Okay, so I don’t want to be premature, but I have to say that the last few episodes have seen a bit of a good streak from the classic BBC science-fiction series.
Peter Capaldi has brought a much-needed change of tone to the series, which admittedly has taken a little while to find secure footing, but now that it has we seem to have ended up with a more serious, darker Doctor. I have seen some complaint that it isn’t really aimed at children any more. With which I disagree.
It is darker, true. But children can handle that. This is the sort of thing that I would have lapped up as a kid, and indeed did, through watching some of the incredibly dark classic episodes. We need to approach children’s entertainment like this, trusting them to find their own way.
So with my colours nailed to the mast, let’s hope this week’s episode doesn’t disappoint.
The general trend of this, the first season of the Twelfth Doctor, has been one of improving confidence and writing getting gradually better. I started, and remain, a firm fan of Peter Capaldi in the leading role, but his settling down has been a little bumpy due to some initial writing-based clumsiness.
Since the sea-change episode “Listen”, that has turned around. The whole thing has a completely different feel to previous Doctors, but it is a welcome change. Still there is the mischevous twinkle in the Doctor’s eye, but it’s an older eye to start with. With “The Caretaker”, though, it seems we’re heading back to Earth (and back to school) for a character-based personal episode.
I’ve been enjoying Peter Capaldi’s performance since he first stepped into the TARDIS a few weeks back. The writing, though, I didn’t feel really stretched him. Not until last week, with one of the best episodes of the show in longer than I care to recall. “Listen”, as readers of my review last week will have seen, was well-paced, serious and gripping.
From the trailer of this week’s episode, “Time Heist”, we’re back to madcap-style adventure romp. Which is not a bad thing, it’s Doctor Who‘s default setting.
What it needs, to be a success, is three things. Firstly, it needs to be fun. Secondly, it needs to advance the characters and adequately make use of the series’ concept and conceits. Thirdly, it needs to make sense within itself. If it can tick all of those boxes, then ladies and gentlemen we have ourselves a romp!
I blogged only last week on the kind of Doctor Who episode I prefer. Arising from the admission that I don’t much care for the “romp through a primary school history textbook” type of episode, I laid on the table that:
“[The] next episode looks dark, haunting Doctor Who-style horror. Which is my favourite flavour of Who. I’m hoping for something weighty, some blend of psychological and philosophical. I’m hoping for “Blink”. I’m hoping for “Midnight”.“
This week’s episode is called Listen, and the teasers which have been running for the last week certainly suggest it is cast in that sort of mould. It has been six years since “Midnight”, though, and seven since “Blink”. Can “Listen” be a return to that sort of magic?
I have a feeling I’m going to be pretty alone in this opinion, but I don’t tend to get on brilliantly well with the “historical” episodes of Doctor Who. It seems a bit of an odd thing to say, of a show about a time-travelling alien, but there we go.
For every “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances”, we have to endure something as lazy as “The Shakespeare Code”. I’m not against exploring the rich tapestry of history, but simply popping up outdated dress and saying “Here we are! Ye olden days!” is a bit weak as story goes. It’s a touch “Downton Abbey”, which is not where I want my Doctor Who to be going.
So on that note, this week’s episode is the snigger-worthily named “Robot of Sherwood”; and out we pop at in medieval Sherwood Forest looking for Robin Hood.
After my verdict on Peter Capaldi’s first episode as the Doctor (he was fantastic, but the episode itself a bit inconsistent), there is everything still to play for with this series.
As I said last week, I have a lot of hope for Capaldi’s tenure in the role. He’s an excellent actor, with a great range, and who brings a distinctly different feel to the role than his immediate predecessors. That said, a good actor isn’t enough; he will need the supporting cast, the writing and the direction to make a victory of it.
Honestly, I think it’s a bit of a risk putting the Daleks in Capaldi’s second episode. They are pretty iconographic of the series, but they have been a little overused since the reboot, and have lost a bit of their fear-based charm.
So can Peter Capaldi weave his magic with the Doctor’s old foe, and make them fresh again?
To say that I’ve been looking forward to Peter Capaldi’s debut as eccentric box-based time traveller the Doctor is a bit of an understatement. Those with a keen memory may remember that when Matt Smith announced his departure, my favoured choice was the enigmatic Iain Glen.
Despite this, I felt that Capaldi was an inspired choice, ticking many of the boxes I outlined in my plea for Glen. Older, with a sense of gravitas. Even if I was half-hoping for Malcolm Tucker in space (on which note, his first line on the show back at Christmas, morphed in my mind into “Do you know how to fly this f***king thing?”).
I was never much of a fan of Matt Smith’s tenure, if I’m honest. What seemed fresh about him at first pretty quickly felt like David Tennant on too much sugar. The series has been crying out for a lead with a shade more seriousness; a return, perhaps, to the Doctors of yesteryear.
So with the above weight of expectation on Peter Capaldi’s shoulders, how did he perform?
And we’re done. The act has closed, the curtain fallen, Matt Smith has left the building.
I was never the most vocal of his converts, for me David Tenant’s performance in the role is still the modern rendition to aspire to. But Smith has played a good innings, and made the role his own. His rubber-limbed, Easter Island statue-faced antics have been amusing and moving in equal measure.