After 9 years of any show, you’ve got to feel a lot of pressure going into a new season – especially one as beloved (and so firmly embedded into the mainstream consciousness) as Doctor Who. Bereft of last season’s pressures to establish our newest actor play the Time Lord and brought to you by everyone’s favorite writer Steven Moffat the episode was…surprisingly lacking.
It’s hard at this juncture – when your lead writer has been at this long; when the series is already so old – not to tread the same ground, and it’s easy to see Moffat striving for new territory. Or perhaps rather in this case, re-introducing old territory as new stomping grounds.
There’s no measure by which I would call this episode ‘bad.’ Capaldi was on all cylinders, perfectly capturing the lunacy that has come to define 12 – helping further round out his stark differences from 11 and 10. 12 is more socially dysfunctional (as was even pointed out by the episode and prequel – more ADD); and in some ways, he’s a better match for the Master as he was every bit as off his rocker this time around as Missy was herself.
Speaking of, it is wonderful to have Michelle Gomez back in the role. She perfectly captures that scary-but-hilarious sociopath who is completely evil and crazy and absolutely loves both of those facts. That was no less the case here.
But there was a lack of drive to the main narrative – primarily because…there really wasn’t a main narrative. The episode was oddly disjointed: picking up with the Doctor in his medieval English locale trying (and failing spectacularly) to meditate, while the Master concocts an unnecessarily complicated plan that involves freezing all planes on Earth in time to…get the Doctor’s attention? That wasn’t entirely unclear, and this was one instance of Moffat’s attempts at vaguely disconnected narratives not really making sense.
It would’ve helped going in to know that this was going to be a two-parter. Though it wouldn’t have forgiven the lack of narrative cohesion (or, you know, narrative) at least it wouldn’t given a better understanding that this is all just largely setup.
The main question at hand – the role of the Doctor in Davros’ life – is certainly an interesting one. Not unlike asking the question of if a person (had they the capability and opportunity) should go back in time and kill Hitler. That the Doctor may have played a role in his formative years is a fascinating one (and how fun to see that little Tom Baker clip). Though his reappearance at the very end with child-Davros hints at some potentially complicated timey-wimey material we can only hope comes to make sense in the second half (Moffat doesn’t always do very well with the ‘making sense’ part of the equation when doing mind-twisty time stories).
But I do wish the episode could’ve found something stronger to serve as the central storythread beyond “the Doctor is preparing to see Davros” – entertaining as it was to see 12 atop a tank with sunglasses and a guitar and making anachronistic jokes that the people of the time period just can’t properly appreciate yet. Bringing Skaro back has potentially interesting story possibilities for the future of the series – I just hope that means we’ll get to see Gallifrey’s reappearance before the end of the season, as that’s getting well past due now.