Onwards we go, headlong into another new era, and we’re very much in the home straight now. For what seems like the dozenth time since Moffat took over, we’ve got a new title sequence and theme tune, and remarkably they’re both still in use at the time of writing. I’ve never been a fan of this high-pitched and heavily synthesised iteration of the music, but the titles have grown on me over the years. I love those eyebrows so much.
I guess it helps that I’m such a fan of the person those eyebrows are attached to. It’s hard to remember a time when I didn’t see Capaldi and think “Doctor”, but he was very much still Malcolm Tucker when I first saw this, especially with his hair that short. I think I recall being slightly worried that he wouldn’t live up to my expectations following this episode, but I thought he was great when I rewatched it tonight, so maybe it’s better when you know where his Doctor is heading – post-regenerative funk is often disorientating and rarely representative of how each actor will play it for the bulk of their time.
It’s a feature length episode to kick things off, and to be fair, it kind of feels like it. All the comedy capers with Strax and Clara were clearly padding, but pretty good nonetheless, and the Paternosters were brilliant throughout, as usual. The story was very bitty – much like the modified clockwork droids, a lot of the individual components were good, but it lacked a little cohesion. Ultimately though, it was all just a framework in which to tell a character-based story, and it’s all about the Twelfth Doctor figuring out who he is, and rebooting his relationship with Clara.
On that note, the one thing that didn’t quite make sense was how freaked out Clara is by the whole concept of regeneration, and by the sight of the Doctor as an old man. This initial rejection of the new incarnation would have worked with virtually any other companion – and indeed has with several of them – so it’s odd that they decided to do it with the only one who’s met all thirteen of him.
I liked that they addressed the issue of the Doctor having the face of a previous guest star. We’re told there’s a reason he subconsciously chose it, and I remember harbouring a theory that it might have been modelled on John Frobisher instead of Caecilius. Like Frobisher, the Doctor exhibits some morally dubious behaviour in the pursuit of a good cause, such as seemingly leaving Clara behind to be killed, causing her to hold her breath until she passes out and hallucinates Courtney Woods. It’s left ambiguous in the end as to whether the Doctor throws the Half Face Man to his death or simply drives him to suicide, but I don’t think either option is entirely ethically sound.
In true Moffat style, just when everything’s wrapped up there’s a couple of extra surprises tagged on at the end, starting with the Matt Smith cameo. I was working on the Saturday night that this aired, and I remember seeing his name trending on Twitter and wondering why, but thankfully I’d forgotten about it by the time I got home and caught up. Lovely to see him, and the purpose is clearly to reassure the kiddies at home, as well as Clara, that having a new Doctor is going to be fine. I like it, but I’m not sure it was necessary to do that, and I wonder if it undermined Capaldi a bit.
And then there’s the first of many post-scripts with Missy in Heaven. I knew right from this first cameo that she was The Master, but then in retrospect I’m not sure there was any real effort made to conceal it – otherwise why give her name as “Missy” straight away? It’s hardly the most fiendish pseudonym she’s ever concocted.
This is one of those write ups where almost everything I’ve said is negative, and yet it’s still an episode that I really like. I think that Capaldi is, for me, one of those Doctors who makes every scene they’re in better just by being there, so take it as read for the remainder of this blog that my default position is an overall thumbs up, unless explicitly stated otherwise.