Welcome to a new era of Doctor Who, readers! It’s been a long wait for new episodes since the (wretched) Christmas special and the goodbye to the Raggedy Doctor, Matt Smith. It’s all about Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor (sorry not sorry, Steven Moffat, your retconning is not going to make me change how I refer to the Doctors) now. Sage and I got to go to the Doctor Who World tour when it stopped at the Ziegfeld Theatre (follow us on Instagram at headoverfeelsdotcom to see all of our adventures from that night) and THEN we were able to attend the live Pre and Post Show hosted by Chris Hardwick, so we’ve been all Capaldi all the time for the past few weeks, and I’ve loved it. “Deep Breath” made me excited about Doctor Who again. Not that I would ever abandon the fandom (the conventions alone are worth it) but “The Time of the Doctor” left a really bad taste in my mouth. So I found this episode to be the best kind of palate cleanser.
We also had the pleasure this week of guest-starring on the Mutter’s Spiral podcast with our friends Will and John. We met them the first night of Gally 2014 and are delighted that they found us worthy of joining them on a deep dive into the Series 8 premiere. We discuss the episode for 2 hours, so this recap is going to be a little different in that I’m just going to discuss my episode highlights. So listen to the podcast if that’s your thing and the recap will return to a more traditional form with episode 2. Let’s get right into my favorite things about “Deep Breath” then, shall we?
Peter Capaldi IS The Doctor
I was completely and totally sold on Peter Capaldi from his very first “SHUSH”. I had expected that Capaldi’s Doctor would be a lot less cuddly than Matt Smith (though Peter made some WONDERFUL homages to Matt’s physicality in the opening scene) but I had no idea how much I would instantly love the prickly Twelfth Doctor. He’s grumpy (it’s okay though because he’s Scottish), he’s WAY less tolerant of Human Beings and their slower minds, he’s got attack eyebrows, and he’s the kind of Doctor who would bond with a dinosaur before his own companion. There’s nothing else to say really else to say about how wonderful he is, so I’m just going to gif-spam you a little bit.
10/10 would bang, you guys.
The Evolution of Clara Oswald
I LOVED Oswin Oswald in “Asylum of the Daleks” and Governess Clara in “The Snowmen”, but I must confess I’ve always had a bit of an issue with “Clara Prime”, as I call her. This is nothing against Jenna Coleman, who is a WONDERFUL actress with fantastic comic timing and the ability to cry beautifully at the drop of a hat. I just felt the WRITING of Clara has not served Jenna well in the past, reducing her to a cute and quippy sidekick or a plot device/mystery for The Doctor instead of a fully rounded character. Sure, she has had some lovely moments but as a whole, I found the character to be a bit of a cipher. She was WONDERFUL in “The Day of The Doctor” so I had a lot of hope that now that her “mystery” had been figured out that we would finally get to know HER. Those hopes were dashed when she was reduced to an overly weepy/clingy mess in “The Time of the Doctor” who just needed the Doctor to pretend to be her boyfriend. I never felt her devotion to the Doctor was earned as we spent so much time trying to figure her out, so her reactions and desperation to stay with the Doctor didn’t ring true to me at all. I was delighted at the fact that as “Deep Breath” progressed I felt like finally…FINALLY we were seeing Clara as a fleshed out character for the first time. Even better than that…she was a fleshed out character who openly admitted she had a penchant for Older Men, had Slash fic in her subconscious, and was a Type-A Control Freak. She was a fleshed out character who was clever and brave and devoted. Hello, Clara Oswald. It’s nice to meet you at last.
“I am not sure who you think you’re talking to right now, Madame Vastra, but I have never had the slightest interest in pretty young men. And for the record if there was anybody who could flirt with a mountain range she’s probably standing in front of you right now! Just because my pretty face has turned your head do not assume I am so easily distracted.”
Much has been made of Clara’s reaction to The Doctor’s regeneration and whether or not her distress was merely at the fact that her pretty young Doctor was replaced with an older man. Was Steven Moffat addressing the fangirls with this? Probably. Did it need to be said? I certainly think it did…because it also forced Clara to prove her mettle as a Companion and that it didn’t matter WHAT the Doctor looked like to her because he was still the Doctor. In my first viewing at the Ziegfeld, I missed a lot of the Vastra/Clara scene because the audience was cheering at Vastra’s takedown of her and then Clara’s subsequent outraged response. In that moment, we were all Jenny applauding her.
