Friday, October 20, 2017

Kill The Moon


Before I start let me say that this blog contains spoilers because, frankly, I haven't got the energy to hide them. They start from the next paragraph so if you haven't watched Kill The Moon before you should go and do so now. I'll wait.

Good.

Ah, Kill The Moon with its Moon as an egg thing. Not just an egg. An egg that will hatch and automatically lay an exact replica of itself immediately afterwards. An egg from which some kind of gigantic baby soup dragon creature will emerge and fly off into deep space. The Moon is an egg. Now, from this paragraph, you might think that I didn't like this story, but you'd be almost wrong. On my first watch, I will admit to finding the whole scenario heffelumping ridiculous. And it is.

But then you start to think. Is it any more ridiculous than a blue box that travels through space and time? A box that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Whose pilot is an alien aristocrat with a penchant for saving the universe and the ability to change from one body to another through a process known as regeneration? Well, yes. Yes, it is. But that choice is only my own. I have drawn a line in the sand where perfectly sensible storytelling begins and utter nonsense takes over.

Now. mine wasn't even the Moon is an egg. That was close to the line, but not over it. No. It was the identical new egg that replaced it so that the Earth didn't come to a wobbly end that crossed the line. THAT was ridiculous. Not the egg itself.

At that point, I just decided that I should ignore the whole thing and just enjoy the rest of the story. About which there is much to be positive. The acting is superb. Hermione Norris as Lundvik is another fantastic actor in a long New Doctor Who line who plays a small part that just demonstrates that she's worthy of so much more. It's lovely to see Tony Osoba as Duke again. Last seen as Kracauer in the Seventh Doctor story Dragonfire he's a familiar and consistently good television face. So, obviously, he's going to die. Plus Ellis George does Courtney again and manages to avoid irritating me for the second story running, which is some achievement based on my low tolerance for child actors.

But the real glory in this story is Capaldi/Coleman. There's some genuinely brilliant stuff from both of them but Clara's genuine rage at the Doctor after he leaves her, Courtney and Lundvik to decide whether to kill the creature inside the egg or let it hatch. (And here can I pause for a moment to applaud the ridiculousness within the egg ridiculousness of broadcasting a message to the whole world from the Moon and getting people to pay attention.) The Doctor's intentions seem good but bizarre. The Doctor's never worried about making decisions on behalf of humanity before so why the sudden desire to leave everything up to us now?

Sorry, I've digressed. That Clara/Doctor seen where she rages at him and he tries to understand why she's angry but can't seem to grasp it. It feels like a piece of genuine emotion. Two fine actors giving it their best. It's astonishingly good. And it makes up for a lot.

It's easy to read this story as being about abortion (and depending on your point of view) a story you can like or dislike accordingly. On this reading, Peter Harness was making an anti-abortion point but Harness has said that didn't even cross his mind. I don't think it is about abortion. I think it is about trust and growing up. I think it is about friendship and lines that we cross or don't cross. I think it is about the Moon being an egg and what fun you can have with that idea.

Did I like Kill The Moon? Mostly. To do so I had to ignore the bit of my brain that found this story to be so packed with ridiculousness that it might as well be Donald Trump. Then that ridiculousness isn't necessarily a bad thing. There are ridiculous stories dotted throughout Doctor Who. I like most of them. So, I liked it. And didn't.

What it is worth watching for isn't the plot though. It's worth watching for the performances. It's worth watching for that final scene, although once more Clara threatens the Doctor with violence. And even though it is a good scene you do find yourself thinking that Clara is being utterly unfair to the Doctor. Perhaps because she's got Danny's words in her head from The Caretaker she resents being pushed too far, too soon but she's angry because she's been asked to do what she expects the Doctor to do ALL THE BLOODY TIME. She's angry because the Doctor won't make a life or death decision for once. For whatever reason. And that seems unfair and childish.

Even if it is played superbly by both actors.

So, yeah that was Kill The Moon that was.Make of it what you will.


