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But sadly, the pre-title hook goes on to triple itself in length, meandering through a couple of scenes that considerably doused my excitement. The scene in the TARDIS is okay, the staff meeting at the school.... not so great. The idea that Capaldi's Doctor is going to act like a caretaker at the school isn't much draw.... it isn't really fresh after David Tennant's "School Reunion" (story no. 174) and Matt Smith's "The Lodger" (story no. 216). In fact it not only projects a re-run situation for the Doctor's character, but also for overusing Earth-based settings again, and for dumping yet another insignificant backyard-alien-of-the-week A-plot on us. We really needed to give the episode a more mysterious title and restructure it to de-emphasize its re-run elements and focus more on its goodness.
The energy of this episode really is centered on the three leads for this season: the Doctor, Clara, and Danny. There's a certain sense of comic book hero mythos invoked in this story that we've never really had before. We're going beyond the usual reveal of the Doctor's alien nature and his amazing traveling TARDIS here.... and perhaps it is the reveal of Clara's secret double life to Danny that is the real story, with the potential for a bigger and very different impact, that generates the additional draw and interest.
The relationship triangle between the three leads works fairly well in this episode, largely because all three actors play the roles quite well, and yet somehow the "big" scene revealing the Doctor's nature doesn't quite work as well as it wants to. The ideas don't feel like they flow naturally, and the dialogue feels a bit cliché. Perhaps the script just needed an extra polish. But coming out of the episode, it feels as though the relationship triangle isn't headed anywhere interesting anymore. There's obvious set-up for the awful season finale here, but even just taken on its own for this one episode, it seems somehow the story has burnt through the best possibilities for these three and that it will be hard to get back on course to anything interesting.
In terms of characterizing the twelfth Doctor, this story isn't doing too badly. Chiefly, I think Peter Capaldi's performance is one of his best here, and he seems to be doing quite well to lift what is sometimes not-so-great dialogue off the page to make it his own and make it believable. His portions of most of his scenes hold up fairly well, and are often the most interesting bits. Plus, the Doctor is nicely on the ball in this episode in terms of dealing with the alien threat.
Though there's no sense of anticipating anything good from our alien adversary today before he shows up, I must say that the alien delivers well anytime he appears on screen. He was quite well designed in terms of his look, his construction as a physical prop / CGI combination, and in terms of his vocal qualities and weapons effects. Add a time-shifting vortex on top, and this element succeeds quite well. I would only argue that I might have preferred all this threatening some important galactic conference on some alien planet with additional RELATED character intrigue, rather than having it muck around a boring old school "by accident" where it has no real connection to anyone or anything.
The season's subplot surrounding schoolgirl Courtney Woods becomes prominent in this episode. Some of her scenes with the Doctor are mildly interesting, but not really worth it in the end. The concept of a teacher/parents night doesn't really work in this episode either - whatever potential it might have had remains undeveloped.
We also get our first real "afterlife" scene since "Into the Dalek" (story no. 248). While this is a bizarre piece of a puzzle that doesn't quite make much sense on first viewing, it just kind of feels like an ad for one of Moffat's biggest miscalculations on repeat viewing. Definitely not helping the story or the season much.
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