Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald), Neve McIntosh (Madam Vastra), Dan Starkey (Strax), Catrin Stewart (Jenny), Peter Ferdinando (Half Face Man), Paul Hickey (Inspector Gregson), Brian Miller (Barney), Ellis George (Courtney Woods), Michelle Gomez (Missy) and Matt Smith (The Doctor)
Following the events of The Time of the Doctor, the newly regenerated Doctor arrives in Victorian London, while his companion, Clara, struggles to deal with his new regeneration. They are joined by the Paternoster Gang, who are investigating a series of spontaneous combustions around London.
Behind the Scenes
The announcement that Matt Smith was leaving Doctor Who was made in the summer of 2013, and his successor was announced in a live television programme on BBC One. Peter Capaldi is the oldest actor since William Hartnell to play the role regularly, and the third Scottish actor to play the part after Sylvester McCoy and David Tennant, although unlike Tennant and like McCoy, he would keep his Scottish accent whilst in the part. Capaldi at the time was best known for his role as the sweary spin-doctor, Malcolm Tucker in the political satire The Thick of It, but had also featured previously in both Doctor Who and its spin-off, Torchwood, something that would lead to an arc in the show.
Meanwhile, Jenna Coleman returned for what was initially believed to be her final series, having been a part of the show since the second half of series 7, but would eventually change her mind, finally leaving at the end of Capaldi’s second series. The Paternoster Gang return here for the final time on television, and the role of the tramp, Barney, is played by Brian Miller, husband of the late Elisabeth Sladen.
Finally, Series 8 was the first to run a reduced number of episodes, from 13 episodes down to 12.
This is a strong opening episode for the Twelfth Doctor, which benefits hugely from the central performances of Capaldi and Coleman and the directorial experience of Ben Wheatley. For me, it is not an instant classic, like Spearhead From Space or The Eleventh Hour, but a strong debut none the less.
I will address some of the weaker elements of the story briefly first. I believe that the extended running time perhaps harms the story, but when I was watching it for this review, I was at a loss to see which scenes I would cut out. There is also the inclusion of the Paternoster Gang, who feel like a hangover from the previous era. I discussed in my review of Robot that an element like this can ultimately harm the episode. However, I like the Paternoster Gang and it is nice that they get a final appearance here.
On to the stronger points of the episode. I really like the ambiguity of the new Doctor’s character and I feel that the strongest reflection of this is when the Doctor appears to abandon Clara in the spaceship under Mancini’s Restaurant. The new Doctor has been established to this point as being different from his predecessors, which allows sowing seeds of doubt in the viewer’s mind. This also leads to Clara facing off with the Half-Face Man, where she uses her own worst nightmare of her first day of teaching to get answers from him, and another strong moment for her when she says that she doesn’t know where the Doctor is:
But I know where he will be. Where he always will be. If the Doctor is still the Doctor, he will have my back.
This is a fantastically directed moment as there is a pause whilst Clara puts her hand out behind her for the Doctor, so that, just for a moment, you think that the Doctor might not be there for her.
Another strong moment in this episode comes in the veil scene with Madam Vastra, and this is part of the reason I don’t mind the Paternoster Gang being in this episode – they serve a purpose. In this scene, it also feels like she is not only addressing Clara in the story, but also the audience, who may have become used to seeing younger actors playing the role, especially Smith, and almost gives Capaldi a clean slate. Even with Clara’s previous experiences and history regarding the Doctor, it is understandable that she reacts the way she does. After all, the Doctor goes from outwardly appearing to be a similar age to her, to looking so much older in the space of a few seconds at the end of The Time of the Doctor. The idea of the veil Vastra wears only being there when Clara sees it to be there is a really nice idea, and this is a really nicely written scene.
Onto the villain. The Half-Face Man is from the same ‘family’ of robots as the Tenth Doctor and Rose faced in The Girl in the Fireplace, but the Doctor doesn’t remember these events. The clockwork droids are still looking to use human parts to repair their ship to get to the Promised Land, which forms a part of Series 8’s arc. The fact that the Doctor does not remember them is not an issue for me, as the Doctor has been through quite a lot since then, and even more recently, he has spent 900 years defending Trenzalore. He’s going to forget some things. The Half-Face Man is very menacing, and the droids themselves do benefit from good direction from Ben Wheatley, especially that wide shot during the restaurant scene with the Doctor and Clara. While the villain might be slightly forgettable, the threat they pose whilst watching the episode is unmistakable. The scene I mentioned previously where Clara has been abandoned and is holding her breath to avoid detection is terrifying – you know she’s going to have to breathe eventually.
Speaking of the villain, the final confrontation between the Doctor and the Half-Face Man really helps with the uncertainty we are supposed to have about this new Doctor. In the midst of this, we get a really nice shot where the Doctor holds up a silver serving platter to the Half-Face Man to show him how far and fruitless his quest has been, and in the reverse shot we see a reflection of the new Doctor (“You probably can’t even remember where you got that face from!”). The climax of this scene is the Half-Face Man’s death on the spire of the Clock Tower of the Houses of Parliament and the uncertainty of whether he was pushed or he jumped. Personally, I’m about 90% certain he jumped, but the cold and ruthless nature of this new Doctor does make me doubt myself.
I’m just going to say a few words about the phone call from the Eleventh Doctor at the end of the episode. I feel that this is an important part for Clara, to see that this really is the same man. In addition, honestly, when the Twelfth Doctor pleads with Clara to “just see me”, my heart breaks a little for him.
A final two points. Firstly, I feel that the comedy in this episode really works, and personally, the scene where Jenny is posing for a portrait with Vastra, only for it to be revealed that Vastra is actually working on the case is one of the best moments of the episode for me. Secondly, the chemistry between Capaldi and Coleman is great from the off here. Jenna Coleman has such great chemistry with both Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi, which really helps this episode, especially where it isn’t so action based at times, like in the restaurant scene where Clara and the Doctor meet.
Summary: A strong start to the Twelfth Doctor’s tenure. The chemistry between Capaldi and Coleman is very strong, and despite some pacing issues, it is a very enjoyable story. 8/10
Best moment: The moment with Clara’s worst nightmare – the unruly class – that teaches her the lesson that threatening the ultimate punishment leaves you with nowhere to go.
Best Quote: Vastra: Give him hell, he’ll always need it.