New Who Review – “Deep Breath”
See, I told you he was good.
Peter Capaldi is off and flying in the role he’s been practicing for since he was four years old. The Paternoster gang is here to cushion the blow of the wild turns in tone and character, there’s a well-hidden piece of chalk, and a dinosaur explodes.
Mind your handles, watch the spoilers and take a…
By Steven Moffat
Directed by Ben Wheatley
So, there’s this dinosaur in Victorian London. The Paternoster Gang appear to investigate, and are only slightly surprised to learn that The Doctor is involved, by dint of watching said dinosaur cough the TARDIS up like Elizabeth Taylor hocking up a chicken bone. The Doctor has regenerated, and as is traditional after sais process, his mental faculties, including the ability to pilot his time capsule, are a bit dodgy. He exits both the ship and consciousness in rapid succession, and is taken back to Madame Vastra’s house.
While Clara worries about The Doctor, and wonders if he can be made better (a word which here means “young again”), we discover that a very odd-looking man has been killing people in London and covering up the murders by immolating the victims. His actions grow to a grand scale when the aforementioned Jurassic castaway is destroyed for a bit of the material in its optic nerve. The Doctor and Clara meet up at a very mysterious restaurant, not for what it serves, but for what it does – namely, collect customers for more parts.
The mysterious gentleman and his clanking compatriots are from a ship lost in time, crashed millions of year ago, and using any and all materials it could find, a scenario that The Doctor finds tantalizingly familiar. He is forced to engage in physical combat to either destroy the main droid, or convince it to destroy itself, to save the lives of The Doctor’s friends, and presumably the lives of any future victims. The outcome is left debatably vague, and The Doctor is finally able to convince his companion Clara of his trustworthiness with the help of a well-placed phone call.
Moffat deliberately went with a more “horrific” opening story as opposed to the more light-hearted openers, partially because he claims that kids prefer the scary stories, and partly of his desire to break a lot of the rules this season, and give everything a good jumble from soup to nuts. Capaldi grabbed onto the role with both hands and steers capably through the adventure with style, humor and general aplomb. While it’s fun to see Madame Vastra and her merry band again, I fear we may have hit their saturation point. With appearances in three out of the last six adventures (admittedly spanning over a year in time), they’ve been seen too often, and need, I think, a long rest. (Though a crossover with Jago and Litefoot may occur at any time, AFAIC) Clara gets a good, but yet another speech about how awesome The Doctor is, and how we should all love him, and my isn’t she awfully emotional about him for someone who seems to keep him at a huffy arm’s length the rest of the time. She’s a very good character, and it’s fun to hear her be contentious with him, but WOW these speeches are a bit heavy-handed. but all told it’s a rollicking story that his on all cylinders. Having gotten to see this live with the fans at the Ziegfeld last week as part of the World Tour, each moment played perfectly, most notably (and audibly) when he reveals the callback to the past episode this episode connects to, not to mention the Special Guest Star right at the end. Hate him all you like, but he can write the bejabbers out of a script.
THE MONSTER FILES – While you’re not supposed to realize it’s them until the moment he drops the penny, The Clockwork Droids are actually a returning baddie, reappearing from Moffat’s first script from the new series, The Girl in the Fireplace. In both cases the ships have malfunctioned, and the maintenance droids have taken to (literally) cannibalizing parts – in this case, biologic ones from the human crew, and eventually, anyone else who crawls in between the patented pans happens to enter their jurisdiction. In the case of the latest example, the droids themselves have also needed repairing.
Considering how popular dinosaurs are, it’s always a bit surprising how infrequently they’ve appeared on Doctor Who. Jon Pertwee faced The Invasion of the Dinosaurs back in season 11, and it wasn’t until last year we got to see Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. Needless to say, the quality of the special effects have increased since 1974, which may also have contributed to the long wait.
GUEST STAR REPORT We see the return of Neve McIntosh as Madame Vastra, Catrin Stewart as Jenny Flint, and Dan Starkey as Mr. Potato Head Strax, but one guest this episode deserves special mention…
Brian Miller (Barney) The helpful tramp who offers The Doctor advice and a coat is played by Brian Miller, who, as well as appearing several times in both the new and old series, is the widower of Elisabeth Sladen, better and ever known as dear sweet Sarah Jane Smith.
