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Doctor Who

"Deep Breath" (Aired August 23, 2014)

Samantha Wessel

I am writing this after getting home from attending the midnight premiere of Doctor Who. If I were smart, I would take some time to process my thoughts and feelings about the new Doctor. But instead, I've elected to use the recap to help me analyze my emotions. Buckle in, cause it's gonna be a long ride. And as always: SPOILERS!

The first important thing: I think Peter Capaldi is pretty great as the Twelfth Doctor. (I am going to go ahead and call him number Twelve. I know an argument can be made for Thirteenth, but I'm going with Twelfth. Sorry 'bout it.)  ANYWAY - Capaldi is great. But it's hard getting used to a new Doctor. I miss Matt Smith's Doctor, but I'm really excited about the direction the writer's appear to be taking the Doctor, as well as Capaldi's portrayal. He is playing him with less whimsy, more guilt, and a LOT of confidence. The Doctor has always had confidence, but Capaldi's Doctor absolutely knows he is the right, and that he is going to win. It is a very interesting take on the Doctor. A darker one, as well. SO- let's get into it!

In the theater premiere, the episode begins with Strax speaking into a video blog, (or perhaps updating his Facebook status? I wasn't entirely clear because of all the clapping happening in the theater) in which he recounts the previous 12 Doctors. It's all very meta with references to prior Doctor's wardrobes (oh hey Tom Baker's scarf) and physical features (I can't be the only one who let out an audible "awww" when Strax made jokes at the expense of Christopher Eccleston's ear size and Matt Smith's chin, right?) Strax even references the debate about what number incarnation we are on; it is all very clever and funny. It's a great intro - but the writers know what they're doing. It not only sets the tone for the show (humorous but dark), but keeps viewers from the immediate gratification of seeing the new Doctor. (With both the regenerations involving Tennant and Smith, the viewers got to see the new Doctor almost immediately.) It was an interesting strategy, but I just wanted to see him and I didn't really care about anything else (something about crashing into London? See I can't even remember!)

Our favorite crime-fighting mystery solvers, the lizard skin Madame Vastra, her wife Jenny, and Strax, arrive in London, apparently narrowly avoiding a disastrous crash. Upon their arrival, the threesome spot a giant T-Rex. As the three part-time companions wonder how the T-Rex came to be in London, the T-Rex (a lady T-Rex according to Vastra. She did grow up with them after all) coughs up the TARDIS, which she had apparently swallowed causing her to end up in good ole' downtown Victorian London.

(PERSONAL TANGENT): I'm confused by the special effects budget for this show. Part of the charm of Doctor Who (at least for me) is the not so great special effects. I love it and it makes it feel special and culty. BUT THEN during the Matt Smtih/Karen Gillan/Arthur Darvill years, the special effects team STEPPED. IT. UP. But with this episode,  it's back to not-so-great special effects. When the T-Rex spits the TARDIS out, it is CLEARLY a model landing on a model set.  I find this personally charming,  I am just confused as to where all the special effects money went. But it's not important. [This] Tangent over.

Now that the TARDIS has made an appearance, we know what's coming - the highly anticipated reveal of Capaldi's Doctor (Yes, I know we saw him in the "Day of the Doctor" and "The Time of the Doctor," but he's for real the Doctor now and it is seriously exciting!). And Capaldi's first words as the Doctor:


I'm in. Yes he's different. He's older. He's Scottish. BUT he sounds like the Doctor. And when he leaves the TARDIS, he moves like the Doctor. Tennant and Smith both had this fluidity to their movements as the Doctor, and Capaldi is continuing this tradition. He's clearly making the Doctor his own, but showing continuity between each regeneration. The Doctor starts babbling, sometimes coherently, other times utter nonsense about the Dinosaur. Vastra, Jenny, and Strax look confused, while Clara tries to sort everything out and remain calm. She's so confused. She just saw the Time Lord she perhaps loved, and for sure trusted change before her eyes. But she's doing her best to deal. When the Doctor passes out, Clara explains to the others the man before them is the Doctor. Vastra responds with "Well, here we go again..." You guys - IT MADE ME TEAR UP! Ten minutes into the new season and I'm weepy. This dang show! 

We then see the new title sequence, which looked great! (I think I figured out where the money for the special effects may have gone). There's also a slightly different version of the theme song. The audience loved it and so did I. A new intro for a new Doctor. Yay! Ok, carry on. 

