The latest season of "Doctor Who" wastes no time in getting to the point, but doesn't get right to the new face of the regenerated Doctor in the Season 8 premiere episode (Saturday, Aug. 23, at 8 p.m., with pre- and post-shows hosted by Chris Hardwick). And in this episode, appearances — what they reveal and what they hide — are everything.
The loyal trio of the reptilian Vastra, human Jenny Flint and Sontaran commander Strax have evolved into the Scooby-Whos (sorry, couldn't resist) of the series. They are ready and able to lend a hand, a ninja blade, whatever the Doctor orders when he happens to be in distress. They are front and center often for an episode that introduces a new Doctor, in this case Peter Capaldi (above) the 12th Doctor by most counts. He's lean and green at being a Time Lord, until the effects of regeneration wear off. His look reads a gray David Copperfield, and he possesses the proper restless, relentless energy of a Time Lord.
While he seems to fill the bill of quirkiness and derring-do required of the Doctor, this jury of one is still out on The Capaldi Era — it took me a full season to get past the loss of David Tennant and Matt Smith's chin before I warmed to the new guy, and I still miss Christopher Eccleston. The latter revived the now 50-year-old franchise about an alien Time Lord who travels in a TARDIS (a time machine that looks like a UK police box) and picks up human companions to share his adventures.
Companion Clara (Jenna Coleman, left), the Impossible Girl whose history was revealed toward the end of last season, gets a bit of a raw deal here. She is not immediately accepting of this new Doctor, with his gray hair and lined face, and gets called out on it a number of times.
Clara and the Doctor are deposited in Victorian London and are immediately scooped up by the Doctor's merry band of followers: Vastra (Neve McIntosh) as the voice of reason, Jenny (Catrin Stewart) as her devoted human wife and Strax (Dan Starkey) as comic relief. The first five minutes of the episode is devoted to Strax, with his twisted understanding of humans and genders, giving a recap of the Doctors' regenerations through the years.
He speaks for us all — well, me — when addressing the concept of this latest regeneration: "The number of Doctors gets a little trickier later on."
And did I mention the T-rex in the Thames?
Here's the thing about this episode to be appreciated by fans. tThis episode played out as Steven Moffat's check list of addressing fan concerns. Aging the Doctor from 20-something Smith to 50-something Capaldi? Check. Where do the new looks come from when the Doctor regenerates? Check. Is companion Clara just a pretty face who only had eyes for her much younger Doctor? Check.
My favorite line belongs to Vastra, though, who says when she's confronted with a newspaper page filled with classified ads, "Advertisements, yes, so many. It's a distressing modern trend." If only.
The story itself seems to be a concept evolved from Moffat's other BBC series, "Sherlock." Vastra even says, "The game's afoot" at one point. The mystery isn't how the T-rex got there — it swallowed the TARDIS and brought the Doctor and Clara to Victorian London. The T-rex meets his demise in a manner seen in other recent sudden deaths, sparking a creepy mystery and a nasty new villain for the Scoobies and you know Who.
There's a not-so-surprising cameo toward the end of the episode that helps in this transition process to another new face in the "Doctor Who" canon, and a last-scene reveal that moves the story forward.
Chris Hardwick, aka The Nerdist, who will be in town a week from Saturday with the Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival, was naturally delighted to talk about this new incarnation of the Doctor when we spoke recently. He summed up the great expectations of "Doctor Who" fans this way:
"I'm really excited because I think Capaldi is such an interesting choice and will take the Doctor in different places than he's been before. I'm hosting this little wraparound show for the premiere on the 23rd of August. I love the show because I think it's a metaphor for life, because you lose the things you love and there's always a place in your heart for those things and those people but then you get to discover new people and new experiences. It's kind of like when Tennant turned into Matt Smith. I still loved Tennant but then I grew to love Matt Smith. And now, hopefully, I'll get to love Capaldi. It's just kind of nice that the show keeps reinventing itself. I don't know how long they are going to do it, but hopefully forever."
Photo credits: @BBC/BBC