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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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( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 25th, 2014 07:39 pm (UTC)
Hah, yes, I only picked up the bit about the "Roman" metal on a rewatch.

I like your idea about Underworld - it would also tie-in with the question of what (if anything) the Doctor is going to do about the Time Lords.
Aug. 25th, 2014 09:20 pm (UTC)
I'm not really very sure exactly where the Underworld references are pointed, and presumably it can't be too crucial either, as 95% of a modern Doctor Who audience couldn't be expected to pick it up. Still, cautionary tales about striving for a lost paradise, and about the true character of the Timelords and their relationship with other species, seem to be in the air. That certainly fits with what we've been led to expect of this season, anyway.
Aug. 25th, 2014 11:24 pm (UTC)
I liked the scarf reference, too, and loved the way they tied Capaldi/12 in with Capaldi/Caecilius. Hmmm. Funny that the first thing we see the cyborg take is an eye. I'm also curious about Strax's comment about Clara's future water retention: could she be the Face of Boe? I've always thought it was Jack, but...

Not sure about Missy yet. A female regeneration of the Master is intriguing, but initially she reminded me a lot of Madam Kovarian. Or she could be someone from Christmas town. I'm sort of stumbling over the idea of the cyborgs being around Earth since dinosaurs, though, because wouldn't Vastra have encountered them before?

I need to watch it again.
Aug. 26th, 2014 10:49 am (UTC)
Oh yes - I'd forgotten about the fluid retention, but it's another of the references to water which made me think that was looking like a bit of a Thing. In fact, it may be the most important reference of all, because it sounds like a warning about Clara's future. Is she going to experience some kind of watery peril later in the season?

I agree that it's a little odd to think of the cyborgs being around for so long and none of our regular characters noticing them - not just Vastra, but the Doctor himself or Torchwood as well. But I guess if it was really mainly just the one guy (half-face man) replacing individual parts of himself as and when needed for most of that time, he could probably pass undetected, as the activity would be so sporadic and small-scale.
Aug. 26th, 2014 10:11 pm (UTC)
I'm wondering whether you should throw in Waters of Mars there, with all those other watery things.

Another thing about Missy that reminds me of River Song (ooh water again!) was the umbrella-twirling. It reminded me of one of the prison scenes ("Don't worry, I'm breaking in this time").
Aug. 26th, 2014 08:40 am (UTC)
I sort of half watched it last night - new theme tune was dreadful, liked half clockwork face man, but such is my love of Capaldi as Tucker I was just wishing for him to glare and start swearing and sadly he didn't.
Aug. 26th, 2014 10:51 am (UTC)
Yeah, we're not going to get swearing, but he did do a fair bit of frowning in this episode, so you've got a fighting chance of some good glares later in the season.
Aug. 26th, 2014 01:31 pm (UTC)
I'm assuming you're aware of the somewhat nearer blue Police Box in Wetherby? I don't think it's an original feature though, but it is just in front of Wetherby Police Station, so maybe it is.
Aug. 26th, 2014 01:49 pm (UTC)
Ooh, no - I wasn't. Thanks for the tip-off! Must do a little pilgrimage there some time. :-)
Aug. 26th, 2014 02:08 pm (UTC)
I have not, to my knowledge, seen Capaldi in anything other than his previous Doctor Who appearance--and he's certainly not an actor I was aware of prior to his casting. And I loved him. I think he's just a good doctor.

I liked the episode overall--some bits felt a little too... fanservicey maybe? Not so much in the continuity references and in-jokes so much as we had a lot of time on 'Team Tardis'. So here's Strax doing Straxy things! And it really hammered us over the head that Madam Vastra and Jenny were married and lovers etc, which didn't seem to have much to do with the story other than a comparison point to the doctor and Clara's relationship (which was nice, but at the same time the relationships are also so difference that this seemed to be short-changing Vastra and Jenny.)

With all the references to the inequality of their relationship as well, I'm vaguely hopeful that this might be setting up a deeper look at Vastra and Jenny--and even Strax!--but it kept coming across to me as more of a: "Look! Married lesbians! And we'll shoehorn in a kiss, because we're cutting edge!" It's nice they're not being ambiguous about it, but it's not exactly compelling romance either.

Speaking of ambiguity, an ambiguous Doctor *is* a nice touch, and they sold it well enough for his abandonment of Clara to be genuinely believable. With the "Did he jump or was he pushed?" question apparently setting a theme for the series, I'm curious to see where this will be going.
Aug. 26th, 2014 02:20 pm (UTC)
ooh -- try to find a copy of him in The Crow Road or as the Angel Islington in the TV version of Neverwhere.

I loved him in those before I saw him as Malcolm Tucker, and think that definitely has influenced my take on him as the Doctor.
Aug. 27th, 2014 07:29 pm (UTC)
Speaking of ambiguity, an ambiguous Doctor *is* a nice touch

Absolutely. Some of Four's best moments were when you just could be sure if you could trust him - like in The Invasion of Time. It can be overdone, of course, but a little touch of it keeps the character much more interesting than a straightforward hero would be.
Aug. 26th, 2014 10:26 pm (UTC)
Hmm. I'm late to the party (was at my parents', and had agreed not to watch Dr Who until I was back home to watch it with t'other half). As usual, you're the first port of call for commentary :)

I'm surprised, though. My main thoughts were that the beginning was horrible due to ugly lighting and poor production, and that lots of the emotional scenes were massively unconvincing :( I agree that it was really nice to have screen time actually given to people just conversing and being allowed to show emotion, I just found (in particular) the scene with Jenny, Vastra and Clara dreadfully clunky.

