Doctor Who Season 35 – 01

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“Deep Breath”


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And so we do this merry dance once more, the Doctor and I.  I’ve been through every one of these – though most of them long after the good folks of Britain and the right generations went through them – and they never get less compelling.  But having an actor like Peter Capaldi blow through Doctor Who like a Category 5 Hurricane certainly doesn’t hurt matters.

I’ll say up front, I liked Capaldi better than “Deep Breath” as a whole.  As an episode I thought it was mediocre – too long and too often rambling, with a batting average of about .500 on the humor and the Paternoster gang over-saturated to the point of becoming grating.  As an introductory episode it was better, giving a nice opportunity for the new tiger to show his stripes and make the show his own, and for Clara to experience regeneration shock herself.

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As for Capaldi himself, though, he lived up fully to the high expectations I had for him going in.  I’ve been pleading for the new series to jump off the man-child express before we got a Doctor who doesn’t shave yet, and in Capaldi they got not just an older star, but a brilliant actor as well.  Matt Smith was very good, David Tennant flat-out superb, but there are places Doctor Who can go with a mature actor in place that it can’t with one in his 20s or 30s.  And I like the transition from Smith to Capaldi – in a sense Smith was an old soul who was trapped in a boy’s body (albeit a very tall one) and Capaldi’s initial impression is that of a youthful spirit trapped in the body of a middle-aged man.

If there’s anything specific I take away from Capaldi’s persona as the Doctor (and that persona will change substantially, as they always do) it’s that while I think we got what everyone expected in a sharp-tongued and edgier Doctor, we also got a surprising amount of vulnerability.  Part of that is due to Capaldi’s sheer talent and part of it due to Steven Moffat doing a fine job expressing it through the script.  People who only know Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker from In the Loop (and the British TV series it was based on, The Thick of It) have no idea of the warmth and sensitivity Capaldi is capable of, and it appears that his Doctor will have ample measures of both sides of his repertoire.

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What it will also have is a burr – a Scottish accent – a point which Capaldi and Scottish writer Moffat make sure we’re aware of (along with angry eyebrows and a propensity to complain).  We’ve had two Scottish actors play the role already in Sylvester McCoy and Tennant, and both were famously denied permission to use their native accent – so this is a bit of a milestone I suppose.  I suspect it’s mostly a gimmick that’s the province of an introductory episode and probably won’t get much play afterwards, but I certainly applaud that we’re finally getting a Scottish Doctor who’s allowed to be Scottish.  Heck, he even makes a joke about his eyebrows voting to secede from his face and become independent (which may be interpreted as a dig at the “Yes” side in the upcoming referendum, though I’m not sure it was intended that way).

We also got a new OP sequence, which is by far the most radical departure since the reboot of the show (and maybe ever).  It’s very Victorian, which cogs and sprockets and chimey-wimey sounds everywhere, but I don’t think that’s a coincidence as so is “Deep Breath”as a whole (which is apparently a de facto sequel to “The Girl in the Fireplace”, which Moffat also wrote).  There’s a sense that this season and perhaps this Doctor’s reign is going to have a Victorian feel generally, with lots of trips to Earth’s past and perhaps not so much of the depths of space.  I certainly see more of both Bakers – Tom and Colin – in Capaldi’s Doctor than any of the others, but the overall tone of the episode reminded me more of the Pertwee era than anything.

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And then there’s Clara, and her future with the series is an open question.  There’s a reason why new Doctors tend to get new companions pretty quickly (with some notable exceptions like Sarah Jane) – they’re brought in for their chemistry with one actor, and it doesn’t always survive to the next.  Of course I never thought Clara had all that much chemistry with Smith either, and it wouldn’t break my heart to see her go – or at least be supplemented with a second companion, which is a dynamic I always liked better anyway and one which seems better suited to an older Doctor, what with the forced romantic tension thankfully a thing of the past.  Clara’s self-pity in the first half of the episode annoyed the hell out of me to be honest, though things got better once she and the Doctor visited “Mancini’s” and had a quite humorous conversation.  I didn’t think her character was done any favors by having a call from Matt Smith’s Doctor needed to remind her of what should have been obvious, and I didn’t like the idea of having the old Doctor appearing in the new one’s introductory serial – it feels like a bit of a cheat to me, a crutch for both the audience and the characters.

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My sincere hope is that Vastra and her gang don’t become semi-regulars (which they will if this becomes a “Victorian season”), because it really feels to me as if their appeal is pretty well played out.  I love Strax but he is strictly a comic character, and Vastra and Jenny with their oh-too-witty banter are becoming almost as annoying (if not quite as omnipotent) as River Song.  I did like the character of the half-faced man (Peter Ferdinando) at the center of the plot, a sort of reverse-Cyberman slowly turning his robot body into an organic one over the millennia.

“Deep Breath” asks a good number of open-ended questions, which is a Moffat Specialty, the most important being “Did he jump or was he pushed?”  It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen the Doctor kill in this fashion, but it is a compelling debate.  Then there’s Missy (Michelle Gomez) who pops up at the end of the episode like a demented Mary Poppins, having plucked Half-Face from his final rest to wherever it is she’s hiding (which I’m guessing isn’t the “promised land” he’s been chasing).  She also introduces herself as the Doctor’s girlfriend – do we officially have a stalker on our hands?  Is she someone else we might know?  There’s also the matter of the “Impossible Girl” ad someone placed in the Times to get the Doctor and Clara together, which might have been Missy – it certainly doesn’t seem to have been Half-Face.  Missy is presumably this season’s Big Bad, so expect to see more cryptic appearances from her in the weeks ahead.