To help complete the regeneration process, Vastra uses her lizard sorcery to induce the Doctor into sleep. Clara, Vastra, and Jenny have a contentious bedside chat. Clara makes the mistake of asking how to "fix" the Doctor. She doesn't understand how the Doctor's face can look so old  and worn because it's a new face. (This is the first of many references and discussions of the Doctor's new form. I noticed that this is the first regeneration where the Doctor's appearance is discussed at length.) Vastra DOES NOT APPROVE, you guys. She puts on her veil and starts questioning Clara. Vastra accuses Clara of being shallow and only caring for the Doctor because of his looks. Clara loses her temper and it is GLORIOUS. I have never questioned Clara's strength as a companion, but I don't think she's ever had the chance to show how strong she is until this scene. Clara tells Vastra she does not have an issue with older men, and that Vastra herself is guilty of judging Clara based on her looks. I'm now 100% on board with Clara. She's sassy, smart, and brave, and seeing her with a new Doctor has healed all wounds of her not being Rose or Amy (more on that below). Once Clara sticks up for herself, Vastra's veil disappears because Clara "stopped seeing it." It's all very metaphorical and lovely, but really the important takeaway is this: Clara is a strong woman, and she is going to be vital to the Doctor's journey this series, perhaps even more than previous companions. 

While all of these shenanigans are happening, Londoners are gathering to see the T-Rex hanging out in their city. And I have to say, it's not a huge crowd. I feel like if a T-Rex randomly appeared in downtown Los Angeles, there would be a few thousand people gathering around to see it, assuming they can stop texting long enough to look up and notice a giant pre-historic animal in their city. Anyway, in Doctor Who world, one gentleman and his wife are taking their evening stroll, and the hubby decides he wants to gawk at the T-Rex a bit longer. His wife, apparently bored by the presence of a GIANT PRE-HISTORIC CREATURE HANGING OUT, decides to go home and go to bed.  Her hubby stays behind to stare at the newly installed Jurassic Park exhibit, and makes a comment about his stellar observations skills. Apparently, they aren't as great as he thinks, because we then see a dude with half a face (Gus Fring?!). This Half Face Guy appears to be part human, part cyborg. Then, HE STEALS THE HUSBAND'S EYEBALLS Y'ALL. I have a thing about eyes. I don't like seeing people touch the, put eyedrops in, nothing. So even thinking about this guy's eyeballs being cut out grossed me the heck out. 

Alright, so back to the Doctor. He starts recovering and wakes up. Because he can apparently speak Dinosaur, the Doctor realizes the T-Rex is scared and lonely. After deciding the door was too boring of an option, he leaves (read: FALLS) through the window in an effort to go assist the T-Rex. As he's making his way to the dinosaurs' location, the T-Rex bursts into flames.  The Doctor hurries his way to the T-Rex by making jokes and stealing a horse, and his companions unknowingly follow him. Everyone arrives at the same time, only to find there is nothing to be done for the poor T-Rex. The Doctor looks distraught. For the first time on Capaldi's Doctor's face we see the famous Doctor guilt. He's let someone else down. To make an Avengers reference, it's more red in his ledger that he feels he needs to wipe out. When the Doctor asks if there have been similar spontaneous combustions, Vastra confirms. The Doctor then jumps into the Thames, with no explanation PER USUAL. 

The following morning, after Strax rudely throws a newspaper at her head and insults her, Clara discovers an ad in the paper inviting the "Impossible Girl" to lunch on "the other side." Clara realizes the Doctor does not hold the attention span to create a puzzles, and that the "other side" means the other side of the paper. SIDE NOTE: The nicknames for the companions make me get the goosebumps. As I've mentioned in an earlier post, anytime I hear "The Girl Who Waited," "The Boy Who Waited," "The Last Centurion," or "The Impossible Girl," I get the chills in the best way possible. It makes me feel so much more emotionally invested in the show. And I like that Clara's nickname is being used with the new Doctor. Even though, as we come to find out the Doctor didn't place the ad in the paper (or did he?!), it shows that the Doctor needs Clara. At least for now. 

In the meantime, the Doctor is in full on crazy mode, digging through trash and speaking non-sense. He meets a homeless gentlemen whom he scares the poop out of by asking him insane questions. Here we begin to see the questioning nature of this Doctor. He wonders  why he picked the face he is now wearing. There's always a reason for his choice. He asks the homeless man an apparently non-rhetorical question to the homeless man: What is he trying to prove? My thoughts: The "older" face shows the Doctor's true age and emotional state. He is tired and weary. He is burdened by years of guilt.  I'm not proclaiming this as some great revelation, it seems fairly obvious. For 2,000 years he has carried around guilt and death in his  two heavy hearts. It's about time the Doctor shows it, and not just occasionally, but constantly. Having a world-weary Doctor announces to Clara, and the audience, that this isn't going to be the light-hearted, whimsical Doctor we are used to (though Eccleston, Tennant, and Smith all did wonderful jobs of showing the Doctor's burden). I'm guessing this is going to be a reoccurring theme throughout this series, with a more than likely in your face explanation of the Doctor's choice in the eighth series finale. 

