This story in a nutshell: The most schizophrenic Doctor arrives on the scene...
Indiscernible: 'I have a horrible feeling I'm going to have to kill you...I thought you might appreciate a drink first.' Welcome to the world of Doctor Who, Peter Capaldi. To say I was disappointed with his performance in the first half of Deep Breath would be an understatement. I had been telling doubters that this was going to be the most interesting Doctor yet and here he was jerking about like a puppet with his strings cut, talking nonsensically and failing to even tickle the funny bone as he did so. It was just irritating wackiness. That's a new approach (unless you count Sylvester McCoy's debut). Fortunately things took a massive u-turn in the second half and all the things I was expecting from Capaldi - gravitas, darkness and a suggestion of something truly sinister beneath - all began to surface. I wouldn't say that he is fully defined as a character like Matt Smith was in The Eleventh Hour. In fact I would say that he is barely defined as a character at all but that is rather exciting. Looking back at the 11th Doctor's era it is clear that he started at his zenith and generally haemorrhaged interest throughout his tenure until he was little more than a collection of quirks come his finale. Capaldi is in a much different place after his debut, with places to go and grow. I think it is going to be a most interesting ride.
His first scene is horribly awkward and packed full genuinely awful dialogue. Why secure an actor of this magnitude and give him such foolish things to say? This dialogue is beneath him and Capaldi struggles under its weight of ineptitude. It's basically the pre-titles sequence of The Christmas Invasion (Jenny's dialogue mirrors Jackie's at the end), three times as long, terribly scripted and without the impressive stunt of the TARDIS crash landing. The bedroom, eyebrows and anti-English dialogue is just as bad, it is a character trying to be idiosyncratic rather than simply being so...and that's painful. And as for the comic noise when the Doctor falls unconscious, that's just peculiar. His chalk equations on the floor of his bedroom was the first point where I thought this Doctor might work out, maybe that was the idea. To wrong foot us so completely. I wonder how many of the casual audience wont be watching next week though because of the crazy old git literally screaming his head from the rooftops and jumping in the Thames (several of my friends that don't watch the show on a regular basis declared this the worst thing they had seen on television in many a year). His sadness and anger for the burning dinosaur felt very Doctorish to me, a lovely touch. Planet of the pudding brains? I preferred it when he just called us stupid apes. The tension and chemistry between the Doctor and Clara in the restaurant scene is palpable, this shows great promise. All Moffat had to do was to add some mutual antipathy. Leaving Clara to her fate might just be the best thing he does in the entire story, for once the Doctor is a genuinely unpredictable. When he confronts the villain of the piece, all mood and wit, the Doctor has arrived, albeit not quite fully formed yet.
The Impossible Girl: The biggest revelation of Deep Breath, even moreso than Peter Capaldi for me. It's nice to see that there has been a genuine character rattling around inside there all this time and this 80 minutes did more to justify Clara's existence than the entirety of her output last year. I'll get the bad stuff out of the way first because the good stuff is worth concentrating on. This is an unrealistic leap in a positive direction. Last year Clara was self assured to the point of no longer serving as a character, she stormed around submarines filling with water, took on a haunted house and directed an army of soldiers against a Cyberman army without batting an eyelid or breaking a sweat. It was infuriatingly smug and unrealistic. This was not a character I could identify with. To have her go from that to falling to pieces just because the guy she fancies has changed faces (a fact that she should be intimately acquainted with because she has jumped all over his time stream) is seriously inconsistent to the point where we could be talking about another character entirely. However the new, less assured, more tentative and angry Clara is one that I very much like and can buy into...so I'll let it slide this time. It is wonderful to see Clara not being able to cope for once, I can sympathise with her for a change. This new Doctor is gangly and awkward and she doesn't know how he fits into the life she has built with the old one. Suddenly this man that she fancies (icky) is old and ugly (comparatively speaking) and it has thrown her. Whilst her anger in the face of Vastra isn't scripted very naturally that is the first time that we have really seen her teeth. I wanted to applaud like Jenny. 'I am extremely cross' she tells the Doctor. Hurrah. We even get to see Clara failing to cope with her class at school. Now she is a mass of neuroses I find her infinitely more believable.
Lizard Lady, Lesbian Lover & Jolly Sontaran: I fail to see the point in continuing to return to these characters if we never learn anything new about them when we do. Aside from highlighting a pro interspecies and gay stance (and I'm not saying there is anything wrong with that...just that it is highlighted to the point where this is the only interesting thing about these characters), there is little here that we haven't seen before. Frankly I would rather see the Tyler clan coping with a new Doctor because I can buy into them as characters and they mirror how I might react to things. A Silurian, a cockney maid and fat Sontaran form what can hardly be called a realistic set up so you've lost half the battle there already, albeit with the non-fan audience. They are semi-regulars now (having appeared in The Snowmen, The Crimson Horror, The Name of the Doctor and Deep Breath) but I fail to understand what makes them so fascinating that they are worth continuing the association. They're fun, they're worth the odd appearance, maybe once a year but if we're not going to learn anything fresh about their characters (continuing saying 'we're married' doesn't constitute something fresh) then I don't understand the appeal. It doesn't further the exploration of the Silurians, the Sontarans or humanity. I have to say I miss the idea of these species (well perhaps not humanity) as enemies of the Doctor. Using them as characters in a Victorian based sitcom is hardly seeing them at their best. Sorry to be such a killjoy. Plus Strax's idiotic misunderstandings of human anatomy are beyond a joke now, Douglas Adams Moffat aint.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'This isn't a man turning himself into a robot. This is a robot turning himself into a man.'
