Sunday, August 24, 2014

In Which I Review Doctor Who (8x1)

Welcome back, Whovians!. Doctor Who has been off the air for 8 months but at long last the TARDIS (literally) crash landed back onto television. A quick confession: I don't remember much of Season 7. Now this might be willfully forgetting what was, in reality, an incredibly weak season or maybe I just need a refresher. At any rate, the previous season of Doctor Who was the poorest to date but I am remaining confident that some new blood, in the form of Peter Capaldi's 12th Doctor, will bring the show back to a more even setting. The opening episode for any new Doctor is always worrisome. It might take awhile for the Doctor to find his footing; this is also true for the writers who are trying to create a new person who still somehow resembles his past lives. It's a tall task and, even as I am trying to remain optimistic, one that I'm not sure Steven Moffat is up to anymore. While I grinned and laughed through the whole of this episode, called "Deep Breath," it was more due to having my beloved Doctor Who back on screen rather than anything penned by Moffat. However, Peter Capaldi is wonderful and he sold me, totally, on this, his first real adventure as the time traveling space man. 

What's the number one sign that you're watching an episode of Doctor Who? Possibly that there is a giant tyrannosaurs rex inexplicably walking toward Big Ben. We're in Victorian London, a place that a dinosaur should just not be. Our good friends Madame Vastar, a lizard lady from the dawn of time, her wife Jenny, and their constant companion Strax the Sontarian are on hand to witness the dino's rampage through the Thames. But the poor lizard has a bit of a sore throat and in a spectacular cough (can I call this a cough. I'm going to call it a cough) spits out something (and yes, you should know where this is going): The TARDIS. Well, that's one way to make an entrance. As with all new Doctors, the 12th Doctor is a bit of a crazy man post-regeneration. He's speaking nonsense, has no idea who anyone is, and is more or less openly flirting with a dinosaur. The mania will continue for most of the episode, though the Doctor gets a brief respite as he is put to bed. Clara, meanwhile, is very worried because of how crazy the Time Lord is acting and asks Madame Vastra, "how do we fix him? How do we change him back?"

Now, this is a big problem for me. Clara has been called the Impossible Girl since she first began traveling with the Doctor. As was explained by the end of season 7, Clara has been moving through the Doctor's timeline, seeing all his faces and adventures. Clara, in other words, is very familiar with the regeneration process. She should not be shocked that the Doctor changes his visage or that the Doctor more often than not looks like an older man. A few gray hairs should not be upsetting Clara. I get that the 11th Doctor and Clara had a bit more of a 10/Rose type relationship, but unlike Rose who was allowed to be scared and angry when the Doctor changed his face, this shouldn't make Clara act like a petulant teenager. Madame Vastra calls her out on this behavior, though Clara tries to side step it and say that Vastra is just projecting her own desires on to Clara. This whole conversation, which was mostly spoken in metaphor involving veils, was a bit convoluted. Get over yourself, Clara. You miss the hot young guy, it's cool.

The Doctor never stays in one place for long. And, yes Doctor, doors are boring and totally not your style. (Yeah, I laughed at this bit). The Doctor, still dressed in a dressing gown, sneaks out of Madame Vastra's house in order to talk to a dinosaur. He wants to assure the dino that he'll take her home and he's really sorry that his TARDIS picked her up in the first place. And then...the dinosaur burst into flames. Erm, okay? Unexpected exploding dino is unexpected. The Doctor and Clara remain apart for awhile longer as the Doctor is wandering the streets of London both searching for answers and having what can only be called an existential life crisis. He wants to know if anyone has ever seen his face before, which is a bit of an inside joke since actor Peter Capaldi was in the Season 4 episode, "The Fires of Pompeii" and well as in Torchwood and thus his face isn't really new so much as recycled. Actually makes me wonder if the Doctor's faces are all people he's run into over time and he's just replicating them at random. If this review feels like it's moving slowly, it's because the episode was also moving slowly. There were a lot of random unnecessary moments that felt like time fillers because Moffat had to make a 72 min episode and needed "stuff." For example, why does Clara randomly need a medical exam from Strax? She doesn't. We finally get back on track when Clara finds an advert in the paper: "Impossible Girl. Lunch on the other side." Clara obviously thinks this is the Doctor's way of getting in touch and asking her to meet; the issue is that the Doctor didn't place it and he thinks Clara placed it. There's a mystery afoot! (And yes, that's a Sherlock reference and yes that means tea. I get it Moffat! You created Sherlock!)

