Anyone who knows me, will agree that I’m a pretty big fan of Doctor Who. I have a TARDIS blanket on my bed, and I wore a TARDIS phone case on my iPhone until it literally fell apart. My wallpaper was the inside of the 9th Doctor’s ship and my lock screen was a weeping angel all the way up until my phone was replaced.
This doesn’t change the fact that I was very disappointed in the premiere of season 8 of the new Who series, and therefore the debut of Peter Capaldi as the 12th Doctor. I don’t think I will really be making any posts about future Who episodes in this season, but in case they end up being anything like this episode, I won’t be making any promises.
I’ll start out with the very basic elements that I thought went wrong with this episode. The writing was very chaotic. The episode was hard to follow with a newly regenerated Doctor who can’t remember names, locations or facts. At the same time, we have Clara who is completely taken aback about this regeneration, and she therefore doesn’t feel she knows the man and doesn’t trust him. This dynamic paired with the loose plot is hard to keep interest in.
The plot itself seems like a re-imagining of an earlier episode, “The Girl in the Fireplace.” It has the same type of antagonist with the same motive and everything. The writers aren’t even trying to fool you with this fact either. There are hints and references throughout the entire episode, but the Doctor just can’t seem to remember his previous adventure with Madame de Pompadour. (On a fangirl note, the fact that he can’t remember is quite heartbreaking). For me personally, it just feels a bit lazy because there was no real tie to the previous episode to move the show forward.
This throwback is surrounded by a lot of references to previous doctors, Amy Pond, catch phrases and characteristics, and even a bit where the Doctor knows he’s seen his face before.
That last point was actually my favorite part of the episode. It’s no surprise to viewers that Peter Capaldi played a main role in the episode “The Fires of Pompeii.” During his debut as the 12th Doctor, Capaldi brings up the fact that he knows this face, but he doesn’t know from where. He even drops a possible foreshadowing moment when he speculates that regenerating with this face is a message from his past selves. I am sincerely hoping that they move forward with that possibility.
The regeneration was a massive theme in this episode, mostly from Clara’s perspective. I’m hearing from a lot of people that this was supposed to simulate what we, as viewers, were feeling about the transition from Matt Smith to Peter Capaldi. I didn’t see it that way.
Overall, it presented itself mostly as Clara being superficial. I would have received it better if Clara’s character was thrown off by the Doctor’s new personality, but her behavior and dialogue kept pointing out that he was old. (Matt Smith is 31 and Peter Capaldi is 56). This makes it seem like Clara is just upset that her love interest isn’t young and conventionally attractive anymore.
Lady Vastra and the Doctor attempt to make sense of the transition by pointing out this flaw in Clara’s thinking, but she remains mainly obtuse to the entire situation. In the end, she is only swayed into accepting the Doctor’s new appearance by a time warped phone call from Matt Smith’s portrayal of the younger Doctor. It just doesn’t sit well with me.
Another point, it seemed like the writer of the episode was trying to shove independent women down the audiences throats. This is in no doubt a response to previous critiques of Steven Moffat’s writing as being demeaning to women. This blatant force feeding did not help his case. Clara is still so far a very shallowly developed character in my opinion. If the audience doesn’t know that Lady Vastra and Jenny are married at this point, then I don’t know what they’ve been watching. Then we are also introduced to a new character who’s only current personality is “infatuated with the Doctor and most likely evil.”
I will look forward to the upcoming episodes in order to see how Capaldi really fills the role of the Doctor. From the last half of the show, his portrayal did seem promising. Hopefully the story arc of the season will be better than the most recent ones.