Monday, August 25, 2014

Doctor Who Season 8, Episode 1: Deep Breath

• Huzzah! After a long, long, long absence, Doctor Who is finally back!

I've whined about it many times before, but Jesus, I hate these interminable breaks between seasons. Season 7 of Doctor Who ended in May of 2013. May! Yes, we got the 50th Anniversary Special and the Christmas Special in November and December, but still, there hasn't been a regular episode in 15 months. You could carry a child to term in that length of time and it would be six months old and sitting up by itself by now! 

I don't pretend to know exactly how the BBC works, but I do know that that's just way too long between seasons. It seems like the Beeb is running the very real risk of the audience losing interest in the show as they find better uses for their time in the long void between episodes.

I doubt there's any good solution to the problem– you've only got 12 episodes and there're 52 weeks in a year– but they need to address it somehow.


The Plot: 
In Victorian London, the Paternoster Gang is investigating a gigantic dinosaur that appears near the Thames, when it suddenly coughs up the TARDIS. The newly regenerated and disoriented Doctor steps out of it. Before the dinosaur can be returned to its proper time, it bursts into flames. The Doctor wonders if there've been other instances of spontaneous combustion in the area. A surprised Madame Vastra says yes, there have been.

The Doctor eventually discovers that Clockwork Men from the 51st Century are responsible for the fiery deaths, as they harvest human organs from people– to replace their own faulty parts– and then burn the evidence.

Meanwhile, Clara struggles to accept the Doctor's new appearance and personality.

• We've got a brand new Doctor! Peter Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor had a wee cameo in the 50th Anniversary Special, and we saw him for less than a minute in the Christmas Special, so this is our best look yet at him.

So far I like what I see of Twelve. He's got the cantankerous and curmudgeonly attitude of some of the early Doctors, especially the First one.

The Tenth and Eleventh Doctors were both seen as heartthrobs, and had legions of female fans devoted to them. I'm curious to see how that demographic is going to react to a Doctor played by an actor old enough to be a grandfather.

• Clara spends a good amount of the episode being confused by the Doctor's new appearance. She wonders how his face can be lined and his hair gray when "he's just now got them."

It's a fair question. I know we've had mature Doctors in the past, but it's something I've always wondered about. When the Doctor regenerates, one would think that he'd end up looking younger than he was, not older, right? I know I'd feel gypped if I exchanged my current body for an even older model!

• Not only do we have a new Doctor, but a new title sequence as well! The new opening was based on a concept created by Doctor Who fan Billy Hanshaw from Leeds. His video went viral shortly after he uploaded it and caught the eye of show runner Stephen Moffat. He liked it so much he used the concept as the new opening, with a few tweaks. Hopefully Hanshaw was paid for his work. Or offered a job!

I love the new sequence, but after seeing them both, I think I like Hanshaw's original a bit more. The music I don't like quite as much– it's a bit too shrill for my tastes, but I suppose I'll get used to it.

• The Post-Regeneration Episode is possibly my least favorite thing about Doctor Who. Every time the Doctor regenerates, he generally spends the majority of his first episode disoriented and babbling 
until he gets his bearings in the third act and his new personality takes hold. The Tenth Doctor even spent three fourths of his first episode asleep in bed!

I am not a fan of this trope. When a new actor steps into the role, I want to see what he's going to be like now, in his first episode. It's a tradition at this point and unlikely to ever change, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

• Despite what Madame Vastra says, no dinosaur was ever as tall as Big Ben (316 feet!). It's the same reason why Godzilla could never exist in reality– a life form that enormous would collapse into a pile of steaming meat the first time it so much as took a step.

• So now the population of Victorian London has witnessed a gigantic dinosaur AND the massive Cyber King. Funny how there doesn't seem to be a historical record of these events...

• When the Doctor passes out on the banks of the Thames, we hear a loud gong from the TARDIS cloister bell, which was a nice touch. The bell only sounds during times of extreme peril.

• When Madame Vastra realizes this mysterious older man is the newly regenerated Doctor, she says, "Well then. Here we go again."

Wayyyyyy back in 1974 the Brigadier said the exact same thing when the Third Doctor regenerated into the Fourth.

• Madame Vastra's exploits seem to closely parallel those of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. At one point she says, "The game is afoot!" which of course was one of Holmes' catchphrases. 