Welcome to the Restaurant at the End of the Universe! No, wait. That's a different science fiction franchise. Welcome to the last restaurant you'd ever want to eat at! The Doctor and Clara have a conversation about which of them is an egomaniac game player and the Doctor confesses that he doesn't want Clara to change. You can tell that the Doctor is worried that his new "old" face is a game changer, to which I once again yell "nonsense!" So, back to the plot...the restaurant is full of machines who are made up of human parts--skin, hair, eyes, liver, brains. And the Doctor and Clara are next on the menu. The pair get sucked into the underground lair of the machines, which, of course, turns out to be a space ship that is centuries old. There, humans are harvested for their various bits and pieces. It's a metaphor, guys. Bits and pieces of humanity crammed on to something that isn't human at all (yeah, I'm looking at you, Doctor). And this is where the plot gets really heavy and if I'm being perfectly honest, a bit boring. It's also a total riff on an episode that Moffat wrote 5 seasons ago, "The Girl In the Fireplace." Now, at the time, that episode was fantastic. Now I'm worried that Moffat is trying to repackage his old work and resell it to me. You have cyborgs who are harvesting human parts in order to make their space ship--the SS Marie Antoinette--fly. Sound familiar? The Madame de Pompadour was the name of the ship back in Season 2 and it even got a shout out in this episode! I can only assume that Moffat is going somewhere with this and that he isn't just rehasing old ideas for the sake of it.

 There is a question that permeates throughout the episode: is the Doctor a good man? It’s true that with every incarnation, some things stay the same, namely the Doctor’s moral code of saving the defenseless and having a respect and almost childlike awe at the different forms of life in the universe. The question posited does not get answered in this episode. At one point the Doctor abandons Clara to the machines that are, in essence, trying to eat her. But the Doctor comes back at just the right moment, reinforcing Clara’s belief that he always has her back. In the next few moments, though, the Doctor and the head cyborg end up alone, discussing life and humanity before it is alluded that the Doctor murdered the cyborg by pushing him out of the TARDIS, though this, in the end, is equally unclear. Either the Doctor did the deed or the cyborg jumped. If we take one thing away from this episode, it’s that we’re looking at a different Doctor; the knight in shinning armor has been roughed up a bit and this new man is a more gray incarnation (both literally and metaphorically). There's something to be said about the "broom" conversation. If you keep pulling yourself apart and replacing bits and bobs over time, are you still the same man? No, of course you're not. The Doctor is going to be darker, I think, than what we've seen in the past. Did he kill the Cyborg? I'm leaning towards yes. Though, it turned out okay for the Cyborg in the end, given that he ended up in paradise. I have no idea what to make of this bit. Who the hell is Missy? What is this heaven? And what is going on? I'm guessing that's the big mystery of the season.

Was this necessary? At all? I am probably alone in my opinion that the Matt Smith guest appearance at the end of the episode was cheesy.  It took away from Smith’s wonderful regeneration scene and magnificent final line, “I’ll always remember when the Doctor was me.” That was how I wanted to remember Matt Smith’s incarnation, not a man making one final pleading phone call, reaching out to a companion who, as I said, shouldn’t be torn about traveling with the Doctor. This just felt excessive and cheap, one final way to get Matt Smith on the screen for all his fans before truly passing the torch. But that's not fair to the other Doctors who regenerated and never got this sort of moment. And again, I have to say, it makes no sense for Clara to be questioning not traveling with the Doctor simply because he regenerated. The 12th Doctor and Clara have a nice little moment where she finally "sees" him and decides to stick around. Overall, this episode was good but not great. It got seriously bogged down in the plot and dragged quite a bit. Peter Capaldi is magnificent, though. He's going to be a great Doctor. 

Miscellaneous Notes on Deep Breath

--He may not be a great show runner, but Moffat does know how to write a great line or two. Here's smattering of great quotes:

"It just laid an egg!" "It dropped a blue box marked police out of its mouth. Your grasp on biology...troubles me." 
"You remember...thingy! Not me, the asking questions one."
"Sorry it's my new hands! Can't tell them apart"
"Give him hell, he'll always need it"

--Strax needs his own spinoff. 

--Heavy religious overtones are heavy! 

--Did you notice all the mirrors? Are we looking at a parallel universe? 

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