The Caretaker



I have to say The Caretaker was - with a couple of exceptions - not a story I particularly enjoyed. If not quite a placeholder it certainly wasn't more than a blink and you'll miss it adventure with killer robots. But then I suspect the point of this story wasn't the adventure it was the Clara and Danny relationship episode.

The problem for me was there was far too much snark and not enough fun. The balance between adventure and non-adventure was unbalanced. There were too many scenes featuring people arguing and not enough scenes of the Doctor and Clara saving the world. Obviously part of this is the Twelfth Doctor's convenient dislike of soldiers just at the moment that Clara starts going out with a soldier. That's an excuse for some not very witty banter about a soldier only being capable of teaching PE.

At the time this went out I think some people felt that the Doctor's attitude to Danny had the whiff of racism about it but I don't think that's the case but you do find yourself thinking that the Doctor is being unnecessarily unpleasant to a man he barely knows. Yes, I'm aware that the lack of tact is going to be a key trait in the Twelfth Doctor but in The Caretaker it feels a little too much.

As does Danny's tirade against The Doctor as 'an officer'. That scene in the TARDIS is genuinely uncomfortable but if the Doctor hadn't ostentatiously referred to himself as a Time Lord would Danny have been able to guess that he was an aristocrat. And when did Time Lord's become aristocrats in the first place? I always saw them more as a kind of priestly cast in a scientific theocracy...which I suppose would make them aristocrats of sorts. Whatever. Danny's tirade just doesn't seem to fit the Doctor's behaviour. However, it seems to be a theme of sorts because Robin said similar things in Robot of Sherwood but with less hostility (perhaps because he too was an aristocratic hero slumming it in the name of his principles.)

Perhaps this is a purely personal dislike because I don't want to think of the Doctor as an aristocrat because I don't like aristocrats in general. It's the same discomfort I feel when reminded that the Doctor can be viewed as a sort of great, white hero coming to the rescue of whichever poor alien species can't save themselves. It's purely personal, which I think contributes to my dislike of this story.

I can't blame the actors. I think Capaldi, Coleman and Samuel Anderson are excellent. They deal with the comedy and drama equally well. Even Ellis George as Courtney Woods didn't annoy me and I have a low tolerance for child actors (and I've still not got over the two awful children from Nightmare in Silver.)

I don't blame the director, Paul Murphy. I think he does a good job with what he's given. I blame the script, which doesn't quite do it for me. It's not terrible. This isn't one of those Doctor Who episodes that I'm going to mock mercilessly for bad lines or huge plot holes. I think this is purely personal inability to get on with what the writers - Steven Moffat and Gareth Roberts - are trying to do in this story. So, actually, I don't blame the writers. I blame myself.

Sometimes a Doctor Who story is just not your bag and that's not the fault of anything or anyone involved in making it, although sometimes when writing reviews we have a tendency to make a purely personal dislike seem like it is structural. In the case of The Caretaker it just doesn't do it for me. And that's fine. The danger, of course, comes when we take our personal opinion of one story and make it a massive tirade about how Doctor Who, in general, is rubbish or that the showrunner is the personification of an evil attempt to destroy your childhood.

So, I didn't enjoy The Caretaker much but there's another Doctor Who story coming soon. And then another. And there's always all those stories from 1963 onwards that I can go and dip into if I'm feeling particularly in need of a shot of Doctor Who I like.



Thursday, October 19, 2017

Time Heist


I liked Time Heist.

You know what it reminded me of? The Gunfighters. 

Stick with me with this. I'm not entirely mad.

Half the enjoyment in The Gunfighters - which a lot of people who like things serious seem to miss - is the fact it is as much a parody of western television stories and films as it is a Doctor Who story and Time Heist is as much as a stylistic parody of television series like Hustle as it is a Doctor Who story. Douglas Mackinnon's direction - cuts, lens flares and slow motion etc - reflects that. And Mackinnon's direction is rather lovely. And it was in Listen too.

