"How do we change him back?"
Such impulsive words, which "Impossible Girl" companion Clara will eventually be forced to swallow as she, and we, learn to adjust to yet another fabulous new Doctor, the 12th in his incredible line. As Doctor Who devotees know, change is inevitable in the world of a Time Lord, and each regeneration brings a new personality and energy to the 50-year-old fantasy franchise.
And so it begins again Saturday on BBC America (8/7c), with the 56-year-old Peter Capaldi (The Thick of It, Richelieu in the current Musketeers) triumphantly taking the reins, though subject to unusual scrutiny because of his more "mature" visage — at least as compared to the more recent Matt Smith/David Tennant vintage — not to mention his distinct brogue of an accent. "I've gone Scottish!" the new Doctor barks with Who-vian wonder. "I can complain about things!"
No complaints from this corner after attending an advance screening a week ago of the gorgeously entertaining premiere, "Deep Breath," cleverly written by Steven Moffat to address in subtext the fandom's own reservations and fears about allowing the jauntier, more romantic Matt Smith version to recede into fond memory. As you'd expect, the new Doctor is more disoriented than anyone after the transformation — except perhaps for the devoted but mystified Clara (the delightful Jenna Coleman), who doesn't know what to make of this intense, frenetic interloper.
Not that they have infinite time to dwell on the bigger picture, considering that a time-transplanted dinosaur is trolling the Thames in Victorian London, while the colorful Paternoster Gang tracks an organ-harvesting menace. As the dizzy plot unravels with the usual sinister whimsy, Capaldi puts his stamp on the iconic role with bristling, bold conviction. "I have attack eyebrows," he marvels, upon finally getting a good look at his new self.
Change back? Not likely.
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BODY SNATCHERS: I wish I could muster as much enthusiasm for BBC America's new companion thriller, Intruders (Saturday, 10/9c), a hopelessly murky and mind-numbing exercise in unrelieved portentousness bordering on wearying and opaque pretension, from The X-Files' Glen Morgan. The writers burden a strong cast, including standout John Simm (original Life on Mars), Mira Sorvino and stock villain James Frain, with a meandering, sluggish script that's overly fond of repeating supposedly ominous phrases like, "Because in the beginning there was death," or from the mouth of a possessed 9-year-old girl (impressive Millie Brown), "What goes around comes around" — because, presumably, "Trust no one" was taken.
The premise, such as it is, involves a secret society known as "Qui Reverti," whose members are apparently able to live forever by serially inhabiting new bodies (but how they're chosen, why or when remains to be explained, unless I dozed off during some exposition). The story, such as it is, begins when ex-cop Jack Whelan (Simm), who's moved from L.A. to rainy Seattle with his lawyer wife Amy (Sorvino), becomes frantic when Amy suddenly vanishes. And once she returns several days (and episodes) later, they have a classic "It's not you, it's me — although it's not really me" conversation. To heat this slow boil up from time to time, Frain's wandering hit man snuffs out anyone who might be getting close to the truth, whatever that may be.
Intruders does a decent job of sustaining a tone of unease (thanks in part to Bear McCreary's relentless music score), but it's ultimately defeated by a delusion that impenetrable secrets are enough to keep us watching. It's one thing to spend several hours not understanding what the heck is going on, but it's fatal when a show makes it nearly impossible to care.
PARTY TIME: It's going to be a busy TV Sunday, with MTV's Video Music Awards, the series finale of True Blood on HBO and TNT's first-season climax of The Last Ship. But for explosively riveting histrionics, you won't do better than Showtime's Ray Donovan (9/8c). The episode, directed by series star Liev Schreiber and written by series creator Ann Biderman, builds to an eventful birthday party with more opportunities for confrontation than celebration. When the entire Donovan clan reunites under one roof, it's only a matter of time before it blows off. And you'll want to be there when it does.
The occasion is son Conor's (Devon Bagby) 14th birthday, which both parents somehow forgot. ("Who does that?" cries Paula Malcomson as newly adulterous mom Abby, echoing what I had just written in my notebook.) And with the boy insisting that Ray invite his bad-news grandpa Mick (Emmy nominee and should-be-winner Jon Voight), and Mick insisting on bringing along love-of-his-life Claudette (Sheryl Lee Ralph), and brother Terry (Eddie Marsan) itching to sell the boxing gym and move to Ireland — if Ray would only let him — and daughter Bridget (Kerris Dorsey) playing defiant Juliet with her hip-hop Romeo, there's enough simmering tension on this booze-soaked night to fuel a season of Edward Albee revivals. Who's afraid of Ray Donovan? By episode's end, everyone should be.
MAD M.D.'S: If The Knick is too graphic for you, and Masters of Sex too revealing, you might want to check out PBS's Breathless (Sunday, 9/8c, check tvguide.com listings), a glossy, sudsy three-week Masterpiece Mystery! — though stretching the definition of both words somewhat — set amid a sexy staff of London doctors and nurses in the swinging, smoky, jazzy '60s. Jack Davenport (the tempestuous director from NBC's Smash) is back in Swingtown mode as suave, smoldering almost-hero Dr. Otto Powell, a "woman's doctor" risking his career to perform illegal abortions against a backdrop of sexual blackmail, long-buried war secrets and infidelity. I'd be lying if I said the rather thin plot machinations took my breath away, but in a summer with so many heavy and dour alternatives (hello, Leftovers), this escapist fluff will be for some just what the doctor ... you know.
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