12 Thoughts on “Deep Breath”


Airdate: August 23, 2014
Written by: Steven Moffat
Directed by: Ben Wheatley
The Story So Far: The TARDIS catches a ride to Victorian London inside a dinosaur’s throat, while familiar clockwork robots harvest organs from the local population.  Can the Doctor, having recently regenerated into Peter Capaldi’s eyebrows, save the day?

Well, as I’ve shown over the rest of this blog, I can’t really properly evaluate a Doctor Who story until it’s at least 45 years old.  So, instead, I plan on doing random bullet-point thoughts, rather than coherent reviews, for most of Series 8.

It’s never been a secret that Peter Capaldi’s an old-school Who fan.  By now we all know of his activity in early ’70s fandom, and Barry Letts even mentioned him at length in the audio commentary for the DVD release of 1974’s The Monster of Peladon.  When Capaldi’s costume was revealed, it generated immediate comparisons to Jon Pertwee’s original wardrobe selections for the Third Doctor.  Capaldi’s genuine burning-hot love for the show was further made blindingly obvious by photo shoots like this:


And I’m gonna go blind trying to figure out which novelizations those are, too…

So, I spent most of the first 30 minutes of last night’s airing trying to count the number of homages to Jon Pertwee’s era.  As I can’t count that high, I soon gave up trying.

1. That dinosaur looks familiar …

Doctor Who loves dinosaurs.  There have been two stories with the world “Dinosaur” in the title; one with convincing representations and one without (Invasion of the Dinosaurs and Dinosaurs on a Spaceship; I’ll let you decide which is which).  As this is nominally a blog about the Target novelizations, though, the following mental image is that one that I immediately figured the show was quoting:

Actually, the Pinnacle U.S. edition was more accurate, sans the UNIT spaceship they included in their cover illustration.

The Pinnacle U.S. cover works too, excpet that it also features a UNIT spaceship….

2. Deep Breath is even more a remake of Spearhead From Space than Rose…

The TARDIS crash-lands on Earth amidst an alien invasion (a swarm of meteorites vs. a dinosaur).  The Doctor is confined to bed in snazzy pajamas, until he breaks out and steals retro clothing.  There’s a tramp who’s peripheral to the plot.  Vastra’s harsh auditioning of Clara calls to mind Liz Shaw’s awkward, defensive interview with the Brigadier.  In fact, the so-called Paternoster Gang seem to serve as knowing UNIT surrogates, giving the Doctor a home base on Earth.  And then, there’s…

3. Peter Capaldi wields some good eyebrow.

Spearhead from Space featured the Third Doctor giving Liz a discourse on the natives of the planet Delphon, who communicate entirely by eyebrow gestures (“That’s Delphon for how-do-you-do!”).  That was scripted by Robert Holmes, who loved throwaway references to alien customs.  We know already that Steven Moffat is a fan of Holmes’ writing style.  I’m not saying he cast Peter Capaldi solely because Capaldi looks like an elder statesman of the planet Delphon, but …

OK, OK, stop, you win, you win!

OK, OK, stop, you win, you win!

4. The Doctor’s amnesia

I’ll admit, I’m one of the few who, when Capaldi asked Clara at the very end of The Time of the Doctor if she knew how to fly the TARDIS, hoped that this represented a new direction for the series — going back to Year One, with a TARDIS adrift in time and space. Clearly, that is not to be; the needs of the show have evolved well beyond the format of something like The Lost Saucer.

But, the running gag with the Doctor completely unable to remember where he’d encountered Half-Face Man’s people before, even when he hears the ticking clockwork and sees a reference to the S.S. Madame de Pompadour, is a bit funny — a Doctor who’s lived so long that he can’t even remember one of his most beloved adventures (not coincidentally, a Moffat-penned tale).  I can’t imagine fans of the David Tennant era will appreciate Capaldi’s Doctor erasing Sophia Myles from his mental canon, but…

Interesting to note, the idea of the Doctor having forgotten a past adventure was initially proposed by Gareth Roberts for The Lodger, where the villain was originally intended to be Meglos.  As much as I wished that idea hadn’t been nixed, this time Moffat brought the notion back, and just flat-out got it.


“Correction, Earthling… it’s merely YOU they’ve got.”

5. The Paternoster Gang

Strax is pretty much a one-joke character.  But, I gotta tell ya, I still haven’t gotten tired of that one joke.  My various social media feeds are full of the “MELT it with ACID” quote, and the crowd I was watching with last night laughed hard enough to drown out the TV at Strax’s gloriously failed attempt at abseiling.

As for Vastra, however, the whole bit with her interrogating Clara and assailing her supposed narrow-mindedness just didn’t work for me.  Granted, it was crisply written, but I’ve never been a particularly big Vastra fan and this bit, no matter how clever, just didn’t work for me.

