Sunday, 24 August 2014

Deep Issues with Deep Breath

Yes, it's another post talking "Doctor Who", and yes, it's about the premiere episode for Peter Capaldi last night. My last "Who" post was back in January, about Clara. It finished with the remark, "To conclude, if the new series currently being filmed is all about Peter Capaldi, and ONLY him... it will bother me." So, I'm bothered.

That said, the issues may not be as deep as the header implies, however they will contain spoilers, so if you don't want those, don't read beyond the image below. To those leaving, I'll sum things up with what I had in my tweet last night: 'Abysmal start to the episode, but it redeemed itself in the end.'

Image from this Space Channel Blogs Article

Let's start with the very good, namely the opening sequence, which I learned is based upon the graphics work of a Doctor Who fan, Billy Hanshaw.  Brilliant.  Also, I thought Capaldi was great in his take on The Doctor.  With that said, here's the five biggest issues I had with the episode, in increasing order of annoyance.  Feel free to take me to task in the comments if you disagree.

5) The Doctor is Scottish

He's not. He's Gallifreyan. He even points out he's not human late in the episode. More to the point, Capaldi isn't even the first Scottish actor to play the Doctor, David Tennant is Scottish. Do we now define people by the way they speak?

Seen in Edinburgh last week
With that said, this was a very minor issue. It got a few chuckles from me, and can even be chalked up in continuity to The Doctor being all befuddled after his regeneration. As long as they don't harp on this later, I'm fine with it. Ending the episode in Glasgow was also an amusing touch.

4) Paternoster Gang

To be clear, my issue isn't that they were included, but how they were included. (I'm speaking of Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint and Strax.) In fact, including them is actually rather clever - it gives Clara someone to bounce ideas off of, provides them with knowledge of the new Doctor, and provides the audience with additional grounding in familiar characters as we adjust to Capaldi.

My problem is the laid back attitude they seemed to have. This is the first time we've seen them interact with a Doctor other than Matt Smith, and they seemed to take it in stride. (Much more so than Clara, who's seen ALL his other faces! More on that later.) There also seemed to be completely throwaway scenes for them, like Strax running his medical diagnostic of Clara. To what end? I can tell they were trying to be funny, but it felt out of place. Finally, the writers really seemed to be hammering in the "lesbian relationship" angle between Vastra and Jenny. There was no reason for the multiple references, except perhaps as an attempt to say "look, we're being progressive!". Nothing against the relationship, but there are times subtlety is called for. The whole Peternoster arc felt mismanaged to me.

3) The Dinosaur: Why?

In fact, even before we get to the why, let's address the HOW. We've seen people get pulled along by being on the outside of the TARDIS twice. Jack Harkness, which killed him (temporarily). And Clara herself, in the previous episode, where the time trip got extended by centuries because the TARDIS had to extend it's protective field around her. How the devil is this dinosaur still alive?

Also seen in Edinburgh last week
Worse, it seems to have had no bearing on the plot, meaning the whole thing smacks of "let's do this because it looks cool". I know the mechanical guy talks about needing "an inch of optic nerve" or some such, but it's a throwaway line to justify the whole act. Additionally, I was at the National Museum of Scotland less than a week ago where they have a life-sized skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. We're talking 6 metres high, not whatever size that dinosaur was.  I'll grant some dinosaurs could be much larger, but if we're going to pander to the audience, let's at least do it with more scientific accuracy.

2) Missy

Dear lord, do we really need another antagonist/lover/enigma woman for the Doctor? NO. We have two wonderful plot arcs we can use going forwards. The search for Gallifrey, as established in the 50th anniversary special, and the idea that the Doctor wants to "do something about his mistakes", as seen in the promotional clips. Despite that, we've now thrown in this mystery Missy who rules Heaven and may have given Clara the Doctor's phone number or placed a newspaper ad and for crying out loud, just give us something straightforward for once. The head games were fun for a time, but I'm tired of them. This is going to have to have a really good payoff to get me on board.

1) Clara. Until the last 10 minutes.

I was actively cringing during the first half hour. I was actually wondering if I'd be watching this season of Doctor Who more out of habit rather than out of any enthusiasm. There's a serious problem here.

The problem is that Clara has become a vehicle for the audience rather than a character in her own right.