Matt Smith (The Doctor) – Well technically, he is a guest. It’s presumed Matt filmed his scene during the filming of his last episode, The Time of the Doctor. It was set up perfectly in that story where, as saw in the flashback, Clara notices the TARDIS’ phone is off the hook (he never got around to re-routing it to the internal phone, apparently) and hangs it up before entering and seeing him regenerate.
BACKGROUND BITS AND BOBS – Trivia and production details
CREDITS WHERE CREDITS ARE DUE – As was rumored and reported back in June, The new opening credits are based on a fan-produced sequence by Billy Hanshaw. Steven Moffat has described it as “the only new title idea I’d seen since 1963” and reached out to Hanshaw for permission, and credit. Moffat has been very laudatory to the creativity of the fans in connection to the series, citing Hanshaw’s contribution in particular. He’s noted how unique he feels the show is in that it inspires almost every person who watches it to create, to make their own version of the characters. One could say that’s true of almost every Sci-Fi show out there, but we know what he means.
The new theme is at once both more orchestral and more electronic, a step back from the bombastic, almost brass band militaristic tone of the previous series’ theme. It’s softer, closer to the McCoy theme than the Davison / Colin Baker version, and quite nice to listen to.
“Sleepy…Bashful, Sneezy” – Starting with Tom Baker, The Doctor’s regeneration is traditionally met with a period of mild daffiness, usually typified with getting people’s names wrong and (as we’ll see in a bit) momentary flashbacks to past regenerations. Baker famously mistook the Brigadier for Hannibal.
“Well, here we go again…” – This line, in reference to The Doctor’s regeneration, was also said by Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart as Jon Pertwee transformed into Tom Baker at the end of Planet of the Spiders, and repeated at the beginning of Baker’s first story, Robot.
“I am alone” – there’s a great number of parallels running through the episode. Clara believes The Doctor is sleep-translating the dinosaur’s wailing, but he could just have easily have simply been talking in his sleep. We hear him make the same comment about the air “biting” him later when he’s running about in the cold. At the end of the episode, The Doctor asks that Clara simply “See him”, calling back to what he says here about nobody “seeing”…the ancient beast dropped into a new world…?
“I wear a veil as he wore a face?” – Similarly, Vastra’s speech about The Doctor’s veil having lifted when he regenerated is paralleled physically with her own veil vanishing when Clara “stopped seeing it”, that is, when she stopped considering Vastra’s appearance and spoke her person to person, or if you want to take it deeper, woman to woman.
“Not real of course…” – There’s been lots of examples of impossible sights in Earth’s past, and very few examples of them being mentioned or even remembered in modern day. Alf’s Clever Theory of the giant dinosaur is more often than not why – people are very good at figuring out why things they see that upset them can be discounted.
“Sorry…I’m so sorry” – Tennant said that a LOT to people when things went off the rails. Also notice that Clara says it to The Doctor near the end of the episode when she thinks she won’t be able to help him.
“Planet of the Pudding Brains” – For a moment, Capaldi’s Doctor has the same low opinion of Humans that Eccleston’s did quite often, interspersed with the highest of praise for them to others. This is the first look at the new Doctor’s harder outlook, being a bit more detached than Smith and Tennant were.
“…and a big long scarf…” – As I said, momentary references to past Doctors.
