Monday, August 25, 2014

Take A Deep Breath: It's a New Doctor

This weekend brought us the Twelfth Doctor, and since today is Doctor Who day, I'll be taking a look at Peter Capaldi's first proper time out with the role.

My Classic Who and Big Finish lookbacks are pretty far advanced compared to what's been published – I've actually got about eleven already to go - but they're going on hiatus while we have all new Who to worry about. If there's any two parters then I'll wait until they're finished and do them in a oner. When I look at a Classic story I do the whole thing at once, so it's only fair New Who gets the same treatment. So on those one or two occasions during the new series you might get a Classic Who article instead.

Well, except for Cyberman 2. I'll put that out Friday. My Maths went wrong.

Anyway. Capaldi.

Everyone’s going on about a different, slower, more considered Doctor. Gone are the crazy manic antics of Tennant and Smith, and that’s very true. Yet I barely noticed, but then since Christmas I’ve drowned myself in Classic Who, so if Twelve is more a return to how things used to be – something Moffat promised – I'm possibly in the worst position to notice that.

Now Capaldi is not new to Who, having played a part in both Tennant-era Fires of Pompeii and Torchwood's Children of Earth. For the purists this never stood well. For the record I'm not one of them. I can take that at the end of the day this is a TV program and occasionally actors appear as different characters through its long life. However, Russell T Davies promised us there was an explanation. Just one he never got round to before he left.

When Capaldi was cast, those cries of continuity started up again, and Moffat assured us that he'd spoken to RTD and the plan was still in place. But any revelations I thought would be slow. Not so. “It's like I'm trying to tell myself something” straight out of the gate. The Doctor does that post-regeneration mirror check and we immediately have the first address of the face mystery.

This leads to a brilliant moment when the Doctor says to the Half-Face Man that he bets the robot don’t even recognise his own face anymore, and holds up a reflective silver tray. Right then, as the bad guy reflects that he doesn’t, we also get a shot of the Doctor doing a similar thing. Only he does recognise it, just not as his own. Peter Capaldi is selling a hell of a lot in just this first episode.

Speaking of the Half-Face Man. He's a fantastic choice of villain in a regeneration story, especially this particular one, simply because of the organ harvesting mirroring the Doctor's own face issue. There's obvious Jack the Ripper overtones as well, which probably led to the choice of Victorian London, which is nice step away for a modern day Regeneration for New Who. Moffat also seems to go out of his way to address the plot, even Clara and the Doctor commenting on “it’s Sweeney Todd without the pies” and “Burke and Hare in space”.

As for the rest of the robots that came with him, I immediately connected the clockwork bad guys to “The Girl in the Fireplace”, some of Moffat’s classic bad guys that you’d struggle to revisit because that situation was very singular. Except here he manages it by having there be a sister ship. They never quite hit the level of their renaissance cousins, but go for a slightly more human evil. Combined with a knowing nod from the Doctor - “This rings a bell” - and it works well enough. Crucially, Clara holding her breath is a fantastic sequence, and Jenna Coleman gives one of her best performances ever, possibly rivalling “Asylum of the Daleks”.

The Victorian setting also brings back the Paternoster group, which is never a bad thing, and I think Jenny finally got a decent showing. Up to now she’s been a cute kick-ass lesbian sidekick, but with Deep Breath she gets some seriously good characterisation, and she's now possibly my favourite of the trio. Oh, and Clara having an argument with Madam Vastra was another great Coleman moment, that even Jenny appreciates.

But we're not finished with the Doctor yet. Thanks to the ending we get the distinct impression that the Doctor isn't as sure of himself. He opens up to Clara asking her to stay and admitting that Eleven thought of himself as her boyfriend. Then the genius line of her boyfriend calling as Eleven literally calls her from the past. It's a hell of a cameo, not just for Matt Smith's face, but for what's said. Eleven admits that Twelve is going to be very scared. Twelve even admits that he needs Clara right now.

Considering how much Moffat and Davies made of Nine, Ten and Eleven bouncing back from the Time War, now he’s come to grips with what he did, or rather the revelation what he didn’t do, where does this leave Twelve? A return to an old man is a significant one. If anything that might be the big mystery of Season 8. Though we get another big one in the closing minutes.

Not just the reveal at the end, as the Half-Face Man is alive again in a lovely garden with a strange woman who seems stalkerishly in love with the Doctor. The question did the Doctor push the Half-Face Man or did he jump is even put into the script – another Moffat nod to the work, just in case you missed it.

But what struck me more was the brilliant exchange as Clara and the Doctor realise someone is playing them. Not just the ad placed in the newspaper that brought them back together at the Robot's restaurant, but also who gave Clara the phone number to the TARDIS all the way back at “The Bells of Saint John”. Obviously you can't help but think that it's the woman in the garden that might be responsible for keeping Clara and the Doctor together. But another part of me makes me think that's too obvious.

And there's still so much more. Clara's struggle to get over Eleven is given visual fidelity with her shirt covered in bowties. The scene with Capaldi in the alleyway with a tramp realising his Scottishness and his face, both its familiarity but its furiousness and 'angry' eyebrows.

All told, it was a fantastic start to a new era. And I can't wait for next week, where we're already dealing with the Daleks again.
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