Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past month and have somehow avoided the massive publicity blitz that the BBC has carried out over recent months (including organising a world tour, ubiquitous advertising on BBC One (even during half-time at the World Cup final), several articles about the show appearing in every major newspaper and online publication, choosing to air the première in cinemas nationally, and putting Peter Capaldi’s face on as many billboards and magazine covers as humanly possible), you’ll probably know that Doctor Who is back.
It’s no surprise that the BBC is promoting the hell out of it, it’s one of the corporation’s biggest cash cows (rivalled only by Sherlock), and after the 50th anniversary special it’s more popular than ever.
In much of the pre-première hype, the writers and the cast kept emphasising how ‘mysterious’ and ‘dark’ the new guy was, and how different he’d be, and how jarring this different Doctor would be, both to his companion Clara and to the viewers at home.
The promotional images emphasised this change to a new moody, brooding Doctor. Instead of the cheeky-chappie face and mischievous grin of Matt Smith, there’s an angry, bushy-eyebrowed Scotsman glaring at you. Instead of a bright purple jacket and goofy bowtie, he’s wearing a plain waistcoat and trousers, all black.
In the trailers, he wonders whether he’s a good man and contemplates his past mistakes, while Clara looks on confused and wonders if she even knows who he is any more.
The message is clear: This is going to be very, very different.
And, for much of the super-long episode, which was even longer than last year’s Day of the Doctor anniversary special, it was quite different to anything from Matt Smith’s years.
The bombastic music was toned down to a bare minimum. The colour scheme was dark and washed out. The tone is noticeably different. The 79-minute running time allowed many scenes to be much longer than they would normally be, giving the episode a slow, leisurely pace. There was a general lack of of scenes featuring the Doctor running around frantically and shouting expository technobabble while the music loudly drowns out his dialogue that normally fill an episode of Doctor Who. Instead, there were plenty of long, quiet conversations with the music little more than a whisper.
Many of these dialogue-heavy scenes were spent giving Clara Oswald some much-needed character. When she was introduced last year, Clara was regarded by the Doctor, and the audience, as more of a mystery than a person. He didn’t know who she was and what she was like, so neither did we, and after he did figure out who she was, he was then preoccupied with other matters, like revisiting the Time War (Day of the Doctor) and fighting a centuries-long battle on a distant planet to keep Gallifrey safe (Time of the Doctor), so Clara got sidelined and, despite Jenna Coleman’s best efforts, was still quite boring and bland.
Here, she finally gets some personality. Struggling to cope with the Doctor’s new face, new personality and new, well, everything, she panics and complains and, in her chats with Madame Vastra and the new Doctor, is established as a bit of a passive-aggressive control freak with a fierce inner strength. The scenes with her and the Doctor arguing with each other are highlights of the episode, as is the scene where the Doctor talks to a homeless man about his new face, which is where we get our first real impression of what the new Doctor will be like.