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Deep Breath

We saw "Deep Breath" in the theater on Monday! It was again exhilirating to go in costume and watch a new episode in a theater packed with 200 other fans, though the atmosphere was nowhere near as electric as it was for the 50th anniversary. I'm not sure anything could beat that day. But it was fun, and we chatted in the theater with a lot of other people. And I got a lot of compliments on my Fifth Doctor outfit, so that was wonderful, too.

The episode... I'd love to say that I loved the episode, but I can't really say that, unfortunately. What I'd really love is to come back to this post in a couple of months and read it, and say, "Wow, you really got that wrong! It was a great episode and you were so cynical." But right now, I have to say what I'm thinking.

First, I want to say upfront that Mr. Capaldi was fantastic. He gave a brilliant performance, and he was fun to watch. I especially enjoyed his scene with the homeless guy. Though he was still in regeneration psychosis and therefore wasn't his Doctor quite yet, it was superb. Of course, I'm not sure about his Doctor yet, because I didn't feel like I really got to know much about him. He spent so much time in psychosis and then for the rest of the episode, he was either angsting it out with the robot or trying to get Clara to like him, so I really don't have a good feel for who he is yet. He definitely seems to have a far more serious outlook - less energy and more gravitas, more like Hartnell, C. Baker, and McCoy, and less like T Baker, Eccleston, Tennant, and Smith - and that, so far, I like a lot.

Now, as far as the actual adventure part of the episode, that was a bit disappointing. The robots were suitably creepy, but they didn't feel scary (and when I'm immersed in a theater and the monsters fill the whole screen and they don't feel scary, there's a problem there). The whole "they can tell you're human thing because you're breathing" thing was stupid enough that it destroyed my suspension of disbelief: any robot that can detect that you're breathing should be able to also detect the many other signs that you're human, such as involuntary eye movements and tremors because of being terrified. The plot of the adventure was very straightforward, but that's okay, as it was a regeneration episode and the focus of the story was elsewhere (though I might point out that the adventure plot of "The Eleventh Hour" was nicely complex while not detracting from the main focus of the Doctor and Amy).

The rest of the story, though, was heavy-handed. The parallels drawn between the Doctor and the robot were laboriously drawn and repeated. Yes, they're both long-lived; they both change faces; they both are striving for some ideal, some reward that doesn't exist; they're both tired of their struggle and don't know if they want to continue on, if there's really a good reason to keep fighting. We get it: the robot was meant to be a mirror. Hey, look, let's make sure you get the point by showing the Doctor mirrored in the silver tray the robot's looking into! Same with the dinosaur: alone, far from home, the people around her don't see her as a real individual, etc. I've seen it said that an author should show the reader things, rather than tell them, and I felt like this episode was trying to tell me to see the Doctor in these ways, rather than show him to me. Interestingly, the one thing that would have shown us an important point about the Doctor - whether he pushed the robot or talked the robot into jumping himself - was left ambiguous.

It bothers me quite a bit that the Doctor has lost the hope, the sense of renewed purpose, the "I'm going home" epiphany he had at the end of "The Day of the Doctor" (which should have been reinforced by actual proof that Gallifrey survived in "The Time of the Doctor") and has returned to the "I'm so old and lost, what am I doing here? Am I doing the right thing?" theme of the Eleventh Doctor. I also know that this Doctor is supposed to be "dark," but it didn't sit well for me that his solution to the whole problem was to kill the robot (or get it to kill itself). The Doctor has always respected life and tried to find non-violent solutions for his enemies, even when it meant going far out of his way or even sacrificing himself. It doesn't matter that this time it was a robot; he believes they have right to life, too (see "The Robots of Death," for example). This time, the Doctor barely tried to figure out what the robot really wanted and switched to killing it, an odd decision especially after noting that the robot was more human than robot.

And then there's Clara. It's very difficult for me to look at Clara objectively, because she's never had an actual character, changing her skills and thoughts and reactions each episode to fit whatever was needed to move the plot along: she's an independent companion; no, she fancies the Doctor; no, the Doctor fancies her; she's a live-in babysitter; oh, now she's a trained and certified teacher; now she's able to command an army; oh, wait, did you know the TARDIS doesn't like her? This episode was focused a lot on her, as she struggled with accepting this new Doctor, and that's great, because it wouldn't be easy for anyone to accept such a huge change; Rose was unable to accept the new Doctor until he demonstrated that underneath it all, his base nature hadn't changed. Clara had a worse time of it, because the surface attributes of the new Doctor are very different from his predecessor's. She did a great job trying to deal with all of this; my only quibble with her was the early question of why he changed, which is something she should already understand (while she doesn't remember all the things she did in the Doctor's timestream, she does understand that he changes, and in fact remembered the Tenth Doctor when she met him, so she should get it on a basic level).