This is the first story of the season where The Doctor leads and Clara gets to play a more traditional Doctor Who assistant role. This is a Capaldi episode through-and-through and he's rather fantastic. He gets good lines, delivers them with style and is rapidly setting a high standard that rises above whatever material he's given.

I'm not sure it's the most original script in Doctor Who history. Perhaps that's the point but I think there's a danger of over-analyzing these stories. Original ideas are hard to come by and the heist genre has its rules, which is fair enough.

But there's a certain pattern emerging in this season, which is starting to irritate me mildly. It's the lack of proper villains. I'm all for shades of grey. I'm all for villains who don't think that their plan is evil but for heaven's sake does every story have to be like this? It's like a reverse Season 8 problem: instead of the villain being the Master every week, now we've got no real villains. It's not a terminal problem but it's just getting a bit samey, particularly when the ending of this story feels so much like that of Hide.

There's a lot of talk about plot holes from people that criticise Steven Moffat's style of writing (even though this is credited to Stephen Thompson and Steven Moffat) and I've argued before that you'd struggle to find any Doctor Who stories free of plot holes. It's just a question of what we're prepared to accept. Normally I don't really care about them unless there's an absolute gaping hole so big you could drive a tank through it. But there's one moment in this story that I found myself going...er...hang on. [SPOILER FOLLOWS]

And that's when Psi and Saibara turn up to save the Doctor and Clara disguised as guards in Ms Delphox's office. When The Teller is there. This is a creature that we've been told can detect guilt but doesn't notice Psi and Saibara...but maybe there's so much distortion going on as the - very - guilty Doctor and Clara are standing in the room. Perhaps I've been unkind. Perhaps not. Maybe it matters. Maybe it doesn't. Maybe I'm just looking for reasons to pick holes in something that I quite enjoyed. Who knows. Who. Knows.

Psi and Saibara were interesting additions to the team and make a change from the Paternoster Gang. Neither character is spectacularly original: the half-man, half-computer and the shapeshifter but they're played well enough by Jonathan Bailey and Pippa Bennett-Warner. Whether we'll see them in Doctor Who again is moot but there's another Big Finish spin-off waiting to happen if they need one.

I mentioned it above but this is the least Clara episode of the season so far. She's under-used - which some of the Clara haters might have enjoyed - but I kind of think it is a waste of a good actress.

Kudos should also go to Keeley Hawes, who is brilliant as Ms Delphox. I'm not sure how they decided on her look and who had input but I think someone in the production team - going back a while - has a thing for women in glasses and suits. Or eye-patches and suits. Or women in suits full stop. But Hawes is fab. It's another example of an actor doing a small-ish part in Doctor Who that makes you wish they'd been given something meatier.

The Teller looks great too. Surprisingly realistic and alive, which brings a certain charm along with it. The exterior shots of the bank also look fab and then it is nice to see we find ourselves inside a lot of Doctor Who corridors. In that sense - again - it feels very Classic Doctor Who. As does the fact that when in the final shots we see the Teller walking away it does look awkwardly 'person in a costume'. I almost expected them to walk off into the sunset Morecambe and Wise stylee singing 'Bring Me Sunshine' as they go. But perhaps I am just a foolish old man.

Re-reading what I've written I've been more nit-picky than the story deserves. It's good fun, which is always the most important thing in a Doctor Who story. It wasn't as much of a romp as Robot of Sherwood but fun enough.  It wasn't hugely original but that's not necessarily the worst of crimes (despite what some people seem to think.)

As I've said before the fundamental rule of Doctor Who for me is that it should be fun. Sometimes it's so fun that it over-rides all my standard adult analysis but sometimes it's just about fun enough. And that's how I feel about this story.

But still: Capaldi. Brilliant.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Listen


Listen is one of those Doctor Who stories that I feel I need to watch again. There might actually be nothing going on here except the Doctor trying to sort out his own issues but then again there might be an entirely new race of creepy creatures to be added to the canon. There might not be a villain here at all, except possibly the Doctor himself in a strange way.

