A giant dinosaur sneezes, coughs, and vomits out the Tardis. Nice start. But then they play an iffy new arrangement of the Dr Who theme music and I start to worry. Something’s not quite right here. There are some things you can’t mess with.
I honestly thought the hardest thing about watching Dr Who, Series 8 (BBC 1) would be trying to erase the image of Peter Capaldi’s exquisitely potty-mouthed Malcolm Tucker that’s burnt indelibly into my retinas (or is it retinae?).
But I was wrong. Hardest by far was navigating the BBC’s cringe-making, over-compensation for the fact that the Twelfth Doctor is 27 years older than the Eleventh Doctor. Yes, the new doctor is old. OLD!!! Did I mention that he’s old? Older than before? Not as young as Matt Smith? Older than Matt Smith? Old. Like, really old.
Episode 1 began by merely hinting at this uncomfortable fact, but before long moved on to underlining it in almost every line of dialogue, finally referring to it in the most intimate of detail – every silver hair on the Doctor’s head, every wrinkle on his tired old brow, every crow’s foot on his pale, ageing, leathery, disgusting old skin. Old eyebrows. Old clothes. Oh my God, that neck! Metaphorically and literally they went on, and on, and on about it until you wanted to scream. Eventually I turned it into a drinking game. The Doctor is old. Take a drink. Jesus Christ, he’s only 58.
In episode two the writers finally moved on, and decided it was time to start over-compensating for something else. This time they went for the fact that the new Doctor is Scottish. He’s Scottish. Is he Scottish? Did we mention that he’s Scottish? The Doctor talked about being Scottish. Other characters referred to his Scottishness. Capaldi turned up the Glasgow accent a couple of notches. Clara showed up in a kilt.
At one point I became convinced that one of the Daleks was going to refer to the forthcoming Referendum for Scottish Independence, or maybe break into a quick rendition of “Scotland the Brave.” Ever seen a Dalek playing the bagpipes? Watch this space. Has anyone else noticed that David Tennant was also Scottish? I wonder why they didn’t bang on about that?
Stephen Moffat is a great writer, no-one doubts that. But this series is clearly being written by that most irritating of gatherings, a BBC committee. You could smell it in every line.
Committee it say, “Address the concerns of younger viewers who have grown up with Matt Smith.” Committee it say, “Be inclusive about age for elderly viewers living in Middle England.” Committee it say, “Keep the Scottish lobby happy. Oh, and if you can crowbar in something about healthy same-sex relationships, that would be great. But don’t shove it down their throats. Make one of the lesbians a lizard.”
Channel Four championed the “girl-on-girl” kiss back in the 1980’s, but who’d have thought we’d one day see a “girl-on-lizard” kiss before the watershed on a Saturday night? Right on! Go, Auntie!
Of course “TV chiefs” at the Beeb immediately managed to score an own goal by insisting that the kiss be edited out of the programme when it was re-broadcast in Asia, angering gay rights campaigners who have since accused the corporation of homophobia. Only the BBC could dump themselves in the shit by showing a woman kissing a lizard.