I’m not one to review TV and movies much, there’s no shortage of people doing that so I go with posting and reviewing other things. Every now and again though there is a movie or show that merits a review or just struck a chord or such and couldn’t be avoided.
The new episode of the new incarnation of Doctor Who turns out to be one of them. …oh and there will be Spoilers below, just so you know.
Now before anyone gets any pre-conceptions – I’m not a hardcore “Who-vian” as some fans call themselves. I haven’t seen every series ever made and do not possess any excessively detailed knowledge of the lore beyond a point. Mostly I was a kid who read some of the novels as a kid and remembered a fascination. That led to me catching a few on TV when BBC Entertainment briefly aired here as a channel and was quite enjoying David Tennant in the couple of episodes I caught, but that was it.
Like pretty much ALL non-Who fans, it was a daunting thing to dive into something with so much history and backstory. But after a friend nudged, I took the re-started modern incarnations that began with the too-short portrayal by Christopher Eccleston (damn him!), followed along with Tennant who was spectacular and was pleasantly surprised and then a fan of Matt Smith who at first glance seemed such an odd choice but became the character. As I watched, I realised two important things:
1) I finally understood concepts like “who is your Doctor”, what so engaged people for years and what remarkably set this show so apart from literally everything else – because except for calling it science fiction, you truly cannot club it with any other show of any kind in my view. It is unique.
2) You do NOT have to know everything about everything and have watched anything beyond the most recent start.
It’s this second point that is most relevant here because THIS is a whole new Doctor and in fact is a new Doctor after events that were of beyond epic-proportions. That means that if you’ve never seen Doctor Who before, now’s the fuckin’ time! (to quote Ms. O-Ren Ishii).
There was not just eagerness and anticipation with this premier episode, there was an almost palpable potential energy waiting inside so many people – if you knew a Who-fan, you could see it when they spoke about it. The move to bring in an older Peter Capaldi in the role was a mixed bag for most who could not understand the choice – and the elephant in the room of him having played a minor character a few years ago in an episode (Pompeii) was both a concern and curious conundrum. The latter because Steven Moffat and his crew have done a wonderful thing in that I feel they pay attention to what the genuine fans have to say constructively and they themselves put in much thought and effort when scripting so that they address things and write the episodes in a way quite unlike any other series I’ve come across.
The show itself starts of with one hell of a moment as we are treated to a VERY large T-Rex looking dinosaur towering over Victorian London. We then run into who else but the Paternoster Gang (as the trio have been dubbed) and personally I think it was a good move to bring in some familiar supporting characters to ease us into the new status-quo. Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax stand with the crowd as they assess the situation until suddenly it hacks and lets fly a… wait, that’s… the TARDIS?!
Well why not!
From there we meet a Doctor still recovering from his regeneration. We get to meet Capaldi’s take on the character as he himself struggles to understand what he is and what is going on, his memory still a bit fuzzy and his senses confused to the point where he confuses Clara and Strax as the same person and at another where he claims he can’t understand what any of them are saying until Vastra starts talking in a Scottish accent – a funny little moment to say the least.
I have to admit that some part of his early moments were almost reminiscent of Doc Brown from the Back to the Future movies which was amusing as hell!
We meet the villains of this story in the form of a murderous group of Clockwork Robots and it was a pleasant surprise to find that they were not trying to soft-pedal but in fact chose to go for a slightly dark adventure with this one.What was an even nicer touch was to make them the machines that were on the sister ship to the “S.S. Madame de Pompadour” from The Girl in the Fireplace who were part of one of the best (in my humble opinion) adventures in the series.
It was an episode that was intense and confounding for all involved (in a good way for the viewer at least) and none more so than Clara, who has just faced the death of “her” Doctor and now has to deal with this seemingly a little crazy, bit grumpy, impossible to control new person and she is a bit at sea. Normally she would be able to have influence on the flighty, more wistful Smith-Doctor. Now she has no control at all and we see the previous dynamic a little reversed in a way as he is the more willful, harshly decisive and unpredictable of all his more recent incarnations.
The episodes adventure itself was decent enough – there were choices made that I have to admit I was a little on the fence about – such as the robots stopping inches from killing our heroes just because they suddenly held their breath. Not an impossibility since they were not really intelligent as such and all that but still, felt like on-screen the same moment could have been handled better.
What was the REAL standout and frankly drew me in was the interactions between Capaldi and Coleman (Clara) who shared a nice lively chemistry AND the way they’ve chosen to go with the new Doctors identity. He’s clearly not the man he was, not any of them. An early moment in an alley where he sees his reflection, can’t understand why he feels like he knows that face (which he does!) and wonders aloud, “Why did I choose this face? What was I telling myself?” sets a marvelous moment as we re-affirm that the Doctor has some influence at a subconscious level at least on what his next incarnation will be – he does not control it but he does have some say in the matter after all. This coupled with his interaction with the Control Node Robot (their “leader” as it were) where he discusses changing all your parts over and over and in the process no longer being at all what you started out as brings us strongly into this new Doctors search for understanding of who he is now – it’s a moment punctuated nicely as he holds up a polished tray to show the Node it’s own face and asks it if it even recognises it and in turn he himself is staring out from the other side of the tray.
I was watching with a couple of friends and we all agreed, that final face-off and conversation between the Node and the Doctor was utterly absorbing and made you wonder so much about what this new Doctor is capable of – a part of me still wants to know whether the machine jumped or he pushed it, but another part prefers the ambiguity.
Once he had himself figured out, you could see the Doctor become more self-assured but you could also see he was harder in some ways. Colder even. Not in a bad way, but an understandable follow on to the way he has evolved in the face of all the ordeals he has endured – and I’m talking about just the stuff I know about, forget the old stuff!
The episode ended with a touching cameo from Smith as he said his goodbyes to Clara (and to us) and you could tell that when he asks her to stay as the new Doctor is scared and needs help, well at least I thought it was a nice, gentle way to actually be talking about the viewer as well. It skirted dangerously close to being a little cheesy I admit, but thankfully stayed just on the right side and thus endeth this first adventure of the new Doctor Who!
I expect good things from this series and look forward to seeing Capaldi flesh out this tougher, more outspoken and brash new Doctor and put those ever frowning eye-brows to good use – the man definitely has a lot to live up to and I think he’s up to the challenge! Also, I do like the new look of the TARDIS! Lots of nice round things! (plus, the inside joke line “I don’t like it” from Clara was a nice touch!)
Closing note: The next episode is… the Daleks… Now I like them as much as the next Who-fan and they’ve been well-handled in this modern Who and all that, but part of me really wishes they’d kept them away for a while. On the other hand, if they kick them in here early enough we don’t have to deal with them after that in this season at least.