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