Series 8, Episode 1
In which Steven Moffat very carefully explains to fangirls everywhere that, yes, the Doctor is old now.
We open with a shot of a giant Tyrannosaurus Rex terrorizing downtown Victorian London. Well, not so much terrorizing as… pacing back and forth. Big Ben strikes the hour, and I fully expect the T-Rex to take that irksome clock down in a blaze of fire, before remembering that this is the BBC and not TNT. Meanwhile, a crowd of Londoners has gathered to observe and mutter bemusedly to one another instead of, you know, running for their lives. British people really do know how to repress their emotions.
A veiled woman pushes her way through the crowd like she means Business, and approaches the officer in charge of “controlling” this decidedly unruffled crowd. She lifts her veil to speak to him, revealing a lizard-like face, and eliciting no visible reaction from those around her. Although I suppose if you’re already actively suppressing the urge to flee from a T-Rex, one lizard woman probably isn’t going to rattle you.
Lizzie utters a series of delightful patronizations, such as “Your grasp of biology troubles me,” whilst her companion (apparently a normal human female) scans the dinosaur with some sort of steampunky gauntlet device. Why, out of all the attempts that various people have made to get me to watch this programme, has no one thought to show me an episode featuring these two?
Lizzie surmises that the dinosaur was brought along from its own era when it accidentally swallowed the TARDIS, which it has now vomited up on to the bank of the Thames. She sends a third companion, this one shaped like a giant big toe, to politely inquire whether the Doctor is inside. Peter Capaldi bursts forth, spouting all sorts of nonsense, gesticulating wildly, clearly not quite in his right mind. It is, verily, a grand first entrance.
A disheveled Clara emerges from the TARDIS next, wearing a tiny plaid skirt and a black sweater literally covered in bowties. So it seems like she’s adjusting well to the loss of Matt Smith. Fangirls everywhere begin a frantic scramble to determine whether they can purchase an identical sweater anywhere online, or if not, how they can go about knitting one of their own. (Oh, who am I kidding? We all know these sweaters sold out months ago, the first time the Internet saw a photo of Jenna Coleman wearing one on set.)
The Doctor continues to speak nonsensically, flirting with the dinosaur (who is a Lady, don’t you know?), and having difficulty distinguishing Lizzie from her human companion (“The green one and the not-green one”), himself from Clara (“The not-me one”), and most amusingly, Clara from Big Toe (“Well, you’re very similar heights”). He then collapses in an authentic Victorian swoon. Everyone demands to know where Matt Smith is (including the characters onscreen). Clara woefully informs all present that the feeble old man fainting before them is, in fact, the Doctor. CREDITS.
Back at Lizzie’s house, Clara wants to know how to “fix” the Doctor, asking such insightful questions as “How do we change him back?” and “Why does his face have lines on it? It’s brand new.” Lizzie goes all brusque and demands that her companion, Jenny, fetch her veil. She then sweeps grandly from the room, leaving Clara to have a little heart to heart with Jenny. Jenny exposits that she and Lizzie are lovahs, and Clara very nearly confesses to loving the Doctor. The Matt Smith Doctor, that is. Not this gross wrinkly one.
Jenny leaves and the Doctor begins muttering in his sleep, apparently translating the T-Rex’s growlings.
She feels all alone and the wind is bitey and no one can see her and oh the agony. It’s some bleak stuff, people. (Also it’s pretty clearly a reflection of how the Doctor himself is feeling, and we never do get confirmation that he really is translating. Sorry if I just blew your mind.)
Elsewhere in London, a cyborg with a half-human half-machine face goes shopping for some new eyeballs.
Back at the house, the ladies have a catty little chat about how the Doctor is, alas, old now. Lizzie explains that the Doctor made himself look young before to be accepted by others (Clara, female viewers aged 18-34, whomever), and directly accuses Clara of flirting with him. “You might as well flirt with a mountain range,” she sniffs.
Clara goes all girlishly indignant, junior high style. “Shut up!” “I did not flirt with him.” “Are you judging me?” “How dare you??” (No dear, Moffat is judging us all.) But Clara’s not done. She launches into a diatribe in which she claims to have no interest in “pretty young men” and to have had a pinup poster of Marcus Aurelius in her bedroom as a girl, which manages to make teenage Clara seem conceited, pathetic, and deeply, deeply twisted all at once.
She concludes that if anyone could be capable of flirting with a mountain range, it would be her. So there. Lizzie and Jenny are inexplicably impressed with Clara’s little rant (Jenny, to the point of applause), and poof! Lizzie’s veil magically disappears. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.
Meanwhile, the Doctor has woken up, escaped through the bedroom window in his nightie, and is now off galavanting across the rooftops of London like a deranged chimney sweep. He yells what are meant to be calming platitudes (complete with rudimentary sign language) to the displaced dinosaur, who promptly bursts into flames. Whoops.
