by Jesse Ulrich (@rant9space)
Welcome back everyone! I hope you enjoyed our Doctor Who Series 8 crazy theories, and I hope you enjoyed the premiere episode “Deep Breath.” Or if you didn't enjoy it, that's fine, I just question why you are wasting time reading recaps of an episode you hate (Actually I totally get that, forget I said anything, let's be friends!)
Anyhoo, instead of recapping this episode, which I leave in much better hands (Thanks Michelle!) I wanted to examine what makes a good "New" Doctor episode. It seemed strange that in terms of Nu-Who, this is only the 3rd "New" Doctor Story (not counting the pilot, which I don't count because we don't know for sure when the 9th Doctor regenerated.)
Before, we really only had two episodes: “The Christmas Invasion” and the “The 11th Hour.” Both are excellent episodes, yet very different from each other. As a fan of the 10th Doctor, I tend to forgive the “The Christmas Invasion” for all of its flaws, which are many, because David Tennant kills it when he finally wakes up towards the end of the episode.
“The 11th Hour” is more highly rated episode by fandom, and after re-watching it post getting over the loss of the 10th Doctor, it really is a fantastic introduction episode. But two episodes do not a pattern make nor an outline. “The 11th Hour” has the benefit of not having to deal with companion acclimating to the feel and sound of a "New" Doctor, as it introduced a new companion as well. So comparing and contrasting the two episodes other than on quality would not answer our question, what makes a good intro Doctor episode?
From a set of two, we add a third, which now allows us not only to compare and contrast, but to look for overarching themes. So if a perfect "New" Doctor episode existed, what would it include? I ask this question, because between the three we have seen, they all share certain characteristics, themes and motifs. Let's break them down and see how “Deep Breath” compares.
Working out the kinks (with Zaniness):
The Doctor post regeneration is always wonky and discombobulated and that works best when played for comedy. The 10th Doctor was figuring out his personality as he went, the 11th Doctor had issues with his taste buds and body, and the 12th Doctor was having issues with his memory, his balance and his Scottishness.
This is one of the rare times in this 50 year old series, where we the audience know more than the Doctor, not only about himself, but about his current situation. It is not only enjoyable, it makes us feel sympathy for the new Doctor, which, usually, in turn makes it easier for us to want him to succeed.
Doctor Who fans when faced with a new Doctor usually sound like this:“WE DON'T WANT A NEW DOCTOR, WE LOVED THE LAST ONE!”* So having the Doctor be vulnerable, eases us into not only accepting him, but rooting for him. Did “Deep Breath” succeed in this regard? Oh Yes It Did! It takes 16 minutes for Peter Capaldi as the Doctor to convince me, and that was when he wanted to leave the bedroom (which as a room certainly will never make sense) and this happened:
I like my Doctor to be humorous when necessary and severe when it is time to lay down the law and he handled both of these with aplomb.
Trust Issues for the companion and the audience:
This one is tricky. While I am not usually a fan of companions questioning that the “New” Doctor IS the Doctor, if done correctly, it reinforces it for the audience as well.
Take Rose and Clara. Both were present during the regeneration (unlike Amy) both have long and complex relationships to the Doctor pre-regen. Both have to deal with the Doctor having a new face and a new voice (which I feel never gets enough play in these episodes, the voice of someone you care about and trust is very important, imagine your parents or your best friend sounding completely different, it would be weird.)
I have come to appreciate and understand why, from a narrative perspective, as frustrating and repetitive as we the audience might find this trope to be, having the companion feel uncomfortable around the Doctor is a necessity.
It is both clever and incredibly manipulative, follow me as we go inside the Doctor Who writer's room. What happens to the audience after twenty to thirty minutes of the companion questioning if the Doctor really IS the Doctor? We, the audience, are automatically put in a place where we want the companion to trust the Doctor, hence at this point WE trust the Doctor.
The amazing part is, it always works. By the time the 10th Doctor wakes up, gets a little cheeky with everyone and kicks some ass, we are on board. By the time the 11th Doctor puts on his new clothes and not only boots the Atraxi out of orbit, but brings them back for a scolding, we are on board. When the 12th Doctor pours a glass of scotch (I hope it was scotch) for the villain and himself and declares “I'm thinking I am going to have to kill you.” We are on board (it might have happened for you earlier, like the window scene from earlier, I really was on board very quickly). So obviously “Deep Breath” succeeds here.
Emotional Agenda of the Doctor:
The third characteristic of a "New" Doctor episode is that an emotional agenda for that particular Doctor is set in motion.
So how to judge “Deep Breath?” I don't like to judge episodes like this so quickly after they air, but having had the chance to watch this episode 3 times, with someone who knows very little about Doctor Who (Thanks again Michelle!), really encapsulates my feelings toward this episode. It was a great one, not THE GREATEST, but great. It has faults, it has plot holes, but that is not why we all love this show. We love this show because we want to go on wacky adventures with a madman with a box. And this madman, I feel, is about to fuck some things up.
*On a personal note, I had truly come to love Matt Smith as the Doctor and as a person. Watching him in San Diego, interacting with fans, loving being the Doctor and more than happy to be with his fans signing his autograph and taking pictures, I worried about his replacement. It took me all of Series 5 to get over my love for the 10th Doctor, so I figured it would take me a while to acclimate to Peter Calpaldi. But man, was I wrong.
More on the Drink:
I love the mature nature of that drink offer, and for the Doctor finally verbalizing, at least to me, the Doctor's rationale for having to occasionally kill people (whether he did or not we will have to wait to find out.) While we all wish the Doctor could fix every problem without killing, you just can't keep writing those stories,eventually the Doctor has to put a cap in someone's ass. If the Doctor is always able to save the day without killing any of the villains, the stories will get bland real quick.
Something I didn't like. Some of the pacing and editing of the episode seemed off to me. I know that Moffat and others said these new episodes would be a little slower, but you can't jump from slow to crazy and expect the audience to keep up. It took multiple viewings to understand what Vastra and Clara were actually saying when they were yelling at each other.
Important question, who taught the robot waiter to crack jokes? “Yes, we do have a children's menu.” Hilarious.
If you were not a fan of his eyebrows rant, stay away from Tumblr. Probably forever.