Lady Summerisle (strange_complex) wrote,
Lady Summerisle

New Who 8.1 Deep Breath

I'm very pleased indeed that the BBC scheduled this new season to begin the weekend after my conference. I can't tell you how nice it was to just settle down and enjoy it, feeling all relaxed and not guilty at all. It was the icing on the cake to find that it was actually a decent episode, too.

What made it for me was the stuff that always won me over in the RTD era, but has often been sorely lacking since Moffat took over - proper character moments which allow emotions to be acknowledged and tensions to be resolved. Scenes like the one between the veiled Madame Vastra and Clara in Vastra's conservatory, or between Clara and the Doctor at the table in Mancini's - all of which were, of course, particularly important in a post-regeneration story. I am very glad that Moffat recognised the need for that this time, and for once tipped the balance of screen-time in favour of character development rather than the labyrinthine plots which have made some of his recent stories seem utterly incomprehensible (to me, anyway). It was a particular pleasure to see Clara suddenly developing a personality - getting angry at Madame Vastra for suggesting that she was shallow, standing up to the (un-named) lead cyborg in the basement of the restaurant, and doing a very good job of getting information out of him in spite of being terrified inside. Suddenly I rather like her, where I've always been pretty neutral before.

cavalorn has suggested that the way Clara responded to the Doctor's regeneration is out of character after her previous experiences of his many different incarnations. But I wasn't so troubled by it. It's one thing to know that the Doctor can have many different appearances and personalities, but another to see the one you think of as 'yours' disappear before your eyes and become somebody else. Besides, I read her concern about his lined face and grey hair as extending far beyond shallow aesthetic judgements, and coming more from a concern about what he has been through to cause him to look like that - concerns which the Doctor himself also expresses as he rants to the tramp in the alleyway about how cross he looks. After all, she wasn't able to be with the Eleventh Doctor for most of the time he spent in Christmas town defending it from attack. He has aged and changed during that time in ways she hasn't been able to keep up with - and I think that's what is giving her doubts in this story.

Anyway, on an out-of-story level, I think Clara's concerns, and the wider themes of regeneration and renewal which underpinned a lot of this story, did a great deal to smooth the viewing public over the transition from one Doctor to the next, and to help us understand in what ways we can expect him to be different, and in what ways the same. It was nice to have Madame Vastra within the story being wise and understanding about it, perhaps speaking in the voice of longer-term viewers in the same way as Clara was obviously speaking for newer ones. Her suggestion that the Eleventh Doctor wore his young face for the sake of acceptance also raised the interesting implication that this new Doctor maybe doesn't care so much about that kind of acceptance, which is something we might watch out for as this series develops. The Doctor's own comments to the cyborg in the restaurant that he has replaced himself so many times that "there's probably not a trace of the original you left" also has an obvious double meaning as regards his own regeneration - and there, of course, we have another major theme which we have been promised for the Capaldi era, of the Doctor trying to rediscover his roots and get 'home'.

The fact that the Doctor specifically noted that some of the metalwork in the cyborg's face looked 'Roman' also reflects back on him, and we should definitely be paying attention to his musings about where his own new face came from and what he is trying to tell himself by choosing it. Caecilius from Fires of Pompeii was of course part of the one family which the Doctor saved, at Donna's insistence, even while he knew he couldn't save the whole town. So I guess some potential subconscious messages there could include "Listen to your companion" and "You can still do good things even when you also have to make very dark choices". I'm not sure either of those are totally satisfactory, because it's not like those messages aren't well established for the Doctor anyway, but maybe things will become clearer as the season develops. He certainly appears to have made a pretty dark choice regarding the cyborg in this episode, anyway, although it's important to note that the ambiguity over whether he jumped or was pushed was not only maintained by explicitly pointed out in dialogue.

As for Peter Capaldi himself as the real man behind the face, I liked him a lot. As many people have said, his approach to the role is basically exactly what we were all expecting, which of course is possible in his case because most of us are already so familiar with his work from other contexts. He was never going to be able to surprise us in the way that some of the recent, lesser-known Doctors have been able to do - or indeed people like Tom Baker could back in the day. But it's great to see him reliably delivering the goods, and although obviously part of the point of a regeneration story is that it unsettles us and makes us wonder what kind of Doctor we have now, I'm pretty sure I will be hugely fond of this one by Christmas. Also, was it me, or did his voice sometimes sound quite Tom Bakerish, without it being forced, or lampshaded, or a caricature? Anyway, whether or not he was doing that deliberately, it is definitely an index of how much I already like him that I heard it that way.

