Doctor Who, Season 8 Episodes 1-3 — Getting a Feel for Capaldi’s Doctor

Hello fellow Whovians! We’re now three episodes into Peter Capaldi’s run as the 12th Doctor, so I feel as though I can, at least somewhat, review the new-ish aspects of the long-running series.

I’m not sure why I feel the way I do about it so far, but I’m honestly still not sold on this new season yet — three episodes in and nothing is really clicking the right way, for me. I’ll get into spoilers about it and go into more details about things I’ve liked/not liked thus far.

WARNING: Spoilers Are Below the Image

peter-capaldi-doctor-who

“These are attack eyebrows!”

Episode 1: “Deep Breath”

Doctor Who Season 8 started off, in my opinion, a little weak and messy. The episode was longer than a normal episode at 79 minutes, and, honestly, it could have been a normal episode if they had trimmed the unnecessary fat. We start off with the newly regenerated Doctor and Clara landing in London on the inside of a massive T-Rex; the dinosaur serves no purpose in this episode…but it’s here and it takes up screen time. The main baddie in this episode is a clockwork person who is trying to harvest parts and make his way to the “promised land” — this is a pretty decent callback to the clockwork bots of Tenant’s run, but smacks of dependency. The dependency upon past fan-favorite Doctors repeats later in the episode — Clara is about to leave the Doctor when she receives a phone call from Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor (apparently he had the foresight in the past to make this call, even though he probably shouldn’t have known he was going to get another regeneration…ugh) so that we can see the happy-go-lucky hipster-favorite Doctor. This isn’t a dig at Matt Smith’s run; for my part, I enjoyed it. The problem is, this whole episode is like a gigantic apology for having an older gentleman playing the Doctor (again) — it’s like Moffat is desperately begging the folks who jumped on board because Matt Smith’s Doctor was cute/funny/hipster to stick around (which is pretty much what Matt Smith is begging Clara to do).

Overall, Jenna Coleman does a good job of developing Clara’s character a bit — she is very adamant that she is not scared of the new Doctor because he looks old and they clarify (by having a ham-fisted conversation between the characters) that she is NOT his girlfriend. We also get the joy of revisiting Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax (who is, as usually, hilarious). And for his part, Capaldi does well of staking his claim on the character given that he’s mostly loopy the entire episode. The first episodes (other than Nine’s) have never been my favorite, so I was withholding judgment until I saw a couple more episodes where Capaldi wasn’t “disoriented” from the regeneration. And, as a bonus, we’re given a breadcrumb for what will probably turn out to be the major villain/plot point of the season — we’re shown a character called Missy who greets the episode’s villain in “heaven” and says she is the Doctor’s girlfriend.

The somewhat uninteresting, but nostalgic callback villain: Half-Face Man

The somewhat uninteresting, but nostalgic callback villain: Half-Face Man

Episode 2: “Into the Dalek”

The second episode wasn’t as sluggish, bloated, or poorly-paced as the first episode — it was a big improvement compared to “Deep Breath” but it still fell short of what I guess I wanted to get out of an episode where the Doctor is miniaturized and put inside of a Dalek.

The heavy-handedness of the writing continues in this episode — apparently, this season is going to be about the Doctor being dark and emo and constantly telling people he’s not a hero while asking Clara if he’s a good man. Sigh. We’re introduced to Samuel Anderson’s Danny Pink, who is going to probably be a new companion and possible love interest for Clara. He’s an ex-soldier who is now a teacher; there is a touching moment in the episode where the kids are badgering him about his soldier days and you can tell he has some deep regrets about it (it is hinted at that he has killed someone, and he lets a tear slip). Of course, the rest of the episode the Doctor has to remind us how much he hates soldiers so that we know he hates them…this is to set up the conflict when Danny joins up.

Anyway, Clara, the Doctor, and some military folks shrink down to go inside a Dalek to provide medical attention to it; the Dalek claims to hate the other Daleks and that it is “good”. They find out the “goodness” is coming from a radiation leak. Blah character development blah. The Doctor would rather die and be “right” that there couldn’t be a good Dalek when things get bad, but Clara changes his mind and he makes the Dalek “good” again by reactivating its memory of a star being born. The Dalek then tells the Doctor that he would make a good Dalek (callback to Christopher Eccleston’s Nine?) and that he has beauty and hatred inside him. You see, in case you didn’t get it, this is the writers telling us that he’s maybe not a good guy so that his identity crisis can continue. We are shown Missy and “heaven” again, as another dead person turns up in the location at the end of the episode. Meh.

The reason I say “Meh” is because, without the overbearing theme and character development, this would have been a great opportunity to do some cool things inside of a freaking Dalek! Come on! This will opportunity will probably never come around again without feeling tired and rehashed (like a lot of the material in these first three episodes).

Spoilers: The inside of the Dalek isn't a very safe place for a shindig.

Spoilers: The inside of the Dalek isn’t a very safe place for a shindig.

Episode 3: “Robot of Sherwood”

The third episode has left me more confused than anything. We started off with angry, dark, emo Doctor and this episode sees Capaldi take a turn at playing with Matt Smith’s childish aspects. Is this entire season going to be a huge identity crisis? Is Missy going to end up being The Master (Missy = Mistress? = Master)? Is that why he’s having an identity issue? I don’t even know.

Robin Hood is played to the highest degree of ridiculousness. He laughs constantly and loudly, at pretty much everything. At least the writers have the good decency to have the Doctor point it out. There’s a fucking duel between the Doctor and Robin Hood where Capaldi uses a spoon…that’s how not-serious this episode is. And there’s no appearance of Missy at the end of this episode…guess they just decided to abandon that trend.

The Doctor finds out in this episode that Robin Hood was real (he contends at the beginning that it’s just a legend, despite the fact that he should, by now, know pretty much all of Earth’s history); the point, near as I can tell, is so that he and Robin Hood can commiserate about not being heroes, but deciding that they can still do good things and inspire others to do so. Anyway, the defeat the Sheriff, who has sided with gold-collecting robots.

Again, “Meh”.

I wish this episode had been nearly as funny as Robin Hood thought everything was.

I wish this episode had been nearly as funny as Robin Hood thought everything was.

Some Final Thoughts:

The new title credits sequence is pretty awesome — and it was inspired by a fan-made one. Coleman and Capaldi are doing a good job, I do want to say that because I know I’ve been harsh on the first three episodes. They’re doing the best they can with what they’re being given. That said, I don’t think they’re being given very good episodes — the writing, so far, has been so beat-you-over-the-head heavy-handed that it’s pretty much unbearable. I can only hope that the next episode, “Listen”, which looks to be one of the “scary” episodes, is better.  Here’s the trailer for it: