Sunday, 24 August 2014

Deep Breath

After a long break of around nine months, Doctor Who has returned! With a new Doctor in the vaguely praying mantis-like form of Peter Capaldi, we're ushering in a new era. Steven Moffat has promised a different direction for Calapdi's tenure: More consequences, more drama, more darkness. A feature length episode, Deep Breath ought to be a showcase of this new direction. A promise. A statement.

Definitely an episode of two halves, I'm still not sure what I think of Deep Breath. There are parts of it which work very well, and parts of it which I think weren't very good at all.

Lets start with the length: Too long. If I had to imagine what was was going on in Moffat's head, it's like he took on board criticism that most of Series 7 was rushed and poorly developed but over-compensated while rectifying it. So what we ended up with in Deep Breath was a story which could have fit into 45 to 60 minutes being stretched out to 80. The entire first half of the script is almost entirely fluff. It's supposed to be us getting to know the new Doctor, but we aren't: the post-regenerative stress goes on for far too long and we're getting to know how good an impression Capaldi does of Eleven (and a little bit about his eyebrows). Many early scenes are a lot longer than they need to be; the "I've seen this face before" scene being of particular note in this respect.  The first 40 minutes - up until the restaurant scene - can be truncated into about 20. Generously. 

While well-realised, I feel we could have coped without the dinosaur.
However, once we reach the restaurant, things pick up considerably. The plot starts kicking into gear, Capaldi finally gets the chance to play the Twelfth Doctor, and the dialogue stops being as cringey and self-congratulatory. It's here we start to see what Twelve is really capable of: analytical, manic, daring, and utterly ruthless. The scene where he simply abandons Clara with the droids without any help or advice is probably the most powerful in the episode. I don't care for Clara very much, but it's difficult to not feel the sense of betrayal and terror she was experiencing in the scenes where she's alone with the half-faced man.

The story goes from strength to strength as The Doctor makes his return, the Paternoster gang remind us they aren't totally useless, and we take off in a skin balloon. There's a quiet sense of menace from Twelve, having already demonstrated that he can't be predicted. The entire scene, Capaldi's cold rage in particular, is sizzling. While not a "Basically... Run." moment, the scenes in the flying restaurant are certainly the moment I was sold on Capaldi's performance.  The ambiguous death of the half-faced man allows his unpredictability to continue instead of being conveniently wrapped up in a few minutes. Personally I think Twelve killed him, but I hope we never find out for certain.

Good scene, but for once I find the comparison between The Doctor
and his foes more than a little forced...
To take a quick detour before we reach the denounment, Clara has developed a far stronger character in this story. Unfortunately, whether I like her personality is a bit touch-and-go. See, Clara is used to represent someone who may not be a "true" fan: Initially unsure of Twelve because he's not her 'boyfriend' any more (I still, and will always, refuse to acknowledge any romantic implications between The Doctor and Clara, or 'Whouffle"). Sure, she gets legitimate reasons later, but I still find her attitude towards him quite unpleasant. Especially considering that of all companions she should be the one most comfortable with the concept of regeneration.

Her new defining feature of egomaniac control freak has potential to be more than just the joke fodder it's used for in Deep Breath, and I look forward to how it plays against a wild card of a Doctor. Even if it is a bit of an easy flaw to give her. Special shoutout to her scene with the half-faced man. It's nice to see Clara's profession playing into her role as a companion and her retort of "never start with your final sanction" is clever to boot.

I don't believe it's possible to pass out from holding your breath but
damn is it easy to feel bad for Clara here!
Now that's out of the way, we can get back to plot, and something I (perhaps controversially) think should not have been in the episode: Matt Smith's cameo. It's done as a means to wrap up Clara's arc for the episode and lead her to be willing to continue as Twelve's companion. As earlier mentioned, Clara serves as an allegory for fans who are unsure of the new doctor, and Eleven is supposed to reassure us as an audience that everything will be fine. But this should have happened in The Time of The Doctor, not here. Placed where it is, Smith's cameo instead serves as a reminder of why you're going to miss him and that things are not going to be the same. In this sense, it is similar to Tennant's "farewell tour" and "I don't want to go" whimpering. Clara's uncertainty of The Doctor didn't need to be resolved any more than it already was, and it just serves as an unnecessary addendum after an already bloated story. I think it's poor form and we should have moved on from his era far more definitively by the end of the episode. 

To touch on the Paternoster gang, let it be known that I'm not a big fan. Oddly enough though, I found Strax pretty funny this time around - it was Vastra I took issue with. For some reason, she seems incapable of talking in anything other than cryptic riddles and her dialogue is jarring compared with the more naturalistic tone of the episode. Jenny is lovely though, we all like Jenny.

Another returning character? I've seen this courtyard before...
(It was in The Girl Who Waited and The Eternity Trap)
We also get a brief glimpse of 'Missy' (or The Gatekeeper) at the end. I'll reserve judgement until we see more of her, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned about her character. An intriguing glimpse into the arc, though. I'm hoping it will harken back to the self-contained, but still imposing, story arc in Series 5.

So to conclude... Deep Breath is an excellent episode except for the parts of it which aren't. Almost exactly half of it is a fair 8/10, while the other can get as low as a 3. Certainly a mixed bag of an episode, but I'm confident of Capaldi's performance of The Doctor and the way forward looks positive.