Season Eight of Doctor Who has just premiered, starring Peter Capaldi and his companion Clara. The plot combined Blink (Don’t breathe!) and The Girl in the Fireplace, two of the most popular Moffat episodes, along with Madame Vastra and Co., plus a special effects dinosaur. What it didn’t offer was extraordinary heroics from the Doctor. Upon regenerating, David Tennant dueled for the planet in his bathrobe, and Matt Smith dangled from the TARDIS, spit Amy’s cooking all over her, and saved the world without TARDIS or screwdriver, just to win our hearts. Peter Capaldi did a brusque, confused, but acceptable job battling the robots. But he (or rather his scriptwriters) didn’t especially win over viewers. He broke his promise to a dinosaur, callously ditched Clara, and mumbled confusedly in a nightgown. In fact, his great moment of proving himself involved Matt Smith sticking up for him to Clara. Smith handed off the role in a way no Doctor has ever done—to a point that it was more cheesy and pushy than sweet. We must like him because Matt Smith told Clara (and us) to, not because of his own endearing qualities.
There were the obligatory fun canon references for fans—the Doctor wants a TARDIS with circles on the walls, and decides the giant scarf looked stupid (aww). He mentions his fierce eyebrows, memorable from the fiftieth anniversary, and the Roman he’s modeled after. He mentions Amy, and when he offers to get chips with no money, he’s replaying the scene with Rose from “The End of the World.” His passing out and Jenny asking Clara who the Doctor is also echoes Rose and her mother in “The Christmas Invasion” after another regeneration. Strax describes Clara’s thorax, as Sontarans did to Sarah Jane and Martha in “The Time Warrior” and “The Sontaran Strategem,” Meanwhile, Strax, Jenny, and Vastra use many skills and conversation points from their previous appearances (the women’s marriage, Strax calling Clara “boy,” acid, Sherlock Holmes, etc.). Sherlock Holmes references abound as well: Vastra mentions the Paternoster Street Irregulars and says she’s having the Camberwell Poisoner “for dinner” She adds “the game’s afoot!” and searches the Agony Column for clues, all Holmes staples.
Their house with Vastra’s garden reappears and she interrogates Clara in it a second time. The Doctor can speak Horse and Dinosaur, like the Eleventh. He mentions his new enormous age after the Christmas special (2000!). Clara’s “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry,” “Geronimo!” and “You’ve redecorated… I don’t like it” are Who taglines. The Doctor mistakes Clara for Handles from the previous episode and says he’s not her boyfriend, though he pretended to be before. Clara is called “The Impossible Girl” and her mistaking him for a helpline on their first meeting is mentioned as an unsolved puzzle.
Missy is another puzzle. Tasha from “The Time of the Doctor” shares something of her personality and may be the same character. Is she River Song? (She shares something of the personality.) Romana? The Rani? The TARDIS/Idris? Slash fans would love her to be the “Mistress”—the Master after a gender-cross. It’s possible she’s the Doctor’s dark side—not just seen in the Valeyard but also the Dream Lord in the episode “Amy’s Choice,” working on behalf of the Doctor and knowing all he knows. One hopes it’s not just an annoying character like Cassandra or a delusional fangirl.
The new title sequence seems pandering to the steampunkers with all the clockwork. Yet it’s also charmingly fresh and “timey-wimey” as well as “spacey-wacey.” It was designed by Billy Hanshaw after Steven Moffat actually saw the fan video credits on Youtube and recruited him in a fannish dream come true.
There are few more interesting nods: The Doctor’s comments about a broom replaced echoes his own life. Vastra describes the Doctor’s looks, explaining that he’s young and handsome to attract people (true on many levels). Clara mentions she had a Marcus Aurelius pinup, suggesting that the Doctor’s change from an attractive young man to a Roman may be another form of flirting. Or as he says, he may be “trying to tell himself something.” Time will tell, on this and on the Doctor himself.
Valerie Estelle Frankel is the author of Doctor Who – The What, Where, and How and Doctor Who and the Hero’s Journey, The Doctor and Companions as Chosen Ones.