Some smaller things:
  • The new credits sequence was visually amazing (I'm assuming people know its origins, but if not here you go), but I didn't much like the new music at all, I'm afraid. It sounded dangerously close to the synths of the Sixth Doctor era, though I appreciated the occasional tolling of church bells reflecting the general 'time and ways of measuring it' theme.
  • I liked the use of Peter Capaldi's Scottishness, and especially the way it was used to bring out not merely the Doctor's otherness, but that of many of the viewers in relation to him. English accents sounded wrong to him, as of course they should to an alien being - and meanwhile Scottish viewers can have fun feeling like they are at one with the Timelords!.
  • When the Doctor covered the floor and walls of his bedroom at Vastra's house with equations, I thought "If that was Greek or Latin, I'd be analysing the hell out of that!" But obviously, I don't have the requisite expertise for sciencey stuff. Thankfully, someone who did has given it a good going-over, and apparently quite a lot of it (though by no means all) does make sense for the situation the Doctor is in! Awesome.
  • Was Mancini's so-named because it turned out to be full of mannekins? If so, nice work.
  • parrot_knight is dead right to note the prevalence of mirrors, a theme which I was once very interested in myself but had rather forgotten about after it failed to really go anywhere in season 6.
  • There was also rather a lot of water in this story, which can also be a mirror of course. But I think different types of water were quite carefully coded to different characters here, giving it a symbolism of its own which extended beyond reflections. The Doctor disappeared into the murky waters of the Thames, right before a cut to Clara pouring beautifully pure, clear water into a bowl, and not long before Strax offered her inappropriately dirty water to drink. I note all this because the penultimate episode of this series is apparently called Dark Water, so I suspect it's a theme we should be keeping our eyes on as the season develops.
  • I liked the bookcases in the newly-revamped TARDIS interior, and particularly the fact that we had also seen rather similar bookcases in Vastra, Jenny and Strax's house. I feel it helps to mark them out as an extended branch of Team TARDIS, with many of the same interests and concerns.
  • I loved that Twelve parked the TARDIS in Glasgow city centre, which of course means that at any moment, the real-life Police Box which stands there on Buchanan Street, and in front of which I (like many Doctor Who fans) have posed, could in fact be the 'real' TARDIS, for once wearing an effective disguise.
  • Visually, this episode was splendid, with some excellent camera-work, lighting, and effects. You don't notice these things incrementally, of course, but I suspect that going back to watch Rose straight after this would reveal a huge upwards shift in production values - and it's not like Rose was shonky by the standards of its own day. This certainly is flagship television.

Where is all this going?:
  • The Cyborg's over-riding motivation to reach the Promised Land, no matter how long that might take, and the motif of an ancient crash-landed space-ship beneath the surface of a planet both reminded me strongly of the Minyans in Underworld. Here, we might in particular remember the close connection between the Minyans and the Timelords, and particularly the origins of the Timelords' policy of non-intervention in the affairs of other species. There is certainly a non-zero chance that those sorts of themes will come up later in the series, anyway.
  • miss_s_b linked to these screencaps, which show the relationship between the Promised Land of the final scenes and the world full of handbots where Amy gets trapped in The Girl Who Waited. Apparently, this setting will recur in the season finale, as will Michelle Gomez as Missy so there are answers promised about all that.
  • On Missy's own identity, many people have speculated that she is a female version of the Master, and that's perfectly possible - indeed, probably the most likely solution. But let's not close off all other doors of speculation yet! For example, we were carefully reminded of The Girl in the Fireplace in this story. Reinette certainly did think of the Doctor as her boyfriend, and we never actually saw her death - only heard it reported. Could the androids have got her in the end after all, and Missy is the result? Or could she be some kind of version of River Song, who also at certain points in her own (rather complicated) time-stream is / has been / will be able to regenerate and change her appearance - and importantly knows that the Doctor has previously called Clara 'The Impossible Girl'?
In truth, I'm rather too jaded by Moffat's past plot-teases followed by unsatisfactory resolutions to get terribly excited about speculating, but it's nice to feel we are going somewhere anyway.

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Tags: cult tv, doctor who, eleven, reviews, tv, twelve

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