(Although, speaking of Pertwee era homages, Paternoster features a Silurian and a Sontaran, both races introduced in the Pertwee era, and Vastra even quotes the Brigadier’s final line from Pertwee’s final story…)

 6. New Opening Credits

Awesome, brilliant, steampunk, all clockwork cogwheels and Roman numerals.  This was created by a fan and evidently picked by Moffat directly off YouTube.  Hard to imagine a much better thematic fit for Capaldi’s older, old-school, Doctor.

Deep_Breath_17. Old Rough Cut

I’m still not quite sure who Marcelo Camargo is supposed to be, but, unless you’ve been living under a rock, or with the Paternoster Gang, you’re aware that rough-cut, black-and-white versions of Episodes 1 through 5 have all been leaked.  Fandom at large quickly circled the wagons, and very few spoilers got out in my Facebook feed (certain amateur media reporting sites, however, made it a bit harder to avoid those spoilers); those fans who chose to watch the episodes early, were properly tight-lipped about it, and didn’t ruin the fun for anyone.  I’d like to think that most of the folks at the gathering I attended last night, weren’t aware of the Big Surprise Cameo going in.

But, getting back to Capaldi and all those little tastes of the Pertwee era… it’s kind of fitting that these five stories made the online rounds in black-and-white, with below-grade special effects.  Because that’s how most American fans experienced the Pertwee era in the 1980s — five of his first nine serials were only available in black-and-white at the time, before colorization techniques and the Restoration Team set things right for us. So, if you ignore all the time codes and [insert footage here] and ADR prompts, you could just about pretend you were still watching The Ambassadors of Death in 1987.

"Doctor Who" as you were quite literally never meant to see it.

“Doctor Who” as you were quite literally never meant to see it.

8. The Dark Doctor

What was great about Capaldi’s performance was the depth and breadth.  His early scenes had something of the manic nature of Matt Smith’s most over-the-top outings.  His moodiness and problem-solving display immediately after the dinosaur’s immolation was reminiscent of Tom Baker’s harsher, less cuddly portrayal during the early Hinchcliffe era.  His final confrontation with Half-Face Man is meant to be a bit ambiguous, but we can safely believe that the Doctor pushed the bad guy to his death, saving the day via a revenge murder.

… unless, and until, Moffat retcons this away in a later episode us and assures us that the Doctor never kills anybody.  While you, like, totally know he’ll do, too.

9. Heaven?

Early word has it that “the Promised Land” is the new recurring meme this season; the new Bad Wolf, the new Torchwood.  The end of Deep Breath features a woman named Missy (Michelle Gomez) declaring the Doctor to be her boyfriend, as she welcomes the recently-deceased Half-Face Man to the promised land, to heaven.  Followed by an over-the-top little soft-shoe number, as Half-Face Man looks very confused.

Missy is evidently modeled on Possessed Tegan from 'Snakedance"

Missy is evidently modeled on Possessed Tegan from ‘Snakedance”

Between River Song and Tasha Lem and Madame Kovarian, we’re becoming glutted with this type of character, someone who may or may not be the Doctor’s jilted ex-lover, often wearing thinly-veiled dominatrix gear.  It took a while to convince me that Missy was a new character, rather than someone we’ve already seen before.

10. The Impossible Girl

On the eve of false rumors that Jenna-Louise Coleman is leaving Doctor Who, Clara got a particularly meaty part in Deep Breath.  On her own for much of the episode, Clara got to clash with Vastra, bicker with the Doctor, stand up to Half-Face Man (with just the right mixture of steely determination and palpable fear), and trade witty banter with Strax.

Most of Clara’s screen time to date, from her debut in Asylum of the Daleks, through her last regular-season appearance in The Name of the Doctor, has been dedicated to exploring the character’s Mystery, to figuring out why she was the Impossible Girl.  There often wasn’t much room for characterization, beyond Coleman’s amazing hair and tartan skirts.  Last night, Clara got to be an actual character, not a one-dimensional riddle, and it was pretty grand.


“Wait, we’re NOT boyfriend and girlfriend?!”

11. Eleven

So, Matt Smith came back last night as a Doctor-ex-machina, calling Clara from the battlefield of Trenzalore, imploring her to stay with the new Doctor while hoping against hope that his next self hadn’t gotten old.  I’m not yet convinced of the script logic of this — this was, in the Eleventh Doctor’s timeline, after he learned that he was in his final incarnation, but before the Time Lords gave him a complete new life cycle, so how did he know he was going to regenerate again?  More to the point, it was a bit of a heavy-handed passing-the-torch moment, as the old Doctor literally phones it in to remind us that it’s okay to like the New Doctor (kids!).  I groaned when I saw this, actually.  After I really enjoyed Capaldi’s first 70 minutes as the Doctor, I didn’t need to see the old guy again.

