With the post-regeneration shenanigans of last week behind us, this was our first chance to see the new Doctor in business-as-usual mode. Unfortunately, what we got was a lot of set-up for the series (re-introducing Coal Hill School, introducing Danny Pink, a curious reappearance from ‘Missy’) and then a muddled and at times nonsensical adventure featuring the monster everyone feels obligated to say is their favourite*: The Daleks.
After an attention grabbing and explosive opening which featured the Doctor materialising around a pilot just before her ship exploded, we’re introduced to one of the most unlikeable groups of humans ever featured in Doctor Who, a group who just happen to be at war with the aggressive pepper pots.
The whole lead-up to miniaturising the Doctor, Clara and the soldiers was a bit jumbled and for me it was never clear why he was allowed to go and get Clara or why they had to go inside the Dalek in the first place apart from to give the story a gimmick. It was a nice fourth wall bending moment when the Doctor mentioned it’s a great idea for a movie, though. The episode borrowed heavily from the Eleventh Doctor’s encounters with the Teselecta and revisited themes from several previous Dalek episodes, including the worn out question of whether the Doctor is very much different from his most hated enemies.
Not to say the episode was bad, it was a competent adventure but the important thing is Capaldi continues to be much better than the material he’s been surrounded with so far. His sharp and serrated wit and dark sarcasm are a breath of fresh air, especially his comeback to Clara about her being his carer. Ms Oswald isn’t used to not getting the last quippy word but things have changed. The ruthlessly pragmatic streak is shown again as he coldly sacrifices a doomed soldier in order to save the rest of his group and his disdain for soldiers and the military reaches new heights.
With everything now set up: the Doctor in his TARDIS popping back and forth whenever he needs Clara, Clara busy with her new friend Danny and the mysterious Missy waiting somewhere (and I thought we were promised a more standalone approach this season?) maybe we’re now ready to settle in and enjoy the Twelfth Doctor? At least all the foreboding stuff that sounded ‘cool’ in the trailers – ‘Am I a good man?’, ‘Where are we going?’ ‘Into Darkness…’) was used up in this episode and isn’t going to be laid on with a trowel for the rest of the season.
Capaldi and Coleman are starting to develop a really good rapport (has any other companion walloped the Doctor like that before?) and I’m loving this new edgier, less whimsical Doctor. I’m just waiting for an adventure that’s worthy of him.
* For the record, my favourite monsters are The Terrileptils (“The Visitation”), which Steven Moffat often teases by mentioning in his episodes but hasn’t brought back yet.