Some of the internet outrage regarding Clara’s response has revolved around the fact that she had seen The Doctor’s past regenerations and that she KNEW he changed his face. To that I say: it is one thing to KNOW it, it’s an entirely different matter to see it and have it happen to you. It is natural and oh so very human to have a fearful response to the Doctor’s regeneration. The only other time in the Modern Series that the Doctor regenerated in front of a companion is when Nine regenerated in front of Rose. Rose had the same “Can you change back?” reaction and the same hesitation that Clara did. But in the end, just like Rose did, Clara comes to realize that the Doctor, just like he always had before, had her back, no matter WHAT he looked like.
The Paternoster Gang
I must admit I had a fair amount of trepidation when I learned that Vastra, Jenny, and Strax would be returning for “Deep Breath”. They are characters SO rooted in the Matt Smith Era that you may as well have told me that River Song was going to be in the episode too. Imagine my surprise and delight when the episode showcased the Paternosters in their most effective way yet. We talked at length in the Mutter’s Spiral podcast about how the episode used familiar characters to surround our unfamiliar Doctor and the Paternosters served the same purpose that characters like Jackie and Mickey did in “Christmas Invasion”, especially for the long stretches of time that the Doctor was off-screen.
They were also there to help Clara. In the podcast, I compared Vastra’s baiting of her to the “Snap out of it!” slap in Moonstruck. I don’t really think Vastra ever doubted Clara. Much like she tricked the Doctor into knocking him out (“Okay…Piano”), she knew that she had to do something to get Clara out of her funk, so she attacked her. She’s a tough bitch, that Madame Vastra. She does what needs to be done to bring people up to the level that she expects them to be on. She also has a wicked sense of humor, as displayed in many of her scenes with Jenny. Jenny and Vastra balance each other out so well, with Jenny bringing the warmth and nurturing where Vastra brings the edge. Clara needed both of them in the episode and they both rose to her needs and the Doctor’s needs. We should all be so lucky to have a human and lizard-woman in our lives like them.
Strax remains a comic delight with the physical humor aimed to please the younger viewing audience (or the general slapstick fans, as the Ziegfeld lost its collective shit laughing when he knocked Clara out with the paper). He’s a devoted friend, even if you have to constantly remind him to NOT kill you.
Also, I’m not even going to discuss the controversy over the Vastra/Jenny kiss because it’s 2014, yo.
The Doctor/Clara Chemistry
One thing many people had concerns about when Peter Capaldi was cast was the chemistry that he would have with Jenna Coleman. Jenna and Matt had such a flirty chemistry…how would that carryover when someone Peter’s Age took over the role? How would the relationship change? Would there still be a sexual chemistry there? There were many reports that Peter Capaldi was very ANTI-flirting (claims which he vehemently denied in the post-show Q&A at the Ziegfeld)…so what was the Clara/Twelve relationship going to look like?
I’m happy to report that Peter and Jenna have EXCELLENT chemistry. It’s entirely different from the chemistry with Matt…and based on this episode alone, I think I like Peter and Jenna together BETTER. There’s something very old Hollywood about the way they banter. It feels very It Happened One Night, very Hepburn and Tracy, very Tennant and Tate. These two are going to be sparring partners, perpetually arguing and driving each other crazy…in the best way possible. If their relationship is going to be anything like their lunch scene in the restaurant, I can’t wait to sit back and watch it unfold.
A Properly Terrifying Villain
When we were in the Ziegfeld screening and Clara and the Doctor were cornered in the restaurant, I leaned over to Sage and whispered “IMAGINE if these Droids and the Weeping Angels were in the same room and you wouldn’t be able to blink OR breathe”. I love the Daleks and the Cybermen as much as any Whovian, but the Doctor Who monsters that truly terrify me are the ones that either mess with your psyche (see also: The Beast in “The Satan Pit”) or the ones who force you to think about NOT being able to do things that are at the very core of being able to function as a human being. We take for granted that we HAVE to breathe ever few seconds and Jenna did a MARVELOUS job playing Clara’s terror as she stumbled through hall after hall of droids growing more and more desperate to take a breath.
