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Doctor Who: Deep Breath (Review)

“Dormant.”

“How do you know?”

“I don’t. Just hoping.”

– the Doctor and Clara discover things haven’t changed too much

The regeneration from Matt Smith to Peter Capaldi represents the third time that Doctor Who has changed its lead actor since its relaunch in 2005. It is the third time that a regeneration has forced a change in the opening credits. Along the way, there have been a number of other on-screen regenerations, from Derek Jacobi to John Simm through to John Hurt to almost!Christopher Eccleston. And that excludes River’s transformations or David Tennant’s pseudo-regeneration at the end of the fourth season.

All of this is to say that, as we approach the tenth anniversary of the revived Doctor Who, audiences are quite familiar with the concept of regeneration. This isn’t as dramatic a shift as it was when Christopher Eccleston melted into David Tennant at the end of The Parting of the Ways. That was a freshly relaunched show swapping out its lead actor after less than a year. In contrast, Deep Breath marks a much more orderly and logical transition. It isn’t earth-shattering.

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All of this means that producer and writer Stephen Moffat gets to have a bit of fun with the concept. Moffat’s previous regeneration episode, The Eleventh Hour, had the burden of demonstrating that Doctor Who could survive without both Russell T. Davies and David Tennant. In fact, it was rumoured the BBC had considered just cancelling the show at that point. As such, The Eleventh Hour was an episode designed to reassure fans that not everything had changed; this was still the same show. Moffat’s first season as showrunner was very much “business as usual.”

Deep Breath has no such weight attached to it. It is an episode that doesn’t feel the same need to reassure its audience that everything is okay and everything is the same. Instead, it can revel in what is different; it can celebrate what is new. Deep Breath lacks the sheer energy and powerful charisma that made The Eleventh Hour so fantastic, but it has a comforting sense of certainty to it that makes it a joy.

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To be fair, Deep Breath is perhaps the most restrained episode that Moffat has written since The Bells of St. John. Moffat’s more recent scripts tend to be a bit madcap – covering a phenomenal amount of space in a rather small amount of time. Which, as an aside, feels wonderfully appropriate for the show in question. Deep Breath runs a little over half-an-hour longer than the usual Doctor Who episode. Indeed, it is a nice touch that Deep Breath and Death in Heaven are extended so this twelve-episode season runs as long as a normal thirteen-episode season would.

This extra time recalls the way that the Davies era would occasionally spill over from its time slot to accommodate plotting and pacing. As a result, Deep Breath feels a bit more relaxed than Moffat’s other recent scripts like The Name of the Doctor or The Day of the Doctor. It’s a decidedly simply story, told in a relatively straightforward manner. The closest the script comes to hitting one of Moffat’s patented “timey wimey” moments comes at the climax – as Clara receives a phone call from the Eleventh Doctor to convince her to give this new fellow a chance.

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Then again, the straightforward plotting of Deep Breath is perhaps the show’s biggest surprise. It seems as if the episode is written to subvert a lot of the expectations for a Moffat-penned regeneration story. Much as Matt Smith’s blink-and-you-miss-it regeneration took a lot of viewers by surprise in The Time of the Doctor, Deep Breath avoids a lot of the plot beats that fans would expect from a story introducing the new Doctor. Instead, this is a straightforward plot, one admittedly cobbled together – like its villain – from stock Doctor Who plot elements.

The episode’s teaser opens away from the TARDIS. We don’t get to see the immediate aftermath of the Doctor’s regeneration in the console room with Clara. Instead, the episode gets straight to a giant dinosaur rampaging through the Thames. “What’s this dinosaur fellow doing in the Thames?” a local constable asks, making it clear that Deep Breath isn’t going to get too bogged down in the transition between leading actors. The Twelfth Doctor and Clara have already been to the prehistoric era and back again by the time we meet them.

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The fact that Moffat is comfortable enough to leave Clara’s last proper conversation with the Eleventh Doctor hanging over from Christmas – eight months ago – demonstrates that Deep Breath takes this sort of transition for granted. He knows that the audience will want something like that, but he also knows that the audience is familiar enough with how all this works that they don’t need it immediately. Deep Breath isn’t an episode about how weird it is that the Doctor changed his face, because the show is past the point where that could be considered unusual.