I think I liked it. But less so that the first time around, which is the first of the stories in this Capaldi re-watch that I have felt like that.

It intertwines the Doctor's desire to get to the bottom of a dream he's had with Clara and Danny Pink's date. It's a mixture of the extraordinary and ordinary. It's about fear and how we deal with fear.

There are some genuinely creepy moments. We get no actual answer either to what - if anything - the creature was. If it was even a thing. Was the thing in the bed a monster or was it one of Danny's friends playing a trick on him? Was there a monster outside the airlock or was nothing out there? I like that there are loose ends. We don't need answers to everything, although being Steven Moffat this episode might end up being key to the whole story arc. The less that happens in a Steven Moffat story, the more I'm wondering what I'm not supposed to see. I think I might have to call this paramoffatnoia, except that's a terrible word.

But does it matter that we don't see the thing? If there is a thing at all. Probably not.*

The young Danny scene is about getting an insight into Danny's character. People say that Clara's involved in every aspect of the creation of the Doctor, particularly after the final moments of this episode on Gallifrey, but she's also creating Danny Pink too. Here she takes Rupert and makes him Danny. It might not be intentional but that's what she does. But once more we have soldiers and soldiering in an episode to mull over.

Yes, I'm was a bit uncomfortable about Clara having to be intertwined with the Doctor's whole history because it removes his own agency but it doesn't mean Clara's THE only reason the Doctor becomes the Doctor. Perhaps she gives him the boost he needed to be less afraid but there's a plenty of time for the Doctor to become the Doctor between the barn and the First Doctor's flight from Gallifrey with Susan.

Also, Clara's involvement with the Doctor seems to have had little in the way of consequences for her so far. Perhaps her interference into Danny Pink's life might have a different effect. After all, Doctor Who can't kill off Doctor Who but it might be able to bump off Danny Pink. But perhaps I'm over-analyzing. It's easily done. [This paragraph is from the blog I wrong on the first watch before the season ended. I leave it to show that I'm not always wrong with my predictions.]  However, who is Orson Pink and what does his existence mean? There are hints that he knows who she is. Perhaps we'll find out. Perhaps we won't.

My quibbles aside I think Jenna Coleman's doing a stonking job as Clara this season. Now she doesn't have to just be the 'Impossible Girl' she's developing into a character, although some of the banter between her and the Doctor about her appearance borders on the uncomfortable. Now that might be because there's a British piss-taking friendship thing going on - certainly, at one point Clara's reaction is an amused smirk - but occasionally it seems played too seriously. Maybe I'm just being ultra-touchy about it.

I'm really enjoying the Capaldi Doctor though. He feels properly Doctor Who. Capaldi's Doctor Who isn't human. And it shows. It's a nice change from Tennant and Smith, although it has a certain resonance with Eccleston who often gets forgotten in these discussions. But we're only four episodes into the season so things have a long way to go yet.

The other thing to note is the sound design on this is incredible. In some ways, it would be a brilliant Big Finish story. Perhaps 'Listen' can be seen as a massive advert for audio Doctor Who. But the scenes inside Orson Pink's ship are atmospheric as hell as much due to the sound design as the performances.

So after all that I can say I enjoyed it but not as much as I did on the initial watch. I don't know why but I found the Danny and Clara date sequences far less entertaining than on the first watch, which isn't anything to do with either actor. It just seemed too long. I wanted more SF creepiness and less real-life awkwardness. Even though I think those scenes do an important job of contrasting the ordinary and extraordinary. I just thought there were too many of them.

It wasn't as much fun as Robot of Sherwood but it has a certain creepy charm of its own. There are unanswered questions and seeds sown for the future of Series 8 but I bet there are kids up and down the country hiding in beds tonight in an attempt to scare their friends and family.

*I assume I wasn't the only person thinking about the Silence though throughout the first part of this episode.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Robot of Sherwood



Here's the first thing I should say and get it out there straight away. I loved Robot of Sherwood. Adored it. And do you know why? Because it was fun. There. I've said it. It was fun. And it won't matter a jot that tomorrow I'll probably start finding the plots holes or the bits and bobs that I can pick at like the fan that I am. At this point, I'm feeling nothing but joy.