Clara and the Doctor arrive at the restaurant from the paper, and it is the first real TARDIS Team conversation between Clara and the new Doctor! What I love about their relationship is Clara's ability to see through the Doctor, and she isn't afraid to put him in his place. When he tries to joke around and smile with her, she tells him it isn't ok until she smiles at him. It's quite a lovely scene. It shows Clara has power in this relationship. The Doctor still cares for her, he is the same man deep down, but she needs some time to adjust. When Clara asks what kind of person would put an ad in the paper asking to meet, the Doctor responds saying "That person would be an egomaniac, needy game player." Clara is impressed that the Doctor is sighting his own faults until she realizes he didn't place the ad at all, but rather, the Doctor thought Clara placed the ad. Witty argumentative banter ensues in which the two argue over who is an egomaniac, needy, and a game player (BOTH!) before the Doctor realizes their fellow patron are all robots. When the Doctor and Clara attempt to leave, they are trapped in their seats and taken down to an old spaceship under Londontowne. (Haven't there been numerous spaceships under London at this point? You would think some land surveyor would have caught on at this point, but I digress). The Doctor nudges his sonic screwdriver out of his pocket and tells Clara it will be her job to kick it up to him so he can free them. When Clara struggles to reach because of her short stature, the Doctor opines "It's times like these I miss Amy," (to which I, out loud in a public theater, responded "Rude!"). Yes Amy's height would have been extremely useful in this situation, but it was not only a sad reminder that Amy is no longer in the RIGHT TIME STREAM, but it's just plain mean to bring her up as I'm starting to truly love Clara. 

Clara is able to successfully kick the sonic screwdriver up to the Doctor, and remind him that the screwdriver is voice activated, the two attempt an escape. However, Half Face Dude awakens and sends a door down between the Doctor and Clara. Instead of helping, the Doctor LEAVES CLARA BEHIND. Full Disclosure: I knew the Doctor would come back and save Clara. But the fact that he left her made me so upset! Ten and Eleven would not have left their companions behind. Ever. After a moment of despair, Clara remembers that the restaurant patrons weren't breathing, so she takes the episode titled "Deep Breath," and holds it for what felt like 5 minutes. Though she's able to get away from the Half Faced Dude, she ends up taking another breath CAUSE SHE IS HUMAN, and passes out. and is captured.  Real cool, Doctor. Real. Cool.  

Once Clara awakens, the Half Face Dude starts questioning Clara about the Doctor. Clara says she'll answer his questions if he answers hers. She is confident that he won't kill her because he needs her. She also tells the Two-Face wannabe that  she'll withstand a lot of pain before she even gets close to revealing the information he wants. Clara is officially a BAMF at this point. She knows what she's doing. Two-Face/Gus Fring tells her he wants to reach the Promised Land. For the first time in what feels like a long time, the ultimate goal isn't the destruction of the world. It is kind of nice to not feel the stakes are SO HIGH all the time, though of course Clara's life still hangs in the balance.

When Half Face Man asks Clara where the Doctor went, she genuinely responds that she doesn't know. This admission is painful for her. She trusted the Doctor; she thought he would always be there for her. She then tells Half Face Man that she knows one thing, that the Doctor will always have her back. Clara then reaches her hand behind her back, reaching for the Doctor. When the Doctor didn't immediately grab her hand, I got scared. Again, I knew he would save her, I knew he would be there, but for a split second I though the Doctor had let Clara down, BUT THEN HE GRABBED HER HAND, YOU GUYS! The Doctor had disguised himself as a robot lackey. The Doctor then told fake Two Face not to underestimate her just because she's short (YEAH!). Vastra and Jenny then enter quite gracefully, while Strax enters like the clumsy, idiotic fool he is.  A great example of the show's ability to show levity during intense moments. Amazing. Half Face Dude leaves and the Doctor follows, leaving Vastra, Jenny, Strax, and Clara to fight for themselves against what now seems like 50 robots. 

The Doctor confronts Half Faced Dude, offering him a drink of Scotch (like a boss!). The Doctor begins questioning the Half Face Man. The Doctor questions the Half Face Man's motives. His need to constantly seek out new human parts. The Doctor is so sure of himself in this scene, knowing he's going to win. He's going to kill the Half Face Man, but he still wants to know his purpose. After years of taking human flesh and parts, he's more human than cyborg, so why does he keep going? He's not the same person he was. The Half Faced Man is a reflection of the Doctor. It begs the question: After so many regenerations, is the Doctor the same man he used to be? To really drive the point home, the Doctor holds a tray up so the Half Faced Robot Dude can see his reflection, while the Doctor can see his reflection in the other side (this show isn't always the best with subtlety). It's a face he doesn't recognize. And the questions the Doctor is asking of another he is also asking about himself.  

