I’m crazy torn by the premiere of the Eighth Season of Doctor Who, and it has nothing to do with Peter Capaldi’s brilliant performance–or Jenna-Louise Coleman’s, for that matter. It’s just about everything else.
I’m going to leave the more summary for the other reviews, so I’ll be brief.
For a more comprehensive summary you should be sure to check out the episode.
A dinosaur in Victorian London chokes on the TARDIS, spits it out, and the Doctor and Clara roll out to meet Vastra, Jenny, and Strax.
The Doctor is suffering from a dementia-like amnesia following his regeneration, and Clara is disturbed by this surprising turn of events. As expected, the Doctor runs headlong toward the mystery about the dinosaur–which isn’t actually about the dinosaur but of course about clockwork cyborgs who are repairing themselves through dismantling people (a la the SS Madame du Pompadour from “The Girl in the Fireplace”). The Doctor finds himself and Clara reconciles with him.
The plot was of absolutely no consequence in this episode.
It was about being eerie and shocking, from the dinosaurs to the unanswered questions about the clockwork robots. Even if they come back as part of a larger plan (which it seems as though they will), there was so little revealed about the cyborgs that it can barely be said that they teased something. The dinosaur was directly discarded in deference to the Doctor’s derailment into self-diagnosis and dangerous detective work.
The episode teetered on a knife-edge of brilliance and insanity. There was a requisite mystery that moved the plot forward, but it was constantly overshadowed by the brilliance of Capaldi. While Smith fixated on Fish Fingers and Custard (brilliance!), Capaldi looked into emotional depths of character that promise an exciting run as the Doctor. He brought out more acting prowess from the get-go than Smith did in his three years (Smith absolutely got there, and I wish he’d stayed just one more year to really settle into his character’s skin).
Capaldi’s 12th Doctor digs into the disorientation that the Doctor must feel when he changes his face, and Vastra sheds more light on why he must subconsciously choose his appearance and character. With all that the Doctor went through in the last year, this reflects his emotional and psychological state brilliantly, and I foresee that Clara (and the other upcoming companions) will have the job of redeeming and humanizing him more (without the flirting).
This is Steven Moffat’s challenge: Go back to where you started. Remain eerie and intriguing, absolutely. But bring back the heart in Doctor Who. This episode was at its best when exploring the conflict between the characters–the confused Doctor and the companion who just seemingly lost her best friend.
Bring back the stuff of Captain Jack and the Dancing Doctor, “The Girl in the Fireplace,” or the Girl who Waited for the Mad Man in a Box with fish fingers and custard. That emotion drives the story and keeps the audience. The timey wimey wibbly wobbly mumbo jumbo (with plot holes the size of the time vortex) needs to take a back seat to the heart that embodies the core of Doctor Who.