Please make yourself comfortable. Would you care for a cup of tea?
Settled in? Comfy? Good.
BECAUSE IT'S TIME TO REVIEW A NEW
DOCTOR WHO EPISODE!!!!!!
Sorry. So sorry. Got a bit carried away.
As you may have heard, yesterday (Saturday, August 23rd) was the debut of new episodes of Doctor Who featuring Peter Capaldi in his first adventure as the new Doctor, And I know that the whole internet is anxiously awaiting word on what I, Dave-El of I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You, thought about the series 8 premier episode, Deep Breath.
Well, I'll be more than happy to share my humble and most objective opinion after the spoiler warning break.
Sorry. Ever so sorry. That spoiler warning really gives me the willies.
So let's got started shall we? Yes, let's shall.
Let me start with this observation. Can you blame Moffat if he's feeling a bit of stress. Think about this. Over the span of about a year, the Moff has had to write 4 crucial "everyone's watching" episodes.
The Name of the Doctor which wrapped up the mystery of Clara Oswald, the Impossible Girl as well as set the stage for what comes next.
The Day of the Doctor is what came next which celebrated Doctor Who's 50th anniversary in front of a literally worldwide audience.
The Time of the Doctor which concluded the run of the 11th Doctor played by the much beloved Matt Smith.
And now this: Deep Breath which brings in Peter Capaldi as the 12th Doctor and Steven has to thread a needle of not alienating Matt's fans while convincing everyone that this guy is now THE Doctor.
So far, these crucial episodes have been well received with Steven Moffat bringing his "A" game to each script. But has he finally run out of steam, out of luck? Or can he deliver one more cracking good script when once again, it really, really counts?
Well, there's a lot to juggle with a Doctor's 1st episode what with post-regenerative mania and some mystery/problem that needs solving/stopping whether the Doctor has his wits fully about him or not. It's kind of like a building car while driving it.
After the TARDIS falls (from a most unexpected place) into Victorian London, the Doctor and Clara are met by Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax. The Doctor is having trouble figuring things out like remembering Clara's name ("Thingy?") and not be able to tell the difference between Clara and Strax.
Meanwhile there's a dinosaur in the Thames that after several hours sulking in the river suddenly bursts into flame, totally obliterated. The Doctor asks if there have been any similar murders in London.
Turns out, there have. A spate of spontaneous combustions have been recounted around the city. So the Doctor is off. Off to solve the mystery but really, his screws are still not properly tightened so, mostly, just off.
But eventually the Doctor and Clara meet up where we find the Doctor has a surprising view of Clara's personality ("control freak?!"). This is also where the Doctor and Clara wind up in a trap. A trap sprung by some really suspiciously familiar clockwork robots. The battle is joined as Vastra, Jenny and Strax arrive to help Clara fight back what can only be called a robot/zombie apocalypse while the Doctor and the main robot/zombie have a fight in hot air balloon made from human skin.
Ultimately the Doctor prevails and Victorian London is now safe from the robot/zombie apocalypse. The Doctor and Clara hop back to the 21st century where Clara comes to realize the Doctor maybe different on the outside but the core of the man she knew is still there. Even if he is no longer a hugging person.
Overall I give Steven Moffat kudos for pulling together a great script with lots of humor, action and drama. If you want to get picky, you can ask all sorts of questions. Like do the robot/zombies really need a balloon made from human skin? On the other hand it looks like a giant bum* floating over London so there's that.
*British euphemism for "butt". I'm trying to adapt.
What of Peter Capaldi? From his first scene, we see Peter perfectly capable of channeling a mad, weird Doctor but as the episode progresses and the Doctor's marbles are more or less properly aligned, we also get to see more of that darker, edgier Doctor we were promised. Capaldi still brings forth the Doctor's curiosity and compassion we would come to expect from any version of the Doctor but there's a wild card element to this persona that leads us to think that very little else about this Doctor can be anticipated.
The Paternoster Gang are in fine form as usual. (Please give this concept its own special or mini-series or something.) They are a welcome sight of familiarity in this whirlwind of a post-regeneration Doctor. Strax is still having trouble with genders, how to treat guests ("We will melt him with acid!" *pause* "We will NOT melt him with acid!") and how to deliver a newspaper (it hurts!).
At the center of any Doctor Who story, besides the Doctor himself, is the companion herself. A regeneration can be hard on a companion, having adapted to the Doctor's strange, eccentric ways only to have him change his physical appearance and reboot his personality with a whole new set of quirks. Just ask Rose Tyler.
Or Clara Oswald. Jenna Coleman is so good as always as Clara tries to come to terms with her feelings for and about the Doctor now that the Doctor who was young has been replaced by the Doctor who is old. I know I've read some comments online that Clara should be uniquely able to adjust to a Doctor changing; she was up and down his timeline with all his selves in The Name of the Doctor and she was up close with previous incarnations in The Day of the Doctor. Her being all loopy about the Doctor changing his face doesn't make sense, right? Look, as Whovians we've been through this before but admit it, it takes awhile to adjust to some else being called "Doctor". Now imagine if it were real. Even if you know of the process, dealing with it up close and personal is a whole other story. Clara has a lot of stuff going on in this episode so if it takes her a bit to get her bearings with this Doctor of the angry eyebrows, you can blame her?
There is, however, a misstep and a rather significant one at that. It occurs near the end. (Remember, I did warn of spoilers above.) Clara is still a bit wobbly on the concept of travelling with the Doctor, this different, older looking Doctor. Then she gets a phone call that urges her to look after the Doctor.
It's a phone call from the 11th Doctor. Yes, Matt Smith is back on screen.
It's been established that once the new Doctor takes over, that person is THE Doctor. Even Steven Moffat himself made it clear. We've spent nearly 80 minutes coming to accept that this Doctor of the gray hair and the deranged eyebrows is THE Doctor. Then in the last 10 minutes, we get a message from his former self saying its OK, this guy is the Doctor. Clara goes back to the Doctor, looks in his eyes and realizes, yeah, this guy is the Doctor. It's a lovely scene but I think it would've been better for Clara to get there on her own. It's a bit of a sop to the fandom that has grown up around the Matt Smith era of Doctor Who, once last look at Matt Smith telling the fans, "Hey, it's OK. This other person is the Doctor now." I think the last 80 minutes needed to convince us of that and I think it did. We did not need that scene, certainly not as it played out.
(It does explain why the phone was off the hook outside the TARDIS when Clara enters to see the 11th Doctor one last time in Time of the Doctor. Not that I thought that was a real mystery that needed solving.)
One last thing: the very, very end of the episode where we meet a strange and quite mad woman who apparently is playing some kind of long game against the Doctor. It is weird and surreal and creepy and the Doctor is going to be in a lot of trouble.
So Deep Breath may not have been Steven Moffat at his "A" game (more "B+" I would say) but in the end, Series 8 of Doctor Who and Peter Capaldi's time as the Doctor are off to a fine start.
Let's see what happens next.
Next weekend is another double bill of Doctor Who Weekend on both Saturday AND Sunday.
Saturday: A look back at other first episodes. What is the best first episode? What is the worst? (You think you know the answer. You may be wrong.) And where does Deep Breath fit on that scale?
Sunday: Doctor Who Is New reviews Peter Capaldi's 2nd episode, Into the Dalek.