For my money, there’s only one way to bring back the Old Doctor after the New Doctor arrives, and that’s in a creepy silent mirror flash-back:

Power 1212. Next Time

… what appears to be a remake of Rob Shearman’s Dalek, minus the woeful American accents (and woeful American actor).

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The Roundheads

Written by: Mark Gatiss
Series: BBC Books – Past Doctor Adventures
Featuring: The 2nd Doctor, Ben, Polly, and Jamie
Set Between: The Macra Terror and The Faceless Ones
Publication date: November 1997
The Story So Far: In December 1648, as the English Civil War winds down, the TARDIS crew finds itself caught in a tug-of-war between the Roundheads and the Royalists, between Oliver Cromwell’s legacy and the King’s soon-to-be detached head…

The Roundheads stinks.  This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I’m going to relate. Continue reading

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The Macra Terror

Airdates: March/April 1967 (4 episodes)
Written by: Ian Stuart Black
Directed by: John Davies
The Story So Far: Super-intelligent crabs enslave and exploit an outer-space Earth colony by means of recreation and leisure.
Novelization by: Ian Stuart Black (July 1987) Continue reading

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The Moonbase

Airdates: February/March 1967 (4 episodes)
Written by: Kit Pedler with Gerry Davis
Screen Credit to: Kit Pedler
Directed by: Morris Barry
The Story So Far: The Cybermen menace a weather control station on the moon in the year 2070, seeking belated revenge on humanity for what previously happened in The Tenth Planet.  Second verse, same as the first.
Novelization by: Gerry Davis (February 1975) (as Doctor Who and the Cybermen)

One recent Facebook meme asks you to list ten books with a profound influence on your life.  Not the best, but ones that impacted you in some way.  Doctor Who and the Cybermen, the first book I read out of my first batch of novelizations in January 1985, would almost certainly be on my list. Continue reading

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The Underwater Menace (TV)

Airdates: January/February 1967 (4 episodes)
Written by: Geoffrey Orme and Gerry Davis
Screen Credit to: Geoffrey Orme
Directed by: Julia Smith
The Story So Far: In the ruins of Atlantis, the faith of one priest is severely tested when the Savior of Atlantis turns out to be a false prophet. … also, Fish People, ludicrous accents, and some very trippy headgear.
Novelization by: Nigel Robinson (July 1988)

Remarkably, I was more excited about the recovery of Episode 2 of this story, when it was announced exactly two years ago, than I was about the return of Galaxy 4‘s Episode 3.  Meanwhile, the latter episode has been restored, released on DVD, and it’s terrific. This one, meanwhile, is still only available as a low-grade leaked copy and… come to find out, the best thing about it is the one-minute scene officially released on-line.  The Underwater Menace already had a fearsome reputation as one of the Worst Episodes Ever.  I have in the past expressed love for the more ludicrous bits of the surviving Episode 3, because  it’s Bad, and Doctor Who actually does Bad very well, taking it over the top to create something memorably ludicrous.  Unfortunately, Episode 2 commits the even worse sin of being Boring.
Continue reading

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The Highlanders

Airdates: December 1966/January 1967 (4 episodes)
Written by: Gerry Davis, from a suggestion by Elwyn Jones
Screen Credit to: Elwyn Jones and Gerry Davis
Directed by: Hugh David
The Story So Far: In the aftermath of the bloody Battle of Culloden, the Doctor impersonates a German physician, a Scottish scullery maid, and a British soldier, all in aid of upsetting a crooked lawyer’s slave-trading scheme.
Novelization by: Gerry Davis (November 1984)

Finally, a Doctor Who story that takes place in my world!  The principal villain in The Highlanders is a lawyer turned civil servant who abuses his position by feeding at the public trough.  I don’t work with wicked robots or mad scientists, but I do know from lawyers. Continue reading

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Power of the Daleks

Airdates: November/December 1966 (6 episodes)
Written by: Dennis Spooner, from scripts by David Whitaker
Screen Credit to: David Whitaker
Directed by: Christopher Barry
The Story So Far: The TARDIS lands on Vulcan (a different one) at the exact moment that a mining colony is about to revive three dormant Daleks found in a swamp.  Ben and Polly are still unsure of the new Doctor, and no-one listens to their warnings about the suddenly-servile Daleks…
Novelization by: John Peel (July 1993)

I really, really hope that this story has been found, if any of the rumors are to be believed. If you can judge the quality of a story from the surviving audio, the telesnaps, and the 2 minutes and 19 seconds of surviving video, this is, pound for pound, the best Doctor Who made to this point in the series.  The script perfectly fills out its 6 episode length; some of the acting performances are incredible; Troughton takes over the role of the Doctor so deftly that you don’t have time to miss that other fellow, and the brutal, uncompromising ending, is not marred by, say, the comedy appearance of a wacky teenager in the final minutes. Continue reading

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