Monday, 25 August 2014

Lucky Numbers

It's been a long time coming, but finally the new series of Doctor Who is with us. And is my custom that means I get to indulge my fanboy prerogative of nitpicking each episode on the internet. So now that I've had a proper chance to watch Deep Breath and gather my thoughts, you are no doubt wondering what my impression of it was. The answer however may surprise you a little:


Yes fans, my point of reference for this particular episode is, of all things, The Twin Dilemma.

Yes, THAT Twin Dilemma. The one that causes even the most stalwart whovians to ask if we could maybe watch Timelash instead.

"NOW... Something something. At least we're better than Fear Her"

.Believe it or not I actually have more than one reason for thinking this. Firstly of course, there's some fun conspiracy theories to be had. Let me explain.

When parallelling the classic and new series Doctors the 10th is remarkably similar to the 4th. After all, both followed on from rather grumpier predecessors whose stories were noted for their restriction to an Earth-bound setting. Both of them then went on to score amazing levels of popularity and success beyond even that of said august fore bearers. Then where it gets REALLY interesting is that after this long and successful career they are both succeeded by actors that everyone immediately says are far too young. The 5th and 11th Doctors then went on to prove themselves more than equal of the task, despite the looming shadow of the shows previous success. And a number of frankly dodgy stories. Both presided over periods of refreshed interest in the fandom and big (and more importantly OFFICIAL) conventions.

And then of course, conspiracy fans, each was succeeded by an older actor who was looking to bring in a rather different take on the part. A rather darker, more alien Doctor. A Doctor who both the audience and companion are a little less sure about.

Unfortunately for Colin Baker he got the Twin Dilemma. But Peter Capaldi gets Deep Breath. Which is very much LIKE The Twin Dilemma, only done right.

Because that's the real thing that links the two. The introduction of a new Doctor who, whilst still being the Doctor, has more of an edge. Who may very well be.... A bit DODGY.

Also it has a Dinosaur, which is always an advantage.


Of course, scale wise this is more of a Kaijusaurus than a Tyrannosaur. But You're not going to find me complaining too heavily about anything with giant monsters in. In fact this particular specimen is quite literally Godzilla sized.

The Dinosaur is shown to be roughly as tall as the tower of Big Ben. A quick bit of googling reveals this tower to be 96 meters high. You'll see from the above size comparison chart that this pegs our out-sized friendly Therapod at roughly the same mass as several classic incarnations of everyones favourite radioactive reptile.

What's even more interesting is the way that Kaijusaurus Rex there actually almost starts out fulfilling the role of a companion. I.E. a feisty female that the Doctor gets into trouble and then needs to try and rescue. Although I guess since she then dies pretty quickly that puts her more in league with Katarina and Sarah Kingdom. At the very least that should make things more interesting when having those tedious "who really counts as a companion" debates.

However she does drive the story forward rather well, although perhaps not in the way one might have expected. Rather than being the big climax special effect that the Doctor has to stop, she's the initial victim that engages the Doctors sympathy. And it's his feeling for this huge menacing, yet innocent creature that really allows us to first connect with the basic Doctoryness of this incarnation of the Doctor.

That's always the tricky part with regeneration trauma stories, and one of the major areas where the Twin Dilemma falls down. At least in a narrative context.

The other problems not only speak for themselves, they actually have speaking parts.

You need to maintain some sense of the basic essence of the Doctor, even whilst he's sorting out the exact shape that's going to take this time around. But rather than the overplayed mood swings of the Twin Dilemma, or even perhaps the exaggerated confusion of Time & The Rani, here we have a more subtle process at work. Particularly as we never see the Doctor actually do much in the way of wrong things, but there's always a distinct impression left that he MIGHT have. So he gets to both BE the Doctor, and simultaneously worry us just a bit. Did he REALLY mug a tramp? Is he telling the truth about the watch?

And if so where did he keep it? 

So, functionally the episode works. Narratively it holds up fairly well, although it's also a little to early to tell at this point. The confrontation with the villain and thus final resolution all being engineered by a mysterious 3rd party who will no doubt be pulling strings behind the scenes right up until the final episode. Still, it should be fun looking out for further clues, ignoring them, and just making shit up and pretending it's a big plot spoiler.

So, what about the new Doctor himself? Is he the Doctor?

I'd say..Yes. Interestingly I'm not sure he's quite as instantly The Doctor as Matt Smith managed to be. But then that is rather the point of the episode. That whole slight sense of doubt they're building in. It's rather odd in a way though, because the only real problem I had with the announcement of Peter Capaldis casting was how obvious it seemed. You just look at him, hear he's playing the Doctor and think "Yeah, i can see that working.". The funny thing about this being that there's never been any such thing as obvious casting of a Doctor in the series before.

