Capaldi cometh - a new show, a new direction. What to make of his long awaited debut?
"Dinosaur's aren't that big, I've seen the bones."
Vastra and co' emerge onto the banks of the Themes, among a crowd of confused onlookers. There's a dinosaur in town and, rather understandably, the denizens of Victorian London are rather taken by this sight. The dinosaur spits out of the TARDIS, Vastra seals off the area and they go down to check it out.
Our first scene where we get acquainted to the new doctor is something of an uneven one to be honest - it's not clear whether or not the tyrannosaurus should be a threat and there was a sense of just being unsure. We were kind of too familiar and not really being introduced to Capaldi, but also kind of being introduced. The opening of the episode started as a storm of ambivalence - peppered with great dialogue and genuinely funny lines to be fair.
I found this to be one of the main things I took away from the early stages of the episode. The episode didn't really know where it was going, and it struck an uneasy balance between being too familiar and not familiar enough. It was nicely directed, and the characters all struck an easy rapoir with each other, but for a while the episode just meandered, feeling safe enough to lean on clever banter and too-obvious thematic statements.
"Give me your coat."
Then the dinosaur burns and the Doctor disappeared into the Themes, searching for the killer. When he next pops up, he's looking rather raggedy and chatting to a nearby homeless person, his manner half-awake and confused.
This, really, is our time alone with The Doctor. His mad ramblings, his gargoyle-countenance. He comes across lost but also more than a little bit rough around the edges. His aggressive demands that the homeless man hand over his coat managed to be genuinely disturbing, helped in no small part by just how well Capaldi plays threatening.
Throughout the episode his characterisation is adeptly handled, addled by post-regeneration confusion and a genuine sense that this new Doctor is untrustworthy. He's played close enough to the Doctor we all know to allow for continuity, but with enough to have us asking questions. Speaking of which...
Post-Tennant regeneration, there was a strong backlash from many of Tennant's most loyal fans. One of the main criticisms I heard was that the change was just too jarring. Everything was new - new tone, new TARDIS, new assistant, new Doctor. It was too much, some argued.
The continuity between the latter half of series seven and this episode makes it seem as if they have taken these particular criticisms on board. The tone is closer and the new TARDIS is only slightly different. We get an old baddy, in slightly new form, Vastra and co. and, of course, the same companion from Smith's latter years.
One of the more interesting decisions made in the episode was the decision to make it more about Clara than it really was about The Doctor. The main thrust of the episode was Clara's journey. Her learning to trust the Doctor and getting used to his new appearance, as well as proving her own worth as a companion.
Her attempts to adjust to the new Doctor do two things as well as being a natural character arc for a companion who has witnessed a regeneration. It serves to resolve the half-baked probably-misdirection that was Clara and Eleven's will-they-or-won't-they - the answer being, rather obviously, they won't.
The other, and more interesting strand, was the way that the whole arc seemed to function as a real message to those fangirls who were less than kind about the appearance of Capaldi. In this, Clara's conversation with Vastra and her later conversation on the phone with an old friend serve to be important. This is still the same Doctor, this is still the same sense of adventure, and if that isn't enough then you weren't really a fan in the first place is the message.
The attempts to justify Clara as a companion in her own right often went over the show line, straight into tell, and as such this episode worked more as a mission statement for how Moff is going to try and establish Clara as a better companion rather than an actual showcase for why she is a better companion than we've seen so far (at least, this iteration of her). Still, the episode improved as it went on, and this followed that trend - by the climax, it look as if the earlier mission statement was being followed up on.
The directing was very nice, although faltered during action scenes, and the script was fantastically full of ideas. Although flawed, this episode really picks up speed later on. When the antagonist becomes a major player, suddenly everything gets much more purposeful and feels a lot more engaging. The cleverness, the humour, the characterisation all really slots into place and works. By the end, it feels like we've really been given a proper introduction, as well as seen a very good episode.