(Indeed, the teaser has a great deal of fun with this, as the Doctor’s transformation is so firmly within the boundaries of what the show considers normal that he can spend several minutes insisting that everybody else has changed dramatically. “I remember you,” he declares of Clara. “You’re Handles! He used to be a talking head and now you’ve really let yourself go.” It’s a great gag, but the fact that it works relies on the audience taking the idea of the Doctor changing his face for granted at this point.)

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Instead, Deep Breath an episode about how weird it is that the Doctor changed to this face. Interestingly, Moffat’s script makes Peter Capaldi’s age its central issue. Clara doesn’t seem too surprised that the Eleventh Doctor regenerated. She seems surprised that he regenerated into a slightly older and “greyer” Scottish geezer. “He regenerated,” Vastra explains. “Renewed himself.” It’s a rather delightful paradox – that the Doctor can “renew” himself by seeming older and more mature.

Clara acknowledges this odd fact. “You said renewed. He doesn’t. He doesn’t look renewed. He looks older.” Of course, the fact that Clara scattered herself across the Doctor’s timeline in The Name of the Doctor means she probably should have been prepared for this. Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker were no spring chickens; still, it works. Deep Breath very clearly wants to address the issue of choosing an “older” Doctor, with considerable space afforded to the impact of ageing the Doctor upwards.

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What is interesting is that Moffat frames the debate in terms of the show itself. Madame Vastra makes the point that the Doctor is an old character. It makes sense that he should look a little old. When Clara wonders why he chose to look young before – consistently for the last third of his regenerations – Vastra replies, “He flirted with you.” When Clara points out the younger face was not for her, Vastra argues that it was “for everyone.” In effect, the Doctor’s youthful appearance was a way of flirting with the universe.

“The oldest reason there is for anything,” Vastra assures Clara. “To be accepted.” This feels like wry meta-commentary on the relaunched show’s tendency to cast younger actors in the lead role. The argument is that younger performers like David Tennant or Matt Smith made it easier for Doctor Who to find its feet again on its return from cancellation. It was easier to sell a show with a young lead than a show with an older performer. Certainly, David Tennant made an appealing sex symbol.

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As such, Deep Breath suggests that the casting of an older Doctor is an act of honesty on the part of the show, a gesture of faith towards an audience it has courted and which it hopes will still love it despite this transition. As Vastra explains, “The young man disappeared. The veil lifted.” Given that Moffat had planned to cast somebody “old enough to look wise” in the role of the Eleventh Doctor before Matt Smith auditioned for the role, this seems a delightfully candid admission. If Doctor Who can work with an older actor, then perhaps it is well and truly back.

The opening few minutes of Deep Breath use a trapped dinosaur as a nice metaphor for the Doctor himself. “I am alone now,” the Doctor repeats, seemingly translating the panicked roaring of the tyrannosaurus trapped in the Thames. One wonders if the Doctor doesn’t feel the same way – an immeasurably old being being pulled back and forth across time, but unable to ever find his way back home again. The Doctor clearly has a strong empathy with the creature.

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The meta-dialogue doesn’t end there. Moffat’s rather clever and candid justification of Capaldi’s casting doesn’t end with a discussion of age. Moffat cleverly teases hardcore fans who were wondering about Capaldi’s early appearances in the world of Doctor Who, in The Fires of Pompeii and Torchwood: Children of Earth. “Have you seen this face before?” the Doctor demands at one point. “I’m sure that I have.” Later he ponders, “Do you ever look in the mirror and think ‘I’ve seen that face before’?”

“Why this one?” the Doctor wonders. “Why did I choose this face? It’s like I’m trying to tell myself something. Like I’m trying to make a point. But what is so important that I can’t just tell myself what I’m thinking?” It seems that there is a clear thematic connection. In The Fires of Pompeii, that face was one the few people that the Doctor managed to save. The season works hard to define the character as a pragmatist in episodes like Into the Dalek or Mummy on the Orient Express. The Twelfth Doctor seems more comfortable with death than his predecessors.

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However, the show suggests that the Twelfth Doctor simply accepts that he cannot save everybody; but that does not excuse him from tough decisions. “Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones,” he tells Clara at the end of Mummy on the Orient Express. “But you still have to choose.” Here, the Doctor is faced with the prospect of “violating [his] basic programming” to save lives. However, his own face seems to serve as a reminder that he must still save as many as he can.

