Sunday, 24 August 2014

Doctor Who: Deep Breath

Doctor: 'You can't see me, can you? You look at me and you can't see me. You have any idea what that's like?'

It seems like centuries since we had our last full season of Doctor Who. With the last couple of episodes being so momentous in terms of the show's history, it feels nice to be back to normality again. Assuming you find a combustible dinosaur, a sword-fighting lizard, an organ-stealing cyborg, and a genital-bashing sonic screwdriver normal.

My biggest pre-season worry was whether Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman would have any on-screen chemistry whatsoever. During their promotional interviews, despite looking friendly, they didn't appear to share the same kind of easy-flowing, madcap camaraderie that Matt had with Karen and Arthur, or Tennant had with Piper and Tate. And, character-wise, the Doctor and Clara have grown close these past two years. How would their relationship be affected by a sudden change in both age and face?

I shouldn't have worried: I loved this episode! It fizzed with snappy dialogue, and had an energy, intelligence and focus that only a newly regenerated Doctor story could provide. A few times I found myself imagining Smith, Tennant and Eccleston delivering the same lines, and none delivered them so well. A few months ago, I really struggled to see Capaldi in this role. When an actor arrives with such a weighty résumé, it's hard to detach them from their previous roles, but Capaldi totally delivered. The synergy of script and performance had me spellbound for the full 80 minutes.

The pre-season trailers—as well as being downright awful at preparing us for tonight's episode with their 'Am I a good man?' and 'We're going into darkness' waffle—seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on the Doctor, when this was in fact a distinctly Clara-centric affair. I thought Jenna rose to the challenge of having her character scrutinised admirably. I loved seeing her sticking it to Madame Vastra. It was never about her chasing someone younger, it was about losing a friend, and her inability to understand exactly where he'd gone.

Obviously Clara's memories as The Impossible Girl are fragmentary now. She really needed that phone call from Eleven. She needed to be told that it was okay to like the new Doctor. She needed to understand that her Doctor was still there and had been all along. After a season of wondering who Clara is, Moffat really needed to establish her as a viable present-day companion, and I think he succeeded. It's just a shame she'll be leaving at the end of the year. (If the rumours are true.) Still, it wouldn't be Christmas without us all sobbing into our tins of Quality Street. (Other chocolates are available... but the tins aren't quite as useful.) 

I loved when Clara accused the Doctor of eavesdropping, and he responded with 'I'm not on the phone, I'm right here. Standing right in front of you. Please, just see me'. It illustrated perfectly the Doctor's inner turmoil. We haven't had a decent traipse through regeneration-from-the-Doctor's-perspective-territory in a while now, so I like that Moffat took the time to show things from a different angle. He acknowledged the Doctor's fear of transformation—the pain of looking a loved one in the eye and seeing no recognition, no familiarity, no love.

Despite the numerous security leaks which have plagued the show this year (stolen scripts/incomplete episodes becoming available online, etc.), I'm pleased that I managed to remain unspoiled. Matt turning up at the end was as much a surprise to me as it was to Clara. It's touches like this which make an episode. Some have complained that it felt like unnecessary closure, but for me it was the handing over of the baton. Not only has Matt Smith been gushing with praise for Capaldi in recent interviews, I love that he was able to give him an in-character recommendation, too.

Having the Paternoster Gang there to greet the new Doctor felt like the perfect way of easing us into the new series, of mixing the familiar with the unfamiliar. Jenny and Madame Vastra were a soothing presence amidst the Doctor's post-regeneration madness, and Strax appears to have lost none of his irreverent charm. I don't think I've laughed at an episode so much since season four. I'm also getting strong Ten/Donna vibes from Clara and the new Doctor. If their verbal interactions reach anywhere near the comedy heights of their predecessors, I'll be happy.

What are we to make of the numerous questions the episode left hanging? Who put that advert in the newspaper? Who gave Clara the Doctor's number? (We're going back over a year and a half with that one.) Why did the TARDIS miss Clara's home and end up in Glasgow? Presumably we were meant to make the connection between the Half-Face man and the clockwork creatures in 'The Girl in the Fireplace'—they did mention the SS Madame de Pompadour after all (sister ship to the SS Marie Antoinette)—but who is Missy and what was that heavenly coda all about?

More importantly, was the Half-Faced Man pushed or did he jump? If the former—and the Doctor's face immediately after his death did look somewhat akin to a puppy sat next to a pile of poo—then what does this mean for the Doctor? Did he break his programming? Is this the darkness they've been promising? Or is there something far deeper going on that we're not yet privy to?

Other Thoughts:

—When I first saw the dinosaur I thought 'Oh crap, not another 'Dinosaurs on a Spaceship''. Thankfully, it was so much more.

—I'm so pleased they allowed Capaldi to keep his Scottish accent. It provided the ideal opportunity for Neve McIntosh to speak in her native tongue, too.

—The Doctor finding his new face familiar appears to be the beginning of an attempt to explain why he bears such a striking resemblance to Lucius Caecilius from 'The Fires of Pompeii'. Is that why some of the cyborg's inner workings looked Roman?

—I love that they're carrying on the time-honoured tradition of taking the piss out of the Doctor's facial characteristics. Capaldi has some magnificent brows. I'm sure ears, chinny, gravelly voice and Dick Van Dyke would approve.

—I'm not sure I like the new titles. Maybe they'll grow on me.

—A same-sex multi-species kiss disguised as a life-saving procedure and the gratuitous exploitation of the female form by a lizard? I think I just heard tumblr explode.

—The tramp was played by the late Elizabeth Sladen's husband, Brian Miller.

Quotes:

Doctor: 'Don't look in that mirror, it's absolutely furious.'

Strax: 'Military tactics. The Doctor is still missing, but he will always come looking for his box. By bringing it here, he will be lured from the dangers of London to this place of safety, and we will melt him with acid.'
Clara: 'Okay. That last part?'
Strax: 'And we will not melt him with acid. Old habits.'

Doctor: 'I need clothes, that's what I need. And a big long scarf. No, I moved on from that. It looked stupid.'

Doctor: 'It's at times like this when I miss Amy.'
Clara: 'Who?'
Doctor: 'Nothing.'

Clara: 'Sorry, did I hit something.'
Doctor: 'Oh, the symbolism.'

Doctor: 'Hello, hello, rubbish robots from the dawn of time.'

Doctor: 'This is your power source, and feeble though it is, I can use it to blow this whole room if I see one thing that I don't like. And that includes karaoke and mime, so take no chances.'

Clara: 'You've redecorated.'
Doctor: 'Yes.'
Clara: 'I don't like it.'
Doctor: 'I'm not entirely convinced myself. I think there should be more round things on the walls. I used to have a lot of round things. I wonder where I put them.'

Doctor: 'Will you help me?'
Clara: 'You shouldn't have been listening.'
Doctor: 'I wasn't, I didn't need to, that was me talking. You can't see me can you? You look at me and you can't see me. Have you any idea what that's like? I'm not on the phone, I'm right here. Standing right in front of you. Please, just see me.'

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