TV REVIEW: Doctor Who Season 8, Episode 1: Deep Breath

This review contains spoilers.

The season 8 premiere of Doctor Who was simulcast in Australia yesterday morning so I crawled out of bed before 5am to watch it.

8x01 1

Synopsis

A dinosaur materialises in Victorian London and promptly spits out a blue police call box. When the Paternoster Gang (Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax) investigate, they find not their familiar doctor but a grumpy Scotsman who doesn’t seem to remember much, including Clara’s name. Both Clara and the Doctor struggle to become accustomed to the Doctor’s new appearance while facing off against cannibalistic robots.

 

Title sequence

The new title sequence is radically different, focusing more on time than on space. The internet informs me that the new titles were adapted from YouTuber billydakiduk’s video. The YouTube description reads:

First section is the Doctors watch, and we fly inside. The journey through the cog-wheels end with our exit through the untempered schism. And into an escher-esque timey wimey never-ending clock face (a metaphor of time travel and the time vortex).

Our journey catapults us through the vortex into a void where the seal of Rassilon is drawn in aged metal, accompanied by the Doctor Who logo, with some subtle embellishments. The seal of Rassilon burns away, reminding us of the Doctor’s disdain for the Time Lords; revealing the new Doctor’s reflection in the back of the watch which then tumbles away to the black hole in the distance.

I wanted it to feel ancient/steampunky 🙂

This is the official title sequence for season 8. The Seal of Rassilon has been omitted, and the Doctor’s watch is missing entirely. There’s also a revamped theme, and I’m not sure that I like the new orchestration. Even after hearing it a few times, I find it slightly jarring and shrill.

 

Plot

At 76 minutes, this was the longest New Who episode to date and I don’t know that it was entirely warranted. There was a fair bit of repetition (including, for some reason, at least three jokes about whether Clara’s clothes were on or off), which at times made the episode feel too long.

Of the many comments about how Clara and/or the Doctor may or may not have thought they were a couple, only two conversations carried great impact. The first came when, displeased with the Doctor’s aged appearance, Clara asked how to fix him and ‘change him back’.  Madame Vastra accused Clara of liking the Doctor’s younger appearance because it was easier to flirt with him.

MADAME VASTRA: He looked like your dashing young gentleman friend—your lover, even, but he is the Doctor. He has walked this universe for centuries untold. He has seen stars fall to dust. You might as well flirt with a mountain range … the Doctor regenerated in your presence. The young man disappeared, the veil lifted. He trusted you. Are you judging him?

Madame Vastra’s real talk was something some fans needed to hear as well, after the fuss about Peter Capaldi clearly being a lot older than Matt Smith. However, it didn’t make a lot of sense for Clara to be so thrown by the regeneration after travelling through the Doctor’s timeline and having seen him with faces of varying ages.

Rose was the only other companion who has seen the Doctor regenerate in New Who. While she was taken aback, Rose had had no warning that the Doctor was going to be a completely different person. I suppose though, that she could at least get used to Ten’s face while he slept through most of his first episode. And it didn’t hurt that he’d regenerated into David Tennant either.

Clara responded to Madame Vastra’s suggestions with an angry monologue that elicited applause from Jenny. Madame Vastra was pleased to see some actual emotion from Clara, and so was I. For me, this marked Clara’s transition from plot device to fully realised character. She may have been acting selfish and petty but that’s more real and human than she’s ever been before.

Heard you were talking shit.

Heard you were talking shit.

The second important conversation about the Doctor and Clara’s relationship came right towards the end of the episode.

DOCTOR: I’m the Doctor. I’ve lived for over 2000 years and not all of them were good. I’ve made many mistakes and it’s about time that I did something about that. Clara, I’m not your boyfriend.

CLARA: I never thought you were.

DOCTOR: I never said it was your mistake.

It was Moffat's mistake.

It was Moffat’s mistake.

Madame Vastra and Jenny also suffered from the constant relationship comments. We know they’re married. They’re adorable. But it was like the writers were screaming, ‘THIS IS AN INTERSPECIES LESBIAN COUPLE.’ And, after all that, Madame Vastra and Jenny only got to kiss because they were ‘sharing air’ from Vastra’s lizard lungs. Be real, guys. Just let them kiss without an ulterior motive.

While Clara was worried that the Doctor had grey hair, the Doctor was busy making a homeless man listen to his musings about his origins.

DOCTOR: You know, I never know where the faces come from. They just pop up. Faces like this one … it’s covered in lines but I didn’t do the frowning. Who frowned me this face? … Why this one? Why did I choose this face? It’s like I’m trying to tell myself something—like I’m trying to make a point. But what is so important that I can’t just tell myself what I’m thinking?

I don’t know if that will be the only nod to Peter Capaldi’s prominent appearance in The Fires of Pompeii but at least it was acknowledged and allowed options to explore it further.

Clara found an ad in the paper that read: Impossible Girl. Lunch on the other side? All that meant was an ad on the other side of the newspaper advertising Mancini’s Family Restaurant, home of the cannibal robots. Later, the Doctor theorises that the ad was placed by ‘the woman in the shop’ who originally gave Clara the Doctor’s phone number.

I was surprised but happy to hear about ‘the woman in the shop’ again. We always knew Rose as a ‘shop girl’ so if it’s an old friend then that’s my vote. The only other person I can think of that owned/worked in a shop is Sally Sparrow.