In fact, the scene where the Doctor contemplates his new face feels like a clever call back to The Time of the Doctor. There, facing regeneration, the Eleventh Doctor mused, “It all just disappears, doesn’t it? Everything you are, gone in a moment, like breath on a mirror.” While the title Deep Breath refers to the climactic efforts to escape the robots, it also seems to reference that line. Perhaps there is something more fundamental and more enduring – something deeper – that can be seen in a mirror. Something more underlying and true.

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As if to underscore all this clever set-up and pay-off across multiple seasons, Deep Breath even manages to tie the début of the Twelfth Doctor into the show’s “Impossible Girl” arc from across the second half of the seventh season, and not simply in tying it all back to Missy. Instead, Deep Breath reverses the positions of Clara and the Doctor. In the seventh season, the Doctor wound up seeing Clara as a puzzle to be solved, rather than a character. The twist in The Name of the Doctor was that Clara was a person all along, not a trap or a twist or a puzzle.

It was one of the more controversial plotting decisions that Steven Moffat would make – not least because spending a season telling the audience that a character is a twist only to insist that it is terrible to look at a character as a twist felt like a mean-spirited bait-and-switch, particularly in the fiftieth anniversary year. However, Deep Breath manages to pay some of that off by having Clara confront a new iteration of the Doctor, only to realise that this is the same man she has always known.

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“You can’t see me, can you?” the Doctor asks her. “You look at me, and you can’t see me. Have you any idea what that’s like? I’m not on the phone, I’m right here, standing in front of you. Please, just, just see me.” It is a very nice way of twisting the characters around – of forcing Clara to look at the Doctor in the same way that the Doctor had looked at Clara; as a problem rather than a person. In a way, this foreshadows the season’s big “Clara-as-the-Doctor” arc that is set up in episodes like Kill the Moon.

Moffat seems to acknowledge the “Impossible Girl” arc in the restaurant conversation. “It’s a vanity trap,” the Doctor advises Clara. “You’re so busy congratulating yourself on solving the puzzle, you don’t notice that you’re sticking your head in a noose.” That was, in effect, what the “Impossible Girl” arc was – a plot that looked like a puzzle and so became a red herring. It invited fans to look at it too closely, thus missing the bigger picture. Moffat would play on this idea with the incredibly-obvious-cliffhanger gag in Dark Water. The twist is not the point.

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Other recurring motifs of the season appear in Deep Breath. In some respects, the Twelfth Doctor actually harks back to the Ninth and Tenth Doctors, as Moffat has the distance to re-engage with some of his predecessor’s core themes. The Twelfth Doctor marks something of a return to the class warrior associated with the Davies era, a character who very consciously sees himself as a member of the cosmic working class, despite the fact that his title is “Time Lord.”

The Twelfth Doctor starts his investigation into the murder by rooting in dustbins, recalling the Tenth Doctor’s posing as service staff in Rise of the Cybermen or the Twelfth Doctor’s navigation of the Dalek in Into the Dalek or the bank in Time Heist. While Clara worries about the Doctor, Strax reassures her, “You must stop worrying about him, my boy. By now, he’s almost certainly had his throat cut by the violent poor.” Later, the Doctor warns the cyborg that the view from above is not “beautiful”, “It’s just far away. Everything looks too small. I prefer it down there.”

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To be fair, the villain of Deep Breath is not up to much. But he doesn’t have to be. He is, after all, just there to give the Doctor something to bounce off. Deep Breath is primarily about getting a feel for Peter Capaldi in the role, and the script is designed to accommodate that. One suspects that the additional half-hour was added on to allow for the various character interactions that allow Capaldi to get more comfortable. In particular, the delightful (and extended) argument-in-the-restaurant scene between Clara and the Doctor.

Nevertheless, the robotic villain does provide a nice counterpoint to the Doctor at this most crucial of junctures. Like the dinosaur before him, he serves as a reminder of the Doctor’s true age. This robot has been living on Earth long enough to remember dinosaurs the first time around. Over the years, this creature has survived by replacing little parts of itself over and over and over again. “Wonder how long it’s been around, how much of the original is even left?” the Doctor ponders.

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It seems like Moffat is asking the same question of Doctor Who itself. The series is continually changing and evolving and shifting. This isn’t a new thing by any measure. There was a seismic shift between William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton, just as there was between Troughton and Jon Pertwee. The show constantly tweaks and reworks itself, swapping out bits and pieces, doing things different. “How long have you been rebuilding yourselves?” Clara asks. “Look at the state of you. Is there any real you left? What’s the point?”

