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Review: The season eight premiere of 'Doctor Who'

Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi
Photo by Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images

I think it's fair to say that I have an uneven appreciation of "Dr. Who." I never much cared for the earlier incarnations of the show, which to me often seemed badly constructed and much too concerned with being a kids show to be of any interest to a grown-up.

Because I didn't love the original incarnation, it took me a bit to dive into the 2005 reboot. But I quickly became a fan and some of the episodes since then have been as good as anything on television.

That doesn't mean that I've loved everything about the show. Both current showrunner Steven Moffat and his predecessor, Russell T. Davies, tend to fall in love with their own cleverness at times and there have been episodes where everything seemed to only be there only to service whatever clever puzzle had been devised by the writers.

The Doctor's regenerations have also led to some jarring moments along the way. Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith and new Doctor Peter Capaldi have their own takes on the character and the writers have also written each Doctor arc differently to reflect the presence of a new actor. So there are times when you're really enjoying one take on the show, only to be thrown in a completely unsettling direction when a "new" Doctor arrives on the scene.

Which leads us to the season eight premiere of the show, which fully introduces the "new" Doctor, Peter Capaldi. Much is being made of his age, but as I watched the episode, I was barely conscious of that. What I was painfully aware of was the dour and sometimes unpleasant take on the Doctor, which I can only hope will clear up in future episodes.

Showrunner Steven Moffatt has said in interviews that he wanted this new Doctor to be less light-hearted and "quippy" and in the season premiere he has certainly accomplished that. Capaldi is dazed and impatient and unpleasant in a way that is unsettling. All the incarnations of the Doctor have held their secrets close and often the resolution of the episode had depended on the Doctor pulling out some miracle that he should have probably shared with his friends and companions earlier in the episode. But his character flaws were offset by a humor and compassion that made his flaws more tolerable and understandable.

One of the things that became clear after watching last year's 50th anniversary special episode was that Moffatt wants the sins of the Doctor to be more evident to his companions and the viewers. The show began taking a dark turn as the Doctor was forced to examine his sins and the fact that no matter how hard we try, we can never get away from the mistakes in our past. Capaldi's Doctor seems almost paralyzed by this moral quandary and his general unpleasant demeanor makes it difficult to overlook his failings as a person.

Without giving anything away, there is a moment in the season eight premiere when Clara (Jenna Coleman) seems to have been abandoned by the Doctor and is close to death. She anticipates that somehow he'll rescue her and he does. But in Capaldi's hands, the return of the Doctor to save the day seems less like a rescue and more like a reluctant obligation. The fact that he spends as much time worrying about the fate of a dinosaur (don't ask) as Clara says a lot about the Doctor's new sense of the world and the way it should be.

The relationship between the new Doctor and Clara changes a bit in the last five minutes of the episode, but even that scene seems clumsy and off-message. The scene essentially is about Clara's inability to see the new Doctor for who he really is and it's written to focus on the physical differences between Matt Smith and the older Peter Capaldi. But Capaldi's age isn't really the issue with this incarnation of the Doctor. As written, he's an unpleasant mix of incompetent and jerk and the fact that Moffatt insists on having the scene focus on the age difference rather than his personality reflects his general inability to make the female characters on "Dr. Who" three-dimensional beings rather than just eye candy reflections of how the Doctor sees them.

The last minute of the episode does end with a hint of things to come, but at that point, I was just weary of the entire thing. I trust Moffatt and the show to get everything to a point where I can love the show again. But based on what I've seen in the season eight premiere, the show has a long way to go.

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