Last night I began my rewatch of S8, with the intention of noting all the references and callbacks in the initial episode. I had a lot of streaming difficulties, software and hardware, so I wasn’t as attentive as I might have been otherwise, and only got about halfway through before giving up. The post on references will have to wait.
However I did make one other observation about the episode: it’s much better meta than it is actual story.
Fortunately I love meta. I love the references and the inside jokes. I understand Moffat’s desire to address fan complaints regarding Capaldi’s age and the whole flirting thing, even if I don’t think it’s appropriate or necessary. I love that Jenna Coleman finally gets something interesting to do. But without that context, the story is a little thin. The Paternoster gang’s sonic devices, designed by Blue Peter fans, are not well incorporated into the story. Unlike previous winners – the makeshift TARDIS console featured in ‘The Doctor’s Wife,’ the child Creet from ‘Utopia’ and ‘The Sound of Drums,’ and the Absorbaloff from ‘Love and Monsters,’ which fit perfectly into their respective stories – these feel forced, used once with questionable motivation and never mentioned again. Vastra and Clara’s conversation about the Doctor’s appearance is awkward – why would either of them take it so seriously? – and Clara’s reaction to the regeneration, especially given that she’s aware of this particular physiological quirk, seems out of proportion. I get that she’s scared, but why is she so angry?
Other, season-long problems come to light in this episode. The Doctor’s apparent face-blindness – his inability to distinguish Clara from Strax – could have been interesting, had it not devolved into his insulting Clara – and only Clara – almost every episode. His frantic chalk-writing on the bedroom floor, and his questions about his own face, are intriguing and never lead anywhere. Rewatching the episode after having seen the rest of the season, I’m much more aware of its unfulfilled potential.
Still, it’s a lot of fun. I adore Capaldi’s Doctor. I love emotive Clara. I enjoy the heck out of all the meta stuff. The episode is a Doylist gold mine; in 35 minutes I filled two pages with notes, and I still have still have more than half the episode to go!
I look forward to it, and the rest of the season as well.