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In the end the most important question of course is what sort of man this Doctor is, and what his intentions are beyond redecorating the control room (more roundels!).  He declares himself “on a mission” which suggests he sees this as a chance to right past wrongs – and he seems to take his age (which honestly I felt was made way too big a deal of, as if the first 30 years of the show’s existence never happened) to become a more responsible and serious man.  My favorite moment of the episode comes when Capaldi asks “Who frowned my face this way?” as a response to the lines on the face that he didn’t earn himself – it says a lot about both the Doctor and this Doctor.  While “Deep Breath” certainly won’t go down as among the best Doctor Who episodes, it does rank as one of the most exciting for introducing the prospect of where Capaldi can take the series. He’s a remarkable actor, and he may be heralding a return to a sort of Doctor Who we haven’t seen since before the reboot.  At the very least, you know he’s going to make the absolute best out of the material that’s given to him.

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  1. A

    Peter Capaldi was great, but then that was to be expected.

    I have this feeling that Steven Moffat writes all his ideas on notes, pins them to the wall, puts on a blindfold and throws darts, then cobbles up a script based on whatever he hits.
    Then if any of those ideas is popular, he runs them into the ground.

    Case in point, the weeping angels. Fantastic in "Blink", but by the time the Statue of Liberty had turned into one and walked through New York (because nobody would look at that, right?), the concept had been run into the ground.
    As you mention, the same thing is happening with Vastra, Jenny, and especially Strax, who was a one-note joke character to begin with.

    And we could totally have done without Matt Smith's cameo appearance.
    (I always felt Smith was a decent actor cursed with terrible scripting)

  2. M

    What was done with Weeping Angels after Blink is why I firmly advocate The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances as a better example of a good monster story in Doctor Who.

    It goes beyond the monster being frightening, to any further existence or encounter being impossible – So no future writers can toy with the concept.

  3. A

    I have been waiting for your take on this new season.

    Capaldi was brilliant and this is only the first intro episode, I cannot wait how Twelfth will turn out when he regains all his memories.

    As for Deep Breath, it can be better but it is acceptable. To have Clara in the role of having to accept the regeneration makes her relatable to the audience.

    One final goodbye to Smith, and we embark on Capaldi's era.

  4. G

    I liked Smith's premiere episode a lot better then Deep Breath. I thought the 1st half of Deep Breath was boring and painful to watch. They also made Clara out to be an airhead .

    Also why bother bringing in a dinosaur to London only for it to be nothing to the story line only for it to be incinerated right after its introduced.

  5. M

    I was also irked by the Matt Smith cameo; it only proved how much the Doctor Who image was damaged from writers (Moffat included) embracing the amount of popularity the show garnered purely from a youthful actor's charisma.

    The bit where Vastra brandishes her philosophy and views on society and effectively cut into Clara's heart was fantastic. Clara always seemed like the surrogate of the American audience which was clearly madly involve with Matt Smith's Doctor (just like Amelia) and I saw the scene as a brilliant wake up call to such viewers.

    If it was left to just that, it would have been perfect – Let those who are still alienated by alienated. That's what a good regeneration does, shuffle the appeal of the show a bit. Now, it seems like Matt Smith was given room to tell the audience what to do – Manipulating the viewers in a more unnatural manner.

    All that said, I am looking forward to see how Capaldi's Doctor plays out. More of the aged grit that Eccleston had will be a breath of fresh air.

  6. Are you saying that Amy's love for Rory is false? I don't quite agree there – I saw Amy and Smith's Doctor as quite believably a dear friends/siblings relationship rather than a romantic one.

  7. M

    Really? Because their kiss scene comes to mind. (Ref: )

    If you think their "sibling" relationship was natural, you're sorely mistaken. The Doctor had to (naturally) be the better man and work to keep Amy and Rory together.

    What I'm saying is: If Amelia were given the opportunity, she'd BANG both of them.

  8. M

    Seriously, besides Donna – Every female companion the Doctor has acquainted himself goes through a potential-love-interest subplot. Amy was the "groupie" of the bunch – Many people I've discussed her character with openly consider her a manifestation of Moffat's fanfiction.

  9. You've never watched the old show, huh?

    I get that people think history started ten years ago, and that they know everything about it. And of course, whatever people see in any fictional relationship is their own interpretation. I think you can read whatever you want into Amy and the Doctor, but I don't see a lot of smoke there myself.

  10. Z

    As usual Enzo, appreciate your take on Doctor Who. And I quite agree that the first half of Clara's self pity is a bit unnecessary as she accepted the War Doctor openly during the 50th Anniversary. The episode is a bit weaker than the eleventh hour although I have to say, Capaldi really refresh my image of the doctor.

    Have always been a fan of Moffat's writing and I sincerely hope that he will deliver a good one this time around.

  11. K

    I preferred Smith to Tennant by quite a lot. Capaldi was very good in his debut episode and I am looking forward to seeing more of him.

    The issue will of course be on the writing. I like Moffat but I am beginning to think he's been show runner a bit too long.

  12. s

    Jenna Coleman as Clara piqued my interest seeing that i liked her performance as Melia in Xenoblade Chronicles and was curious to see what she'd deliver in doctor who. I quite like what she brings to the table in terms of acting

  13. I admit, she leaves me pretty cold. I never lose the sense that she's putting on a performance, and thus I never get caught up in the character itself.

    For me, the post-reboot companions list is Amy/Rory and Donna>>>>>>>everybody else.

  14. K

    Those are my 3 favorites too :)

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