She also mentions that the Paternoster Irregulars are out scouring the city for information. Holmes had a band of youths who helped him search London for clues, called the Baker Street Irregulars.

• Wondering why Vastra and her associates are called the Paternoster Gang? They're named after Paternoster Row, the street on which their headquarters are (was?) located. Paternoster, by the way, is another name for the Lord's Prayer (!).

• C'mon, BBC! Give the Paternoster Gang their own spin-off show already! If Torchwood can get its own series, surely Vastra and Co. deserve one.

• Stephen Moffat's plots are generally ridiculously convoluted and collapse if you think about them for even five seconds (I'm lookin' at you, The Angels Take Manhattan). Credit where credit's due: this is one of his more coherent plot lines.

• Moffat's plots and monsters very often involve the suppression of a bodily function in order to survive. For example, in Blink, one had to refrain from blinking to keep the Weeping Angels at bay. Here Clara had to hold her breath to escape the clockwork cyborgs (hence the title).

• This week's villain is the Half-Face Man, who is just that– a cyborg with a face that's half human, half exposed machinery (and a very good effect it is, too!). Yet somehow he walks the streets of Victorian London without ever calling attention to himself.

Late in the episode we find he's built a freakin' hot air balloon out of human skin (ew...), but apparently he couldn't spare a handkerchief-sized piece to cover the gaping hole in his face. Priorities!

By the way, something I learned the hard way while gathering photos for this review– do yourself a favor and do NOT ever google "half-face man."

• The Half-Face Man and his cyborg cronies are cousins of the Clockwork Men from The Girl In The Fireplace (which was also written by Moffat).

• The Doctor says, "
I need, um, I need clothes. That's what I need. And a big long scarf. No. I've moved on from that. Looks stupid."

An affectionate shout out from Moffat to Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor? Or a big middle finger to fans of the old series? You decide.

• Way back in episode The Fires Of Pompeii, Peter Capaldi played Caecilius Iucundus, a Roman citizen threatened by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. This is nothing new; actors play multiple roles in TV series all the time. In fact Karen Gillan, otherwise known as Amy Pond, also had a small part in The Fires Of Pompeii. And Colin Baker guest starred in an episode before he became the Sixth Doctor.

Despite the fact that absolutely no one in the audience is bothered by this, Moffat is bound and determined to explain why the Doctor has the same face as someone in ancient Rome. The Doctor apparently believes he chose this face during his regeneration for a reason, and is sending himself some sort of subconscious message.

This is an issue that doesn't need to be addressed. By trying to explain it, Moffat is only calling undue attention to it. Next he'll be trying to explain why the Doctor just happens to have an adventure at the same time every week, or why we see him clearly framed on the screen when he speaks, as if a camera is being focused on him.

• Favorite bits from the episode:

Inspector Gregson: It's just laid an egg. 
Madame Vastra: It dropped a blue box marked “Police” out of its mouth. Your grasp of biology troubles me.


The Doctor: So you've got a whole room for not being awake in? But what's the point? You're just wasting the room. And don't look in that mirror. It's absolutely furious!


Strax: Ah! Miss Clara. You look better now you're up.
Clara: Thank you Strax.
Strax: Oh. Sorry. Trick of the light. You still look terrible.


Clara: (after an elaborate routine to activate the sonic screwdriver while incapacitated) You should make that thing voice-activated. 

The Doctor: (silent)
Clara: Oh for God's sake it is, isn't it?
The Doctor: I don't want to talk about it. 

• The Doctor confronts the Half-Face Man and tells him that he has to die. The Doctor says it's against his programming to murder (unless it's the Time War!), and the Half-Face Man says it's against his programming to self-terminate.

Somehow the Half-Face Man ends up impaled on a building's spire. So how'd he die? Was he pushed or did he jump? We may never find out.

• At the end of the episode, a prim and proper Victorian woman named Missy welcomes the Half-Face Man to "the promised land." She seems to know everything about the Doctor, and even suggests he's her boyfriend. 

We also find out that she was the woman in the shop who gave Clara the Doctor's number in last season's The Bells Of St. John, and in this episode she's the one who placed the ad in the newspaper that brought Clara and the Doctor together.

So who's Missy? She better not be River Flippin' Song. This is a Stephen Moffat episode though, and he's been in love with the character ever since he created her, so odds are high. I hope not though. Could she be the Rani? Possibly, but I'm hopeful she's someone new.

