Warning: Minor Spoilers Ahead!!
DOCTOR WHO has finally returned and, more than a year after the official announcement of his coming on board, Peter Capaldi (WORLD WAR Z) takes over the titular role on the show. The inaugural episode of the eighth season of the relaunched series opens with a new set of credits and a dinosaur traipsing through Victorian London, whose presence is quickly explained when it coughs up the Tardis. Once the blue box is safely on the ground Clara and the Doctor stumble out and he is in a state of extreme disorientation due to his recent regeneration. They are quickly joined by Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint, and Strax, who take them back to Madame Vastra’s place to sort out what to do about the dinosaur and the discombobulated Doctor. Unfortunately, before either one can be completely sorted out, the dinosaur catches fire and everyone launches into detective mode to figure out who killed the poor beast and why they did it.
It became clear very quickly that Steven Moffat ( THE ADVENTURES OF TIN TIN) had a barrel of fun writing this episode. While this installment certainly works as a standard DOCTOR WHO story, with the Doctor over coming a vicious alien by being clever and tricky, the real entertainment comes from reestablishing the relationship dynamic between Clara and the Doctor. As I mentioned in my news piece about Capaldi being cast as the new Doctor, there was, initially, a notable section of the fandom who were annoyed at the Doctor being played by an older actor, with many of the complaints centering around the fact that they didn’t find him attractive or that they couldn’t ship an older Doctor and a young companion. Moffat, clearly well aware of this, starts the show with Clara and the Doctor butting heads and being completely at odds with one another, and gradually uses this conflict to bring up the issue of his age, appearance, and romantic viability. The genius of how he tackles these issues is that if you were a fan who was grumpy and judgmental about the Doctor’s new appearance, then you were probably made to feel quite awful and embarrassed for being so close minded and ignorant about what the character of the Doctor is truly supposed to be. The end result being that dedicated, unwavering fans of the show were treated to a hilarious indictment of fair weather fans, while those opposed to the change for shallow reasons were forced to either reevaluate their opinions, or cling to their shallowness and be offended.
The big question mark over the episode was how would Peter Capaldi measure up as the Doctor and, unfortunately, it is not all that easy to tell. He certainly did a wonderful job in the episode, being equal parts crazy, snaky, and witty, but as so much of the performance seems derivative of the regeneration, it’s hard to gauge how he is going to be on a regular basis, but I feel he’ll turn out to be a very impressive Doctor. Jenna Coleman (CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER) continues to play the part of Clara, and she is superb in this episode. Coleman has excellent chemistry with the entire cast, particularly Capaldi, who she bickers with like they’re an old married couple. She effortlessly portrays Clara’s confusion, indignation, shock, and humor as this episode runs her through an emotional gambit, but at no point does she feel fake, rather she seems the perfect embodiment of the character. The Paternoster Gang guest star in the episode with Neve McIntosh (TV’s LIP SERVICE) as Madame Vastra, Catrin Steward (TV’s STELLA) as Jenny, and Dan Starkey (TV’s WIZARDS VS. ALIENS) as Strax. Steward and Jenny have terrific chemistry and easily steal scenes, while Starkey has perfect delivery as he embodies Strax and provides the episode with some fantastic comic relief. The villain in the episode is played by Peter Ferdinand (300: THE RISE OF AN EMPIRE) and he does an impressive job with the role, particularly when you consider that he plays a character that is mostly an android and has to act accordingly.
For true whovians, there is plenty to love in the season eight opener. We get to see a new Doctor, have a classic storyline peppered with multiple levels of humor, and appearances from popular reoccurring characters. If you are new to DOCTOR WHO, this may be a good place to jump in as it is the beginning of a new chapter in the Doctor’s life; there could be a slight bit of confusion from references to previous events, but far less than jumping in in the middle of an in-depth story arch. The one thing I know for certain is that the new Doctor has landed, and he is going to take on even more wild adventures.
Final Score: 8.5 out of 10