On the plus side, the Doctor seems decent so far. And I'll forgive quite a bit for the line "who frowned me this face?"

Also, I managed to watch it without thinking of Islington once, which I wasn't expecting :)
Aug. 27th, 2014 07:32 pm (UTC)
This is Doctor Who, though. The emotional scenes of the RTD era were also pretty clunky - certainly if you compare them with programmes whose main business is drama (e.g. a typical HBO serial drama). The wonder has always been that they were there at all in amongst all the monsters, explosions and running along corridors.
Aug. 26th, 2014 11:36 pm (UTC)
I'd completely forgotten he was Angel Islington!

Oddly the sf performance I most loved of Capaldi was as the civil servant in the Torchwood mini series where Ianto died. It was an absolutely stunning turn and no one seems to be mentioning it much despite being Whoverse.

I was VERY excited when he landed in front of Buchanan Galleries! Wonder when they filmed it...
Aug. 27th, 2014 07:35 pm (UTC)
Yes, he was great in Children of Earth. But the Doctor never appeared in that story, which is I think why no-one is really mentioning that role now. He might well remember meeting Caecilius, but he can't remember Frobisher.
Aug. 28th, 2014 10:00 am (UTC)
I have mixed feelings about the episode.

I really didn’t like the first half much. I thought the writing, directing and acting were all a bit poor.

I don’t like what they’ve done with Madame Vastra, but I can’t put my finger on what it is exactly I don’t like.

I nearly switched it off.

I enjoyed the second half much more. I thought Capaldi was much better in the second half than he had been in the first. That seemed to lift everyone else. The plot more or less hung together. I even found myself not hating Clara and I was almost ready to think, “well, that was okay”, when daleks appeared in the trailer for next week’s episode.

I fear that the season story is going to another Moffat tangle. I have no evidence for this, other than all his other seasons.

All that being said, I have recently completed an eight week round the world trip, I am mainly still on Singapore time and probably not thinking straight. So this could all be jetlag talking.

Also, I may have become so prejudiced about Moffat that he could write, direct and produce a combination of Citizen Kane, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the Usual Suspects, Only Fools and Horses and Blade Runner and I’d still complain about daleks.
Aug. 29th, 2014 08:49 pm (UTC)
I fear that the season story is going to another Moffat tangle. I have no evidence for this, other than all his other seasons.

Heh - but that is pretty strong evidence! I'm going to stay optimistic this time, but won't be expecting much from the next episode. Episode 2 of pretty much any New Who season ever has always been weak.
Sep. 1st, 2014 08:10 am (UTC)
Yeah – I think a large part of my mixed enjoyment of the programme is that I’m in a bad mood with Moffat for previous seasons but I can choose to let go of my own negativity and enjoy this season on it’s merits. Specifically, the monkey on my shoulder from how previous seasons have been over wrought is my monkey.

And actually, I quite enjoyed 8.02. I watched it with my four year old son on my lap. He was explaining garlicks to his mum and had a decent go at also explaining the nature of evil.
Sep. 1st, 2014 09:33 am (UTC)
Bless his soul! That sounds really cute. :-)

And yes, I very much know you mean about having a negativity hangover from previous seasons. I think the arrival of a new Doctor has helped me wipe that slate clean a bit, which is probably why I'm enjoying this season so much more than I have the last couple. But two episodes in, I also genuinely feel like the standard of writing and thought going into the programme has got better, too. Long may it last!
Sep. 1st, 2014 12:26 pm (UTC)
I think I’m finding a new Doctor helpful in that regard. Also, perhaps the extended break.

It does feel like the thinking is a bit more organised this season. I’m not noticing lots and lots of things that *might* be significant but might turn out to be red herrings or unresolved threads.

So, my fingers are crossed for the rest of the season. It feels a more organised, a bit pruned back.

It was cute. What I realised was that Capaldi is likely to be the Captain’s Doctor. The first Doctor that he remembers and watches as a Thing. Assuming Capaldi stays in post for 3 or 4 years. He quite like Doctor Who. He’s watched a few of the less scary episodes from previous seasons.
Sep. 1st, 2014 02:54 pm (UTC)
Capaldi is likely to be the Captain’s Doctor

Lucky kid! And I don't think Capaldi needs to stay much longer for that to be true. Tom Baker is 'my' Doctor on the same basis, even though he stepped down from the role when I was four and three-quarters.

I agree with your point about this season seeming more 'organised', too. There are some clear themes emerging which we can follow, which is good, but not so many potential pointers that it all seems like an overwhelming mess. Basically, it seems like Moffat has his eye properly on the ball again, and is exercising some editorial control.
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )

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