And you know in the end what more can you ask for from an episode of Doctor Who than joy. All the analysis that follows and the picking apart of every single moment and the reassessments that will follow the season's end is just frippery really.

The key thing is - and should always be - was watching that Doctor Who episode fun. Did I enjoy it? And I did.

Why though?

Partly because it wasn't weighed down with much in the way of an overall story arc, even if there was one reference. There's no Missy. Partly because it was clearly meant to be fun. This isn't dark. This is what Robin Prince of Thieves would have been like if everyone decided to have as much fun with their parts as Alan Rickman did.

And Capaldi is bloody brilliant. His utter denial - both of Robin Hood's actual existence and his role as hero and legend - is key to this story. Plus his refusal to play second fiddle to Robin Hood who in turn refuses to play second fiddle - or should that be lute - to The Doctor. This is two alpha males with a lot in common. Robin says it himself at the end. These are two aristocrats come into the world determined to do good. It's another piece in the Doctor's own post-regeneration puzzle about whether he's a good man or not.

But in a way, this is as much Clara's story as it is the Doctor and Robin's. She's more in control and less involved in trying to prove herself top dog than either of them. It is Clara that gets to the heart of the Sheriff's plan. It is Clara who looks and sounds like the sensible one. She chooses not to go into denial and swallows up the whole Robin Hood and his Merry Men thing in one fell swoop. Jenna Coleman's having so much fun.

By the way, I'm with the Doctor on banter. It should stop.

And I love the Robin v Doctor sword v spoon fight. I bet there are people out there whinging about it being silly. About this whole episode being silly but you can't be deadly serious every time and I adore silliness in Doctor Who. My favourite season is Season 17. My fandom was born from silliness. Smart silliness I accept but silliness nonetheless. Or whimsy. Or whatever you want to call it. Give me more of it I say. More than the tedious dragged out season long portentous story arcs. Give me fun.

I mentioned Robin Prince of Thieves early. Everyone except the Sheriff of Nottingham is played with a Rickmanesque touch. Ben Miller's Sheriff is actually rather serious. He doesn't get much in the way of laughs and his ruthless streak is demonstrated very early on. I can't have been the only person thinking how Ainley he looked. Indeed in Classic Who, the Sheriff of Nottingham would probably have turned out to be The Master in one of his disguises and strange choices of accent. Miller's good.

The other thing it reminded me of was The Gunfighters in both tone and with the fact that it almost - but not quite - got its own Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon courtesy of  Alan-a-Dale. I'm a big fan of The Gunfighters as the regular reader of this blog will probably know so obviously that also inclines me to look upon this favourably.

I love Tom Riley's Robin. There's a touch of seriousness under all the banter and laughter, which he manages to bring out rather well. The hint that Robin's acting the part is made clear in his final scene with the Doctor. But he's what you'd want Robin Hood to be like if he really existed. You want the legend, not the likely historical truth.*

Indeed, Gatiss is obviously making a parallel between the importance of the 'story' of Robin Hood and the 'story' of The Doctor. That perhaps it doesn't matter if they were or are real if what they do is inspire people to do good things in their name. If we've ever needed a Robin Hood now might be that time. But then we've always needed a Robin Hood because there have always been tyrants and there have always been taxes.

New Doctor Who likes celebrity historicals and Robot of Sherwood is one of those but with a historical figure that probably didn't exist. Alas. However, as Robin says perhaps it is better to be a story that will inspire others than be burdened by history.

Oh and hurrah for the database Robin Hood bit with the Troughton Robin Hood picture. And the little throwaway references to Classic Doctor Who that add a little frisson of fun for the Classic Who fan like me without over-loading the story with baggage.

So well done Mark Gatiss. Thank you for putting the fun back on the Doctor Who menu again.

