Thoughts on Deep Breath

I just watched “Into the Dalek” last night, and will share my thoughts on that on the next Verity!. ūüôā

I have some first impressions, and some nitpicks about “Deep Breath.”

In general, I really liked most of the episode. It was a pretty good introduction of a new Doctor, although I still think “The Eleventh Hour” is the standard for the Moffat era of same.

Caitlin’s experience of watching the episode is that she was thrilled to see¬†her¬†Doctor, Matt Smith, however briefly, and she’s somewhat dubious of This New Guy. That’s a legit part of the regeneration fan reaction cycle.¬†But Caitlin has been through multiple regenerations. She knows that the Doctor is still the Doctor (splendid chaps, all of them, as the Brigadier would say). She’ll be fine, given time to get to know the new one. As is the way of things.

On Capaldi as the Doctor:

I love him. LOVE LOVE LOVE him. He is brusque and he is funny and he is deeply alien in his interactions. He’s playing it with shades of the Dark 7th Doctor and Tom Baker’s first 3 seasons. Even better, he’s getting plots and writing that provide what Colin Baker’s Doctor desperately needed to pull off the whole “Doctor is truly alien and has alien reactions” thing.

The whole bit with the dinosaur, and the scene with the homeless man with him discovering his Scots and his eyebrows were sheer brilliance. I pretty much love every single choice he made as an actor. And the costume. I especially loved the whole “I’m pouring myself a drink because I’ll likely have to kill you.” This is clearly a Grown Up Doctor. *nods in satisfaction* So much so that it doesn’t matter if the lead robot jumped or was pushed. (I vote the former).

On Clara:

It’s good to see Jenna Coleman getting things to do. Clara Oswald is finally getting more well-rounded characterization moments rather than being a plot device! The interplay of her being forcibly perky at the Doctor to needle him, and the two of them snarking together in the restaurant scene is made of multiple levels of win. I also rather enjoyed her performance down in the larder. Terrified and defiant and vulnerable and brave simultaneously. Brilliant.

On the Paternoster Gang:

It’s always lovely to see them. Vastra, Jenny & Strax are among my favorite recurring characters. ¬†I generally enjoy their interplay. Vastra & Jenny’s domestic relationship has some interesting undercurrents, mostly played for laughs. Strax is his usual deeply, affectionately inappropriate self. The whole “the Doctor’s family” vibe is very much in play here, and I adore the fact that they are totally ready to incorporate Clara into family life if need be.

Yes, I have a theory about who Missy is. It’s one of the more popular theories, which involves “Missy” being an abbreviation for a feminized version of a particular title. If I’m wrong, that’s fine. *shrug* I’m interested enough to see where it goes, which is part of the point, obviously. And yay, female villain!

There were some things that bugged me, though. Nitpicks ahoy!

Pacing. We watched on BBC America, and the commercial breaks KILLED the structural pacing of the plot, because the plot wasn’t structured for the breaks that BBCA introduced. Obviously, this will be fixed when we own the blurays. But… annoying. US television is structured for these breaks in terms of act breaks and hooks. UK television is not, and that is totally fine. However, if the point of BBCAmerica as a channel is to showcase UK television at its best, why not structure your commercial breaks so that they fit the televisual structure that you’re showcasing?

Much of the humor in Clara’s scenes was aimed¬†at Clara, which, because there was so much of it, began to come across as rather targeted. The slapstick newspaper to the head, the very upsetting medical examination that served no plot purpose (other than introducing the gadget for the Blue Peter winner, which could have been done another, better way–hey, how about examining the Doctor?) and generally just reinforced the whole “Clara is an empty vessel/”typical” woman interested in attractive footballers/has no clear non-narcissistic depths” trope that I have come to deeply dislike.

I realize that this is probably designed to underline and reinforce the veil scene where Clara pushes back at Vastra pointedly claiming that Clara has no depth. Unfortunately, I don’t think it was terribly effective, because while Jenna did a great job with the speech that she was handed, there was something missing in that speech about her issues with the regeneration: Clara’s acknowledgement that the Doctor is still the Doctor. And the plot acknowledging that her having mixed feelings about the regeneration is a perfectly reasonable reaction.

Let’s talk about my¬†issues with how the regeneration was handled.

I accept that in the Moffat Era of Doctor Who, plot and clever lines will be privileged over honest-feeling character emotional beats that might mess up said plot/cleverness, just as I accept that during the Davies Era of Doctor Who, the emotional reactions of the characters to situations will generally be spot-on, but there will be plot holes that you can drive a truck through. So be it.