It could very well be someone we’ve never seen before but I hope that this isn’t a nod to some future clandestine companion. While The Girl Who Waited and The Impossible Girl were interesting, both Amy and Clara, for the most part, acted as plot devices and lacked character development. I’ve never connected with either of them, which is why I was so excited when Clara finally showed some real emotion and flaws in this episode. Having flaws allows for development. Selfish characters shine when they learn to put someone before themselves, timid characters grow when they learn to perform ordinary acts of bravery, and watching the characters develop always makes me care more about their fate.

Thank God you had nothing better to do today than read the advertisements.

Thank God you had nothing better to do today than read the advertisements.

Despite the obvious parallels between Deep Breath and The Girl in the Fireplace, the Doctor still seemed stumped. I started second-guessing the conclusions I’d drawn. I needn’t have worried: the Doctor’s confusion was just another part of regeneration amnesia. The robots in this episode were from the SS Marie Antoinette, sister ship to the SS Madame de Pompadour. While they were also cannibalising human parts to run their ship, these robots didn’t have the pretty clockwork heads as the robots from The Girl in the Fireplace.

These robots had been rebuilding their spaceship since the age of dinosaurs in the hopes of reaching the Promised Land. Good thing we had a dinosaur wandering around to piece that puzzle together. The dinosaur looked cool but, other than conveniently providing the robots with some optic nerve, it served no real purpose. The Doctor has crashed in the past without any help.

While Clara and the Paternoster Gang were being attacked by robots down in the ancient spaceship, the Doctor had a chat to the head robot (Half-Face Man) while flying above London in some kind of hot-air balloon made from human skin. Gross. And totally unnecessary.

Come on, baby, light my fire.

Come on, baby, light my fire.

Since the Half-Face Man was somehow powering all of the other robots, he needed to die. He had the option of jumping to his death or being pushed by the Doctor. It’s not clear which option he took, which may have been an attempt to cause more uncertainty about this new Doctor’s level of ruthlessness. Either way, Half-Face Man ended up impaled on the top of Big Ben because it would have been a damn shame not to take advantage of a national monument in such a way. (Lies. No one would have missed that at all.)

Half-Face Man woke later (apparently in the afterlife) and found himself in a beautiful garden, being greeted by a woman named Missy. Missy indicated that the Doctor was her boyfriend and told Half-Face Man that he’d made it to the Promised Land, Paradise, Heaven—whatever works, really. Missy danced around the garden fountain, swinging her umbrella joyously. There are a few theories floating around about who Missy might be. For now, all I know for sure is that she creeps me out a little.

And you thought we were done talking about the Doctor being someone's boyfriend.

And you thought we were done talking about the Doctor being someone’s boyfriend.

For a moment, it looked like Clara was going to give up on the Doctor entirely, saying, ‘I don’t think I know who the Doctor is anymore.’ Fair enough, since the Doctor had temporarily abandoned her to death by robot earlier, and also called her an egomaniac needy game-player.

As Clara was ready to walk away, she got a call on her mobile from the Doctor—the Eleventh Doctor. Matt Smith graced the screen once more, calling from Trenzalore before his regeneration. Eleven told Clara that the regenerated Doctor is going to be more scared than Clara could imagine and he’s going to need her. After saying ‘Miss you’, Eleven hung up.

To my knowledge, this is the first time that the previous Doctor has made a cameo so soon after regeneration. It was a little surprising that he phoned in to beg the companion (and the audience) to give the new guy a chance. Hopefully any wavering fans, like Clara, finally calmed down about the regeneration.

By this point, Twelve had remembered enough to know about the phone call.

DOCTOR: That was me talking. You can’t see me, can you? You look at me and you can’t see me. Have you any idea what that’s like? I’m not on the phone. I’m right here, standing in front of you. Please just—just see me.

Clara finally saw the Doctor for himself and hugged him. Twelve apparently isn’t going to be a hugging person and was extremely awkward but happy to do whatever Clara said as long as she stayed.

What is human affection?

What is human affection?

Since Moffat seemed intent on getting in a reference to every Doctor in New Who, it was time to draw a parallel between Deep Breath and The End of the World. Twelve offered to go and get chips. Clara opted for coffee instead but decided the Doctor was buying even though, just like Nine, he didn’t have any money.

Overall, I found the plot of this episode a bit underwhelming. It seemed that Steven Moffat was writing to meet a cinematic length instead of making the story the best it could be. I was, however, very happy with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor and I’m looking forward to seeing him develop further in the next few episodes.

 

The Twelfth Doctor

8x01 11Like the Doctor and Clara, I’m not totally sold on the new TARDIS interior (I miss the round things too). There’s a cosy-looking armchair on the upper level but there are also bookcases, and I feel like the books will provide a few good projectiles whenever the TARDIS hits turbulence.

No sign of a new sonic screwdriver, which I’m kind of disappointed about. I like seeing the updated versions and how they reflect the personality of the Doctor.

Peter Capaldi’s regeneration is different in more ways than appearance and accent. Already he seems to be withdrawing from the flirty Doctor now common in New Who. That’s not a bad thing: while the Doctor is enigmatic and compelling, having everyone fall in love with him all the time can get dull. I’m open to more of a Donna/Doctor relationship this season where the Doctor and his companion are just good mates.

 

Next week

It looks like we’re getting the mandatory DALEK EPISODE next week. I think Australia’s 4.55am simulcast was only for the premiere so I’ll have a bit of a lie-in next Sunday and look forward to watching during prime time.

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