots). Clara’s newfound stern, ‘bossy’ attitude as an almost motherly teacher – hammered home when the Doctor refers to her not as companion but as his ‘carer’ – helps snap the Doctor out of some justifiable bias he has towards the Daleks and, consequently, how to defeat them. It’s the kind of refreshing ear-turn on the Doctor’s understandable hatred of the Daleks juxtaposed with questioning the Doctor as a character that would’ve worked excellently once we know exactly who this Doctor is.
Unfortunately, we don’t know who this Doctor is. Not yet, anyway. As I said, he’s given the impression here (and much better in subsequent episodes) that he’s very much the same and yet different to the 11-ish men who came before him, and there are touches here and there – such as Deep Breath‘s lines regarding the ‘attack eyebrows’ – that indelibly mark Capaldi as retaining that alien goofiness that so characterises most of the Doctor’s incarnations. That said, we’re not quite at the stage previous modern Doctors were for their solidified personas to appear fully formed; the 10th Doctor only really hit his stride when School Reunion and The Girl in the Fireplace happened, the 11th found his feet during The Time of Angels two-parter and, funnily enough, the 9th’s core character came about during the episode Dalek at the midpoint of his only season.
That last episode mentioned is one Alasdair Wilkins draws inevitable comparisons to regarding both it and Into the Dalek‘s
similarities, and I agree that the latter would’ve worked much better as both a Dalek episode and a character study a few more episodes in rather than as the 12th Doctor’s sophomore outing. As is it’s still definitely great, if not a classic, but I find a lot of the questions regarding 12’s nature and whether or not he’s a ‘good man’ ring a little hollow when we, the audience, can’t really begin to guess at that ourselves. I mean, yeah, his garb’s a lot darker than that utilised by his immediate two forebears, his mannerisms carry menace and he might or might not have pushed the Half-Face Man out the door to his death during Deep Breath‘s climax, but we don’t know enough about the 12th Doctor to form a clear picture in our heads without going to what we base off previous incarnations. Unless she’s had more off-screen adventures with him between Deep Breath and Into the Dalek – which, given the latter’s scene in the cupboard, is unlikely – Clara shouldn’t be, and indeed isn’t, able to even remotely answer that question.
There’s a lot more I could get into with these two episodes, but as an overarching statement I found them promising. As someone formerly religious in their Doctor Who watching – though that mostly came about during many lonely weekends in high school with not much to do other than mowing the lawn or fantasising about being Batman – I was thoroughly gratified that it seems like we’re getting back to a focused Doctor with some excellent scripting and direction behind him. In particular I left the cinema screening of Deep Breath thinking “Man, I really hope they’re gonna keep the good stuff coming now.”
Being four episodes into Series 8, I think I can comfortably say – spoiler alert – they are.
The AV Club reviews have Stray Observations, and my comic reviews have grades for Story, Artwork and Dialogue alongside a Best Quote. So for TARDIS 8, let’s go with:
ON ITS OWN: Deep Breath
– A great start for Peter Capaldi, and some refreshing new dimensions for Jenna Coleman to sink her teeth into.
– Am I the only one kinda sick of Vastra, Jenny and Strax? They’re kinda funny but I never really considered them much of a ‘thing’ the same way Torchwood or the Rose Tyler Appreciation Society of Mum and Mickey were back in their respective days.
– On that note, the cinema prologue with Strax overly-expositing on the previous Doctors was a bit of a sticking point. Only so far you guys can push that Sontaran “We will kill you all!” humour before it becomes tiresome.
– Attack eyebrows. Yes.
– “I can complain about things! I can really complain about things!”
– Yeah, I’m also not gonna delve into that whole Missy thing for now. Suffice it to say that I highly doubt she’s the Rani (go Google it if you don’t know who that is) and I even higher-ly doubt she’s a female Master. But who the hell knows? Besides Moffat, I mean.
EPISODE MARK: 8/10
– An interesting character study that would’ve benefited greatly from happening once we have a better handle on what 12’s like.
– For some reason that Commander guy, the Irish bloke who threatens to kill the Doctor at the start, really got on my tits. Don’t ask me why.
– Dalek antibodies will haunt my nightmares for a very long time. Those eyes.
– Clara’s answer to the Doctor’s question at the end is a nice taking of a third option to a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but I still feel she’s not got a lot of appropriate context for any kind of honesty where that’s concerned. Now, if she’d been asked this after the next two episodes…
– For another reason, I find that scene of the doors blowing open and falling slowly to the ground to allow a horde of Daleks ingress to be wholly unsettling. Its use the “Next Time” trailer at the end of Deep Breath was a bit of an excitable moment for me.
– “No, no, not like that. Not like that. Get it right.”
– Man, just look at that picture of Danny Pink’s smile above. I think I’m gonna like him.
EPISODE MARK: 7/10
NEXT TIME ON TARDIS 8:
The Doctor and Clara gad about with a mythic hero and his ephemeral band of diseased misfits in Robot of Sherwood, and we return to some Moffat-penned primal horror with Listen.
Feel free to leave suggestions for making these review better/more interesting/less derivative in the comments below!