Think about it. Companions are (at least of late) meant to be our gateway into the Doctor Who universe, our "everyman" (everywoman?) who gets swept up into the cosmic adventure. And Clara's gone beyond this, she's now the "Impossible Girl", who's seen all the Doctors, who's even saved them, and yet she can still return to her own life as a teacher in between episodes. (Speaking as a teacher, I'd probably use a TARDIS to catch up on my grading, but whatever.) So when the casting of an older doctor occurred, and there was a fear that the audience wouldn't buy in, she became that doubting voice of the audience too... even though THAT'S AGAINST HER ESTABLISHED CHARACTER.

We can't trust a parabola's Vertex Form!
It looks totally different than Standard Form!
I've lamented on Clara not considering all her previous incarnations in my prior post, so let's not go over that again. However, let's consider that she HAS seen fragments of ALL the prior Doctors, from when she entered his timeline. She even had a perfectly good discussion with the War Doctor (John Hurt) back in the 50th anniversary episode, without remarking on the fact that he "looked old". I can buy her uncertainty with a new Doctor, but her fear should come from the fact that it's the only one she doesn't know. One that exists because he defied the rules, and changed his own timeline. One that she has no prior experiences to draw on for her interactions.

Instead of that angle, we get Clara questioning why it was a regeneration if he looks so much older. (Well, he looks younger than Smith did at the end of his 1,000 year arc!) We get references to flirting, and the Doctor having "changed" too much. We even get three women (two of them lesbians) in a room chatting about relationships with the Doctor in a rather spectacular fail of The Bechdel Test. (Yes, I know the Test applies to more than single scenes, but the fact that it occurred to me while watching is not a good sign.) Also, what was the deal with Clara being an "egomaniac"? Someone who is a nanny and a teacher, who gives up her own time to help others has ego problems? Or are you taking another jab at the audience, hmmm?

As I say, I spent a good deal of the first part of the episode cringing. (The dinosaur didn't help.) Then the plot kicked in. I rather liked the scene in the restaurant, where I was going to cry "foul!" for having the Doctor place an ad in a specific location in a newspaper when he had no money, so well done subverting that. Clara actually drawing on an event from her past in dealing with the cyborg was also nice. I also like that we don't know who "blinked first" (as it were) between the Doctor and the Half-Face Man. Then, in the last 10 minutes, came the moment that told me someone, somewhere, does understand Clara.

It was when, as Vastra pointed out, Clara put on her 21st century clothes - right before the Doctor returned. On some subconscious level, she's still connected to him. It harkens back to the earlier scene, when she was reaching back for him while being accosted by the cyborgs - and he was there too. Their relationship is based on more than mere appearances.

And yes, there was the last call with Matt Smith, and that was very clever and helped to cement things. But it was that earlier part that gave me hope. Hope that Clara is finally coming into her own as a companion, and that's she's not merely a vicarious experience or a walking plot point. Please, PLEASE, let's see more of her acting like this.

Note: All of this is me pulling on memories from a single viewing. Let me know if I'm misremembering.

Other opinions:
 - Debut Episode Finds TARDIS in Safe Hands (huffington post)
 - Deep Breath a Heroic Failure (forbes)
 - Doctor Who is for Whovians only (scotland herald)
 - Peter Capaldi is Already Carrying Doctor Who (io9)


  1. For the record, I've now watched the episode a second time. It didn't feel quite as bad as the first viewing - yet the scene that kills it, for me, is that same one I referenced in the post. With Vastra in her veil and the three of them talking about The Doctor. Once we're past that (and the egomania bit), it holds up.

    My friend Tom also has a reasonable take on the size of the dinosaur (which I find is even hinted at in the episode), so I'll reproduce his remarks to me below:


    1. That is, I will endeavour to reproduce them, and have blogger swallow them. Trying again:

      OK when I first watched it I agreed with you that it was a monster of a T-Rex and seemed wrong. But then I thought it over. Vashra is a Silurian, who's race existed in the Mesozoic. She said the dinosaurs at that time were that big so as an actual observer she would know.

      Now the Silurians mastered genetic engineering at a time when we mammals were still wee timorous beasties. Dinosaurs were domesticated animals to them and were bred, raised, and manipulated as such.

      We meaning you and I come from a world that didn't have this unnatural selection in it so we get the "stunted" ones.