Capaldi has landed and his first full episode as The Doctor has finally hit our screens. I will preface this review with full disclosure that I am one of the many people who were left incredibly disappointed and decidedly unimpressed by the announcement of Peter Capaldi taking on the role of The Doctor. However as a true fan on the show I felt it was important to give him the benefit of the doubt and to at least watch his performance before I judged too harshly.
The episode opening feels incredibly reminiscent of The Eleventh Hour in many respects and whilst entertaining, I couldn’t help but feel it was rather lazily written scene. In particular I was incredibly irritated by what seems like a very silly factual error with the dinosaur just to allow for a rather predictable plot device which was ultimately pointless and seriously underutilised.
Capaldi’s performance was brilliant, as to be expected from an actor of such gravitas – he really went for the crazy and he pulled it off brilliantly, however it got old very quickly in my opinion. That is not down to Capaldi though, that is simply poor writing on the part of Steven Moffat to fill out a feature length episode to justify the cinema screenings. I felt the episode truly could have benefited from several cuts to improve the pace as the method used to distract from the length was to throw in a few too many slapstick comedy moments, too many lazy “Strax gets confused” moments and way too many Scottish stereotype jokes from a Scottish writer who really should know better.
The constant reaffirmation of Vastra and Jenny’s relationship was just irritating and seemed to be entirely pointless, once would have been acceptable to remind old viewers who may not have paid much attention to their previous appearances or to clue in new viewers, but doing it repeatedly as they did throughout the episode seemed to belittle the viewer and almost make the relationship feel like a joke which is a bit of a slap in the face to the LGBT audience. I suspect the intention behind this may have been to further the equality narrative being blatantly pushed to help convince people like myself who have openly stated disapproval of the casting choice for the Twelfth Doctor, and whilst I appreciate that many people that had issues were concerned simply about Capaldi’s age, which this plot element addresses, that wasn’t my concern at all.
Moffat promised a new darker future for Doctor Who and some elements of the episode certainly addressed that, making something scary out of a simple concept has always been his writing “go to” and he has rather predictably gone there again with this episode. I personally had the identity of the episode’s big bad worked out very early, perhaps I’ve become immune to Moffat’s plot twist style of writing. That said I do also feel a Doctor like smug sense of satisfaction when I work things out before anybody else so this isn’t a huge problem in the episode for me, but I am getting a little tired of his over use of this method in almost every story he writes for the show.
The companion has always been a way for the human viewer to ask questions in the show, to help explain the many weird and wonderful things in the universe and that is especially true in a regeneration episode where the companion hasn’t witnessed one before and is confused and grieves for the loss of “their Doctor”. The writer has to quickly find a way to justify and explain all the new facets of The Doctor’s new persona and get the companion to quickly regain her trust in what is both the her old friend and a completely new man at the same time. This episode deals with this in a very emotional way and culminates in what I think was one of the best parts of the episode whilst simultaneously being the laziest written emotional blackmail I’ve ever witnessed on TV outside of political campaigns. Whilst I loved the scene in question I feel it was again written to sway the opinions of those doubting the casting choice and to help transition the American audience that are relatively new to the show since it only really began to get hugely popular over there in recent years.
Over all I thought the episode was very enjoyable and hasn’t left me feeling as bad as I thought it would. Whilst I do still believe I was justified in having my doubts regarding the casting, particularly as Moffat seems to be writing this new Doctor for a Capaldi style casting rather than writing The Doctor and then having someone bring that character to life, I do feel that the fact Capaldi is such a great actor might just save the show from Moffat’s poor decisions. Nobody can deny that Moffat is known for writing in an overly convoluted style which only appears to serve to stroke his own ego and this episode absolutely reeks of that. The entire episode is a repetitive lesson in equality and acceptance that essentially shouts “love my new Doctor or I’ll accuse you of discrimination dammit” and then brings out the puppy dog eyes at the end just in case you weren’t paying attention.
I won’t be abandoning Doctor Who yet, I believe Capaldi has the acting ability to perhaps pull off whatever convoluted new series long story arc that Moffat has in place, and to make it a much more enjoyable experience than I’d previously dared to hope. I do however believe this season needs to be Moffat’s last before he does any more damage.