Monday, August 25, 2014

On Doctor Who's Season 8 Premiere "Deep Breath"

Stolen from tardisplus' Deviantart:
The Doctor returns with a new face and a new attitude. What did I think? I was very nicely surprised. I'll kick off by saying, very shortly into the episode, I was checking if Moffat actually was credited as the writer. There was a predominance of characterization over complexity in this episode, which was sorely missed during the Doctor Trilogy, or dare-I-say, the 11th Doctor's entire run. 

Most Idiotic Review

" ... we spent over an hour on a half-baked plot with no proper climax or resolution, and the only main character who had any proper emotional journey was dreary Clara .... After this strangely recessive, unheroic, dull season opener, ... The audience at home were still waiting for their hero too." Neil Midgley (Forbes)

This is harsh and unfair. Honestly, this episode reminded me of many standalone adventures of the Russel T. Davies era. I would also argue that, while not concluded, the Doctor did go on an emotional one, or would anyone contend that he is identical to when he stepped out of the TARDIS at the very start of the episode? It's not the whizbang kind of resolution anymore, and personally, that's just more my style than the flash and panache of Matt Smith's Doctor. That's okay, though. I certainly didn't find it dull. If anything, I found it classic Who. It wasn't great, but it certainly appealed more than the Doctor Trilogy did.

Most Accurate Review

"We have a Doctor who is a manipulator, a Doctor who is mercurial, a Doctor who has secrets, a Doctor who is unpredictable, and a Doctor who is alien ... And just like that, Doctor Who is dangerous once more, and the show will be all the better for it .... Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice, and somewhere else the tea is getting cold. Come on, Doctor, you’ve got work to do." Ewan Spence (Forbes)

I think Forbes is playing both sides of the field on this one, the sneaky bastards. 

This was definitely the main focus of the episode. There was a subplot about dinosaurs and cyborgs and organ harvesting (all great stuff and all greatly underutilized), but the real story was Capaldi's Doctor's first outing. I always try to imagine the writing of the first episode of a new Doctor, because, in certain lines, I can still hear Matt Smith, or any of the other Doctors from years long past. It first occurred to me at the end of Time of the Doctor, immediately following the regeneration, and I could hear Matt Smith echoed in every line. So the episode is fun, if only to try and gauge who Capaldi is compared to Smith. It's actually been a while since a regeneration carried over a companion from one doctor to the next, not since Eccleston regenerated into Tennant, and watching Clara contend with the transformation is a wholly different experience than what Rose had (as it should be)

What I Say

I was really surprised by this episode? It's been a long time since I sat back and simply enjoyed Moffat's writing. It was pleasant and hearkened back to an earlier era of the show. I was initially leery with the opening involving the (criminally misused) dinosaur coughing up the TARDIS. I sat back and thought to myself, "Oh, no. It's one of those ...." but honestly, the remainder of the episode was very toned down.

Plot — Alright, so we have two major stories happening at once. On the surface, we have a mystery involving cyborgs harvesting human organs, a callback to a previous, pre-Smith episode. But the main focus really is Clara, the audience, and Capaldi himself learning who he is. Who is this Doctor. Is he the Doctor? 

Because this is the primary plotline, the majority of the episode is dominated by strict characterization, with the other storylines playing second-fiddle. It really does a lot to help the episode, I thought. Although I thought Clara's character was a bit fudged to make the episode work, her constant questioning of both the Doctor and his age really reflected some of the less refined 'fans' of the show's backlash to Capaldi's casting. I really wouldn't have bothered trying to appease anyone who considered Capaldi, 'too old' for the roll of the Doctor and politely suggest they stick their head in a toilet. 

The cyborg plot is resolved, but the exact nature of the resolution (and the Doctor himself) is left a mystery, for the time being, and hopefully Moffat feels fit to give us the reveal sooner rather than later (as he seems to have a preference for). 

*Spoiler Alert*

For anyone who missed out, there is a very touching scene (that probably should have appeared in Time of the Doctor) where Matt Smith cameos as the 11th Doctor, and calls Clara, just moments before she arrived to see his regeneration of Trenzalore. There is a lot of stress on the dissimilar sameness that is Capaldi's Doctor versus Smith's, and it really tries to give the audience a bit of padding through this regeneration.

