We’ve seen both halves of the Doctor Who season opener, which starts tomorrow on BBC America at 9 PM. The good news? The time-traveling eccentric Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, is as electrifying as ever. The bad news? You’ll be kind of lost if you’re not a Who expert. Here’s our spoiler-free review.
Head writer Steven Moffat is once again concerned with the question of just who, and what, the Doctor is, and whether he’s a hero. And what he means to people, and what kind of effect he has on the universe. We’ve complained in the past that Moffat’s scripts tend to be heavy on people obsessing about the Doctor, and this continues to be the case—to the point where you almost want to propose a special variant of the Bechdel Test for Moffat. (Is there a scene where two people who aren’t the Doctor talk about something other than the Doctor?)
It’s not actually a spoiler to say that this opening two-parter, once again, is about a set of characters who are obsessed with the Doctor, and who spend their time trying to analyze and influence the Doctor. And the story turns on the choices the Doctor makes. (And this being a two-parter, that works a lot better in part two than in part one.)
But this time around, right out of the gate, Moffat pulls from Doctor Who’s back catalog with more alacrity than ever before. The first episode, airing tomorrow night, is front-loaded with lots of cameos and shout-outs from throughout the history of Who. Tons of characters just turn up, and you’re supposed to know who they all are. I won’t list them all here, because they’re spoilers—but if you’re not a Who expert, you might want to keep a Who-savvy friend on speed dial.
This being a Moffat script, there are also a lot of clever bits, cool lines of dialogue, and some well-observed character bits. The Doctor’s companion Clara (Jenna Coleman) gets to have a teamup that’s pretty hilarious and unpredictable, which gives her some of her best material to work with. There’s not really enough story for two whole episodes, but by the end of the second half, you do kind of get a payoff that makes the whole thing feel worthwhile.
All in all, the opening two-parter is middling but fun Doctor Who. Much like last year’s “Deep Breath,” it’s not going to be anybody’s favorite episode—but it gets the ball rolling, and “Deep Breath” was followed by some pretty outstanding episodes last year. (Along with some that weren’t so outstanding.)
At the same time, there’s even more of a manic gleam in Peter Capaldi’s eye than before—so there should be interesting days ahead.