Sunday, August 24, 2014

Deep Breath - "I have the horrible feeling that I’m going to have to kill you. I thought you might appreciate a drink first. I know I would."

Deep Breath (Doctor Who) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 8, Story 1 (Overall Series Story #246) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via We Are Groot
Generally speaking, the first story of a newly regenerated Doctor tends to be a creaky affair, loaded down with the baggage of introductions and coping with the upheaval of introducing a main character who's the same character, but different. "The Eleventh Hour" did a lot of things right, including giving Matt's Eleven a moment where he's placed firmly in the lineage. It was a also a reasonably good episode on its own. It's one of the exceptions, I'd argue, that proves the rule, and even it has shortcomings. Ten's debut in "The Christmas Invasion" dragged and was ridiculous. "Rose" was excellent but had the burden of not only introducing a new Doctor and Rose herself, but of re-establishing the series; it had a few pilot-y bits of wonk as well. McGann's Doctor, well, that misfire imploded. Seven's debut in "Time and the Rani" was pretty awful. Six's in "The Twin Dilemma," I have to rely more internet memory, not having watched it since it was new, but I remember disliking it intensely and haven't seen anything like a persuasive defense of it in the meantime. I enjoyed "Castrovalva" but it had a lot of goodwill as being the first regeneration story to come along after I came of viewing age during the Tom Baker years. "Robot" was a Pertwee story with Four finding his feet, which I loved, but I recognize mileage varies wildly and nobody could or would love the Robot CSO effects.

Anyways, the thing to take away here is: no Doctor's first story is, or is going to be, his or her best. What we hope for is validation of the choice of actor, signs of assurance, and potential to be tapped. "Deep Breath" delivers all of that. We know Capaldi and there was, let's face it, no way anything that might have gone wrong, or did go wrong, was going to be his fault. He's too good, too professional, and has demonstrated over the years in a number of roles (for me it begins with his Danny Oldsen in Local Hero) that he cares too much to coast on laurels, phone it in, or do less than his best.

If the way the Doctor Malcom Tuckers that tramp into assessing his cross eyebrows leans on that prior role, I suspect the unleashing of that anger on a tramp, and his trading an object of value for a wrecked old coat that smells of tramp life, sufficiently crosses up the reference and is a sign of a willingness to address Capaldi's fame playfully. It didn't put me off.

Fears about the Doctor suddenly going Christian stoked by that Variety review have subsided. I'm fine with the way "the Promised Land" was dismissed as superstition, and the Promised Land where the control node droid found itself at the end was clearly a scam. So, now we've got to get after who this Missy is who thinks the Doctor loves her (this might not be a good direction, feminist critique-wise), and whether she's the woman at the shop who gave Clara the Doctor's number, and put the advert in the paper.

The moment that sticks with me after two viewings is the Doctor challenging the control node droid to recognize its face in the silver, and the Doctor's visage being reflected on the reverse while he is visibly shaken and the recognition that he doesn't know why he chose the face he did. As he works on preparing the droid to terminate itself, his barbs cut both ways. It may not be the most nuanced technique, but it was effective here. That Moffat goes to the writer's toolbox for reflective doubling/double entendre pretty consistently hasn't, not yet at least, diminished the impact of those scenes where it is deployed in the service of giving his Doctor depth of character.

The broom metaphor is classic philosophy of identity, and it also gets after the Doctor himself, every bit as much as it does the droid, doesn't it? He's been fully replaced so many times over ...

Beginning to end, Capaldi is fantastic. The Matt Smith cameo/call back, which caught me completely off-guard, could't have been aimed more directly at the viewers, could it? Everyone's heart was in the right place, but it felt like a crutch we didn't need. Capaldi is the Doctor. Anyone who isn't convinced, I suspect, just hasn't let go.

The Doctor's a man with a new set regenerations and a long history that includes some mistakes. Any speculation about Missy we might do, any guessing about what the several references to his recognizing his face but not knowing why he chose it might mean, ought to take a back seat to seeing if we can understand what the Doctor thinks his mistakes are, and what he aims to do about them. Besides, my guesses, based on early season stories, where the arcs are going have proved rubbish and I hate being wrong in public, so let's forget about all that, shall we?

I didn't hear anything about searching for Gallifrey and heading the long way home, and am a bit relieved about it; this intention to fix mistakes is the direction I'm most interested in seeing how Moffat guides the series going forward. To my mind, it's the thing he's got to get right.

The new titles: OK. Not sure yet if this new variation of the theme is going to grow on me.

Image via We Are Groot

Recommended Reading: 
Shabogan Graffiti on the return of the Paternoster Gang and the risks of trotting out one-trick ponies to satisfy what may be a dark side of popular demand
A.V. Club Review

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