“You probably can’t even remember where you got that face from.”
– The Doctor
The central question of this week’s episode is: who is the new Doctor?
Fans at home are wondering how the older, more reserved Peter Capaldi will be replacing Matt Smith. Clara is wondering if he’s still the same man she’s been following all this time. And the Doctor himself, changed by his regeneration and his time on Trenzalore, is trying to figure out what kind of man he is now.
I enjoyed the way the conflict with the big bads of the week mirrored the Doctor’s storyline. The Doctor makes the comparison between the cyborgs and a broom that has been replaced so many times that none of the original parts remain. This is also an apt metaphor for the Doctor himself. He’s regenerated and changed so many times that he barely resembles his original self.
This new Doctor is older and more weary. He doesn’t have the chaotic energy of Matt Smith’s Doctor. He’s no longer flirtatious. He’s Scottish. And he’s taken the face of a man he encountered in Pompeii, though he can’t even remember now where he’s seen that face before. (For that matter, he can’t remember his encounter with the cyborgs’ sister ship, the Madame de Pompadour, which happened two regenerations ago.)
I liked how the theme of public versus private appearances ran through the episode. From Madame Vastra’s vale to Clara’s period appropriate clothes to the fake public facade of the cyborg slaughterhouse masquerading as a restaurant, we were given countless examples of people doing things to blend in.
Meanwhile, the Doctor made no effort to disguise himself, mumbling crazily to himself while walking around the city in sleeping clothes. Both he and the dinosaur were the only two creatures making no effort to blend in.
Speaking of the dinosaur, while it made for a cool visual, I feel like Steven Moffat didn’t have much planned beyond that. The dinosaur ends up being a red herring for the episode and she is sort of unceremoniously killed. I feel like Moffat just wanted something flashy to open the episode and then just sort of bailed on the concept halfway through.
The dinosaur also was the most glaring example of the other thing that bothered me a bit about the episode – the diminishing returns of the Moffat era. I love what he’s done for the show. His first season as showrunner was easily one of the best of the modern era.
But I feel like he’s starting to run thin on ideas and its starting to feel like we’ve seen most of his tricks before. He’s already done dinosaurs. We’ve seen these villains before. The idea of whether or not the Doctor is a heartless murderer is something Moffat has explored quite a bit. Even Madame Vastra and Co. are characters he’s gone to the well on many times.
I still enjoy all of these things, but not as much as I did the first time. And I just find myself wondering if the show couldn’t benefit from some new blood taking over. Like I said, Moffat has done some amazing things, but I wouldn’t mind seeing what someone with a fresh take on the character had up their sleeve.
That being said, I’m excited to see what Capaldi brings to the character. He definitely is quite different from any of the recent Doctors. So far he seems a bit more dry and reserved, though I wonder if that will change in the coming weeks as he gets more comfortable in the role and Moffat tailors the character more for him.
And another thing …
- If you missed it, I was in New York for Moffat, Capaldi and Coleman’s World Tour. You can find my recap of the event and their Q&A session here.
- Speaking of that Q&A session, Moffat had this to say about using the same villains from “The Girl in the Fireplace”: “I wanted a quite simple menace for the first episode. I didn’t want it to be wildly complicated as it were because obviously the grandstanding at the center of it is a new Doctor and a new relationship with a companion, so you really just want the villains to be lurching around offing people now and then with quite a simple backstory, but I also just quite liked the idea. I think I actually stole this joke from Colombo that the Doctor’s completely forgotten a previous adventure. Because you would. You just would. I remember there’s a lovely moment in one of the Colombos where somebody – one of the later ones – where somebody is recounting one of his previous cases, and Colombo just says, ‘I’m sorry, I’ve got absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.’ Because you would! He’s 2,000 years old; he’s forgotten the whole thing.”
- Moffat also talked about the new title sequence, which was created by a fan: “… our new title sequence, beautiful new title sequence, which I think is stunning is online Doctor Who fandom. Billy Hanshaw just decided to make a Doctor Who title sequence. He put it up on YouTube. And I happened across it and I thought it was the only new idea for a Doctor Who title scene since 1963. And we got in touch and we said ‘Okay, we’re going to do that one.’”
- Moffat has also said many times that Capaldi was the only person he had in mind to take over for Matt Smith. I wonder then how Capaldi felt about all of the references in the script to how old and worn down he looks. The script made it sound like he was Montgomery Burns.
- There was no indication of what year this episode takes place, so I found myself wondering if it happened before or after the 2012 Christmas special “The Snowmen,” which featured a Victorian era Clara. I assume this was after that, since Madame Vastra and Co. already knew who Clara was, but could that version of her been running around somewhere while all of this was happening?
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his recaps, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. Follow Joel on Twitter @FreeMisterClark or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.