2nd Opinion: Deep Breath
David Selby and John Hussey both give their own verdict on the Series 8 opener.
Time, in most senses, remains at the heart of Doctor Who – and not just conceptually. The first episode of this new series employed time as a palpable leitmotif, present in both poetic themes and periphery atmospherics: upon arrival, the new Doctor is accompanied by a soundtrack amid which can be heard the workings of clockwork; he then passes out, presenting us with a brand new clock-face title sequence. Soon after, the Doctor sells his watch; he’s introduced to the antagonist of the week, a clockwork droid whose appearance has evolved over time, and any methods of escape – holding your breath, not blinking – are eventually conquered by the passing of time. Time has both a constructive and damaging effect on characters and events. Time, from many perspectives, embodies change; the change which fuels a revitalized series and a number of frustrated characters.
Continuing to address time: in a more literal, real-life context, Deep Breath is largely enriched by an extended run-time. At times, especially during the first half, the pacing has a minor habit of dropping. But on consideration, I’d far rather an episode that’s on the mere cusp of lethargy than the likes of what we were served in Series Seven; slapdash scripts full of wasted ideas. Deep Breath, at the least, welcomes a number of ideas and serves them each appropriate justice. Or, if it doesn’t, it warrants future stories the ability to do so. The only worry for future stories now is whether they’ll continue to impress with the ludicrous slot of forty-five minutes. I’m not questioning Moffat’s storytelling, but whether such a short space of time would really do it justice.
The ‘Half-Faced Man’ almost resembles in concept, appropriately for the era, the creature from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: “His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful!–Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips”. More fascinatingly, it would only seem to be a clichéd antagonist if judged superficially. Typically with such creatures, they represent dehumanisation: take Auntie and Uncle from The Doctor’s Wife. They’re repaired so frequently that all that was human about them is lost, drained to the extent where they even lose their primal fear of death. The Half-Faced Man signifies, you could say, a failed humanisation: a robot which has made itself human, half-able to appreciate the beauty of the world, but half-cursed to a wretched existence pursuing an ostensibly pointless cause. It is also easy to draw parallels between the Half-Faced Man and the Doctor. Both are different men to who they once were; both as unknown to themselves as to others. I found the reflection scene a particularly effective method of conveying this.
Whilst I’ve never hated them, I was admittedly surprised at the use of the Paternoster Gang in this episode. It seems that they’re being taken more seriously at last. Both Vastra and Jenny seem like tangible, multifaceted personalities rather than just gimmicks; even their relationship comes across as something worth investing in, instead of just a statement. I remain unsure about Strax. The comedic moments are undeniably hilarious but can be quite jarring in certain contexts (for example, Vastra and Jenny’s dramatic entrance). His willingness to kill himself to save his friends, however, goes to show how far he’s come as a character, and I hope to see his loyalties challenged in future episodes. As different characters, they provide an alien perspective on regeneration; particularly Vastra, who gelled well with Clara, though it was a shame that Jenny and Clara didn’t get more screen-time together. Deep Breath is easily one of Clara’s finest outings. She’s genuinely alone, trapped in an unfamiliar world with a man she no longer knows.
Skipping ahead, there’ll no doubt be controversy surrounding the phone-call scene. I for one loved it. The Time of the Doctor didn’t deliver a definite farewell between Eleven and Clara, so a duologue was fulfilling. It’s also a reminder for the audience that the Doctor we now know is the same man. Capaldi is brilliant – harsh, unpredictable, and often terrifying. And, of course, unable to express himself in the way that previously charismatic incarnations were able to. It takes Eleven’s convincing way with words to win Clara over, but it’s not remotely detrimental to the man that Twelve is.
Of all new additions to the show, one of my favourites is a renewed sense of uncertainty. The Doctor believes the Half-Faced Man is chasing a fictional place, yet the Promised Land is revealed to be real after all. The Half-Faced Man dies, but how remains ambiguous: did he fall, jump, or was he pushed? Even the exact circumstances by which the Doctor acquires the tramp’s coat are left for the viewer to decide. It brings a darker edge to the show. ‘Dark’ doesn’t necessarily mean explicit. Often the implied are more thought-provokingly unsettling than what we blatantly see.
The Promised Land seems like a fascinating arc. I personally hope that Missy hasn’t been in a relationship with the Doctor. After River Song and arguably Clara Oswald and Tasha Lem, it would seem repetitive for the main actor to have an underlying sexual chemistry with another. I’d rather think that Missy is an unhinged woman who fantasises over the Doctor (“Because he loves me… so much”), even though they’ve never actually met. Perhaps, as the Gatekeeper of Heaven, she’s been unable to keep a hold on the Doctor who continuously evades death. I would also speculate that ‘Paradise’ isn’t quite as idyllic as it’s made out to be. If the show really is going ‘darker’, then surely a corruption of heaven itself would be the ultimate twist of the series.