• At the end of the episode Clara enters the TARDIS and says, "You've redecorated!" At first I wondered why she said that, as the interior looked the same as it has since the 2012 Christmas Special. On closer inspection I see that there are a few changes. The lighting is a big warmer and it appears the Doctor's added a couple of bookcases into the walls.

• Clara receives a time-travelling message from the Eleventh Doctor, telling her that Twelve will need her help. It was nice to see Matt Smith as the Doctor one last time.

• The Doctor tells Clara that he's not her boyfriend. She says, "I never thought you were," to which he replies, "I never said it was your mistake."

This is apparently Moffat's way of telling us that we're going back to the old days of the show, when the Doctor and his female companions were nothing more than acquaintances. Good! I was getting a bit tired of the Doctor constantly mooning over Rose and Amy.

• The Doctor then shows off his new duds, including his dark blue Crombie coat with a bright red lining. So far just about every publicity photo of this new Doctor has shown him with the coat flung wide open to expose the lining. I will admit it adds a much-needed touch of color to his ensemble, but why not just give him a small red scarf, instead of having him constantly walk around with his coat awkwardly splayed open.

I learned a surprising fact this week– TV Guide apparently still exists. Why, I have no idea, since the vast majority of viewers have onscreen channel guides, but it appears to still be a thing.

Next week: Another Dalek episode. 


  1. Great blog post. Did you miss the whole Scottish thing or just decided not to include it? This time the Doctor is Scottish, when he was ranting about his eyebrows he said "They're independently cross! They probably want to cede from the rest of my face and set up their own independent state of eyebrows". Its worth bearing in mind that in a couple of weeks Scotland votes on becoming an independent country, breaking away from the UK which is big thing over here at the moment. One of the things that they will lose if they do vote yes is the BBC, so this timely Scottish Doctor is no accident. Peter Capaldi is just fantastic as the new Doctor, I never really got into Matt Smith and I really hated Amy Pond. For me Strax stole the show, referring to Clara as boy all the time, addressing any one else as human scum and his entrance to the fight scene and passing Clara the paper TV gold. l'm glad the Doctor is back, and any show that has my 8 year old asking "are they married!" About two gay female characters (even if one of them is a dinosaur lady) and prompts a discussion on gay rights afterwards is good in my book. Keep up the good work

  2. Rob:

    I did notice the Scottish thing, but in my rush to get the review posted I forgot to mention it. Interesting about the "independent" line mirroring Scotlan's politics. I've seen bits and pieces about it in the news, but nothing major. American news is too busy reporting on the Kardashians to report on events that actually matter.

  3. Great review as always Bob, but thanks for putting the thought in my head about his costume and needed some color. I can't get it out of my head now and wish his vest was dark red to break it up.

  4. @Jon Pinto:
    I hadn't thought about a vest. Good idea! Maybe they'll eventually give him something to add some color to his outfit. Funny how what the Doctor wears is such a big part of the show.

  5. I'm pretty sure Missy is not River Song. He is River's husband, not her boyfriend. The way she says "boyfriend" sounds like a stalker who's deluded herself into thinking they have a relationship even though they've never met. Also? This chick just seemed ... sinister. Evil, even. She's definitely a bad guy. The Rani would be cool. Or maybe she's another version of the Valeyard?

  6. You're right about River Song. I guess since it's a Moffat episode I was assuming he'd try to work her in again somehow.

    As for Missy being the Rani, I just read that the BBC doesn't have the rights to that character anymore, and so can't use her. Whether that's true or not, I don't know, but I remember when the show was starting back up in 2005, they were worrying that they might not get the rights to use the Daleks.

    Maybe Missy is someone new, and they're trying to retcon her into the show and make us think we've seen her before.

  7. The Daleks were owned, I think, by Terry Nation. That's where the rights issues came from. Surely characters created in the 80s (when the BBC's lawyers would presumably have made water-tight rules regarding intellectual property ownership) wouldn't be an issue?
    Oooh ... maybe she's The Master!

  8. I did notice the Scottish thing, but in my rush to get the review posted I forgot to mention it. Interesting about the "independent" line mirroring Scotlan's politics. I've seen bits and pieces about it in the news, but nothing major. American news is too busy reporting on the Kardashians to report on events that actually matter.


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