“These are attack eyebrows” – Peter’s first appearance as The Doctor was no more than a closeup of her eyebrows, and they rapidly became a meme. So there’s no surprise that he’d make a point
“An ancient spaceship, probably buried for centuries” – One of at least three in the London area in the new series alone. In addition to this one, there’s the Zygon ship buried under the Savoy Hotel from The Power of Three, and the Cybership buried under the department store in Closing Time. You have to wonder how badly damaged each one was that they never seem to have picked up each other on their scanners
“How long can you hold your breath?” – One of Moffat’s most impressive tricks is taking something commonplace and perhaps only a little unsettling and making it drop-dead terrifying. Darkness, statues, the thing under the bed, and here, the simple act of holding one’s breath. Clara has to make her way through a long hall of droids without breathing, and that’s a VERY long scene. There’s a great Hong Kong action flick called Mister Vampire that uses the same gag – the Chinese Vampires are blind, and can only sense living being by breating, so there’s a lot of
“Your friend is intelligent, he’ll no better than to follow me” – Clearly he doesn’t know The Doctor. This elevator is a callback to something Russell T Davies tried to do a lot – make chases happen vertically instead of horizontally. There’s a great deal of The Doctor and his friends shooting up and down elevator shafts and levitation corridors in earlier series. It was a way of making a chase or an escape seem a bit different. Also notice that this time he DOES leave his Sonic screwdriver behind, as this time he thinks Clara may need it.
“You take a broom…” – This is another version of what’s known as the “Ship of Theseus” paradox. The idea is, if you replace all of parts of a device or object, it it still the “same” object? Terry Pratchett once used it in The Fifth Elephant as a dwarf presents his Grandfather’s axe – he’s had to replace the handle, the axe head, most of the jewels, “But it’s still my Grandfather’s axe”. It’s a discussion of the inherent THINGNESS of the thing. As the next line drives home – there’s a new guy playing the role, every atom of The Doctor’s body has been destroyed and replaced…and he’s still The Doctor.
You’ve redecorated…I don’t like it” – I think this may have to be reclassified from clever reference to running joke. It’s been said by Patrick Troughton twice; once in The Three Doctors (the tenth anniversary episode) about the TARDIS, and again in The Five Doctors (The twentieth anniversary episode) about The Brigadier’s office. Matt Smith said it about Craig Owens’ flat in “Closing Time”, and David Tennant said it about the TARDIS again in The Day of the Doctor (the fiftieth anniv…oh, you know.)
BIG BAD WOLF REPORT – They’ve jumped out of the gate with three parallel threads which may or may not have connections to each other:
“Have you seen this face before?” As everyone knows, Peter Capaldi has been on Who twice before, once in Fires of Pompeii and in another role on Torchwood: Children of Earth. He’s not even the first Time lord to appear as another character; both Colin Baker and Lalla Ward played other roles on the show before they came back in major ones. Steven Moffat claims that former showrunner Russell T Davies had a clever theory to explain how The Doctor came to look like a Gallifreyan guard, and after Capaldi was cast, he said the theory still held. This is not the first time they’ve referenced the same actor playing two roles – The Doctor noticed that Gwen Cooper was the spitting image of a maid he and Rose had met back in Cardiff when he met Charles Dickens. But here we’re getting the suggestion that The Doctor may have some sense of control over the faces he “chooses”, tho not nearly as much at Romana had. In Paul McGann’s return to the role, he was offered an elixir that allowed him to “choose his form”, which may or may not connect to what we’re seeing here. Moffat has promised that anything he mentions here will be subtle, but you know what we says about Moffat and his prevaricational predilections…
“Someone is keen to keep us together” back in The Bells of St. John, Clara claimed “the woman at the shop” gave her the phone number to the TARDIS, saying it was a help line, which was not, from a certain point of view, a lie. Similarly, the mysterious message in the newspaper that got The Doctor and Clara back together turned out to have come from an unknown third party. While they may not have come from the same party, the Doctor’s prevailing theory is that they are.
Missy, Queen of Heaven – Or as she was referred to in previous reports, “Guardian of the Nethersphere”, Missy appears at the end of the episode to welcome the nearly human Clockwork droid to “Paradise”. She’s clearly a bit mad, and dressed in a wild mix of old and new – not many Victorian nannies wore studded leather bracelets. Thanks to the all-invasive nature of the Internet, we already know more than a couple details about the finale of the season, and while I’ll not divulge them all, we know that Missy appears in some capacity. So if she’s not that actual Big Bad, she’s working with or for them.
NEXT TIME ON DOCTOR WHO – A Dalek is a wee tank that hates you. But what if something happened to one…and it didn’t hate anymore? Do you encourage it, or kill it anyway? The Doctor must make that decision when he goes Into the Dalek in seven says.