Peter Capaldi’s tenure as The Doctor on the long-running BBC America science fiction series “Doctor Who” is underway and got off to a fairly impressive start on Saturday, August 23 with the season eight premiere “Deep Breath.”
Capaldi is the twelfth incarnation of The Doctor in the show’s 50-plus years on television (the eight seasons are since its reboot in 2005). For those who may not be familiar with this show (why are you reading a review specifically for it) The Doctor is an alien time-traveler who has the ability to regenerate his appearance when most creatures would be nearing their death.
Capaldi is taking over for one of the show’s fan-favorites Matt Smith and is almost his exact opposite. Smith was the youngest Doctor in the show’s history; Capaldi is one of the oldest. Capaldi’s Doctor is supposedly going to be more serious and darker than Smith’s, despite the fact that I would argue that Smith’s Doctor could be incredibly serious and even dark at times.
In the premiere of season eight The Doctor’s companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) is having trouble getting used to the new look of The Doctor and the show does a terrific job in both convincing Clara that Capaldi’s Doctor is still her same old Doctor just with a new face and that the viewers will have to get over the fact that the Doctor isn’t a “love interest” for his companions – which was at time lost during the Smith and David Tennant years. If you want a “will-they-or-what-they” storyline with Capaldi and Coleman you’re going to be sorely disappointed.
The Doctor foresees that he’s going to have issues with Clara wanting to stick around after he regenerates and comes up with the great idea of calling her as The Eleventh Doctor to convince her that The Doctor is still him. This was an incredible surprise for fans of “Doctor Who,” especially those like me who loved Matt Smith and got to see him one last time.
The storyline of “Deep Breath” was also unique in that it brought back an interesting villain that I never thought we’d ever see again – the androids from the 2006 episode “The Girl in the Fireplace” (one of Tennant’s greatest episodes) who are out to kill Madame de Pompadour and use her for spare parts. The androids are still trying to use humans for spare parts in hopes of reaching the “promised land” and have opened up a faux restaurant to help attract victims. This leads to one of the tensest scenes of the premiere when Clara is forced to have to hold her breath while face to face to the cyborg leader so that he can’t detect that she’s human.
It was callbacks to previous episodes like ‘Girl in the Fireplace’ that I loved so much about this first episode of the Capaldi era. I specifically liked the bit about The Doctor feeling like he’d seen his new face somewhere before, a specific reference to the Tennant episode “The Fires of Pompeii,” which Capaldi had guest starred in, a nice way of dealing with any continuity problems his addition to the show might cause.
It was also nice to see some old favorite friends of The Doctor in the premiere episode like the Silurian Madame Vastra, her wife Jenny and the hilarious Sontaran soldier-turned-butler Strax, who I’d like to see a few more times on the series.
I think Capaldi’s performance as The Doctor is going to be terrific, as we’ve come accustomed to with Smith, Tennant and Christopher Eccleston before him. Capaldi is a proven actor with numerous roles under his belt and his debut as The Doctor was done with much gusto and showed that while this Doctor might turn out to be more serious or even darker (as we saw on the TARDIS with the cyborg) he’s still going to have outrageously funny moments (like his attempted conversation with the T-Rex).
I can’t wait to see Capaldi’s performance going forward. The only question mark I have with the show is whether or not the writing staff, led by show-runner Steven Moffat, is going to be refreshed by the addition of a new Doctor going forward as some of the storylines began to grow stale at the end of Smith’s tenure as Doctor last year. Even certain points of “Deep Breath” tended to drag a little too much during the middle of the premiere episode, but maybe this had to do with the episode’s longer length. Numerous fans online seem to want Moffat’s time as show-runner to come to an end, but he’s been a huge part of the show’s success for much of its run and the scribe of many of its greatest episodes. Hopefully whatever funk the show’s writing went through in the second half of season seven is over and the show can return to its usual greatness. We shall see with the upcoming second episode of season eight intriguingly titled “Into the Dalek.”