The spaceship thingy is now above London. Half Face Man admits to the Doctor that though he wants to reach the promise land, he is tired of living, but he isn't programmed to kill himself. The Doctor responds saying he isn't programmed to kill. After a beat, the Doctor says one of them is lying. We then see the robots that were attacking Clara and the gang keel over, and Half Face Man dead hehe Doctor says he isn't programmed to murder in response to Half Face saying he isn't programmed to kill himself. However, the Doctor tells Half Face one of them is lying. Cut to the 50,000 robots keeling over, and Half Face impaled at the top of Big Ben. I think the showrunners tried to leave it a little ambiguous, but I'm of the persuasion that the Doctor killed Half Face. He's killed before. It doesn't mean he likes it- it's always the last option, but the Doctor will kill when necessary to protect the humans and the Earth that he loves. 

After the fight concludes, Clara and the others return to Vastra's home to find the TARDIS gone. In the next scene, Clara laments that the Doctor left her there. Before she can really get too emotional about his abandonment, we hear the sounds of the TARDIS (which we hadn't yet heard this episode!).  Before she leaves to join him once again, she confides in Vastra that she isn't sure she knows who the Doctor is anymore. Sure, he saved her. Sure, he came back for her, but Eleven wouldn't have left her in the first place. Except that Eleven did leave her. He left her when he regenerated. Clara is dealing with feelings of abandonment on two levels. 

But she's an ever faithful companion, so Clara of course gets back in the TARDIS.  On the journey to Clara's home, the Doctor says that he's lived for 2,000 years and has made mistakes along the way, and he wants to do something about it. He also seems to remind Clara that' he is not her boyfriend. When Clara responds that she never thought he was, the Doctor tells Clara, "I never said it was your mistake." I like this new perspective on the relationship, and not just becuase I'm on Team Rose/Doctor. I like the idea of the Doctor needing Clara as support and as a friend, like the Doctor/Donna relationship. It takes the will they/won't they out of the series, which has existed with every companion since Rose stepped foot in the TARDIS. While I like this change, I hope the writers aren't doing this becuase of the superficial difference in ages between teh Doctor and Clara. I think viewers would be ok seeing a younger companion and an older looking Doctor romantically involved, though I don't think it is necessary for the story.

As they continue the journey to take Clara home, Clara and the Doctor try to figure out who but the ad in the paper bringing them together. We're also reminded that Clara and the Doctor talked on the phone through the IT Help Line, bringing them together. Someone out there wants them together. Later we see Half Face Man in a garden, apparently having reached the Promised Land. There a woman asks if "her boyfriend" sent him there. We assume she's talking about the Doctor. Is this the person responsible for bringing Clara and the Doctor together? I'm guessing this will be a season long mystery.

When the TARDIS lands, the Doctor asks Clara if she will stay with him. She apologizes, and she means it, but she doesn't know who he is anymore. He left her. Twice in about 2 days. She's reeling. She's trying hard to be strong, but she's hurt. Her phone begins to ring, and Clara leaves the TARDIS to answer. When she answers, I recognized the familiar  voice, and my hand flew up to my mouth and my eyes welled up. Freaking Matt Smith. Really?! Now?! An Amy Pond reference,  and now you're going to make me not only have to hear Eleven's voice but also watch him tell Clara goodbye. Eleven tells Clara that he knows she's scared, but that the that the new Doctor is even more scared, and that he needs her, and she's the only one that can help him right now. DAMN YOU STEVEN MOFFAT pulling on my heart strings. 

Clara hangs up the phone, and Twelve asks her once again if she is willing to help. When she hugs him, he is so clearly uncomfortable. It is a beautiful contrast to the Doctor she just had a conversation with. Eleven would have gleefully returned the hug. Twelve on the other hand seems more apprehensive. 

And that's it. The the first appearance of Twelve. And I left feeling excited and intrigued. I really like Capaldi's version of the Doctor and I think he's going to make him incredibly interesting and dark. And I think Clara will get to continue the tradition of being a totally kickass and strong companion. I hope that the writer's don't shy away from the darker sides of the Doctor. We know it's there. We got a preview of it when we saw the War Doctor in the 50th Anniversary Special (again, an older looking Doctor, outwardly reflecting the internal weariness) and it's time we explore it. It doesn't mean the show has to be any less funny or entertaining. But I think a darker Doctor at this point could be incredibly compelling. Let's see what happens next week! (Don't forget to check out the upcoming podcast for more "Doctor Who" discussion!)