I wasn't going to watch Doctor Who season 8. I really wasn't. But my old love for the show combined with curiosity over Capaldi's debut meant that I ultimately couldn't resist.
Sadly, the episode was pretty "meh." Not fantastic, not terrible, just... "meh." And although Capaldi is a talented actor, I had some pretty major issues with the way he fits into the show. He's taking the Doctor in a new direction, and the writing simply isn't strong enough to support that.
And, unfortunately, most of the problem lies with Clara.
Peter Capaldi has a great energy as the Doctor, one that feels more traditional Who and is in sharp contrast to the mostly fun tone of David Tennant and Matt Smith. But his harshness and aggressive energy also means he's the first new Doctor where I have to wonder why anybody would want to travel with him. You get to see all of time and space, sure, but do you really want to do it with somebody who dismisses you and belittles you and might leave you behind, even temporarily?
If the Doctor is going to be less human and less likeable, we need a strong companion character to keep us emotionally connected to the story. And, sadly, I don't think Clara fits the bill. She's likeable enough, thanks to her very likeable actress, but she's also pretty bland. She's written so inconsistently that it's impossible to get a feel for who she really is.
Deep Breath was a case in point. The episode spent a huge amount of time mocking Clara for being upset that the Doctor regenerated, and particularly being upset that he had become old, but Clara is supposed to have known all of the Doctor's incarnations throughout time. She knows about regeneration. She has, supposedly, spent time with all the Doctors, from the first through to the last. And yet she's upset that she's lost her "boyfriend"? In the last non-special episode, she sacrificed herself over and over again to save the Doctor's life, but here, she's treated as a shallow thing who's trying to "flirt with a mountain range" and can't understand why he changed.
An inconsistent, belittled character cannot give the audience an emotional connection to the story, and when the Doctor changes, we really need that. We need the companion to ground us, and if the Doctor is unlikeable or unrelatable, we also need to be able to empathize with her and see the world through her perspective. And sadly, Clara would fail this even if she were written consistently. If the Doctor is unlikeable, we need the companion to be independent of him, to struggle against him and call him out on his nonsense and be able to exist in the narrative without him. But Clara's entire existence, we've been told, is built around the Doctor. She was born to save him. And that just doesn't work here. Which, perhaps, is why they chose to ignore it and create an even bigger mess.
Even her moments of "strength" in this episode were confusing at best. Vastra was truly horrible to Clara, turning on her for no apparent reason, but Clara's defence of herself was similarly perplexing. "I've never had the slightest interest in pretty young men," she insists, in a 'how dare you' tone, before giving us a recap of the posters on her walls as a teenager. To which I have to wonder -- so what? So what if she likes pretty guys? If we're to believe that the Doctor was her "boyfriend" (which I never saw any suggestion of before, but oh well), so what if she's upset that he no longer looks the same? So. What?
The result was complete emotional disconnection, at least for me. I didn't know or like this Doctor. I didn't really know or like this companion. And if that's the case, why should I care about their adventures or worry when they're in peril? It feels hollow. And that, beyond awkward writing, beyond random sexism and inconsistency in the narrative, is what will really kill the show. Above all else, we should care about the characters. And I really don't think I do any more.