Whilst superlative, Deep Breath wasn’t perfect. The dinosaur makes for a gripping opening and a poignant scene posthumously, but it raises too many questions to be taken seriously. How was it pulled forward through time by the TARDIS? And why didn’t it go down in history? We’d only just got rid of the Cyberking. Thankfully, there weren’t any production slip-ups. Ben Wheatley’s disconcerting direction was noteworthy and Murray Gold’s soundtrack was stirring without being intrusive.
Deep Breath was a success. It may not have had the fast pace or originality of Smith’s debut, but it coped well on its own as something which provided an insightful new vision of what it means to quite literally become a new man.
Doctor Who is back people. And I can say with confidence that it’s better than ever. Peter Capaldi got one hell of an opening as the Doctor and it would seem his journey has just begun.
‘Deep Breath’ hit everything right I think and really went about to demonstrate what Capaldi could do as the Doctor. We saw different emotions out of him from comedic moments of him ranting over the purpose of a bedroom, all the way to other spectrum of his darker side eagerly persuading his foe to choose defeat through self-destruction.
Of course the Twelfth Doctor started off mad, being all over the place and unable to fully function his mind. This transition opened intriguing doors of discovery that we went through with the newly regenerated Doctor. We had him coming to terms with being Scottish and of course him finally pondering on the faces he randomly gets given. It poses the question of whether they are random faces.
During this period of recovery we saw that Clara wasn’t very accepting. Having had time to come to terms with her unlikely responses I can at the very least now show some understanding towards it. My Cultfix review did jump to conclusions over her characteristics but I still hold my ground over what I said. Some of her responses were just harsh and selfish.
The idea that her Doctor was gone meant that the man in front of her was no longer the same person. Yes I can understand that she would be broken because of this. Her best friend was gone and will never come back but she doesn’t really give the new Doctor a chance to explain himself, nor express the fact he was still the same man.
Also her comments over his age were just plain silly. Clara of all people should know that the Doctor isn’t a young man but an alien who walks amongst eternity. Some of her reactions were truly understandable but I still can’t help but feel it was sometimes over the top. It was as if her dialogue was written for a character that was totally unaware of regeneration but Clara was well acquainted to this procedure by that point.
The fact that Madame Vastra had to step in and basically give her a good slap through her brilliant dialogue and the comparison with her using her veil to rid away the ignorance of humanity just made the entire ordeal all the more infuriating. I just assumed Clara would’ve taken this a lot better but instead fell flat as a character and as a friend and almost completely abandoned the Doctor through blind thinking.
Speaking of Madame Vastra, I found her, Jenny and Strax were once again used wisely and helped to get Capaldi onto his feet. They at all times helped to reassure the viewer that the Doctor was still the same man along with helping to move the story forward. They all once again proved that their individual values as characters each bring something to the stories they appear in, with Strax most notable for being a clown.
The return of the Clockwork Droids was an interesting choice by Moffat. They weren’t exactly the most memorable foe in my eyes and certainly didn’t stand out within Moffat’s line of original creations. But alas Moffat proved that they could easily be incorporated into a second story with ease and better still received further development.
These secondary Droids were revamped to share a sort of steam-punk style design and became even more sinister and scary than the originals. The idea of them murdering innocent people and harvesting them for spare parts for themselves and their ship was just disturbing. The Half-Face Man showcased as a cold and totally inhuman villain. All of his scenes left you feeling uneasy just by his mere appearance.
The clever part of the story was the idea of hiding from them through holding your breath. That alone created some tense and torturous scenes which forced Clara to undergo a lonesome ordeal which was painful to watch. The mere thought of holding your breath in a life and death situation is just cruel. Moffat has once again used an everyday thing and turned it on its head in a horrific way which makes his writing all the more exciting and clever.
The Twelfth Doctor showcased that he could be a truly alien and dark Doctor. He abandoned poor Clara without any true remorse and later attempted to force the Half-Face Man to go against its basic programming by killing itself. The end result left you with an ambiguous scene, leaving you wondering whether or not the Twelfth Doctor actually did push the creature out of the craft. I myself am in favour of saying he did do it.
The theme of the episode was really all about accepting Peter Capaldi as the Doctor and this somewhat explains Clara’s behaviour throughout. In some ways she’s speaking on behalf of undecided fans who might not have liked the idea of an older Doctor. The plot attempted very carefully through its actions and dialogue to persuade both Clara and them that Capaldi is everything Matt Smith was and more.
The Eleventh Doctor himself even came back to bring assurance that the new Doctor is still the Doctor and that he himself is giving the thumbs up. By that point everyone, including Clara, is made aware of this story point and the Twelfth Doctor is completely accepted.
I believe ‘Deep Breath’ proved as a success and really brought about the ideas of how the show will run now and of course on what to expect from the brilliant Peter Capaldi. He was bold, fierce and totally unpredictable within the role. It left you totally intrigued with his character and wanting to know how his incarnation would continue to progress.