I personally had a really hard time during the Eleventh Hour, not just because Matt Smith was so radically different, but the show felt radically different: new TARDIS, new Sonic Screwdriver, new companions. When Moffat took over, while I applaud him for hitting the ground running, left very little of Davies' era alive between Tennant and Smith. This time more care seems to be being taken, an allowance for the new Doctor to grow on the audience. 

It's impossible not to draw some comparisons to the Christmas Invasion, which was Tennant's first bout out, and for a better portion of his debut was spent with him in bed. It too took care allowing the existence of the 10th Doctor to sink in before he whirls off on another adventure. 

Characters — So, we get Yakko, Wakko, and Dot (I was tired of three stooges references) and while I'm not normally a huge fan of these characters, I liked them here. I'd want to see the episode again to confirm, but it strikes me after a single viewing that they actually do things here. Last time we saw them, they had a conference call, where they talked about the Doctor, then they get captured/killed and the Doctor saves them. Then the Doctor is incapacitated and it's Clara who steps up to save him. They really weren't there as anything more than a sounding board and expositional peanut gallery. 

Honestly, I feel like this time around, Yakko, Wakko, and Dot did more than River Song did in the majority of her entire run. Happily refute this claim in the comments below. Or tell me I'm a swell guy. I'll accept either.

This time they actually <gasp> do stuff. They investigate a dinosaur, they contain said dinosaur, contain the Doctor, who's kind of like a dinosaur, investigate (briefly) reports of spontaneous combustion, and then fight cyborgs. It's nice to see other characters other than the Doctor kick ass. That's part of what I loved about RTD's era. One of the best moments is during Journey's End when Sarah Jane, Mickey, Jack, and Jackie threaten Davros with a 'Warpstar' and Martha tunes in with the Osterhagen Key. While they might have been using methods the Doctor found abhorrent, they at least did something.

Clara has been given some new personality traits... which struck me as moderately out of place until I remembered she never really had a strongly developed character to begin with. Like I once said about Christopher Nolan and his characters, they are sometimes saved by actors stronger than the writing, who can transcend cardboard cutouts. Benedict Cumberbatch did this in Star Trek Into Darkness. So now Clara is a frustrated control-freak, a bit of an egomaniac, and shallow enough to be conflicted about the 12th Doctor's older appearance. I guess I can accept that the Doctor's new persona is just the right kind of new to bring out a side of her we haven't seen before, but I'm not wholly convinced. Still, Jenna Coleman is as charming as ever with a wispy air of Mary Poppins about her. 

The Doctor is the Doctor. Enough said, but if you wanted real analysis, I liked the idea that Capaldi's Doctor is more true to the Doctor, in a sense. It's pretty clear that most of the more recent Regenerations were results of some pretty large events in his life. 

John Hurt's War Doctor was literally a warrior who rejected his title, his promise, and the events of the Time War scarred him so much, Eccleston's 9th Doctor quite obviously suffered a combination of PTSD and survivor's guilt over his actions. Then he fell in love with Rose, and when he regenerated, he became Tennant's charming, roguish hero. Tennant, a lover more than a fighter, lost ... everything. They really made the 10th Doctor suffer over and over again, haunted by lost companions, and, unlike the others, an impending foreknowledge of his "song's ending." When he regenerated, he was alone. It makes a strong kind of sense that Matt Smith's Doctor is the man who forgets, who never stops running. Amy to a degree and Clara (although I would argue it was mostly his ability to absolve himself of his actions during the Time War) allowed the 11th Doctor to forgive himself a bit, and let the 'mask slip' so to speak. 

Capaldi's Doctor seems much more hesitant with his friends, but much more biting with his enemies, prone to outbursts of conflagration and reserved thoughtfulness. He's barely restrained razor-wire, but lacks the social confidence of his past few incarnations. He is a darker, more self-reflective, and almost ... sadder Doctor, who seems to question a lot about himself and who he is.

Overall, a fantastic start to a new season and a new Doctor. I might not be overly hopeful, but here's to Moffat smashing this one out of the park. 

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