This feeling I have at the moment is why I love Doctor Who so much. It's a kind of giddy joy. I'm almost tempted to go and watch it again. Perhaps I will on the way home. I've been watching these episodes on my commute into work and it definitely makes the journey in a lot more fun than usual.

Next up: Listen


*I studied Robin Hood as a historical figure at University. I won't bore you with the details. It's an interesting thing to study. Feel free. I recommend J.C. Holt's 'Robin Hood'. If it is still in print. [Goes off to look at Amazon.]

Monday, October 16, 2017

Into The Dalek



I found Into The Dalek rather entertaining.

I know you could pull it to death by focusing on all the stuff it borrowed from elsewhere. From Dalek*, from The Invisible Enemy, from Fantastic Voyage and so on but equally I'm gob-smackingly surprised it hasn't been done before. Surely this is the idea that everyone must have had. And yet it took until 2014 for someone to actually get around to doing it.

I fear 'originality' is a stick to beat many a Doctor Who writer or showrunner to death with. It's as if Doctor Who was entirely original from 1963-1989 and never borrowed from other sources. Or from itself.  I mean Terry Nation wrote virtually the same Dalek story time and again, although I'm not sure ripping off yourself is entirely unfair. If you have a good idea why not hammer at it again and again. After all, Robert Holmes wrote The Caves of Androzani twice. It's just the first version was called The Power of Kroll. Doctor Who has always been a magpie television series and without undertaking a proper scientific review I'd wager that genuinely original stories are few and far between. Mostly Doctor Who picks up something and metamorphoses it into something distinctly Doctor Who. So I'm not quite sure lack of originality is as bad as all that.

It's a tale of morality. The Doctor's morality, which is to be a thread in this season as we deal with a Doctor who is a lot less comfortable than we're perhaps used to. Is the Doctor a good man?

It's a big question. I think we like to find a Doctor that fits our own image and the Doctors of new Doctor Who have certainly been less ruthless than the Classic Doctor could be. Or at least has always made more of a big deal out of his morality, which makes the scene here where he uses a soldier's impending death to find an escape route ice-cold shocking. No 'I'm so sorry's' etc. Just 'this man is going to die but I'm going to save everyone else.' It really does feel different this time.

He's still finding his way this new Doctor. He's clearly not the man he was. There's a ruthless streak of logic, sharp snark and a lack of neediness about this new Doctor. He doesn't have the time to care about whether people like him or not. He is just going to do his thing.

I love Capaldi's take on the part so far. He's such a brilliant actor. Indeed, I'd go as far as to say that he's the best actor to play the part since Troughton. Not necessarily my favourite Doctor. Yet.

Then there's Jenna Coleman's Clara. She's developing a character, which is nice. Now she's not a puzzle for the Doctor to be solved. The Moff gets a lot of criticism for the way he writes women characters in Doctor Who and the Doctor makes one or two unnecessarily snide comments about Clara's appearance that veer dangerously too close to 'banter' for my liking (although I was reminded of the Fourth Doctor's digs at Sarah Jane in The Ark in Space whilst they were crawling through the ducts). Anyway, I thought Clara / Coleman was great in this.

One caveat: I didn't like the slap. It was too serious. And physical violence as a form of communication is not something I want to see Doctor Who normalising. Would we have found the slap acceptable if it had been from the Doctor to Clara? No. So, let's not have it be acceptable at all.

I also liked Clara's initial scenes with Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson). The Clara-Danny thing is endearingly awkward, which I like. I get the impression that Steven Moffat would quite happily write a sit-com revolving around those two. Danny Pink is another teacher at Cole Hill School. He's an ex-soldier with a secret. He's also got one of the best and brightest smiles I've ever seen. It seems the Clara-Danny thing is going to be a 'thing' for the whole season so it is early days for judgment, although when has that ever stopped me

The soldier thing is going to be another thread in a season of threads I think. Along with Missy, who makes another appearance here. Ah, Missy. The face that launched a thousand theories. When I watched this on the first broadcast I had many theories about who Missy would turn out to be. I think I was wrong about my initial guesses but I can't actually remember at this distance. It does seem that Steven Moffat is confident that the Missy pay-off is worth her regular appearances, although it does have a touch of the Madam Kovarians about it.