“You have replaced every piece of yourself, mechanical and organic, time and time again,” the Doctor reflects. “There’s not a trace of the original you left. You probably can’t even remember where you got that face from.” Given that the Doctor cannot remember where he found his own face, Deep Breath is quite candid about these identity issues. After all, there are all sorts of fans who will claim that the show has become something completely and radically different over time – with their own starting point serving as a basis for comparison.

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Using the example of a broom where a person changes the handle and then changes the brush, the Doctor ponders, “Is it still a broom?” This may just be the quintessential question for any Doctor Who regeneration story. The show swaps out just about every part over time. Much like the Doctor paradoxically renews himself by taking on the form of an older man, the show paradoxically retains its identity by changing virtually everything about itself, over and over and over again. Deep Breath even features a new theme and a new opening credits sequence.

As one might expect for an episode this preoccupied with age and change, Deep Breath is populated with all sorts of shout outs and acknowledgements. The Twelfth Doctor borrows the Tenth Doctor’s catchphrase (“I’m sorry”) and yearns for the Fourth Doctor’s wardrobe (“… a big long scarf”). The plot itself is something of a cobbled-together Frankenstein’s monster of references and plot elements from past stories, little bits and pieces stitched together into a more convincing whole.

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Underneath Victorian London, he finds an imitation Chinese man, evoking The Talons of Weng-Chiang. A prestigious establishment just happens to have “an ancient spaceship, probably buried for centuries” in the basement, much like the mansion in Ghost Light. People argue about crap dinosaur effects (“it’s the neck”) as in Invasion of the Dinosaurs. However, what is most interesting is that the plot of Deep Breath makes several explicit references to the plot of Moffat’s The Girl in the Fireplace… only for the Doctor to completely miss them.

“I’ve seen this before,” the Doctor insists as he stumbles and trips over familiar plot elements, although he never places it. He can’t seem to remember that he found the Madame du Pompadour adrift in the second season of the revived show. That may only be eight years ago to the viewer, but it’s already ancient history. And that – perhaps – is the most fascinating aspect of Deep Breath. We have reached the point where the resurrection of the show is no longer considered a clear demarcation in the series’ history.

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The events of The Girl in the Fireplace can now be reconceptualised and reworked just as any other part of the show. Deep Breath brings back the clockwork droids from The Girl in the Fireplace, but in a way that feels radically different. The appearance of the droid has been changed, the way that it acts and talks has also been updated and overhauled. It’s a fairly significant change for a reappearing monster, more in line with the changes made to the Macra between The Macra Terror and Gridlock than to the Weeping Angels between Blink and Time of the Angels.

To be fair, Moffat hinted at this approach with The Day of the Doctor. He effective re-wrote the Time War and reversed the destruction of Gallifrey, effectively undoing what Russell T. Davies had written as the central metaphor for the show’s cancellation and crisis. It was the line in the sand between Survival (and The TV Movie) and Rose. For Davies, the Time War and the destruction of Gallifrey was an effective way of divorcing Doctor Who from the original show, providing an effective jumping-on point for new viewers.

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With the resurrection of Gallifrey and the downplaying of that trauma, Moffat seems to suggest that there’s not really too much difference between clever references to The Talons of Weng-Chiang and clever references to The Girl in the Fireplace. For all that hyperbolic fans might complain about Moffat ruining the show or imposing his own vision upon it, Moffat’s run has been largely preoccupied with demonstrating that the revival and the original series are one continuous narrative entity.

There is also something quite profoundly sad about the fact that the Doctor cannot clearly remember the events from The Girl in the Fireplace. It seemed like the Doctor really did love Madame du Pompadour, but the passage of time erodes all things. Eventually the Doctor will live so long that these little details will be lost to history. Not the big events or the epic adventures, but the small moments of warmth and humanity. The idea that the Doctor has lived long enough to forget a true love is the sad punchline lying beneath that recurring joke.

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(Speaking of how Deep Breath is stitched together from various aspects of the show’s history, it is also quite clever how Moffat stitches the basic plot together from a wealth of classic Victorian iconography. Uncovering the sinister operation at work beneath London, the Doctor describes it as “Sweeney Todd without the pies.” Clara refers to it as “Burke and Hare from Space.” The episode’s script draw from a wealth of popular images of the Victorian era, cleverly integrating them into a Doctor Who framework.)

