Doctor Who: Tertiary Aliens Rapidly Devolve Interesting Story
Do you know how long I’ve waited? After a bland Christmas special (which was somewhat of a misnomer) and the promise of a new, darker, older, more Scottish Doctor, eight months sailed by in an agonising trill of teasers and Coleman. By the time last night came around, I was practically sick with excitement- here, we had the introduction of a potentially game-changing Doctor, handled by one of the most experienced and competent showrunners in the industry. This, as I declared several minutes before starting the episode, could not go wrong.
As I’m sure you can guess, it swiftly did. The episode wasn’t a complete write-off, to be fair- I chuckled at a few of the less ham-fisted jokes, and appreciated a magnificent Matt Smith cameo that only made me pine for him more- but overall, I was left, not just dissapointed, but fuming by the Doctor Who season eight opener, Deep Breath. Indulge me for a moment, would you?
Infuriation Point 1: The Plot was Sloppy
Let’s cast our eye back over some wonderful DW episodes of yesteryear- Blink, The Empty Child two-parter, The God Complex. These are all episodes that are utterly airtight. You can watch these and watch these and watch these and not find one slip-up in the writing, one loophole that the characters presumably missed. Within half an hour of Deep Breath ending, me and the Consort had successfully picked obvious holes all over the plot (for example, the title was taken from the idea that the villains were unable to sense living creatures of they were holding their breath. So the central characters just stood very, very still at a climatic moment, holding their breath and waiting for the Doctor to come through, instead of running as far away from the monsters as they could while they were under their radar, which has been established as possible earlier in the episode). The episode would have made a very passable forty-minute mid-series romp, but it flagged hugely in it’s almost eighty-minute runtime. I don’t want to pick holes in Doctor Who, but if the writing is as slapdash as this was, I have to. Moffat has written some of the hands-down best episodes of the series ever, but that doesn’t give him a free pass to oversee episodes that both a) pointlessly reuse pretty good villains from six years ago that everyone sort of forgot about or b) contain a plot with the structural integrity of a skyscraper made of trifle.
Infuriation Point 2: Strax, Vastra, Jenny
I discussed in a review for The Crimson Horror last season that Strax, Madame Vastra, and Jenny were great characters who would, in the great Doctor Who tradition, be overused until we were sick of the sight of them (see: The Ood, The Daleks, Martha, etc). And I’ve been proved right against my will here, as they twirled into a room in tight leather brandishing swords and suspended by ribbons without a hint of a tongue anywhere near a cheek. Vastra came off as kind of patronising, and the heeeeee-larious Sontarans-don’t-get-people-LOL jokes are getting pretty boring. More to the point, I would have much preferred Capaldi’s opening episode to be about him and Clara, as opposed to wasting scenes with Clara nipping at tertiary characters.
Infuriation Point 3: Capaldi
Right, let’s be clear here: I thought Peter Capaldi was EXCELLENT in this episode. He was funny, charming, and extremely likeable. And my gripe with this new Doctor might be just mine, but it’s this: he didn’t seem like the Doctor. He didn’t have that mania or that sense of two thousand years of history or that ability to make it look as if his brain was about to burst with thought even when he was saying nothing at all. Whether or not this was a stylistic choice to depict his confusion after regeneration I don’t know, but I’ll be keen to see if this changes as the series goes on. I wonder, too, if the fact that every other Doctor I’ve seen I’ve been coming to with next to no prior knowledge of, while Capaldi inhabited one of the most iconic comedy roles of the decade has something to do with my inability to see him as a timelord. I did catch myself willing him on to declare something the “FUCKING OMNISHAMBLES” more than once.
Ben Wheately, an indie film director who helmed this episode, managed to make it look actively sloppy a few times. I didn’t like the utterly pointless re-use of old villains, especially not when you have a brand-new Doctor to play with. The ending suggested a rehash of the dreaded River Song plot, which I am minus okay with. There was no mention of Gallifrey, despite the fact they brought it back in the 50th Anniversary Special to great fanfare. The Scottish jokes (“You all sound ENGLISH!”) were pointless and, frankly, can we keep the independence campaign out of a kid’s teatime show?
With all that said, there was a lot to recommend to this seventy-six minutes of television. A nod to the Doctor’s moral ambiguity with a jumped/pushed question mark, a few meta nods to the fact that Peter Capaldi was in the series before, and some musing on the nature of the Doctor’s relationship with Clara (which apparently a lot of people hated but I utterly adored) that was pulled off with tenderness and subtlety. There’s enough here to go on to tempt me back, dammit, and it looks like, as Capaldi, Clara and the new improved Tardis, I’ll be back next week.
But hang on: did I spot some Daleks “done in a new way” (floating Dalek eyes???!?!??!??!?!) yet again in next week’s teaser? I’ll have you yet, Moffat.