[There's me ignoring my own earlier paragraph about the dangers of whinging about originality. I'm such a hypocrite.]

Where was I. Ah, the soldier thing? Yes, the Doctor dismisses Journey Blue (Zawa Ashton) at the end when she asks to come along with him by saying he doesn't like soldiers. I'm assuming that's just this Doctor because the Eleventh Doctor was quite upset when he found out that his soldier friend Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart had died. But it's a new Doctor. I suspect his judgmental approach will come and bite him on the arse before the season is out.

Oh and Danny Pink and Journey Blue. Is this colour thing also going to be a 'thing.'** How many 'things' can Steven Moffat get into a single season and still tie them all up neatly? How many of them will be - and forgive me - red herrings. Doctor Who fans - always finding patterns in things that aren't there.

The other thing I want to mention - apart from Michael Smiley's appearance as Colonel Morgan Blue - is Ben Wheatley's fab direction. He manages to make the Daleks look menacing.  I particularly like the shot of all their blue eye-stalk lights coming out of the darkness

And Rusty the Dalek gets a fine line in snark, which is unexpected in a Dalek so this might be a good time to hand out some well-deserved praise for Nick Briggs whose Dalek voice work reaches pretty impressive heights in this story. The slight change in emphasis between the 'good' Rusty and his return to Dalekness is rather brilliant and subtle.

Next up Robots of Sherwood which looks whimsical. And there's not a lot of love for whimsy in the Doctor Who fan world. Me, I'm a big fan of whimsy. Lord Peter included.




*I listened to Big Finish's The Genocide Machine today too and that's got similarities with this story thematically too in terms of what happens when a Dalek changes.

**I'm pretending that I don't know how this all pans out. Assume I've never watched the rest of the series at all.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Deep Breath



If you're new to this blog then I should explain that what follows isn't a review in the traditional sense. That would involve critical faculties. It is a collection of immediate reactions, thoughts, ideas and bees in bonnets that pop up in the immediate aftermath of watching the episode. This blog will also contain spoilers so if you've not seen the episode then go and watch it and then come back. You have been warned. This blog, in particular, is based on the blog I sketched out on original broadcast combined with some additional thoughts from tonight's re-watch.

Deep Breath launches the Capaldi era of Doctor Who and it seems that the story was designed to do a couple of things. Most importantly it is to introduce us to a new and older Doctor and the New Doctor Who audience's first experience of an older actor in the part. Even if Christopher Eccleston wasn't that much younger than Capaldi when he first took the role.

Hence a lot of the conversations Clara gets involved in with either the Doctor or Vastra are aimed at us, which makes her decision to leave the TARDIS before being reassured by the Eleventh Doctor's phone call an plea to the audience not to leave because this is still Doctor Who. As a consequence, it is different to a lot of new Doctor's first stories, which just assume we'll pick up with the new Doctor and run with him/her.

The call at the end in particular, emotional though it is, seems unnecessary. No other Doctor has required the previous incarnation to beg for his acceptance.And in a way, it's insulting to both us and Capaldi but perhaps I'm being harsh.

It's almost as if Steven Moffat doubts his own choice of Doctor.

Also, Half-Face Man's 're-building' of himself is an obvious reflection of regeneration. It shows how weird regeneration actually is. The Half-Face Man is regenerating the slow way around. Piece by piece. So, the Doctor's broom analogy is applicable to himself as much as to the Half-Face Man.

There's also a mild dig at us the audience. The whole 'I'm not your boyfriend/You might as well flirt with a mountain/He wanted you to like him' stuff seems to be a criticism of our apparent need for a younger more fanciable Doctor. Even though it was Steven Moffat that chose Matt Smith and even though Capaldi has his fans too.

