STORY 245 : DEEP BREATH
I must present a confession. I did not watched the leaked version of Deep Breath, but somehow the first five scripts for Doctor Who's eight season fell into my lap. The temptation was simply too great, but to my credit I read only three of them: Deep Breath, Into the Dalek, and Robots of Sherwood. As such, Deep Breath, the first story with Peter Capaldi as the 12th Doctor (or perhaps Doctor 1.2), was already familiar to me.
Reading the script, I pictured that it would be more a Vastra & Company episode than a proper Doctor Who story, and that the comedic aspects Steven Moffat was thrusting upon us would dominate. As it so happens, Deep Breath sticks close to that, but while there are some solid moments to be found this is, while not the worst debut story, a pretty weak one.
It is Victorian London, an a dinosaur is spotted by Parliament. It's up to Silurian Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), her wife, the human Cockney Jenny Flint (Catrin Stewart), and her manservant the Sontaran Strax (Dan Starkey) to figure out what it's doing here.
Oh, yes, and somehow some guy inside a blue police box is involved, though he's a secondary character in this episode.
That character might be The Doctor (Capaldi), accompanied by his human Companion Clara (Jenna Coleman, long having dropped 'Louise' from her name). Clara is having a hard time accepting this older-looking man as The Doctor, at one point asking the all-wise star of the show (which would be Vastra) how they could change him back to 'her' Doctor. In any case, the Doctor is having a hard time with his newest regeneration, but when he escapes in his nightshirt to find the dinosaur has apparently spontaneously combusted, he now has a focus.
That focus being to find out what killed the dinosaur, whether there have been other murders like this, and finding some clothes. Clara, for her part, still upset about the change (no, not THE change in women's life, but the change from pretty Smith to wrinkled old Capaldi) finds an ad which mentions the 'Impossible Girl', leading her to Mancini's Family Restaurant. Here, she and the Doctor meet, though each thinks the other sent the message.
At Mancini's, the food is always fresh, because to their horror, THEY are the main course. This restaurant is really a lair to entrap unsuspecting humans so that the Clockwork Mice...I mean, Clockwork Men and Women can harvest their organs. Their leader, the Half-Faced Man (Peter Ferdinando), wants to reach The Promised Land, but he cannot get there because his ship has been damaged for millennia. At one point, the Doctor appears to have left Clara, with her only chance of survival being to hold her breath.
Mercifully, the Doctor and the Half-Faced Man battle it out on the latter's balloon made out of human skin, while the Paternoster Gang with special guest star Clara Oswald fight the Clockwork Mice. The Half-Faced Man meets a sorry end, speared by the tower in Parliament (though whether he fell or was pushed is up for debate). The Doctor appears to disappear but he does return for Clara, who gets a call from The Doctor (Matt Smith, in a cameo), where he reassures her that the old guy IS the Doctor. With that, Rose and the Doctor go off for chips in London...I mean, Clara and the Doctor go off for chips in Glasgow.
At the end, though, the Half-Faced Man DOES arrive in Paradise, where Missy (Michelle Gomez), who claims the Doctor is her 'boyfriend', awaits the Half-Faced Man.
What's good about Deep Breath? Well, what's good is that it wasn't as disastrous as it read. A great deal of the credit goes to director Ben Wheatley, who brought a nice look to the episode. Any episode that makes the normally plain-looking Jenny into quite a beautiful-looking woman deserves some praise. It wasn't until we caught Jenny 'posing' for Vastra that we saw Jenny with her hair down, and Stewart looks beautiful there.
We also have to compliment Capaldi, who has the potential to be a fantastic Doctor. I say 'has the potential' because of Matt Smith and Steven Moffat. Smith grew to be the worst Doctor of All Time: a blithering idiot who rarely commanded respect and authority but instead looked like he was trying to figure out how a door works. Deep Breath in many ways reads like a Matt Smith-type script, with too many bad comedy moments (hearing a comic sound effect when Vastra manages to render the Doctor unconscious was just idiotic, plain and simple). The fluttery nature of the Doctor was Smith-like, and everything involving the Paternoster Gang (in particular the increasingly irritating Strax) was also Moffat's attempt to throw in what he thinks is comedy (and/or worse, what he think Doctor Who fans want).
Take for example when the Paternoster Gang comes to the rescue (the second time they serve as a form of deus ex machina). You have what is suppose to be a very dramatic, even exciting moment as these two master assassins descend to the lair by means of cloth wrapped around them. All well ad good I suppose, but then what could have been an effect moment is ruined by having Strax crash down right behind them. It's as if Moffat simply can't trust the audience to have a moment that would require drama or action without giving them a 'light, comic' moment.
I hated Vastra's 'carriage alarm' business, which wasn't funny or clever or smart. I hated the idea of having Strax still not understand the idea of 'clothes' or hitting Clara with the newspaper (though the thing with the water wasn't too bad. Still dumb, but not dreadful).
