It’s always exciting to see a new actor take on the role of the Doctor. It’s a difficult time, though, for a companion who sees her time-traveling friend suddenly change. Just ask Rose Tyler, Tegan Jovanka or Sarah Jane Smith.
That’s what Clara Oswald, and most Who fans, tried to process when Peter Capaldi took over the TARDIS this past Saturday with “Deep Breath,” the season eight premiere. Even though the story was shaky at times, which always happens in post-regeneration episodes, it gave Capaldi a very good start.
It was different than other regeneration stories: it was 90 minutes instead of the usual 45, set in the past, and included some familiar faces. The Paternoster Gang of Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), Jenny (Catrin Stewart) and Strax (Dan Starkey) are back to investigate the sudden appearance of a dinosaur, and help Clara understand what has happened to the Doctor.
Steven Moffat’s story did have a nice early twist. We start to think that the Doctor is facing a Victorian version of Godzilla. Once the dinosaur bursts into flames, the real problem is revealed: people are dying by spontaneous combustion, and it’s up to the Doctor and Vastra’s crew to figure out why.
The main plot is Clara’s journey with a new version of the Doctor. She can’t understand why he’s turned older, spouts out confusing things (“Don’t look at that mirror. It’s absolutely furious”), names some of the Seven Dwarfs, and that he’s mad everyone sounds English.
Clara’s not happy, either. She asks Vastra how they can change him back. Vastra says that isn’t possible, and accuses Clara of judging the Doctor because he’s not the young and flirty Time Lord she knows. She says the Doctor had his young face to be accepted. Clara, though, fights back, pointing out the only poster she had as a teen was Marcus Aurelius, which pleases Vastra. The point, though, is that it’ll take time for the Doctor to recover. “He is lost in the ruin of himself, and we must bring him home,” Vastra says.
He’s also having problems with his new face. He notes about how angry it has become, especially his eyebrows. He also wonders where he’s seen his face before. Some of us quietly answer “Pompeii.”
However, once he and Clara meet at a restaurant, thanks to a newspaper ad they accuse the other of placing, we see the start of their new relationship. They bicker together, which is what happens when they are feeling each other out. However, they also realize the other customers are not eating, or breathing. They’re robots, which some recognize from “The Girl in the Fireplace.” They are led by the Half-Face Man (Peter Ferdinando), someone who has been harvesting body parts, even some from dinosaurs, to stay alive.
At one point, the Doctor seems to abandon Clara. This forces her to stare down the Half-Face Man, despite his threats. Through it all, she doesn’t lose faith in the Doctor. “If the Doctor is still the Doctor,” she says, “he will have my back.” Her faith is soon rewarded. Jenna Coleman did a great job as Clara, a companion who realizes her relationship with the Doctor will have to change, as he has.
It ends in a showdown, as the Doctor and Half-Face Man escape by skin balloon. The Half-Face Man falls, but it’s unclear whether he jumped or was pushed. That’s a good move, as it shows the mystery of the Doctor, and whether he is truly a good man.
Eventually Clara and the Doctor are reunited in his newly decorated TARDIS. This time, it’s the companion who doesn’t like it. While he seems to like his new look, she admits she doesn’t know who the Doctor is anymore. This is odd since, as the Impossible Girl, she is aware of his older incarnations. Still, he needed to reintroduce himself to her and the audience: “I’m the Doctor, and I’ve led for more than 2000 years, and not all of them were good. I’ve made many mistakes, and it’s about time I did something about that.” However, they still don’t know who really sent that ad, or gave Clara his TARDIS’ phone number. She said it was someone in the shop, but that’s it.
She seems to be given a chance to leave, but she suddenly gets a phone call… from the Eleventh Doctor. Somehow he has a phone that can also travel through time. He assures her that the old man is still him, just different, and rather scared. “Clara, please, hey for me,” he says, “help him, and don’t be afraid.” So, they share a coffee in Glasgow…
…just as the Half-Face Man wakes up in a garden which would be the Promised Land he’s always wanted. He’s welcomed by someone called Missy (Michelle Gomez)of the Nethersphere, who says the Doctor is her boyfriend. That likely isn’t true, but she looks like major trouble for the Doctor and Clara.
Aside from the arrival of a new Doctor, Vastra, Jenny and Strax were great in this episode. Seeing Strax give Clara a “physical” is worth the price of admission. Who else could praise someone for her spleen while accusing her of a little passive-aggressiveness with a gizmo that’s better than a Star Trek Tri-corder?
Capaldi proved to be worthy of being the 12th Doctor. His transition from raving and fainting lunatic to a somewhat inapproachable hero was fine, although a bit sudden in some places. Some people have suggested he’s a bit of Jon Pertwee and maybe Tom Baker. This new form may be tough to handle for those who’ve only known the Doctor since 2005. For one thing, he’s not a hugger. He is an alien, who has gone to great lengths to protect people, even making tough choices like the one he may have made against the Half-Face man. As the weeks go by, he’s likely to settle in to become a Time Lord we can all support.
There’s also plenty of past references, including one about a ginger-haired girl many of us still miss.
One more thing: the regeneration of the opening titles was successful visually, but not the music. It should go back to the old theme arrangement as soon as possible.
Next week: the return of the Daleks, and maybe a new man in Clara’s life.
Doctor Who airs Saturday nights on BBC America.