The episode climaxes with something of a mystery. The cyborg dies, pictured atop Big Ben. Did he jump or was he pushed? The episode never explicitly answers, with even Missy curious about whether the Doctor would do it? The show works hard to build a sense of ambiguity around the Doctor, suggesting his can be brutally pragmatic where necessary. “He can be very mean sometimes,” Missy explains to the cyborg. “Except to me, of course.” Given that Death in Heaven suggests the Twelfth Doctor would kill Missy, that feels quite pointed.

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Of course, The Day of the Doctor set very firm limits on the Doctor’s moral ambiguity. It seems quite unlikely that he would toss all that now, but framing the question in the first episode of the season allows for a more interesting and developed debate. Moffat is fascinated with the stories of great men who might learn to be good men, and the mysterious death of the robot villain foregrounds the issue. It forces the audience to make their own interim judgements about the Doctor as a character – and how completely they trust this incarnation.

Appropriately enough, questions are pushed to the fore. One of Capaldi’s character traits seems to be his ability to point out that people are asking “the wrong question.” It isn’t quite question-mark-shaped umbrellas or punctuation-on-the-lapels, but it does seem like Moffat might be having a bit of fun with the title of the show again. In The Wedding of River Song, the show’s title was described as “the first question, the question that must never be answered, hidden in plain sight.” Questions and mysteries and riddles.

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The Twelfth Doctor is written rather broadly in Deep Breath, as tends to be the case with most regeneration stories. The script does give him a darker edge, and suggest that he might lean a little bit more sinister than any version of the character since Eccleston, but Deep Breath also works hard to give Capaldi a lot of stuff to do so that the show can figure out what works. There’s comedy, there’s banter, there’s posturing, there’s cynicism, there is even a tiny bit of flirting, despite his protestations. Deep Breath frequently feels like an attempt to figure out tone.

Then again, this makes a great deal of sense. Steven Moffat is credited on five of the first six episodes to feature the Twelfth Doctor. In fact, the season is notable for emphasising the co-writer credit. The first half of the season is given over to established Doctor Who writers like Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Steve Thompson and Gareth Roberts. In fact, the first three episodes of the season even follow the “home”/“future sci-fi”/“celebrity historical” format associated with the Davies era – accepting “home” as the Paternoster Gang instead of twenty-first-century London.

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The first half of the season is rather consciously weighted towards establishing this version of the character, before the second half of the season can really start playing with this iteration. It is an approach that feels quite conservative, but is easily justified. After all, it takes a little while to break a new actor in. David Tennant spent most of The Christmas Invasion as a supporting character, and New Earth was designed to set the character’s limits; Matt Smith filmed Time of the Angels before The Eleventh Hour so his first appearance would seem confident.

Deep Breath does not come roaring out of the gate; but it does not have to. Instead, and entirely appropriately, it allows itself a little room to breath.

You might enjoy our other reviews from Peter Capaldi’s first season of Doctor Who:

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14 Responses

  1. I didn’t understand the Paradise scene at the end.

    • I think that’s the “teasing what lies ahead” scene for the year. Sort of like Richard E. Grant’s appearance in The Bells of St. John or the crack in The Eleventh Hour. I don’t know what to make of it either, but I’m not going to try. Is she the Rani? River? The TARDIS? Is that Gallifrey? I’m waiting for conspiracy fans to seize on the reference to the Doctor as “the Other” and the structural similarities to Ghost Light as proof that Moffat might be playing out a variant of the Cartmel Master Plan. I doubt he is, but I love how he puts in all those little details just to wind up fans.

  2. Excellent and impressively prompt review! I’ll admit that I’m not immediately sold, but I’m not alienated either. As you say, once the series progresses we’ll get more of a feel for the Twelfth Doctor.

    • Yep. It’s not as aggressive a hard sell as Matt Smith was. At the end of The Eleventh Hour, I was in love with the Eleventh Doctor. It was an hour that was very concerned about reassuring fans that this was still the same show.

      Deep Breath – for better or worse – doesn’t have that same frantic energy and need. It is a lot more comfortable and confident, but also isn’t working as hard as The Eleventh Hour did. At the end of Deep Breath, I’m excited and intrigued about the Twelfth Doctor – but I think there’s a sense that the transition isn’t as massive as it was four years ago.

  3. This is a general post to silence the naysayers. Lotza people are complaining about why Clara is struggling with the new Doctor despite having met them all. ​Well, to answer that, Clara has died onscreen before twice. Once as a Dalek and once in The Snowmen.