Distraught, the Doctor tumbles to the ground by way of a tree, horse-jacks a very confused cabbie, and arrives at the dinosaur bonfire just about the same time as the ladies and Big Toe. They deduce, Sherlock-style, that this is no accident, but in fact a Muuuuurder.
Before they can get any further, the Doctor spots a suspiciously disinterested bystander across the river. It’s the cyborg from before! DUN! Lizzie notes that he seems “remarkably unmoved by the available spectacle.” So, exactly like the rest of these uptight English gentlefolk then? The Doctor swims off across the Thames in pursuit. None of the ladies seems interested in getting her hair (and/or scales) wet, and they head back to the house for the night.
The next morning, we are treated to some wacky hijinks between Clara and Big Toe, who tells her she looks terrible (despite a fancy new dress, and her hair having magically curled itself into an elaborate coif in mere minutes), offers her a bucket of mop water to drink, and proceeds to scan her brain with some sort of device. He claims to see “a lot of muscular young men doing sport” in her subconscious, which would seem to refute her earlier disavowal of interest in pretty young boys.
Elsewhere, the Doctor is busily digging through street garbage, still wearing his now filthy nightie. He encounters a grizzled tramp who appears to have spent the night drinking, which really is the most sensible reaction I’ve seen thus far to the sudden appearance of a combustible dinosaur in downtown London. This fellow, probably used to being the craziest person in this particular alley, becomes increasingly alarmed as the Doctor flaps about exclaiming things like “Why did I choose this face?” and “Oh, I’ve gone Scottish!”
Back at the house, the ladies are putting together a list of recent deaths by spontaneous combustion, when suddenly Clara bursts in with a newspaper containing a Clue! It’s an advertisement that simply says “Impossible Girl: Lunch on the Other Side.” “The game is afoot!” Lizzie declares with perhaps a bit more glee and over-the-top Britishness than is strictly necessary. “We’re going to need more tea.”
They solve the riddle before the aforementioned tea has even been poured, and Clara dashes off to the restaurant listed on the other side. Of the paper. The Doctor arrives shortly thereafter, and they commence bickering like the old married couple they still clearly are. Among other things, Clara is cross because the Doctor pawned Matt Smith’s favorite watch for the tramp’s smelly old coat, which he is now sporting. “If I hadn’t changed my face would you be cross?” he demands. “If I got new hair and it was grey, I would have a problem,” she snots. Oh, these two.
They are so busy airing their grievances that it takes quite awhile for them to realize that: 1) Neither of them actually posted the lunch invitation in the newspaper, and 2) All the other patrons in the restaurant are, in fact, some of the most unconvincing animatronic creatures created since Chuck E Cheese left the business.
These cyborgs surround them, preventing their escape and forcing them back to their booth. Two pairs of metal straps, complete with quaintly period-appropriate hand-shaped clasps, trap them in place, and the entire booth descends into the cyborgs’ lair. Hijinks ensue as they work to maneuver the Doctor’s screwdriver from his pocket to Clara’s hand, and then back into his own lap. (“Oh the symbolism.”)
Freed from the booth, they dash to the next room and discover the half-faced, new-eyed cyborg we met earlier sitting lifelessly in a chair, recharging. “Oh Captain, my Captain!” the Doctor calls to him. I’m pretty sure that’s Lt. Commander Data, buddy. (Specifically Data from the end of First Contact.)
Ye Olde Data suddenly starts to wake up and our heroes try to escape, but Clara isn’t fast enough and a door slams down between them. The Doctor stares at her in horror through the window for about two seconds, refuses to lend her his screwdriver, and then just straight up books it down the hallway without her. Heh.
Clara goes for the old “pretend to be a robot so the robots don’t notice you” trick, but as the Doctor pointed out earlier, this requires her to hold her breath. So, much like the T-Rex from the opening scene, cyborgs can’t see you if you don’t… breathe?
Clara can’t quite make it past all the cyborgs without a breath, and is eventually knocked out and dragged off. While unconscious, she has a random vision of her first day teaching school. (One kid even helpfully shouts “Ha, it’s her first day!”) A wise young pupil then teaches her a valuable lesson about empty threats, which probably won’t be at all relevant to her current situation.
Back in the control room, she firmly refuses to tell Evil Data (so I guess actually Lore?) where the Doctor is, confronting him with a bizarre mixture of bravado and terrified whimpering that completely flummoxes him. He puts away his blowtorch / torture attachment (standard issue for all evil cyborgs), answers her questions regarding his evil plan, and starts going on about the Promised Land. Whoops, looks like he might have ingested a bit of evangelical preacher back there at some point.
