×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: ‘Doctor Who,’ Season 8

With:
With: Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Neve McIntosh, Catrin Stewart, Dan Starkey.

Introducing a new Doctor is always something of a gamble in the “Doctor Who” universe, but producers have made a savvy choice in Peter Capaldi as the 12th incarnation of the iconic time (and space) traveler. Already a seasoned pro and recognizable smallscreen star in the U.K. thanks to Armando Iannucci’s “The Thick of It,” Capaldi couldn’t be more different from the star-is-born discovery of predecessor Matt Smith, rendering comparisons between the two futile at best. This strategic about-face proves its worth in the season premiere — titled “Deep Breath” and written by showrunner Steven Moffat — especially in the immediate rapport Capaldi strikes with sparkling cast holdover Jenna Coleman. Fans shouldn’t fret, the TARDIS remains in good hands.

As risky as it sounds to swap out a lead actor on a successful series, the built-in reset button isn’t just a part of “Doctor Who” mythology (the character can “regenerate” when his current form sustains a mortal injury), it has emerged as the key to keeping the BBC franchise continuing for more than five decades. Exempting a 15-year hiatus that spanned all of the ’90s (an attempted American revival via a backdoor pilot at Fox in 1996 fizzled), “Who” just keeps going and going. Capaldi is now the fourth actor to lead the show in the past decade alone.

Still a mega-hit across the Pond, the current run has cultivated a growing fanbase in the U.S., boosting BBC America to multiple ratings highs in recent years. One modest concern Stateside may be what those relative newcomers make of Capaldi, especially given that he’s the oldest actor ever to take on the role (at 56, he has a year on the original Doctor, William Hartnell) following the youngest (Smith).

It shouldn’t really be an issue. What Capaldi lacks in youthful energy, he more than makes up for in gravitas and wry eccentricity, whether marveling at his “independently cross” eyebrows or gleefully embracing his Scottish accent as a license to complain. And, since being fiftysomething isn’t what it used to be, Capaldi eagerly throws himself into the action, confirming his Doctor won’t miss a beat when it comes to a smashing fight or chase sequence.

As if to underscore the point, “Doctor Who” proves plenty frisky itself in the wake of its own 50th anniversary last year. After years of speculation, the Doctor unceremoniously outs himself as an atheist in the premiere, though a creepy epilogue suggests the reveal is part of a larger arc for the season.

That provocative nugget aside, Moffat’s script emphasizes storyline continuity and easing faithful viewers into the regeneration transition (if you’ve never seen an episode, it’s probably not the best entry point). The narrative wisely pivots on the Doctor’s companion, Clara (Coleman), struggling with whether or not this seemingly new man truly is the same person she’s grown to love on their adventures together.

Consequently, the plot runs secondary to the emotional throughline here, but its melange of robots, spontaneous combustion and a dinosaur in Victorian London provides ample opportunity for meta references to transformation and evolution.

Feature helmer Ben Wheatley (“Kill List”) establishes an eerily menacing atmosphere for the robo-adversaries (even if the conceit of characters holding their breath to escape detection feels derivative of another Moffat creation: the “Don’t blink” defense against recurring villains the Weeping Angels).

Everyone involved can take particular pride in the centerpiece restaurant tiff between Clara and the Doctor, which cements their new relationship and showcases the instant chemistry between Coleman and Capaldi — built on the ability to push each other’s buttons rather than underlying sexual tension. (Clara will get her own age-appropriate love interest in a subsequent installment.)

Fittingly, “Deep Breath” opens and closes with tributes to bygone Doctors. The first plays strictly for laughs as recurring comic-relief character Strax (Dan Starkey) delivers a condensed (and slightly repetitive) regeneration timeline in the style of a roast. By the kicker, the mood has shifted to a more sentimental and highly effective passing of the figurative baton.

It’s a skillful tonal balance that defines the best of “Doctor Who,” and exemplifies the ethos that keeps the series going strong, nodding to the past with all eyes on the future.

TV Review: 'Doctor Who,' Season 8

(Series; BBC America, Sat. Aug. 23, 8:15 p.m.)

Production: Filmed in the U.K. by BBC Wales for BBC One.

Crew: Executive producers, Steven Moffat, Brian Minchin; producer, Nikki Wilson; line producer, Tracie Simpson; director, Ben Wheatley; writer, Moffat; camera, Magni Agustsson; production designer, Michael Pickwoad; editor, Will Oswald; music, Murray Gold; casting, Andy Pryor. 105 MIN.

Cast: With: Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Neve McIntosh, Catrin Stewart, Dan Starkey.

More TV

  • Writers vs Agents Packaging War WGA

    Rothman Brecher Ehrich Livingston Signs Writers Guild Code

    The Rothman Brecher Ehrich Livingston agency has signed the Writers Guild of America’s Code of Conduct, allowing the agency to return to representing WGA members again. The WGA made the announcement Monday night. RBEL is joining more than 70 agencies allowed to represent WGA members thanks to agreeing to a ban of agency packaging fees [...]

  • Fiona Lang and Ryan Shiotani

    BBC Studios Hires GMs in Further Asia Reshuffle

    BBC Studios the coproduction and rights sales arm of the British Broadcasting Corporation, has appointed Fiona Lang and Ryan Shiotani as general managers in the Asia-Pacific region. Lang, currently COO for the company in Australia and New Zealand, is promoted to become BBC Studios’ GM in the same geography. Her responsibilities cover marketing, advertising, creative, [...]

  • The Lord of the Rings: The

    'Lord of the Rings' Series Renewed by Amazon for Season 2

    Amazon has given an early Season 2 renewal to its forthcoming “Lord of the Rings” series. Pre-production on the project’s first season, which is set to film in New Zealand, is currently underway — although sources tell Variety that the full cast has not yet been set. Several actors, including Markella Kavenagh, Will Poulter, and [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    'Chinatown' Prequel Series in Development at Netflix From David Fincher, Robert Towne

    A prequel series to the classic film “Chinatown” is in early development at Netflix, Variety has confirmed with sources. David Fincher and Robert Towne, the film’s writer, are attached to pen the script. It will reportedly focus on the exploits of a young Jake “J.J.” Gittes during his early days as a private investigator. Netflix declined [...]

  • TV Roundup: Pop TV Releases Teaser

    TV News Roundup: Pop TV Releases Teaser for 'Schitt's Creek's' Final Season

    In today’s TV news roundup, Pop TV releases a teaser for the final season of “Schitt’s Creek,” and Nickelodeon kicks off the holiday season with “Top Elf.” DATES Nickelodeon’s “Top Elf” series will premiere Nov. 29. “Top Elf” is a new competition series featuring guest judges Frankie Grande, Amirah Kassem, Peyton List, Alex Wassabi and [...]

  • Karen Cogan’s 'Fled' Tops The Brit

    Karen Cogan’s 'Fled' Tops The Brit List, a League Table of Unproduced British TV Scripts

    Karen Cogan’s “Fled” has come top of The Brit List, a league table of unproduced scripts from British writing talent, this year devoted to television projects. The list, similar to The Black List in the U.S., was compiled from recommendations by British production companies, talent agencies, financiers and broadcasters. Cogan, represented by Independent Talent Group, [...]

  • Viacom HQ LA

    ViacomCBS Sets HR and Inclusion Chiefs

    ViacomCBS has named corporate heads of HR and inclusion as the companies prepare for the merger that is set to close early next month. The soon-to-combine Viacom and CBS have tapped Nielsen alum Nancy Phillips to serve as exec VP and chief people officer. Viacom alum Marva Smalls will serve as global head of inclusion, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content