    The Clara who’s traveling with the Doctor right now cannot recall being a Dalek or being a nanny in The Snowmen.

    Each version of Clara is an individual. That’s what I’ve noticed from the series. Cuz the current Clara has no recollection of her former lives.

    It is fair to conclude, then that the current Clara would have no recollection of meeting all the previous Doctors.

    This is scifi, more importantly, this is Doctor Who. I’ve watched it since the day I was born. Even when I was 10, I always felt the companions were just there to ask questions. Be thankful that the underrated Steven Moffat is actually giving the companions depth and scope.

    People just want everything, don’t they?

    And Peter Capaldi was mesmerizing.

    Everyone keeps complaining about the mediocrity of the general story for this episode. That’s just silly. Is it any worse than The Eleventh Hour, The Christmas Invasion or any other introductory new Doctor episode? The overarching story has never been the focus and quite right, too. The focus is on getting the audience familiar with the new Doctor. And in this episode, perhaps more than ever, this is extremely important. Why? We’ve spend nearly a decade with David Tennant and Matt Smith. Both of these actors were very young, dashing versions of The Doctor. Now, all of a sudden, the new Doctor is older than any other actor to take the role including William Hartnell. (Do your research, people. He is indeed slightly older than Hartnell was when he took the role).

    So: Cut the Moff some slack. He has excelled at bringing controversial darkness of almost Valeyard proportions to the new Doctor.

    What a risk!? And he pulled it off splendidly.

    Stop criticizing without proper research. Capaldi has been a whovian for perhaps 10 years longer than I’ve been one.

    Focus on the intention of this episode. Steven Moffat took a tremendous risk in casting such an old actor.

    Can you honestly fault the way it was handled?

    Moreover, please stop criticizing the Matt Smith cameo. That was inserted into this episode for us!

    To make us accept that The Doctor is extremely old and that Capaldi should not be chastised on account of his age.

    Steven Moffat realizes that Doctor Who has become a worldwide phenomenon in recent years.

    I mean, answer this: what other television show has ever had a cinematic broadcast of an episode?

    Please think about that. Moffat accomplished this with resounding success for the fiftieth and he’s done it again for Capaldi’s debut.

    This is a television landmark.

    So… Stop complaining. Right? Yes Moffat has had a few missteps along the way. But in all honesty? If he’s got episodes he personally penned hitting cinemas across the globe? I think it’s time to give him some well deserved credit.

    Comment if you agree or disagree.

    • Hi David,

      That’s a rather aggressive refutation! I quite liked the episode.

      I will note that Clara’s issues with the Doctor’s age weren’t a problem when she was interacting with the War Doctor. And we know she remembers that, for sure.

  4. My biggest annoyance was the Mystery Woman in the Promised Land (could also be the Master, giving him the sex change that some fans have been long demanding for the Doctor), explicitly vocalizing the mystery of the robot’s death. This to me is like explaining a joke. I loved the ambiguity of the robot’s demise, but Moffat largely undid that for me with what I read, fairly or unfairly, as a “Did you see how clever I was? Did you get that? I wouldn’t want you to miss it” moment.

    I think Moffat also has a weakness for occasional tweeness, both here and in Sherlock. He also tries a bit too hard to be clever. I think both his strengths and weaknesses reverberate exponentially by being displayed on two different shows.

    That’s all livable, though. I will say I 100% loved Capaldi. I’ve been waiting a long time for an older, less touchy-feely–even somewhat sinister–Doctor. Capaldi is exactly what I’ve been wanting for a long time.

    Saw the show in a theater. I wouldn’t mind seeing the show like that every week. Capaldi’s acting is even better up on a big screen.

    • I don’t know. I thought the “vanity trap” was a nice way of Moffat shrugging off elaborate theorising and fan speculation – and, perhaps, a bit of wry self-deprication. I think one of the keys to the Moffat era is not to think of episodes and seasons as puzzles, but to enjoy them as stories. So Clara is a mystery that can’t be solved – but the big reveal is that she is a character in her own right and not just something to be figured out. Similarly, the sixth season ultimately isn’t about preventing the Doctor’s death, but allowing it to play out as a narrative.

      So I don’t mind “Missy” and the “Promised Land.” Part of me just wants her to be Death, rather than the Master or the Rani or the Black Guardian or anything like that; playing on the oft-cited notion that Death is the Doctor’s most faithful campanion.

