The Tardis has landed for a brand-new Doctor and brand-new season of “Doctor Who”! Last night, Peter Capaldi appeared as the twelfth Doctor in the much anticipated season eight premiere. Of course, there’s never a dull day in the life of the Doctor, even when he’s fresh off of a regeneration and still suffering from some post-regeneration loopiness. So how do you start off the new season with a bang? A T-rex marching through Victorian-era London seems like a good start. At the beginning of the episode, we immediately get to see the Doctor’s old friends Strax, Vastia and Jenny (who have finally gotten married and are all into the flirtatious interspecies-lesbian-newlyweds banter, like you do), and out of the dinosaur’s mouth pops the Tardis, with a frazzled Clara and Doctor in tow.
The Doctor emerges—wrinkled, gray hair and all—disoriented and with a cranky demeanor (“Planet of the pudding brains,” he scoffs at one point, appalled at the stupidity of humans) to match his grizzled look. As the Doctor slips in and out of consciousness and wanders about in a cloud of confusion, Clara struggles with the idea of facing this new—or, to be exact, old—Doctor. The usually sprightly and upbeat Clara is noticeably thrown by the twelfth Doctor (who, by the way, also sports a Scottish accent that would make Amy Pond smile) but gets chewed out by Vastra regarding her superficial reaction to and judgement of the new Doctor, to which Clara responds with a defensive verbal bitch-slap. Oh, and then the Doctor runs off in his nightgown, sloppily bounding off roofs and climbing trees like a cracked-out Spiderman, and scares the shit out of a random homeless guy before stealing his coat. #thatsadickmovedoctor
Meanwhile, an old robot with missing parts goes around London taking people’s organs so he can rebuild himself, then sets them on fire to conceal the evidence. Our dino friend is one of the victims, and with a new mystery to solve, suddenly the Doctor’s head is back in the game.
Clara and the Doctor meet up again and the chemistry of the new pairing looks favorable for the first time, as they banter and argue about which one is more of a controlling egomaniac. But alas! Their meeting is a trap, and they get captured by the Frankenstein robo-man, who plans to do some slicing and dicing on them so he can take the body parts he wants. As they’re escaping, Clara gets trapped and the Doctor, in our first introduction to him in full action-mode, leaves Clara behind in dick move no. 2 of the episode. Clara, left to fend for herself among a group of robots, has to hold her breath and keep her composure to pass as a robot. She passes out, comes to before the main robot, mouths off to him, and is saved by the Doctor right on cue.
Moral of the story: Learn how to hold your breath for a long time, because you never know when you’ll be ditched by your Time Lord and stuck in the company of robots who will kill you if they discover you’re actually human. Or, as an alternate moral: Make sure the Time Lord you’re with isn’t so much of a dick that he’ll make you think he’s abandoned you while you’re stuck in the company of killer robots. Or moral of the story no. 3: Just don’t find yourself in the company of killer robots in the first place. Ever. … Yeah, that may be it.
Vastra, Jenny and Strax show up again to join in on the robo-fight, while the Doctor and the main robot take to the skies in a giant hot air balloon made of human flesh. They have a little chat, during which time we discover the robot’s all about trying to get to the “promised land.” (Yup, we’re getting Biblical all of a sudden.) The Doctor convinces the robot that basically everything he is and everything he believes in is false, and we eventually see the cyborg impaled upon a spire—presumably the result of a suicidal jump, but we don’t know for sure. Just when we think it’s over, at the end of the episode, we see the robot in a beautiful garden with a mysterious woman who claims to be the Doctor’s girlfriend and says they’re in heaven.
Now let me break it down about this new Doctor: He’s kind of an asshole. So far, we see he’s grumpy, he’s old, and he’s blunt. I mean, his first word in the episode is an irritated “shush,” and then he pretty much ditches Cara a few times throughout the episode. Writer Steven Moffat toys with us in this introduction to the twelfth Doctor, bringing up some doubts we may have about him. Like Clara, we may have been used to the quirky, young eleventh Doctor—I know I was—and are a little uneasy or distrustful with Capaldi’s Doctor. Moffat voices these concerns through the mouth of Clara, as she questions his new appearance and demeanor. But as Clara’s hesitance is confronted by Vastra, so too is ours, as we are reminded that the Doctor, despite his appearance, is essentially the same person and that his appearance is just a mask of his real self. The Doctor himself also questions his appearance (“These are attack eyebrows! You can take bottle tops off with these!”) and even references the fact that we’ve seen this face before (Lucius Caecillus Ivcundus in the “The Fires of Pompeii” episode during the tenure of the tenth Doctor) in a moment of meta awareness that addresses another concern Whovians may have with Capaldi as the new Doctor. As for the age issue, it can potentially affect the flirtatious dynamic almost always present in Doctor-companion relationships, particularly that of Clara and the Doctor—something he addresses in his new blunt manner: “Clara, I’m not your boyfriend.”
At the end of the episode, Clara considers leaving the Doctor behind, thinking he is no longer the person she used to know (cue Gotye song here). But in enters Smith for a perfectly timed cameo, as the lovable and familiar eleventh Doctor calls Clara from the past with his last breath, begging her to stay with his future self because he’s scared and alone (cue all of the feelings here). So Clara stays, and we realize that the new Doctor, while a bit more abrasive, serious and brooding, is still as vulnerable as a lost time-traveling puppy without a bone—a point emphasized throughout the episode.
Overall, I’m still not quite sure where this new Doctor stands in comparison to the others, but it looks like Capaldi’s off to a good start. It always takes a few episodes for a new Doctor to really warm up to his role, but at least we get a good sense of the twelfth Doctor’s temperament. Moffat does a good job of easing the more skeptical fans into a place where they can at least see Capaldi’s Doctor from a more open perspective. We also get a welcome change for the Doctor—a change that manifests itself not only in the physical appearance of the twelfth Doctor, but also in the seriousness and bluntness of the character, which in turn resonates tonally with the rest of the show.
But as much as the introduction of the new Doctor was the focus of this season premiere, so too was the development of Clara’s character. Clara, who is usually courageous, confident and hopeful, was doubtful and scared. The best scene of the episode is when Clara is forced to try and mask her fear after the Doctor abandons her amongst the robots. This episode was a great reminder of the fact that “Doctor Who” is as much a show about the titular character as it is about his companions and their literal and figurative journeys with a man who, even in his closest relationships, is still ultimately unknowable.
It looks like next week we’ll get our first peeks of everyone’s favorite species of genocidal aliens, the daleks. If the season eight premiere was an indication of things to come, then it should be good. I’m ready for next week’s episode. Allons-y, Capaldi!