Clara struggles coming to terms with the Doctor’s new regeneration as he stabilizes in his new body. Meanwhile, there’s strange happenings in Victorian London involving cyborgs and human organ harvesting. The Doctor enlists the help of Clara and the Paternoster gang as he investigates both the case and his new self.
The New Doctor
There’s a Tyrannosaurus Rex roaming the streets of Victorian London. Scotland Yard calls in the help of their consultant, Madame Vastra, along with Jenny and Strax. The dinosaur seems to have something caught in its throat and eventually coughs up the TARDIS. Apparently the dinosaur accidentally came with the TARDIS after it had been swallowed. When the gang investigate, an apparent stranger answers their knocks at the TARDIS, rambling about random things and misremembering names and situational details. When he eventually passes out, Clara explains that the stranger is the Doctor. When they bring him home, he resists resting, seeming confused by the concept of a bedroom being a room just for sleeping. Vastra tricks him into sleeping. When the Doctor awakes, the dinosaur is still trapped in London. He makes his way out onto the roof and promises the dinosaur to get it home safely when the dinosaur suddenly goes up in flames. The Doctor commandeers a horse and rides to the scene where he is met by Clara and the gang. Having discovered that similar events have transpired in the last weeks, he runs off to pursue his own investigations. He has a conversation with a homeless man in which he discovers that he’s Scottish and tries to remember where he’s seen is own face before. While his chatter is wild, this one sided discussion seems to focus him somewhat. He meets Clara for lunch at a restaurant called Mancini’s after discovering a newspaper ad he assumed was meant for him from Clara. Clara thought it was an ad from the Doctor meant for her. It turns out they are in a dummy restaurant filled with cyborgs and are soon captured and brought to an underground spaceship. When the cyborgs begin to wake up, the Doctor leaves Clara in what appears to be an uncharacteristic act of abandonment. He turns up later after Clara has extracted information from the cyborg leader, apparently having been there the whole time. It turns out the cyborgs are from the sister ship to the Madame de Pompadour and harvest human organs to keep themselves running. The Doctor convinces the cyborg leader that he must give up his insane search for the promised land and the cyborg leader kills himself, which also disables all his cyborg minions. Later, when the Doctor returns for Clara there is a moment of indecision in which Clara is unsure whether she still wants to travel with him after his change. The Doctor asks her to look at him, really see him and what’s right in front of her. She finally sees that he’s still the Doctor and they go out for coffee.
Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is really just something else. He’s an incredibly good fit for the character, older but spry and a little silly, very cheeky and easily distracted. He reminds me of someone sometimes but I really can’t place who just yet. More on that next week if I ever figure it out. He’s got really great eyebrows, “angry eyebrows” as the man himself exclaims in his examination of himself, and they are put to awesomely good use in the new opening credit sequence. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Doctor’s face used so effectively in what is in concept a pretty cheesy effect. I am very excited to see what he gets up to in the rest of the season, because I think he’s going to be fabulous. I was immediately taken with him, and I find that’s a rare feeling as a Doctor Who fan. Even when my beloved David Tennant took over as the Doctor I wasn’t immediately convinced. And when Matt Smith took over from him I was immediately resentful. I am all about Peter Capaldi being the Doctor.
Clara understandably has a hard time reconciling the new man with the Doctor she once knew. She doesn’t understand how he can look older after a regeneration. Madame Vastra explains to her that his young face was like a veil, not to hide from the world, but to gain acceptance from it. She says that regenerating into an older face was the ultimate act of trust, trusting Clara to accept him without the pretense of a young face. Clara is still uncertain about this new regeneration and many of their scenes together play out as if the two are old friends getting reacquainted. When the Doctor leaves Clara in the cyborg ship, she comes very close to escaping by holding her breath. The cyborgs are dumb and don’t realize that she’s human unless she’s breathing. When she gets recaptured, the cyborg leader wants only to know where the Doctor is, but she tricks him into giving her information. Even though Clara appears to have been abandoned by this new Doctor, she takes a leap of faith and tells the cyborg leader she knows the Doctor will always have her back. Just when it seems she’s made a mistake, the Doctor reveals himself and takes over the show. The Paternoster gang comes belaying from the ceiling and helps hold off the cyborg minions as the Doctor pursues the escaping cyborg leader. When everything is over, the Doctor disappears, leading Clara to think she’s been abandoned again. However, he returns for her and asks her to travel with him again. She is unsure of whether she wants to do this until she gets a phone call from the previous Doctor (Matt Smith). He is calling from Trenzalore right before his regeneration. He tells her that he thinks she needs some guidance, because he can feel that the change is going to be pretty big. He tells her that as afraid she she might be of this new man he’s become, that’s nothing compared to how scared he is adjusting to his new body. He asks her to help him, one last time. When Clara looks into the new Doctor’s eyes, she sees something there that convinces her.
The Paternoster Gang
Our favorite trio is back to help the Doctor get through his new regeneration. There’s Madame Vastra and her wife/maid Jenny, and their Sontaran butler/nurse Strax. Vastra is regal, intelligent, and badass as always, flirting away with Jenny while she solves crimes and reproaches Clara for her apparent shallowness. She is very disapproving of how Clara is so easily unsettled by the Doctor’s change of face. She relates it to her own predicament, often not being accepted for her own appearance. She has to wear a veil to hide her reptilian nature, and has to live under the pretense that Jenny is her maid and not her wife. Meanwhile, Strax is as hilarious as always. He often blunders into battle, constantly mistakes genders, and sometimes lapses into old Sontaran habits of wanting to kill everything.
The cyborgs are a pretty creepy bunch, but as Clara explains, they are also pretty stupid. All you have to do is hold your breath and they’ll believe you’re a cyborg, even if they’ve already previously discovered that you’re not. The Doctor, who’s brain is pretty addled from the regeneration, keeps thinking to himself that the idea of machines cannibalizing people for spare parts seems pretty familiar. He realizes later that the cyborg’s space ship is the sister ship to the Madame de Pompadour (from episode 02.04 The Girl in the Fireplace). Of course, having discovered this, it doesn’t do him much good in remembering why that seems familiar as well. The cyborg leader is ancient and has spent thousands of years looking for “the promised land”. The Doctor tells him there is no such place, but once he finally convinces him to give up his mission and sacrifice himself, the cyborg leader awakes in a dreamy garden with a woman named Missy who calls the Doctor her boyfriend. She tells him that he’s finally made it to heaven, which should be reassuring but is actually creepy as hell.
The Old Doctor
This was kind of weird to me. It is very unlike this show to lead up to the departure of the lead actor only to have him make a special appearance in the new actor’s first episode. I’m talking about Matt Smith making a surprise appearance at the end of the show to call up Clara one last time before his regeneration. Doctor Who has become a show that promises hard goodbyes and new beginnings – and while those goodbyes are not always permanent, I think its a little premature to make us go through the pain of that goodbye only to throw Matt Smith into the mix again for one more goodbye. I understand that there’s a strategy going on here, that there’s a specific group of 18-25 year old girls who have become accustomed to young, handsome Doctors to fawn over that need to be convinced that an older, handsome Doctor is still worth their time. I still object to the scene in question, because I somehow feel cheated. Not only do I feel like it undermines Peter Capaldi’s premiere as the Doctor, but I feel cheated by the finality I felt watching a beautifully written departure for Matt Smith at the end of last season. It just felt a little bit tacky.