Then we have to re-boot Clara for her post-Impossible Girl future. She now needs to be a character not just an enigma and this story is designed to be a regeneration story for her too. It's just not as drastic. I'm not sure I've seen enough 'control freak' in Clara so far to justify the Doctor's accusations that she is one though.

Jenna Coleman's clearly a good actress so it would be nice to see her given more scenes like her confrontation with the Half-Face Man. In that scene, she gets to do the whole Sarah Jane Smith brave and scared at the same time trick. Indeed I can't praise Jenna Coleman enough. This story - if we hadn't realised it already - shows what a fine actress she is. She wonderful in this. And seems to hit it off with Capaldi immediately. There's a real electricity between them.

As she's seen all the previous Doctors though you do wonder why she's so shocked that he's old but then perhaps she just assumed that they all started young and then got old. After all, what's the point in renewing yourself if you renew yourself older? It's counterintuitive.

Which brings us to another thread in Deep Breath: where does the Doctor get his faces from? Or any Time Lord for that matter. Is there a database of faces? A Facebook perhaps. [I'll get my coat.] The Doctor's face thing - like the Doctor's name - seems to be a Steven Moffat bee in the bonnet as a result of casting Capaldi but I do think some of the best lines came as a result of this. I especially liked "Who frowned this face" and "It's like I'm trying to tell myself something." The face is going to be a thing. Let's see where it goes. If it goes anywhere.

Then there is Missy. Who is she and what's she up to? This being New Doctor Who we need a big season-long arc, don't we? Sigh. Do we though? Do we? Perhaps we do. Modern television series - or at least SF and fantasy ones - seem to have become moulded to the arc & the big season finale pattern. In the 21st century, a more radical television programme might just have a run of adventures that are simply fun without the need for us to see how clever the writers are? Or actually am I again being harsh? Perhaps the arc/finale structure rewards the loyal viewer so we can make up our own theories as we go along, searching for clues in each episode and trying to tie everything together?

In the end, we should judge the arc on its quality. If it turns out to be good then great. If it turns out to be bad then boo. Arcs themselves are not the problem. It's the quality of the arc (and I suppose the quality of the emotional journey we and the characters are taken on.) 

Quick diversion: title sequence and theme tune. Loved the new title sequence. Hate the theme tune, which sounds like it was played on a weird combination of elastic bands, bells and kazoo. The new series has never cracked the theme tune in my opinion but perhaps one day they will. 

What of Capaldi himself? I think he's fantastic. He has an edge that Tennant and Smith didn't have. It's not darkness. It's just an acidity. A lack of botherdness about how people see him, which I like. He's able to do both the comedy and the darker stuff. I like the fact that we're left to decide for ourselves whether the Doctor threw the Half-Face Man to his doom or whether it was self-destruction. The last scenes give us a vulnerability to this new Doctor underneath his crusty exterior. So yes, I'm happy with Capaldi.

Oh, and do we really need all the hilarious Scottish stuff. The Doctor's been Scottish before and didn't seem to think it was a big deal. But then the showrunner then wasn't Scottish. RTDs gay agenda* has been replaced with a Scottish agenda.** Damn that McMoffat chap.

I'm less happy with what's happening with Vastra, Jenny and Strax. All three are brilliantly performed but Strax has become only comic relief. I'd like him to have a bit more edge. I also wish Steven Moffat would have had the courage to give Vastra and Jenny a proper kiss without having to give them a 'breath' excuse. The Paternoster Gang are great when used properly but not when they're just there to provide some exotic sexual background and dumb comedy. Use them better Mr Moffat. Use them better.

So after all that rambling, I should say that I really enjoyed it. It's lifted by the brilliance of Capaldi and it's excellent design. Doctor Who looks great these days, although Strax's disappearing bucket seemed to skip someone's attention in the edit.***


* There was no gay agenda.
**There isn't a Scottish agenda either
***Or it'll turn out to be a key thing in the forthcoming story arc. The Bucket of Rassilon. Or something. [It won't.]