'Threats don't work unless you can deliver.'
'I am not a control freak!'
* The one good thing I took from the first half hour was Clara spending the night with the Paternoster gang and generally slowing the pace down and soaking in the atmosphere of the period. There has been so little of that lately and I have missed it.
* Smacking Clara in the face with the Times. Laugh out loud funny. As is Strax falling to the floor like a sack of spuds after Vastra and Jenny have made such a graceful entrance.
* Brian Miller back in Doctor Who. The scene between the Doctor and tramp might be bizarrely written (all this obsession with mighty eyebrows, the Scots and stealing smelly coats) but it is beautifully performed by Miller and Capaldi.
* Clara insults the Doctor (he doesn't have the attention span) and the Doctor insults Clara (an ego maniac needy game player). This is a promising new trend.
* Simon guessed immediately that this was a sequel to The Girl in the Fireplace once the ticking in the restaurant began resounding. That doesn't make it any less of a chilling moment when you realise that the Doctor and Clara are surrounded by automatons. Moffat still has a penchant for the odd jarring shock. Although it still isn't original, an eatery filled with humanoid machines calls to mind The Android Invasion.
* The visible clockwork inside the robots heads. Just how I like my plots, very neat.
* The dinosaur is probably the worst thought through plot element in Moffat's entire reign and it kick starts a whole new era. Go figure. As far as Moffat is concerned it is probably just a fun way to introduce the Doctor to the audience but it comes with it a whole host of problems that counter the effect of a memorable introduction. For one it is hardly original, we had dinosaurs stomping about last year and the Doctor has already made a disgraceful exit out of the mouth of a giant creature (The Beast Below). Also wasn't one of the reasons Moffat invented the cracks in time and space to tuck away all those out in the open alien invasions that Russell T Davies was so fond of? And he is shamelessly flouting that rule to get a reaction. Don't get me wrong it looks fantastic, as good as any dinosaur I have ever seen on screen...but it isn't even a salient plot point. It is packaged as such for the first half an hour, stomping about the town with attitude but ultimately it is just a distraction, a way to turn a 45 minute story into an 80 minute one. It has nothing to do with the central narrative (nowhere to be seen for the first half an hour, aside from one brief moment) whatsoever. It is just a quirky way to bring the new Doctor to light in a spectacular way and then, like the irrelevant exercise that it is it just fizzles away and burns. And obviously nobody remembered this bizarre dinosaur shaped disaster afterwards. Never underestimate the human ability to forget things it can't handle.
* Ben Wheatley's direction is severely lacking in places. I don't often say that about a new series director but this was more apparent because the talents of this particular director have been splashed all over the media. It reminds me of something Eric Saward said once, that he could get in touch with genuinely strong writers but it doesn't mean that they could write for Doctor Who because it is such a curious beast. I would add direction to that list now. Wheatley manages to frame some scenes very well but were many more moments where I thought the tension and the humour missed the mark by a mile. The scene where the Doctor falls unconscious spectacularly fails to be amusing in precisely the way that Smith's collision with the tree was hilarious in The Eleventh Hour. And I think that is entirely down to the direction. Clara trapped underground without the Doctor should have been stiflingly claustrophobic and tense but shot mostly from a distance it fails to generate any anxiety. A shame, given the conscious choice the Doctor has made to leave her this should have been the most frightening moment of NuWho yet. Sabotaged by the director. His greatest sin is the action sequence at the climax though. Clara and the Paternoster gang are tackling the androids but it so confusingly directed you be hard pressed to figure out what is going on. The editor deserves a slap on the wrist too.
* The new title music is an assault on the ears, unfortunately. Murray Gold's season four score is still my favourite; exciting, dynamic, catchy, nostalgic. This version reduces the Doctor Who theme to the sound of fingers down a blackboard. And we all know how pleasant that sounds. The titles are better than last year but still a little too busy. What is wrong with simple? The TARDIS travelling down the vortex has always been enough...why is there suddenly a need to throw so much at the audience? Is Moffat scared they will get bored during the title sequence?
* Way to admit everything that went wrong during the Matt Smith era by acknowledging that Clara and the Doctor were boyfriend and girlfriend. The script makes several references to the fact that they both consented to that arrangement...and that should never be the case. Even with the Doctor and Rose in series two it was a one sided affair, he did have strong feelings for her but he certainly didn't lust after her in a short skirt or embrace the life as her boyfriend. Moffat has been obsessed with taking the Doctor to brink of consensual sex, acting up as Clara's boyfriend, lusting after her and being pawed at in Amy's bedroom. They've now chosen a lead who cannot fulfil that task for Moffat (visually it just would not work) and so now Danny Pink has been drafted in to add the element to the show that he simply cannot write without. The sex. You mark my words.
