It has been a long time since I posted here. Life has been a wee bit busy since I last posted and this blog has been something I have left untended. Even though I have no idea how regular I will update this, it is worth looking at starting again and what better to do so than the return of Doctor Who the the small screen?
As the picture above shows, the venerable show has returned with a new face. Indeed, this has been much more of a facelift than the usual change that happens with Doctor Who. Over the last fifty years, the once revolutionary idea of the series’ central character changing his face has become almost common place. It has given the show the great ability to reinvent itself and this new Doctor’s first episode suggests that the reinvention shall be more marked than any since the show’s rebirth in 2005, not least the fact that, for the first time since that rebirth, the Doctor is being portrayed by an actor older than the show itself.
From the off, the difference was clearly visible. Not only had they rearranged the theme music, they had rearranged the whole titles too. Gone was the vortex type design that had been the theme since 2005 and instead there were cog wheels and a spiral clock face, which I have to say I loved. This emphasised the time travel aspect of the show. With the Victorian setting, the clockwork inspired titles and a clockwork villain in the first episode, the press have made much of a possible steampunk aesthetic developing into the show. Perhaps that is the case, though the new arrangement of the theme music undercuts this. With Murray Gold changing his orchestral arrangement of the theme into something that is far more synthesiser based, the title sequence, taken in its in its entirety, looks both to the past and to the future too. This is entirely fitting to a show that is over fifty years old.
I don’t know if this may or may not be the case, but I saw a similar dichotomy during Smith’s time as the 11th Doctor. Here was a actor in his twenties, dressing like a man in his fifties, making the youthfulness energy of his portrayal contrast with his appearance. Looking with hindsight at the change of his mid-twentieth century tweed jacket and bow tie to a longer frock coat and a darkening of the Tardis interior to the industrially metallic interior that first appeared in the 2012 Christmas episode, it seems as if Smith’s final series as the Doctor was pointing towards the darker suited, somewhat fierce scot that the Doctor has become.
That, as they say, is mere conjecture and time will tell whether the the Doctor’s adventures will return to the darker tone of the third and fourth incarnations stories. Certainly, it is to be hoped that Capaldi’s gruff assertion to his companion Clara that he is not her boyfriend will finally lay to rest the mawkish sentimentality that so bedevilled how the Doctor related to his companions since the show’s renaissance in 2005. Managing the change in that dynamic was always going to be tricky and the writer and executive producer, Steven Moffat, handled it well. The scene between the Doctor and Clara in the restaurant was excellent, the dialogue sharp and full of wit, as one would expect from the writer who produced the excellent sitcom, Coupling.
Doctor Who has never been averse to recalling old antagonists. After all the use of enemies from the classic era was something to keep those who fondly remembered the “classic” episodes engaged. There is, after all, a peculiar pleasure in identifying the antagonist before it was revealed. This has been something that those who joined the show’s watchers since 2005 have, by and large lacked. Well, it’s 2014 now and the show has been going nine years in its new form and so has built up enough “new” enemies to reuse them. In the past, this has been obvious, with the Ood’s, the Slitheen’s and the Weeping Angel’s reappearances. This time, though, the nod to the earlier use of clockwork androids in The Girl in the Fireplace was more subtle and I loved that, just as I loved the genuine horror of the androids of the implied use by the androids of human spare parts. When the Slitheen did it in 2005 it was lightened with fart gags and forehead zippers. With the androids, particularly with their half-faced controller such leavening was entirely absent.
There have been darker episodes in the ‘new Who’ before: The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances, Blink and Silence in the Library & Forest of the Dead are notable examples. That these went on to be the best received episodes says much about what the public want from Doctor Who. That the new incarnation of the Doctor starts off with such an episode, that Capaldi’s Doctor sits down with the a glass of whisky saying, that he was concerned that he might have to kill the antagonist and therefore needed a drink tells us that this is, indeed, a darker adult Doctor, who is no longer afraid to get his hands dirty. Neither Tennant’s nor Smith’s incarnations would have been so coldly hands-on. Ecclestone’s showed the potential, particularly in the episode Dalek but all three of them seemed shy of doing what was necessary, leaving the violence to peripheral characters.
With the fiftieth anniversary episode, The Day of the Doctor, the reason for this becomes clear, when John Hurt’s War Doctor asks Tennant’s and Smith’s Doctors, “When did I become afraid to be a grown-up?” The answer to that question, that the Doctor believed himself responsible for the destruction of the entire Time Lord race, his own species, would be enough to make anyone shy of violence. The resolution of that programme, with the revelation that the Doctor had instead preserved the Time Lords from total destruction freed him from that guilt. The follow- up episode, The Time of the Doctor, gave him the catharsis he needed, ostensibly by sacrificing his life to save the people of Trenzelor and to keep the Time Lord’s from emerging into an ambush. This allowed the Doctor to grow up once more and this, I believe will be the true tone of the new series, not a dark tone for darkness’ sake but because adults face darker situations than children. In short, I believe that the “new Who” has come of age.
So was it a good episode? Yes, it was. It wasn’t the best but it was still good. Here’s hoping the future stays bright.