Think about it. William Hartnell was primarily known for playing angry authority figure types, not being a children's hero. Patrick Troughton was, it has to be said, NOT William Hartntell. So that was a rather odd casting choice until people got used to this whole regeneration idea. Jon Pertwee was a comedy actor, not an action hero. Nobody even knew what a Tom Baker even WAS until he was cast as Doctor Who, and to be fair even now not many people are that sure they really understand the concept. Peter Davidson was not only clearly far too young, but he was that vet off All Creatures Great And Small. How could he be the Doctor? Colin Baker was known primarily from rather more mature programs, but the real problem was he'd already BEEN in Doctor Who. Not only that but he'd actually tried to kill the Doctor! How does that work? Sylvester McCoy stuffed ferrets down his trousers. Not what you'd call proper sci fi. Paul McGann was in the American production, so that was clearly never going to work out. Christopher Eccleston was, of all things, NORTHERN. David Tennant was really to young and handsome and as for Matt Smith... What was he, TWELVE?

So to have a Doctor whose casting doesn't make you think "Hmmm, I wonder how that's going to work?" does actually give you a bit of freedom to do interesting things with the actual character. Because it's not the actor that you'll be questioning.

So yeah, I'm quite looking forward to how all this is going to go. However I'm now calling dibs on another ludicrous conspiracy theory: The Subversive Scottish Agenda™.

Remember back when Russell T Davis was in charge (YAY!/BOO!/MEH Delete as applicable)? Remember how he was like, gay? And sometimes in stories there was a character who was like, gay? And how that was indisputable proof of a secret plan to turn everyone gay because reasons or something?

Incidentally, this woman fucks a pig, and nobody stops to question THAT.

Yeah. Well now you notice how Steven Moffatt is like, Scottish? And how sometimes his scripts have like, Scottish people in them? And he made a Scottish companion And now he's even turned THE DOCTOR SCOTTISH?

Don't think I'm not onto you Moffat. Get your tinfoil sporrans ready boys, subliminal haggis awaits.

Incidentally, I think I've just worked out what the season finale will be.

Getting back to the matter at hand for a brief moment, I'd like to talk a little about the villains of the piece. A good friend told me a rumour that the Clockwork Robots would be making a comeback this season. My response was that I wasn't really sure how that'd work, as they were very much a function of the episode they first appeared in so i couldn't really see what else you could do with them. And then I remembered that I'd said that about the Weeping Angels too, and that turned out alright.

Well, apart from the one rather obvious exception.

I'm incredibly pleased to say that they've been brought back in pretty damn fine form. There's such a marvellous creepy quality to the Half-Faced Man. Whilst his modus operandi is encroaching slightly on Cyberman territory, it's from a completely different angle allowing for an altogether different experience. The make up, effects and model work were brilliant. It's not quite that they managed to make the animatronic head more realistic than usual, but more that they managed to make the actor look somehow more fake, allowing the two to blend together really well. And thanks to the feature length running time, this is a villain we actually get to spend some proper time with.

I'm sure I've said before that the series would benefit from a longer run time per episode, even if it meant making the whole run one or two episodes shorter. This episode illustrates my point beautifully. The scenes of the Doctor and the Half-Faced Man quietly confronting each other are great. Just think what it would be like if we could get something like that with, say, Davros.

Alternatively you could just put your Genesis Of The Daleks DVD on and actually see.

And it's not just the villain that benefits from this, or even the Doctor. Although obviously the extra time allows him to establish his character more. EVERYONE benefits. Vastra, Jenny & Strax are great as ever, and the glimpse of their own esoteric brand of domestic bliss is great, but it's probably Clara who benefits most. She actually, FINALLY, starts to show signs of being a character here.

The major problem with the last series was simply that nobody seemed to know what to actually do with her, and as a consequence she never really did anything. Ending up as this sort of formless generic idea of a companion without ever really having much chance to establish any sort of character outside that. And it looks like things are going to go that way again here to start with.  I mean, doing the whole "companion is shocked and confused by the regeneration" thing can work, sure. But considering the whole POINT of Clara was that she'd actually interacted with every single incarnation of the Doctor that falls extremely flat here. We haven't actually seen him give her any reason to doubt him. And no, getting swallowed by a giant monster DOESN'T count. That isn't worryingly out of character behaviour for the Doctor, that's Thursday afternoon. By the time he does get around to giving her a reason it's a bit late for that sort of thing. However, once we get past that initial clumsiness she actually starts showing signs of promise. Or maybe Strax hitting her in the face just cheered me up. But that whole bit after the Doctor abandons her? That's great stuff. Confronting the bad guy, being scared but brave, getting important information... All PROPER companion type stuff. The sort of stuff that would have really endeared the character had she been actually given any of it to do last series.

I mean yeah, turns out she's a bit bitchy. But that's good because it's actually a character trait. Maybe they'll succeed here where Tegan and Peri failed and actually establish a good argumentative rapport or something.

Really, outside of that the only criticism I have is that I really wish Vastra and Jenny would be given some proper fight training. I know there probably isn't the time or budget, and they don't do TOO badly. But equally they don't really come across as the badass Ninjitsu bitches that they really should. Still, it's better than that whole strategy of lining up and politely taking turns to fire at one another that we used to go for.

I'd rather be in frame than in cover!

Still, overall I'd say what we have here is a promising start. One that makes me look forward to the episodes to come. Which is kinda what first episodes are for, after all.