* 'It don't look realistic' 'I blame the government...' - why are the Victorian characters all talking in contemporary language.
* Let's count the recycled plot elements. Dinosaurs (Dinosaurs on a Spaceship), regeneration crisis (take your pick), the Paternoster Gang (five previous stories), robots stealing body parts (The Girl in the Fireplace), the Victorian setting (as predictable as contemporary London was during Davies' era after four airings in the previous ten stories), don't breathe (don't blink), the Doctor sailing over Victorian London in a hot air balloon (The Next Doctor). In fact was there a single original notion in this story? You would hope that recycling elements from The Girl in the Fireplace would add an extra layer of interest to the previous tale, would tell us something new that allows us to see it in a brand new way. Nadda, it is just a sister ship, plain and simple. And as much as I like the darker Doctor element, it is hardly a new idea. Hartnell had quite the temper, Troughton could jettison his humour in a moment, Pertwee was violent, Baker brooded, Baker II cut through time a space like a serrated saw, McCoy destroyed entire worlds, Eccleston epitomised menace and Tennant dished out some pretty severe punishments. It is only in the wake of the Nutty Professor that this shadowy approach feels refreshing. Even the Doctor killing somebody from a great height was handled in The Christmas Invasion. And they made far less of a song and dance about it. Tennant was just as dark, but less self consciously so. Next week: the Daleks. What happened to this bold new era of innovation?
* Horsey humour is so passé now. And the broom metaphor might have worked if it hadn't been done to much more amusing effect in Only Fools and Horses. 'Always look after your broom, Dave.'
* With Moffat you have to acknowledge that he changes the rules as he goes along or go mad. He might set something up in one story (say the Doctor's final death on Trenzalore with the TARDIS left as a monument) but he will completely contradict it in another (it never happened in Time of the Doctor so unless he will return once again to Trenzalore on his very last regeneration - which is the stretchiest of narrative stretches - there is no biodata for Clara to jump into a save his life because the TARDIS isn't there. Which means she cannot meet him in Asylum. Or The Snowmen...I'll stop before I short circuit) so that the set up in the first story makes no sense whatsoever. It might be lousy continuity and lazy (and I loathe to use that word) writing but you have to accept it as it is the only way to proceed through his era without having a logic based breakdown. Strax was established as a competent medical Doctor in A Good Man Goes to War. Now he cannot tell a human arse from the far side of the moon. It makes no sense whatsoever, it's character devolution for a cheap gag.
* 35 minutes into the episode, Vastra looks at a map of where the deaths have occurred. That is when the plot kicks in. That is almost the length of a standard episode.
* 'Clara, I'm not your boyfriend...' might be the worst line in Doctor Who ever. Why would that ever need to be said unless something had gone fundamentally wrong with the Doctor in the previous incarnation?
* Why would the Doctor need to phone Clara in the future to help her transition with the new Doctor when he is about to make an ages-long speech to her before regenerating? Why not just say 'Clara, I might be a bit of a wanker but stick with me' instead of all that airy fairy nonsense about never forgetting when the Doctor was me? Oh right, because they wanted a Matt Smith cameo and for the audience (and Clara) to be comforted. Bollocks writing, making zero sense when considered for a half a second. Aren't I clever because I set this up by having the TARDIS phone hanging off the hook in Time of the Doctor? Nope, you've just made yourself look like an idiot for setting up something that really didn't need to happen. Stop trying to be clever and think.
* The advert in the newspaper, that was a lovely hint of an arc. Somebody trying to keep the Doctor and Clara together. The final scene (despite being well played) was an indication that we were in for more of the same. Another smugly self assured mysterious woman who considers the Doctor to be her boyfriend. Hello River. Hello Clara. Hello Tasha Lem. Hello Missy. Try playing a new track, Moffat.
The Shallow Bit: Everyone is up in arms about the lesbian, interspecies kiss. Maybe they have forgotten about the Doctor and Jack's kiss in The Parting of the Ways. Or the thousand references to the fact that Vastra and Jenny are married. What do people imagine they get up to in private? Counting the scales on her lizard head? Upsetting homophobes and racists and delicate parents is three way win as far as I'm concerned. It was a gentle moment between two characters that is barely worth commenting about. The storm that has brewed in its wake proves that family television still has a long way to go. Allusions to Clara watching porn are hilarious, if slightly inappropriate. I hope kids don't probe their parents any further on that one. Jenny let's her hair down in her underwear...and she's beautiful. Who knew? Vastra in green...that's a nice look for her.
Standout Scene: The Doctor brooding menacingly in the TARDIS, refusing to conform for Clara. I feels different. This is a Doctor who wont go out of his way to comfort his assistant or the audience. I hope they keep that up. This is the most vital scene in the entire episode and I'm glad this is the one that Wheatley aced, especially the lighting. Even the TARDIS has more of a brooding edge.