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.
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
Cast: 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).
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Ben Wheatley
Producer: Nikki Wilson
Composer: Murray Gold
Broadcast Date: 23 August 2014
Behind the Scenes
- Peter Capaldi became the oldest actor to play the part of The Doctor regularly on television, surpassing William Hartnell. John Hurt, William Bradley and Richard Hurndall were all older than Capaldi when they took the part, however, none of these have played the role on a recurring basis on television.
- Capaldi is the third Scottish actor to play the Doctor, following Sylvester McCoy and David Tennant. Similarly to McCoy, he plays the part with his natural accent.
- Capaldi is the second actor to portray the Doctor after appearing as a guest star in a previous episode (The Fires of Pompeii) after Colin Baker. Capaldi also appeared in the spin-off Torchwood, and the recoccurence of his face would be addressed in his second series.
- Series 8 was the first series since the revival to have a shortened run, reduced from 13 to 12 episodes.
- To date, the final appearance of the Pasternoster Gang on television.
- The tramp who sells the Doctor his coat is played by Brian Miller, the husband of the late Elisabeth Sladen who played Sarah Jane Smith. He appeared previously in Snakedance and provided Dalek voices for Resurrection of the Daleks and Remembrance of the Daleks.
- Maggie Service has also appeared in the Big Finish audio plays Revenge of the Swarm, The End of the Line and Divorced, Beheaded, Regenerated.
- Graham Duff appeared in the Big Finish Doctor Who Unbound story Exile and wrote the story Faith Stealer.
- Michelle Gomez had previously played Jevvan in Valhalla.
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.
Give him hell, he’ll always need it.Vastra