Whodunnit? The Fate of the Half-Face Man
Guest contributor Paddy O’Meara offers his thoughts on the ambiguous moment, then have your say by voting.
As the dust settles on “Deep Breath” a number of elements of the episode are being discussed and debated – but perhaps one of the most controversial is the death of the sinister Half-Face Man. I say perhaps controversial, because the scene itself is rather ambiguous and before we can ask what the scene means for the Doctor and the narrative, we must first ask what actually happened.
“I’ve got a horrible feeling I’m going to have to kill you.” – The Doctor
Capaldi’s line at the beginning of the scene seems to set the scene – the Doctor, pouring a drink for the condemned man while matter-of-factly stating his intention to kill him. Straight away, however, the focus of the dialogue shifts – and we see the Doctor try to connect with the human underneath the clockwork. He appears to be trying to convince Half-Face of the futility of his existence, and apparently trying to manipulate him into giving up or even killing himself (almost like a cross between the fates of Adelaide in The Waters of Mars and the Black Dalek in Remembrance of the Daleks).
“Self-destruction is against my basic programming.” – Half-Face
“Murder is against mine.” – The Doctor
This clearly sets the two characters in an impasse of principles – Half-Face cannot kill himself. The Doctor cannot commit murder. And yet, very soon, Half-Face finds himself impaled on the church spire. Did he jump, or was he pushed?
“You realise of course, one of us is lying about his basic programming.” – The Doctor
…and this is the question. We think we know the Doctor – but do we know this Doctor? We don’t know Half-Face that well, having only met him in this episode. Which character is “lying”?
We do of course know that the Doctor is capable of killing. Solomon the trader from 2012’s Dinosaurs on a Spaceship is just one of several examples, going as far back as Hartnell’s first story, where we are shown that the Doctor is prepared to take a life when he feels it is justified. On the surface, to a seasoned viewer, this seems like the simple explanation.
But then, Half-Face could be lying. In the preceding conversation the Doctor has used the broom analogy – so much replaced that nothing is left of the original. Perhaps Half-Face no longer has his “basic programming” and by introducing humanity he now has the capacity to commit suicide.
I would be remiss not to mention the third option – something else happened. Remember just after we see Half-Face on the spire – that quick shot of Capaldi looking down, and then looking directly into the camera? Who/what was he looking at? Was this a throwaway visual moment or a subtle plot hint to be revisited?
“I’ve made many mistakes.”
With this line towards the end of the episode it is perhaps unsurprising that a lot of fans seem to think the Doctor did indeed push Half-Face out of the balloon – and is expressing regret at his action. Assuming this is the case, what does this mean for the character – and was this the right decision on the part of Moffat?
In terms of our perception of the character, I do not believe it contradicts what we have seen before. The First Doctor was happy to stove a caveman’s head in with a rock rather than have the injured man slow him down. The Sixth Doctor killed on several occasions. The Seventh Doctor wiped out the entire planet Skaro, and its surrounding solar system. If we are to assume that the Twelfth Doctor killed Half-Face by pushing him to his death, then the scene preceding it gives us the justification – he knows that Half-Face doesn’t really want to carry on, but cannot kill himself, leaving the Doctor with no choice. We have seen from The Girl in the Fireplace that the Clockwork Droids do not stop plundering parts from living beings until they have achieved their goal, and with the mission of “reaching the promised land” how many countless others would suffer and die to provide components?
As to whether it is a good story choice, judgement perhaps should be reserved partially until we have seen how the plot point is tied up – the scene with Missy at the end seems to suggest we should expect this moment to be revisited in the finale. In the current context it is quite a shocking resolution to the story, but helps to cement the darker, fiercer Doctor we meet in this episode. By not actually seeing the Doctor commit the act, we are saved seeing our hero actually committing the deed – which younger viewers particularly might find difficult to understand.
My personal opinion, though – I don’t believe the answer is going to be as simple as that. All the signs point to this being something that Moffat will refer back to when tying together the arc of the series, and based on previous form I am going to guess that all is not what is seems. Maybe Half-Face jumped, or maybe the mysterious Missy (or “the woman in the shop”) intervened somehow to cause the droid to fall. At this stage we cannot tell how this question will be answered but it seems almost certain that one way or another we will find out what happened in that balloon.
If the Doctor did kill Half-Face, then it is not a great departure for the character. As long as the Doctor killing is depicted very infrequently and only as a last resort, it can add an extra weight to an episode and a scene by playing on our expectations of the character, and our feelings when the morality of the Doctor is shown in contrast to our own. I would certainly be uncomfortable if it became a regular thing for the Twelfth Doctor – but I have faith that for all the “darkness” we have been promised, Moffat will not allow Capaldi’s Doctor to be remembered as “the killer Doctor”. As a fan of Classic Who I doubt Capaldi would let his Doctor be portrayed this way either.
In summary then, there are more questions than answers in this scene – but it seems very likely we will have those answers by the time the credits roll on the Series 8 finale. Until then, we have a new mystery to ponder, new questions to ask and a new Doctor to watch while we ask them. What more can the fans ask for?
What do you think, did the Doctor kill Half-Face? Vote in the poll below: