This is one of those moments where I have a tiny bit more to say than would fit in a tweet, and don’t want to fall into the trap of letting Facebook become my default micro-blogging tool. So here are a few quick thoughts down about the Peter Capaldi’s debut episode of Doctor Who.
And what it comes down to is: this episode was all about us. One of things I like most about Stephen Moffat is that despite his fairly regular lapses into nonsensica (that’s a new word I just made up, by the way, so shut up) and his propensity for leaving plot strands only vaguely resolved, he does endlessly challenge the format that he works in. It’s relatively common that we get a rebooted Who when the lead actor changes, but (excepting, of course, McGann, Eccleston and Smith’s debuts – which also ushered in entirely new production teams) it’s rare that we get a programme that feels so different from the last time we watched it.
“Oh well, here we go again …”
The obvious danger with any new leading actor is that the audience will reject them: and this happens with tedious regularity. There are plenty of people out there who don’t like Matt Smith simply because he’s not David Tennant anymore, and this has been going on ever since Patrick Troughton first arrived. Moffat has given regular fans some comforts: a relatively unambitious plot (we don’t want that distracting us from the new Doctor anyway); some familiar faces (and some familiar lines here and there) and a continuity throwback to one of his earlier stories (which, tellingly, Capaldi’s Doctor can’t quite remember).
It’s a well established trope within the Who format that the companion is there to be a proxy for the viewer; they ask the questions of the Doctor so that he can give us the exposition we all need (otherwise we’d just spend 45 minutes watching the Doctor rushing around and babbling intelligibly to himself). However, this time, Clara is just about ready to bring that fourth wall down on our heads. New Doctor? Don’t like him. Not young and sexy like Matt Smith any more? No, don’t like it. Different face? Nope, not the Doctor.
This is not an episode about the Doctor learning who he is, but about us learning that he is still the Doctor. Ironically the closest the show has ever come to this previously (that I can recall) is poor Colin Baker’s debut which ended with a line that should have been bold and triumphant, but made most of us just want to turn off: “I’m the Doctor, whether you like it or not!”
The Doctor doesn’t have to prove himself. Instead, Clara – and by extension, we – have to prove that we are still worthy of staying on board.
… and, this provides Moffat an excellent chance to virtually reboot Clara as well. The always impressive Philip Sandifer has some great things to say about Clara, so I won’t bother repeating him here, read what he says and if you like it then consider donating to his Patreon appeal: he’s well worth it. Suffice to say that, now Clara’s shed of the ‘Impossible Girl’ baggage, she could become one of new-Who’s strongest companions.
“You’ve redecorated: I don’t like it!”
As a final note, I loved the new titles, but wasn’t quite so taken with the latest new version of the theme: I’m aware of the irony when I suggest they had it right before and shouldn’t keep changing it. However, for my money the original fan-made version that Moffat based the new titles on has the edge. What do you all think?