The biggest problem for me, though, (and you'll note that it's not a problem with Clara per se) was that the point of Clara not being willing to give the new Doctor a try was pounded home so heavily that I felt like Moffat was trying to speak to the fan base through Clara, saying, "Hey, I know this guy looks different, and he's very different from the Eleventh Doctor, but give him a chance and stick around." This was only reinforced by the appearance of Eleventh Doctor, calling Clara to tell her that the new Doctor is scared and need her help, so please stick with him. Show us that this new Doctor is brilliant! Don't tell us that he is! And certainly don't beg us to stay! It also really rubbed me the wrong way that Clara is basically staying with the Doctor out of pity. She should be staying because she genuinely connects with him or because she's not sure but wants more time to get to know him, not because he begged her to or because he's frightened. And it disappointed me to see the Eleventh Doctor again. This is the Twelfth Doctor's debut episode: give him his chance to chance to shine, and don't steal the limelight away. I love that they set up the scene in "The Time of the Doctor" by showing the hanging phone - it's always a thrill when you get to see that they planned that much ahead - but it otherwise felt like cheap fanservice.

Then, there's the Paternoster gang. It was nice to see more of the relationship between Vastra and Jenny, but what we did see disturbed me. There were two scenes that I think were included for comic effect: Vastra saying that Jenny pretends to be her servant in public and Jenny asking why she serves the tea in private, and Vastra having Jenny pose for no reason. It was evident in both scenes that Jenny was not amused and rather offended, and it amazed me that a strong, confident woman like her would meekly submit to such psychological abuse. I'll allow for Vastra being a Silurian who doesn't think like a human, but it really made me no longer like her and my heart bled for Jenny, and it still bothered me a lot that her treating her wife in those ways is considered comedy.

Then there was the final robot showdown, in which none of the three experienced combatants, one of which was armed with a blaster gun, was able to harm any of the robots at all. Clara told them all to hold their breath (Really? A robot suddenly thinks the human in front of him is a robot because he stops breathing?), and they waited. During this time, Strax, the Sontaran who lives for battle, believes that the most glorious way to die fighting, and continued to fight when the Whispermen had their hands in his body grabbing his heart, trembled in fear. And to help Jenny survive the press of hostile robots, Vastra gave her air in the form in a slow passionate kiss (which for some reason isn't a clue to the robots that these figures aren't actually robots). The word for this is "contrived." Rather than keep them in character and let them fight like the warriors they are and build the tension by having them get whittled down by overwhelming numbers, they went for cheap emotional thrills.

And I think that's the real problem I had with this episode. The whole thing felt too contrived: two characters who are mostly unable to speak (the dinosaur and the robot) so that the Doctor can have long monologues to draw clumsy parallels between himself and them, and implausible enemies and situations to put the companion in a place where the Doctor leaves her behind and to give the couple a chance to kiss onscreen. And it all seemed to be purposefully done this way to tell us what we should think about the new Doctor, rather than let us make up our own minds.

Lastly, there's the closing scene with Missy. I've mentioned before that one of the things I really disliked in Series 5, 6, and 7 was the handling of the overplot, where some snippet of information was unveiled in the first episode (the crack, Madame Kovarian's eyes, the "Impossible Girl") and then in each succeeding episode, it's thrown at the screen each time (often as an extra scene without being part of the story) without giving the audience any more information about it, until it's suddenly explained at the end of the arc. I dislike it because it doesn't invite the audience to participate: there's nothing the viewer can do to try understand what's going on through the season until everything is revealed, and going back later and seeing those things doesn't contribute to the thrill of the story, because they meant so little. (Compare to going back to "The Runaway Bride" and discovering that Harold Saxon was the person who ordered the military to fire on the Webstar, demonstrating that the Master was already putting his plan into place.) The Missy scene had the same vibe and did nothing for me. I'd like to hope I'm wrong and that the Doctor encounters her early on so that she is an active participant in the season plot.

That's it. I really wanted to love this episode, but when the lights turned on in the theater, I was rather glad it was over. I'm hoping that time and rewatching will improve my opinion of it (it usually does - I don't think there's a single episode that I haven't liked better on rewatch, but then I've never watched "Love and Monsters" and "The Rings of Akhaten" a second time). I am still eager for the rest of the season, as the performances were wonderful and the Doctor is intriguing and compelling, so here's to Saturday!



( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 28th, 2014 01:40 pm (UTC)
I have to agree with you here. I think Peter Capaldi is going to make an excellent Doctor. His post-regeneration psychosis was done well. I loved the scene with the homeless guy!

Show, not tell, is always a key component of good storytelling. If an actor needs to say it, is it worth saying at all? They were ramming a lot of things down our throats here, and it stuck, much as the TARDIS was stuck in that dinosaur's throat.

