Review: The Doctor is in again, and in finer fettle than before
“Doctor Who” returns Saturday on BBC America, and around the world, at a point of relative stability.
It’s the second season for Peter Capaldi, as the 12th Doctor, not counting unnumbered War Doctor John Hurt, and the third for Jenna Coleman as time-space traveling companion Clara Oswald: They are old friends by now, with each other, and with us; they feel right. (Matt Smith? Who’s that, now?) Time works wonders.
Spoilers are deadly here — to the fun, certainly, but conceivably to the person who reveals them as well — but a few cats have officially been let out of the bag. There will be Daleks — yes, again and already — including what feels like a nod back to Coleman’s first appearance in the series, before she became a companion, back in “Asylum of the Daleks.”
There will be Missy (Michelle Gomez), the transgender reincarnation of the Master — news whose goodness the two-part opener, “The Magician’s Apprentice” and “The Witch’s Familiar,” penned by show runner Steven Moffat, only confirms. (One of Moffat’s great gifts to the series is a string of memorable women — indeed, all his best inventions have been female characters.)
Also, as trailers have shown, the Doctor will play an electric guitar with all the authority of a man — Capaldi, that is — who once led a Scottish punk band (Dreamboys, with Craig Ferguson — that Craig Ferguson — on drums). It’s a pointed, and explicitly pointed-out, reminder that David Tennant’s and Smith’s young and madcap Doctors still live within him: “It’s my party, and all of me are invited.” Said another way: He’s not as old as he looks. (Some 2,000 years of living notwithstanding.)
If you have never seen this show, I imagine you’re quite confused by now. The Doctor periodically regenerates and is recast, is the short way to say it. Also, with one rather long vacation, it has been on television for more than 50 years.
Though BBC America reports it to be the highest-rated so far, the last season felt very mixed to me. As great a choice as Capaldi seemed from the moment he was announced, and has proved to be, the year felt wobbly, as if Moffat — who has now been running the show nearly as long as rebooter Russell T Davies, and is responsible for many of its most vivid new characters and concepts — in reaching for big themes and drama had lost control of the tone. It was a fretful year of existential crises — good seasoning for this series, for sure, but you don’t want to over-salt the stew.
The new year begins with the Doctor landing accidentally in the middle of a war, which is as classic a “Doctor Who” opening gambit as pawn to king’s four in chess. (It is followed by an equally “Where is the Doctor?” sequence.) And if I awaited its coming not exactly with trepidation, but with somewhat less enthusiasm than in the past, by the end of the second episode — if not quite by the end of the first — I felt that Time Lord energy again.
As the Doctor, no longer wondering (for the moment) whether he’s “a good man,” and Clara free of the insufficiently felt yet textually overstated relationship with fellow teacher Danny Pink, things are getting moving again, as when a rock band decides to can the heavy, arty stuff and get back to its roots. And although the opening episodes suffer, if that’s the word, from Moffat’s typically curlicued, loose-ended, pot-holed plotting, it zooms along from moment to moment, full of energy, adventure and crackling repartee.
Moffat himself cuts to the heart of the matter when he has the Doctor (discovered sipping tea where no tea should be) say: “Of course the real question is where did I get the cup of tea? Answer is: I’m the Doctor, just accept it.”
The complete guide to home viewing
Get Screen Gab for weekly recommendations, analysis, interviews and irreverent discussion of the TV and streaming movies everyone’s talking about.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.