Full disclosure: I am a complete and utter pop culture junkie, self-described nerd, and in general hapless geek. My SO is also of that bent. We began dating over a mutual love of SCA, Game of Thrones, Madden, tabletop RPG’s and of course, Doctor Who. Since the stunning regeneration of season 11’s finale, the Viking and I have been counting down the days through the humid, disgustingly hot summer to the Saturday that would signal the return of red leaves, sweaters, and couch dates watching Peter Capaldi’s turn as the Doctor.
Saturday night’s premiere did not disappoint. Chris Hardwick and Wil Wheaton (because if it’s nerdy, Hardwick and Wheaton have to be involved — it’s in their contracts) hosted a special, 15-minute lead in about the history of the show as well as a promotion for “After Who,” the Hardwick hosted show in the same vein as “Talking Dead” or “Talking Bad.” Personally, I like the shows because it gives me a chance to fangirl a little longer. I also love the celebrity guests that come on the show and gush like me about an episode or character. It’s like finding out that Vin Diesel plays D+D — apparently they AREN’T too cool for school.
Last night’s show had Alton Brown.
And this happened:
— Alton Brown (@altonbrown) August 24, 2014
I couldn’t find any information as to the future of this feature, or if it was simply something for the premiere. I really hope that it continues, though.
Now, on to the meat of the issue. THE DOCTOR IS BACK. Last night’s episode took place in Victorian London, which means that fan favorites Strax, Jenny, and Vastra were front and center. The plot was excellent. I adore that they have gone from apples and fish sticks to chalk and formulas. Hearing the Doctor flirt with a dinosaur and then translate for her while he was asleep was among one of the more heartwarming moments of the seasons since Nine. A bit of fan service was included when Vastra coldly dressed down Clara while addressing the concerns of some of the fandom because Capaldi is much older than the previous two incarnations.
The Viking and I had a major concern: how is this Doctor going to turn out? In the aftermath of The Day of the Doctor, as well as the fallout from the latter part of season 11, it wouldn’t make sense for Capaldi’s Doctor to be the affable, flighty Doctor of the past. While Smith’s Doctor always had a sharp edge running just below the surface, it only came out like a scalpel in the hand of a skilled surgeon. Eleven was fierce, and cruel when he needed to be. Near the end, Eleven had almost given up on kindness and the guilt for his past had eaten at him so completely that it made complete sense for him to become the guardian of Trenzalore for 900 years.
Capaldi did an excellent job of channeling Smith during the first act of the show. This challenge, I feel, is one of the greater ones when it comes to playing the Doctor. You must embrace four different aspects of the character — the previous actor and his version of the Doctor, and the current actor and his version — in order to make the regeneration believable. Throughout the entire show, Capaldi drew on nearly every single Doctor (including the War Doctor) and we saw them bubble to the surface, only to be sifted through and then pushed back down again.
The best part of this comes during an intense monologue the Doctor gives to a drunken passerby in an alley. The writing itself is excellent, but Capaldi’s ability to portray the internal struggle that I’ve wondered about as a fan — “This face! Why did I pick this face! Where did it come from?”
Emphasizing this Doctor’s connection to the darkness within him was the moment when he abandoned Clara. My heart broke along with Clara’s, even though everyone knows that the Doctor is just like Tinkerbell — you never lose faith, you always believe, and if you do those things, they’ll always be there.
The climax of the episode was one of those moments. The ambiguity of whether the cyborg was thrown or jumped from the escape pod only existed when Capaldi broke the fourth wall and looked directly into the camera. Up until then, the fangirl in me kept the faith that the Doctor doesn’t murder, of COURSE the cyborg disobeyed his programing. Right? Right?
It’s these moments that demonstrate what an incredible actor Capaldi actually is. His eyes conveyed desperation alongside challenge. The pleading he did with Clara had the same combination. Capaldi is so adept at the nuances of a 2,100 year old alien that it cements my love for this Doctor. While I know it will take a little bit to get used to him — as it did with Nine, Ten and Eleven — I am so pleased to be going through all of space and time with him at the helm. After all, he’s been preparing for this role his entire life.