      But I did really like Capaldi, even if this is the sort of loose character that will get better tailored in the weeks ahead, as with any regeneration. (Step 1: Give him an identity crisis! Step 2: Pit him against the Daleks!)

  5. Great review as always.

    Am I the only one who is a little tired of Vastra? I’ve always felt somewhat uncomfortable with the way her open racism (speciesism?), misandry and cold blooded murder are treated as charming quirks. I realise that she kills (and eats!) serial killers but still, it leaves me uncomfortable how lightly the show potrays it.

    • No, I personally think one of the sins of the modern Whos, especially in the Moffat Era–although obviously it’s a plus for many, perhaps most–is that his shows have a lot of fan porn. I like Strax especially, but things that prove popular on the modern show do seem to get beaten to death a bit; Team Vastra, Weeping Angels, etc.

      I even felt vaguely annoyed to see the Daleks in the episode 2 preview. I love them as much as any fan, but maybe resting them a bit would sharpen the hunger for them again. Hell, they didn’t even appear in the original seasons 5-8 or 13-18 and so on. I’m not calling for a moratorium, but just let them move offstage for a bit.

      I will say I am not a fan at all of the Dalek Zombies or whatever, and I fear that now that they are in the mythology, they will appear in every future Dalek adventure.

      • Nah, I don’t think the Dalek Zombies are a permanent feature of the Daleks.

        Nothing is really a permanent feature of the Daleks except that iconic design and the fact that they are evil and hatred incarnate. Other elements come and go – the robo-men, the religious extremist Daleks, the Movellans, Daleks with names, “the Dalek factor”, the Dalek form of government. Even Davros is transient, having only appeared on-screen in one (admittedly quite large) story since the show’s revival in 2005. I suspect that the Dalek Zombies will be another quirk that can be woven into the tapestry.

        (That said, I didn’t mind it – albeit as a temporary off-shoot rather than a permanent thing. I suspect that’s part of the reason I enjoy the Moffat era more than most. I know that relatively little of the fine detail of it will last, just as relatively little of the fine detail of any other era lasts. Sure, there’ll always be an impression of it, as there’ll always be an impression of Davies, Holmes, Cartmel, Whittaker and many others, but the little things that are new and different and provocative now? If they work, they’ll be remembered fondly. If they don’t, they’ll be forgotten. Either way, I don’t think too many of them will be around in ten years or so, so I like to appreciate them while they’re there without worrying too much about whether they muck up what came before or whether they might hurt the show in the years to come. Because the past and the future are not defined exclusively by the Moffat era, any more than they were by any of the other producers or script editors. The past and future will be there when Moffat is finished, but in the meantime, it’s interesting to hear what he has to say about them.)

    • Thanks Ross.

      I’m actually more comfortable with Vastra now that the show is pushing her character traits to eleven. It is very much a heightened surreal sitcom atmosphere, to the point where it doesn’t feel like anything that could actually exist. While I can see why that would be polarising, I actually quite like Moffat’s sitcom approach.

      The Davies era positioned Doctor Who in something close enough to the real world, or at least television grounded in the real world. The Powell Estate was a metaphorical stone’s throw from East Enders. But Moffat – I think – aligns it with more surreal and obviously fictitious stuff. It’s fairytales and narratives about narratives and the sort of stuff that is admittedly a bit more abstract. In this case, a weird cult science-fiction historical sitcom. Again, it’s something Moffat has to be quite careful with – and which understandably ticks a few people off – but one I’m happy to see, if only because it’s interesting and utterly unlike anything I could have imagined the show doing five years ago.

      That said, it does retroactively make the Tenth Doctor seem like even more of a hypocrite for the way that he repeatedly laid into Jack for using a firearm. At least Jack didn’t plan to eat the Master. That we know of.

      • Thanks Darren and those are very fair points (though I still find the way Vastra casually utters racist slurs against humans around her own (human) wife less charming than the show probably thinks i should.).

        Ironically I’m a gigantic fan of ‘Coupling’, so I do enjoy most of Moffat’s more comedic touches.

        Thinking on it Vastra actually reminds me a little of Anya on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a somewhat similar character in that her off-screen horrible acts are treated as whimsical black comedy anecdotes when they would have been far beyond the pale for more serious characters.

      • Yep, and I think you do have a valid point. In pretty much any other context, Vastra would be a character the Doctor would have serious ethical objections towards.

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