Moffat spends far too much time with the Paternoster Gang in unnecessary things. The entire scene with Strax examining Clara (and naturally getting things wrong) should have been cut because it added nothing to either character development or plot. Curiously, while Moffat kept this bit (I figure to justify showing Deep Breath as a film of sorts in theaters), he cut the 'spontaneous combustion' investigation and shifted to the 'restaurant' business.
I wondered why in all this time the police never bothered to investigate the disappearance that must have been noted by family and friends of those who were last seen either going to or entering Mancini's. This had been going on for several years, yet am I suppose to believe every person who went into Mancini's had no friends or relations to worry about should they just disappear? This is a plot point that, like many in Moffat's oeuvre, is conveniently forgotten when needed.
The focus on the Paternoster Gang is perhaps the biggest detriment to Deep Breath. Having Jenny declare that she is in love with a lizard (confirming my long-held belief that same-sex bestiality is something that shouldn't be featured on a family show) doesn't help, nor does the idea that VASTRA, all-wise and all-knowing, knows what regeneration is (despite never seeing it herself) but CLARA doesn't. Clara has, if Doctor Who is to be believed, interacted with ALL the Doctors, and has met Doctors who are much older-looking than Capaldi's version. In fact, it was CLARA who told the First Doctor which TARDIS to take (even if that does contradict a previous Doctor Who story where the TARDIS said it had chosen the Doctor).
If anything Clara should be the one to best understand the concept. In the times a Companion straddled two Doctors, the Companions took quite easily to the idea of change. Able Seaman Ben Jackson and Polly, who were the first to experience the Doctor's regeneration, struggled a bit but didn't struggle with the concept and quickly saw Patrick Troughton as THE Doctor. Sarah Jane Smith went from Jon Pertwee to Tom Baker and not once ever thought of wanting the 'old one' back. When Adric, Tegan Jovanka, and Nyssa saw the Fourth Doctor become the Fifth, they never struggled. Even Rose, who saw the first NuWho regeneration, immediately accepted the Tenth as the Doctor.
Given all that, why does Clara appear so unaware of what was going on? It makes her look shallow, and perhaps that was the intent, but it still is not logical.
Then again, since when was Doctor Who interested in things like continuity?
The issue about Smith's cameo is troubling for two reasons. First, it has the negative effect of treating the audience as weaklings and imbeciles, either unable or unwilling to accept a concept that, after four actors, they should already know and accept by now. It's a sad commentary that fans apparently need help in coping with a change in cast. In all the fifty-one years of Doctor Who, neither fans or Companions ever had to be basically hand-held in accepting one actor as The Doctor over the other. Tennant never barged in on Smith, nor did Tom Baker ever have to pop up to help those Doctor Who fans accept Peter Davison.
Are Doctor Who fans THAT emotionally and intellectually weak?
Second and more insidious to me, Smith's appearance has the effect of stomping over what is suppose to be his successor's first story. How can you have a real showcase for one actor when you got the guy you replaced to basically pop in and say, 'Hey, remember me?' This was suppose to be Capaldi's moment, so why does Smith have to rear his big chin into the proceedings? There was no need to have Smith appear in Deep Breath apart than to placate HIS fans, not Doctor Who fans, not the same thing.
Still, Capaldi's Doctor, though at times relegated to being more Smith-like than anything, manages to show that he can do good things. When he challenges the Half-Faced Man it does give us hints that perhaps he will be a darker (read, better) version of The Doctor. It's too soon to say whether Capaldi can be a good Doctor, but so far the hope is still there. Sadly, the same can't be said for Coleman. Apart from having something odd about her left eye which kept my attention whenever she was on screen, Clara is still dim, weak, and devoid of real personality.
As for the Paternoster Gang, I do wish they would all just go. I'm tired of constantly hearing about how Jenny and Vastra are 'married' (again, WHO would perform the ceremony). I'm tired of Strax's bumbling (you'd think the 'he's too stupid to figure things out' routine would have died by now).
Even worse, Deep Breath with Gomez's wild and over-the-top Missy (a mix of River Song and Madame Kovarian), we are going to have to endure more season-long arcs that are a drag on the show. Rather than a simple series of adventures, we're going to be dragged through more 'Bad Wolf' and 'Cracks in Time' and 'Impossible Girl' stories where every episode seems like one long prequel to nothing. It's a bit like what a critic wrote about the 1963 Cleopatra: at six hours it might have been a movie, but at its current version its a series of coming attractions for something that will never come.
Finally, Murray Gold has got to be fired. Plain and simple. While the new opening sequence was visually impressive, the new theme is too screechy for my taste (almost like hearing a group of cats being tortured) and attempting 'funny' music or 'crying-inducing' music just drowns the story with unnecessary baggage.
Deep Breath has about only one real positive in it, and that is Peter Capaldi, who is better than his material. In almost every other aspect, from the Vastra & Company spin-off in all but name, to the actual story itself and the 'Missy' subplot that will eventually take center stage, I think we don't have to hold our breath that this season will be a major improvement over last.
Sadly, in this episode, we don't even need the Doctor all that much. With that, Deep Breath shows just how irrelevant the Doctor has become on Doctor Who.
Next Episode: Into the Dalek