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The popular BBC series Doctor Who is currently in a period of transition – one which is familiar to fans and is highlighted in the premiere of the show’s eighth season. For the third time in the newer version (2005) of Doctor Who, the Doctor has regenerated into a new form, which is the fourth time if the series-launching transition to the ninth Doctor counts), and a new actor has taken on the titular mantle. For the past few years, the Doctor’s shoes have been filled by Matt Smith, who played the character with a balance of whimsy and angst. Smith also continued the new series’ trend of having relatively younger actors portray the Doctor.
Season 8 has now bucked that trend with the introduction of Peter Capaldi as the twelfth Doctor. The 56-year-old Capaldi is over two decades his predecessor’s senior, harking back to the classic Doctor Who series that often featured an older version of the main character. The eighth season premiere is all about the transition to Capaldi’s version of the infamous hero, a change that is always jarring for fans and characters alike, but potentially even more so with the newest metamorphosis. The season premiere highlights the awkwardness of the character’s age change and how that affects other characters’ perceptions of him. This doubles as a way of acknowledging fans’ hesitation to accept the newer, older and more abrasive Doctor.
That hesitation has mostly been assuaged, however. Fans and critics are nearly unanimous in their support of Capaldi’s performance as the twelfth iteration of everyone’s favorite Time Lord after his early appearances at the end of Matt Smith’s tenure and now in his first full episode. His frantic confusion at his new face and apparent gap of understanding from humanity are jarring at first, but Capaldi is an acclaimed veteran actor and most fans can agree that he is choosing to take the character in a specific direction. The same can not necessarily be said of the story in the season premiere. The second half of Season 7 has been widely disapproved of by fans and critics and to many, the actual plot and events of the Season 8 premiere do not fix the flaws of the most recent season. Among moments of character growth, villains get recycled and multiple plot points converge with very little explanation or reason and generally do not move forward as a whole.
With the story line and pacing being the most-agreed upon flaw in the Season 8 premiere, it could be intended to be scattered and mildly confusing – just as Capaldi’s performance seemed to be. With the extra-long season premiere and bumpy transition to the new face of the show’s hero complete, the second episode featuring The Doctor’s arch-nemeses, the Daleks, could kick the new season into full gear. Hopes were generally high for the Season 8 premiere of Doctor Who, although for some, expectations were low. Some criticisms of the pacing and writing were vindicated, but for the most part, fans and critics walked away from the newest episode satisfied and entertained, looking forward to new adventures with a new Doctor.
Opinion by Matt Isaacs