Clara doesn’t have time to hear about cyborg eternity, though, because she’s having a Moment. She tells Reverend Lore that if the Doctor is still the Doctor, then he will somehow have her back. She slowly reaches behind her, and after just a beat too long, another hand grabs hers. It’s the Doctor, disguised as a cyborg and wearing a full-coverage skin helmet mask! If those are available, how come their leader doesn’t get one? Also, I swear that the mask looks a little bit like Matt Smith right before Capaldi rips it off, which just seems like a deliciously unnecessary knife to the heart of the poor fangirls.
Also at some point during all this, it comes out that Reverend Lore didn’t set the newspaper trap to lure the Doctor and Clara to the restaurant. Someone else must have! The game is still afoot! First, though, they have cyborgs to defeat. At a signal from Clara (which is “Geronimo!” because of course it is), Lizzie and Jenny drop down from the ceiling like badass Victorian ninja warrior princesses (which, incidentally, should be the title of their spinoff series). Big Toe tumbles after them with decidedly less badassery.
Reverend Lore declares his intention to leave in his escape capsule, still muttering about the Promised Land. The Doctor tells him it will never fly, but he hasn’t factored in the cyborgs’ freaking enormous Skin Balloon. Just go with it. They float off across London, cyborg and Time Lord seated respectably at a restaurant table for two. Just to make chit chat, the Doctor dusts off the old joke about how robots don’t understand contractions (“Droids and apostrophes, I could write a book,”) and then compares his dinner companion to a broom that has had all its parts replaced. Is it still the same broom? “There’s no trace of the original you left!” “You probably can’t even remember where you got that face from!” This echoes something he said earlier to the tramp in the alley, so now we know it’s Not Really About the Cyborg or the Broom Anymore.
Just to drive the point home, the Doctor holds up a silver tray that reflects his own face in one side and the cyborg’s in the other. However instead of bashing the good Reverend over the head with it, he lets it fall to the floor, leaving his interlocutor considerably better off at this point than the viewers.
Down in the basement, Clara, Lizzie, Jenny, and Big Toe continue to fight their increasingly hopeless battle against the cyborg army. After far too long, Clara remembers their opponents’ key weakness and tells everyone to hold their breath. Just as they are all on the verge of collapse (and after one very passionate lesbian lizard mouth-to-mouth breathing session), all the cyborgs suddenly shut down. Their leader is dead, impaled rather dramatically (and not at all symbolically) on the cross of a nearby cathedral. (So this makes him the Borg Queen then?) It is left ambiguous as to whether he fell, jumped, or was pushed.
Back at the house, Clara has once again donned her bowtie mourning sweater. “I don’t think I know who the Doctor is anymore,” she pouts. After a brief pep talk from Lizzie, though, the TARDIS appears in the front yard and Clara dashes off, all smiles. Inside, the Doctor gives a little speech he’s clearly been practicing, ending with “Clara, I’m not your boyfriend.” “I never said you were,” she scoffs in the manner of a teenage girl who clearly thought he was, indeed, her boyfriend.
He asks her to stay, but she just doesn’t think she can make it in the Friendzone. She’s about to walk out on the Doctor forever, when suddenly her phone rings. “Better get that,” he teases, twisting the knife, “it might be your boyfriend.” “Shut up, I don’t have a boyfriend,” she retorts. Well, not anymore anyway.
But wait! The caller turns out to be Doctor Smith himself! Calling from the PAST! He gives Clara yet another pep talk, sprinkled with fun little jabs about Capaldi’s age. “Tell me I didn’t get old! Anything but old!” (Also, don’t be afraid, please help him, do it for me, goodbye forever, blah blah). It’s all very much like that movie where the ghost of Gerard Butler writes letters to his widow to help her move on. (Don’t worry, I didn’t watch it either.)
Except, of course, the Doctor ISN’T DEAD. “I’m not on the phone, I’m right here,” Capaldi pleads. “Please, just see me.” Please, just keep watching the show! I’m a pretty good actor! I have a fancy new coat! Don’t go! Clara has herself a little Beauty and the Beast moment where she looks into Capaldi’s eyes and finally understands that THIS GUY IS THE DOCTOR NOW, AND HE’S THE SAME PERSON AS BEFORE EVEN THOUGH HE LOOKS DIFFERENT, BECAUSE THAT’S THE WAY THE SHOW WORKS, SO SHUT YOUR WHINING FANGIRL MOUTHS, ALL OF YOU!!
Followed by the most awkward hug in the history of hugs. Well done, everyone.
EPILOGUE: The creepiest Mary Poppins the world has ever seen has somehow magically saved Queen Reverend Lore and transported him to a beautiful garden which she tells him is the very Promised Land he has been seeking. She goes on about how the doctor is HER boyfriend (love triangle!), and how she just loves his new accent, and then prances around with her umbrella in the most disturbing way possible.
The poor Reverend is utterly bewildered and gives her a priceless look of, “Dear god woman, you are clearly not right in the head.” I believe we can all agree that when the cyborg who murders people to appropriate their body parts is creeped out, things have truly taken a turn.