Sometimes, a change is better than a rest.
The closing triptych of Matt Smith’s tenure in the TARDIS promised a great deal but delivered only sporadically (‘The Name of the Doctor’ was mostly good, ‘The Day of the Doctor’ was mostly patchy, ‘The Time of the Doctor’ was mostly tedious) and while there’s always a possibility that further series of the Eleventh Doctor’s adventures would have brought about a return to the consistently high quality of episodes produced in 2010 and 2011, the general consensus seemed to favour revolution over restoration.
Revolution? This is a revelation. Peter Capaldi is so instantly, irresistibly perfect that any lingering doubts about him being too old, too Scottish, too embedded in the public consciousness as Malcolm Tucker to make a convincing Time Lord are dispelled in a double heartbeat.
From the nightshirted loon dancing over rooftops in pursuit of a dinosaur (‘Oi, you big sexy woman!’) to the eagle-eyed, low-voiced, hair-pulling Sherlock Holmes who realises he and Clara are on the menu in a robotic restaurant, Capaldi is the Doctor – in fact, he might be the Doctor. The definitive.
Of course, it’s a bit early to be making such grand claims; there have been more false dawns in Doctor Who than a French and Saunders cosplay event. Yet the exuberance of Series 8’s opener is such a (deep) breath of fresh air that it feels more like the beginning of a new era than an isolated burst of glory. It’s not just Capaldi’s commanding performance, with its echoes of Tom Baker and Billy Connolly; there’s a sense of rejuvenation across the board.
Jenna Coleman is finally given something to do as Clara, and she does it wonderfully. At last, she’s a character rather than a collection of interesting ideas.
Steven Moffat’s script reads like a greatest hits and comeback album in one, giving classic creations like the clockwork androids from ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ a new twist (or, if one is being scrupulously honest, updating an old one: the flesh-falling-off-the-face to reveal a blank robotic visage beneath is straight out of the 1975 adventure, ‘The Android Invasion’) and adding bold new strokes to the canvas.
We certainly haven’t seen the last of Missy (Michelle Gomez), the Nightmare-y Poppins of Heaven who claims to be the Doctor’s girlfriend.
Whether she’s the new River Song or not, it’s clear that flirtation in Doctor Who is far from over, no matter what Peter Capaldi might say. It’s not the sexually-charged smouldering of David Tennant and Billie Piper, or the entendre-stuffed byplay of Matt Smith and Karen Gillan, but the emotional vulnerability of the final scene between Capaldi and Coleman is almost achingly romantic.
When he says, ‘You look at me and you can’t see me,’ it’s almost like listening to Julia Roberts’s ‘I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy…’ speech from Notting Hill – only a dozen times more convincing. They may not be boyfriend and girlfriend anymore, but the new Doctor and Clara make a hell of a couple.
Aired at 7.50pm on Saturday 23 August 2014 on BBC One.
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