The Clockwork Droids were freaky when they made their original appearance in “The Girl in the Fireplace” but I found these new Droids who had lost their sense of purpose terrifying. It’s very tricky bringing a classic villain back (just ask The X-Files) but Moffat pulled this off with aplomb. All the props to Peter Ferndinando, who played Half-Face Man, for giving a fabulous performance when he surely had a whole bunch of green screen/motion capture shit all over his face. His final confrontation scene with the Doctor (who was sitting there with his Scotch and poised to kill him at any second like James effing Bond) was among the highlights of the episode to me.
All The Callbacks
Guys, remember how Nine used to always default to insulting other species? This gives me the warm fuzzies.
As I just mentioned above, “Deep Breath” played as a companion piece to one of the most beloved episodes of the modern series, “The Girl in the Fireplace”. Some have criticized Moffat for returning to this well, calling it self-congratulatory and even smug. I disagree (OMG IT IS SO WEIRD TO BE COMING TO HIS DEFENSE SO MUCH)…people would have lost their minds if Moff had tried to write a companion/allusion to one of RTD’s or Gatiss’ episodes. They would have said how DARE he think he could do that? So Moffat is dammed if he does and dammed if he doesn’t. (Sage: Also i think it’s interesting to return to villains after a long period of time, the passage of which essentially makes them DIFFERENT villains.) If the goal of the episode was to root an unfamiliar Doctor in familiar (to the viewer) circumstances to ease the transition, then the episode succeeded.
There were lots of other Easter Eggs and Parallels in the episode from The Doctor saying he needed a long scarf to the comment about missing Amy to “Geronimo”. I saw a parallel to “Dalek” when Clara and The Doctor got trapped on the opposite sides of the door and someone said “Too slow”. My heart stopped for a WEE second when The Doctor stopped and picked up a bunch of Roses and smelled them before moving on (Sage: He still loves her so much.) (SHUT UP I AM NOT READING INTO IT). These are fun little things for longtime fans to notice and every time there was an Easter Egg in the Ziegfeld screening, people reacted.
A Proper Goodbye From The Eleventh Doctor
“And I think you might be scared. And however scared you are, Clara, the man you are with right now, the man I hope you are with, believe me, he is more scared than you can imagine right now and he needs you. Clara, please, for me. Help him. Go on. And don’t be afraid. Goodbye Clara. Miss ya.”
I don’t think I realized JUST how much I hated “The Time of The Doctor” and Matt Smith’s farewell until he appeared on the big screen at the Ziegfeld and I started SOBBING. I’m SO glad this wasn’t spoiled because it was so wonderfully unexpected. I’ve seen a fair amount of people express that they didn’t like this scene but for me, it gave me the closure I needed in regards to the Matt Smith era. It was beautifully acted by Matt, Jenna, and Peter and it led to another highlight of the episode, which was the “Please just see me” exchange. The Doctor doesn’t allow himself to get truly vulnerable very often and the “Lonely Angel” aspect of his personality shone through in this scene. As Sage put it in our gChat, this is all the more effective as “we spent 90 minutes being introduced to a pricklier, more badass Doctor. The insides don’t change.”
Because Clara is not a monster with no soul, things finally clicked with her in that moment. Much like the Lost Boy Pockets in Hook, Clara approaches The Doctor with a quizzical look on her face. She studies him for a moment, the tiniest of smiles creeping across her face. He’s still her Doctor. Same software, different packaging. When she says “Thank you,” she might as well be saying “Oh THERE you are, Doctor!”.
After an awkward hug (“I don’t think I’m a hugging person anymore”), off our heroes go for chips (!!) and coffee. They may still be figuring each other out, but they are going to be all right, these two.
The Introduction of the Big Bad
One would think the episode would have ended with The Doctor and Clara heading off to have chips…nope. We got a flash of light and then met Half-Face Man in an eye-poppingly beautiful garden, tended by a strange woman called Missy. Missy was very curious about just how Half-Face Man had gotten there. Had he jumped or had her “boyfriend” pushed him?
Ladies and Gents, meet the Gatekeeper of the Nether World, our big bad for the series.
WHO IS SHE?
I love all of the speculation being bandied about. Is she an evil Mary Poppins-esque character (ie a version of Clara that has gone wrong)? Is she an embodiment of the Doctor’s One True Love, the TARDIS? Is she River Song (good god NO)?
Does “Missy” stand for “Mistress”? Are we looking at a Female Master?
THAT ONE. I WANT IT TO BE THAT ONE.
And that’s our premiere! Join us next week as Sage takes us “Into the Dalek”. Till then leave all your Peter Capaldi related flails in the comments!