Post-regeneration stories are notoriously iffy for DOCTOR WHO – for every winner (like Matt Smith’s “The Eleventh Hour”) there seems to be a stinker (like Colin Baker’s “The Twin Dilemma”). Well, this story was a solid winner – though it played a lot like Tom Baker’s debut, “Robot,” because it introduced a very alien Doctor who was replacing a warm, familiar face.
The newly regenerated 12th Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) arrive in Victorian London to confront a dinosaur in the Thames and a spate of suspicious spontaneous human combustions. Meanwhile, both the Doctor and Clara are getting to know the new incarnation of the Time Lord, with help from the Paternoster Gang: the Silurian Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), Jenny (Catrin Stewart) and the Sontaran Strax (Dan Starkey). The story is structured as a murder investigation: Who burned a dinosaur alive in the Thames?
The investigation was getting nowhere fast when a mysterious newspaper advertisement drew the bickering Doctor and Clara to a strange restaurant run by a cyborg. This Half-Face Man (Peter Ferdinando) was using the eatery to steal organs from people to rebuild himself and his crew of robots Finally, viewers were introduced to the barking mad “Missy” (Michelle Gomez), who called the Doctor her boyfriend and claimed to be living Heaven.
This episode had a little bit of everything, from slapstick comedy to simple wordplay to double-entendres, dinosaurs and bumbling coppers. And it even featured the sort-of return of a sort-of old enemy: cousins of the Clockwork Droids from “The Girl in the Fireplace.”
The new Doctor’s relationship with Clara is far more combative. It’s clear that she was the adult in the relationship with the previous Doctor, but now he is willing to call her on her control-freak impulses, calling her an “egomaniac game-player.” The two of them were really quite funny in the restaurant. She had no patience for his tall tale-telling.
Of course, the story here is all just an excuse to put the newest incarnation of the Doctor through his paces; it’s a shakedown cruise to see what he can do. As is traditional, the Doctor is very confused immediately after his regeneration and, luckily, this time he’s pretty much harmless. He simply doesn’t recognize any of his friends. Or himself. So everyone has to get to know him as his new personality comes into focus. Of course the new Doctor is never really himself until the end of the episode, when he chooses his new costume and sets off for next adventure.
The most surprising thing about the Peter Capaldi Doctor, to me, was how funny he is – in the sense of cracking one-liners at every opportunity, not just acting eccentric. This new Doctor may seem dour but he has a very dry wit ready to be deployed at any moment. He also fancies a drink, which is something entirely new. He’s also someone who thinks exiting a room via the door is boring and “not me”; he’d prefer to jump out a window. Still, the 12th Doctor feels less like a child in a young man’s body than a young man in an older man’s body.
He spent a lot of this episode seeming a bit dodgy: He said he traded his watch for the tramp’s coat – but he wasn’t wearing a watch. So did he steal it? He also appeared to leave Clara at the mercy of the Clockwork Droids – but of course it was a ruse. But did the Half-Face Man really jump from the TARDIS, or was he pushed?
Significantly, while adjusting to his new body, the Doctor questions why he’s wearing this particular face, which he vaguely recognizes. He says he never knows where the faces come from when he regenerates, and wonders why this brand-new one has lines. “Who frowned me this face?” he asks, only partially rhetorically. “It’s like I’m trying to tell myself something.” The show will address why this Doctor resembles Caecillius from “The Fires of Pompeii.”
Vastra suggested that the Doctor chose the youngish 11th face “to be accepted” by everyone, but by switching to an older one he “trusted” Clara to show her a side of him closer to his real age (2,000+).
All of which makes it particularly appropriate, I suppose that the enemy in this story is referred to as Half-Face Man (in the credits, but not in dialogue). He’s a robot that has replaced so many parts there’s nothing left of the original. The same could be said of the Doctor himself, who has changed faces so many times that he looks nothing like the original Time Lord who grew up on Gallifrey. Remember when the Doctor showed Half-Face Man his reflection in the silver plate and the Doctor’s was on the other side – did you notice that the bottom half of the Doctor’s own face disappears?
This was also a standout episode for Coleman as Clara had to defend herself to Vastra and from the Clockwork Droids. Even through tears of fear, Clara marshaled all her strength and found the backbone to face down the Half-Face Man. Clara really is just as brave as any other companion – and she still had total faith that the Doctor had her back.
What didn’t ring exactly true with me was Clara’s reaction to the Doctor’s change. She wanted him to change back into the 11th version – which didn’t make sense to me. Of all the Doctor’s companions, Clara should be uniquely qualified to accept his change in appearance; after all, she has lived through all of his previous incarnations and knows better than anyone the effects of regeneration. She should take this all in stride. Instead she’s suspicious of the change. It’s understandable for her to butt heads with the new incarnation – but to act like regeneration is something unusual is… well, unusual for her.
I felt exactly as Clara did when the 11th Doctor (Smith) rang her from the past on Trenzalore: shattered. It was like a sucker punch right in the heart. And for all of executive producer/writer Steven Moffat’s timey-wimey sleight-of-hand, having the 11th Doctor call the future Clara to urge her to help his new persona and not be afraid was one of his best temporal tropes. And it gave the previous Doctor a chance to say a formal goodbye to Clara.
“That’s not the question. The question is…” could be the new Doctor’s catchphrase.
Clara looked amazing in her green Victorian dress; I wish she would keep it! Jenny was back in her leather fighting togs from “The Crimson Horror,” and now Vastra has a matching outfit.
The Doctor says the SS Marie Antoinette is the sister ship of the SS Madame de Pompadour from “The Girl in the Fireplace.” Did I call that one, or what?
I suspect that Missy placed the “Impossible Girl” advertisement in the newspaper and gave Clara the computer helpline number that dialed the TARDIS phone back in “The Bells of Saint John.”
Add “Dinosaur” to the list of languages the Doctor speaks. Did he forgot that during last season’s “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”? Maybe triceratops speak a different dialect. Or perhaps that experience prompted him to learn the language?
Vastra’s “Well then, here we go again” echoed the Brigadier’s line from Tom Baker’s initial appearance in “Planet of the Spiders”: “Well, here we go again.”
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
“Look at these eyebrows. These are attack eyebrows. You can take bottle tops off with these!” – the Doctor
“I’m Scottish! I can complain about things. I can really complain about things now!” – the Doctor
“And don’t look in that mirror. It’s absolutely furious.” – the Doctor
“It’s my new hands. I can’t tell them apart.” – the Doctor
“We will not melt him with acid.” – Strax
“Nothing is more important than my egomania!” – Clara
“Oh, it’s times like this I miss Amy.” – the Doctor
“This is your power source, feeble thought it is. I can use it to blow this whole room if I see one thing that I don’t like. And that includes karaoke and mime, so take no chances.” – the Doctor
“I don’t think I know who the Doctor is anymore.” – Clara
“I’m the Doctor. I’ve lived for over two thousand years, and not all of them were good. I’ve made many mistakes, and it’s about time that I did something about that.” – the Doctor
“Yes, we have a children’s menu.” – Waiter