If you’ve decided to rewrite continuity so many times that it doesn’t matter anymore because every arc is now designed to ignore/erase the emotional consequences for any character at any given point, and you’ve trolled every pedantic fan desperately trying to make sense of the timeline for eternity? I will just throw up my hands and do my best to engage with what is before me. It’s easier. I’m not going to give you the satisfaction of spending a lot more hard-earned attention and brain-time on something that you clearly don’t think is¬†all that¬†important. Fanon will do the emotional work that you don’t want to do. *throws up hands*

Clara’s timeline before and after jumping into the vortex to save all the Doctor’s is now so hosed up beyond recognition that I will just accept¬†her not understanding regeneration or knowing what it looks like. ¬†She has not a clue, because the plot works better that way. Despite having established her as being a generally clueful and a worthy companion who has already saved the Doctor repeatedly.

Clara keeps saying “something’s gone wrong” and pointing out the age of this new Doctor. Understandable to a certain extent, as in Clara’s experience of “The Day of the Doctor” and “The Time of the Doctor,” the Doctor ages, but begins young. Assuming she remembers that. If she doesn’t, she still might be freaked out that after being told that regeneration is a renewal, the Doctor has renewed into a body that clearly has more wear and tear on it than the previous version. So she might plausibly suspect at first that something went wrong. ¬†Clara’s reaction that she’s not sure this is the same person are perfectly reasonable. Especially given that the Doctor has some decently bad amnesia at first, and doesn’t remember her.

The phonecall then also makes a certain amount of sense.¬†It’s supposed to be a plea for the viewer to give the new Doctor a chance.¬†And, clearly (in retrospect, given the recurring theme in “Into the Dalek”), the goal here is to have the Question of the Season (or at least part of it) be Who is the Doctor This Time? Which is fair enough.

But the over-emphasis on the age of the Doctor (both based on his observations and Clara’s) ended up throwing me out of the story. It felt as though there was a meta-text of yelling at the vocal parts of fandom that were (assumed to be) upset that the Doctor is now older. These fans were assumed to be female, flighty, and only interested in attractive young men who are potential love interests, just like Clara was assumed to be. And Clara’s reaction was clearly an attempt to point that out. ¬†So what you have is a metatext that yells at one set of fans about not liking the Doctor because he’s older, and another metatext (Clara’s reaction) that tells us that there’s clearly something¬†wrong with being older. It basically slaps the audience with ageism both ways; if we accept that the Doctor is older, we side with thinking that young people are vapid, and if we don’t, we don’t want to think about/value older people.

As a result, I’ve now devoted much of my commentary about this episode to something that should have been a minor point from a plot and emotional POV.

We already accept that the Doctor is 2000+ years old at this point, regardless of wearing a young, pretty face to appeal to the masses. All we needed was one line that pointed out that the Doctor doesn’t always get younger, with the example of the Troughton to Pertwee regeneration. Explain to Clara (and the viewers at home who need it) that this sometimes happens, and move on. It solves the issue, and places the emphasis back where it belongs, which is on Clara and the Doctor getting to know themselves and each other in this new context.

The transition from one Doctor to another is always rocky. Accepting change is a major theme of the series. Chastising the audience by assuming that they will all fail to do so in different ways just seems a bit … illogical for a now hugely popular show that has world tours and simulcast premieres.

So, TL;DR: I liked Deep Breath, loved Capaldi & Coleman, thought some of the jokes fell flat, and thought that the deep suspicion of Capaldi’s age as the Doctor was a bit overemphasized.



About Lynne M. Thomas

Lynne M. Thomas is a nine time Hugo Award winning editor and podcaster. In her day job, she is Head of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
This entry was posted in Doctor Who, Having all the fee fees, not so deep thoughts, puttin on my ranty pants and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Thoughts on Deep Breath

  1. Paul Weimer (@PrinceJvstin) says:

    Given Moffat’s love of head fakes and the like, no, I don’t think Missy is the recurring villain whom we shall not name.

    But yea, yes, female villain again!


  2. Anniew says:

    I agree that they whole series so far is trying just a bit too hard. The banter between Doc and Clara about her looks goes on just too long as did the banter between The Doc and Robin. Missy and Clara – bad mum/ good mum or in jungian terms aspects of the Doc’s soul – the hate and negative self doubt and the hope and faith.
    Love your stuff. VERY smart women !


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