Doctor Who blogging: “Deep Breath”
[previous: “The Time of the Doctor”]
I’m going to have to resign myself to the fact that I am never going to like Steven Moffat’s idea about what Doctor Who is. Like: I want stories that actually make sense and satisfy as fiction. Moffat obviously is all about spectacle. A dinosaur next to Big Ben? It looks cool, so why not?
I like dinosaurs, too, and as a kid I used to have nightmares — nightmares that I loved — about dinosaurs roaming city streets. But a dinosaur in 19th-century London? That doesn’t freak out the entire city? Hell, people today, in the 21st century, would doubt that an invisible fence would contain an enormous vicious predator like a T. rex, but we’re supposed to believe that 1880s Londoners didn’t run away as fast and as far as they could because “lanterns” emitting a “signal” were holding it at bay?
And let’s not even ponder how the T. rex arrived in London. If something touching the TARDIS could be carried along through the spacetime vortex with the ship, this presents a problem every time the TARDIS dematerializes. Why don’t floors disappear along with the TARDIS?
I’m thinking too much about this, but I cannot help it. I don’t want a Doctor Who pantomime. I want authentic drama or humor or both at the same time. We’ve seen it before. Where did that go?
It’s not even as if the presence of a T. rex in 1880s London is woven into the story in any way that matters. I hesitate to invoke such a curse on even the likes of Moffat, but this is practically Michael Bay-ist. It’s awesome for its own limited sake, and nothing else. (The Doctor speaks dinosaur? Of course he does.)
Moffat is in love with awesome ideas, so much so that he reuses them whenever he can. I thought: Really? Clockwork robots again?
And then these turn out to be, in fact, the actual same clockwork robots from “Girl in the Fireplace” (also written by Moffat, though with Russell T. Davies editing him, and the clockwork robots were not the focus of the story). Back again because they look cool. “I’ve seen this before,” the Doctor says. Yeah, so have we. All of time and space, and the same stuff keeps cropping up over and over again.
A restaurant full of robot people not eating? It makes no sense, but it’s creepy as heck, right? I mean, at least as long as you don’t think about it too much. If that “restaurant” existed merely to draw in unsuspecting victims, it wouldn’t take too many mysterious disappearances — or even spontaneous combustions! — before the would-be victims would all start to be pretty darn suspecting.
The stuff with Strax, too, goes way beyond anything that makes sense in its attempts to be funny. “By now he’s almost certainly had his throat cut by the violent poor”? That’s funny. And if Strax insists on calling Clara a boy, fine. But what the heck is this?
He mistakes Clara’s eye for her mouth? He has eyes and a mouth! He has a humanoid face. How could he possibly not know where Clara’s mouth is? How could he not understand that Clara is wearing clothing when he himself is wearing clothing? It’s like Moffat doesn’t care about context at all.
But fortunately, we now have Peter Capaldi to save us. We have to get through some unnecessary padding — racing through the streets of London, Clara’s “medical” exam — but when his new Doctor finally settles in and take charge, he is electifying: he’s rude, abrupt, a bit scary, even. And he needs a drink before he has to kill a guy:
Wait, what? Did the Doctor really say that? Okay, he didn’t drink the drink, at least not that we saw, but still. This is a new Doctor.
And did he actually kill the robot leader guy? Is he daring us to think that he did? Like actually daring those of us watching? Did Doctor Who just break the fourth wall here?
This is some delicious ambiguity, and Doctor Who could do with some more of it of late. We don’t need to have everything underscored and highlighted and bashed over our heads… like with the Matt Smith Doctor phoning Clara to ask her to be nice to his new self. The conversations between Clara and Vastra over the Doctor’s new face were kinda confused — why is Clara so upset that the Doctor is suddenly gray when she’s not a shallow girl and digs old philosophers and stuff? — but it was more than enough for us to understand that she doesn’t quite know what to make of him changing his appearance so dramatically. Let’s be fair: the new Doctor doesn’t look anywhere near 2,000 years old. But we get how upsetting this must be without needing a thesis on it.
In fact, this moment speaks volumes about the Doctor’s complicated relationship with his own face — and our relationship with him:
(Kudos to director Ben Wheatley. That’s a beautiful shot.)
I like Vastra’s explanation to Clara of how the Doctor’s face is like a veil, merely a front that he shows to the universe and not a true reflection of his real self. I wonder if that will have any connection to the Doctor’s consternation over how familiar his face seems to him, and his wondering why he chose it, however subconsciously. (There has always been no doubt that the Doctor cannot control his regenerations, at least not consciously; he wouldn’t always be so surprised at the way they turn out, for one.) What is he “trying to tell” himself? I hope this doesn’t turn out to be another roundabout trip to a dead end. No one would have worried one tiny bit about the fact that Capaldi had played another character in the show in the past. This could end up being overexplained to the point of tediousness.
Still, Moffat the bastard has me hooked. Who is Missy?
The obvious guess is the Rani. But I wonder if Romana found her way back from E-space and somehow went insane along the way. She has to be a time traveler, at a bare minimum, cuz now she’s meddled in both the 1880s and the 2010s. Whoever she turns out to be, Michelle Gomez is awesome, so this should be fun.
Hopefully. Unless, of course, Moffat decides he doesn’t need to explain why she lured the Doctor and Clara to the restaurant with her puzzle-ad in the first place. I mean, she had to have a specific reason to want them to uncover the evil plan of the robot-people, otherwise she could just have waited for the Doctor to return to the TARDIS, as even idiot Strax realized would happen, if she only needed the Doctor and Clara to be reunited.
Yeah, I won’t hold my breath.
Random thoughts on “Deep Breath”:
• Ooo, the opening credits have gone all steampunk:
• I’ve always had some interesting ideas about what Time Lords could do with their psychic abilities:
Hey, wait a minute. Vastra has psychic abilities enough to take on a Time Lord? Since when?
• That guy Alf who blames “the government” for the appearance of a dinosaur in the middle of London?
He’s gotta be a Victorian ancestor of Clive, the conspiracy theorist Rose meets in the very first episode of the rebooted show. It’s different actors — Alf is played by Tony Way, and Clive by Mark Benton — but they look an awful lot alike.
• Clara thinks the Doctor isn’t complicated?!
• Clara whacks the Doctor in the crotch with the sonic screwdriver. Because what Doctor Who has been missing is crotch-injury humor. Hooray.
• So after Clara has seemingly been left behind by the Doctor:
and is scared to death while playing I Dare You To Kill Me with the head clockwork-robot guy, she could have touched her brooch and said “Geronimo” and summoned the armed-to-the-teeth posse of Vastra, Jenny, and Strax at any time? *facepalm*
• The Doctor changed the TARDIS’s desktop theme again:
I love that there’s books everywhere:
“The game is afoot, and we’re going to need a lot of tea.” –Vastra
“Don’t look in that mirror: it’s absolutely furious!” –the Doctor
“Who frowned me these lines?” –the Doctor
Not so great quote:
“People are apes. Men are monkeys.” –Vastra (this is Moffat’s idea of a “strong woman,” perhaps?)
[next: “Into the Dalek”]