As for Clara, that "Impossible Girl" mantra has come back to bite! She knows the Doctor regenerates, has different faces. She's supposedly seen them all, she's even seen the Eleventh Doctor actually age (something we've never seen before within an incarnation)... yet, she begged him not to change and railed about how he looks, that he's gray and has some wrinkles? I thought she was more pragmatic than that! She totally focused on the physical and not the psychological differences.

As a teacher, she should have recognized a troubled soul and tried to help him through, not run away from the situation. She should have seen him, not his skin. "Same software, different cover." A phone call from Eleven should never have been necessary for her to even contemplate staying, if she were worth her salt. Yes, she could have some doubts, but she needs to get to know him again before choosing what to do. I understand this situation has upended her relationship as it was, but she didn't strike me as the type to just run away as it seemed she was going to do. And now, with that call, it seems she's staying out of pity rather than friendship.

Sigh... made me wish Donna was his companion for this. Even when she watched Ten "regenerate" and had no idea what was happening, her eyes spoke of concern (and maybe a bit of ire that he hadn't told his best friend about this to prepare her), fear for his welfare, not fear for herself. She would have, if he'd changed, been there for him immediately to help him through. Contrast that to Rose's (and Clara's) begging him not to change, even though she knew what was going on and should have been prepared. Donna only turned away because of the fierce light of the regeneration energy.
Aug. 30th, 2014 02:15 am (UTC)
Yup, it really didn't sit well with me that Clara couldn't give the new Doctor the benefit of the doubt. Of all people, she's the one who should have understood. Why should she need Vastra to tell her what's going on?

Donna was pretty amazing during the aborted regeneration, not panicking and willing to listen to Jack who was telling her to let what was happening happen. Rose already went through it once and was freaking out. She should have known that the Doctor changes but stays the same. On the other hand, she's extremely jealous and selfish, and I'm sure that she wanted that particular incarnation to stick around.

In Rose's defense, though (and that's not a phrase I say very often), during the first regeneration she experienced, she had no clue what was going on (the Doctor's attempt at explanation was pretty dodgy), and she dealt with is wonderfully! She questioned the change when it happened and came up with multiple explanations for it (transmat, Slitheen, etc.). And then when the Doctor finally wakes up and asks how he looked, she didn't fall for the younger, handsomer Doctor - she simply states he's "different" without any approval at all, and he has to prove his worth before she accepts him. Contrast to Clara, who very obviously is put off simply by the new Doctor's older looks when she's the one who should accept him without question.
Aug. 29th, 2014 11:22 am (UTC)
I agree with a lot of this post...and I'm hoping (like you) that I will come back to this episode at a later date with more understanding and a borader view based on later episodes. It was brilliant, but there were a few things wrong with it, really.

Aug. 30th, 2014 02:16 am (UTC)
Yup! I'm sure that even with having problems with this first episode, we'll love the new Doctor as we get to know him. Looking forward to tomorrow night!
Aug. 31st, 2014 08:43 pm (UTC)
1/3 ;P

Oh god, thank you so much for this. ♥ I agree with pretty much all the points you made, and it actually made me feel hugely better to see someone express quite eloquently all the reasons for which I had huge problems with this episode. I'm the kind of person who only feels completely vindicated in their opinions when said opinions are backed by someone else, yup XD Basically I was just feeling angry and sad and sticking to my corner of negativity until other people came along and were bothered by the same things. Respectful criticism is the best attitude with shows, sure, when it's others doing it ;P /end of insecurity problems ramble

ANYWAY. I agree with all of this, yes. Capaldi's great performance, but the plot being a letdown; plot resolutions have been sadly lacking for a good few episodes now, which is really a shame. As for the creepy-zombie-ish villians, that's another of those Moffat-things someone needs to tell him are ANNOYING: for god's sake, the Silence, the Whispermen, the Snowmen, not to mention those UTTERLY USELESS TO THE PLOT things in Rings of Akhaten… they all look and behave vaguely alike, we're all TOLD they are super scary and… are you scared? I'm not scared, you're not scared. We're rather bored actually =P *sighs* Stop it before it gets bad. It kind of is already.

Dark!Doctor is usually a concept I find very interesting to play with, but it didnʼt really sit right with me here, either. Too heavy-handed, once more—it didnʼt help that Moffat repeating over and over that things were going to be Darker and Angsty kind of made me really wary from the start. Capaldi has the acting potential to make it really powerful and weighty, but the writing… yeah, the way he handled the robot was just wrong. Such a turnaround from what the Doctor would usually do. I guess it happened before with Eleven—the Silence genocide-of-sorts, his treatment of Solomon—but those instances, though they can be criticized, were vastly different in the way they were handled. Here the Doctor attempted to reason with the robot, but not once to use this process of getting through to him in the aim of a peaceful solution; all he did was push him to take his own life. Granted, there wasnʼt much of an other solution, for the robot it was keep killing or accept to die in the long run. But it still felt very wrong, and jarring.

she's an independent companion; no, she fancies the Doctor; no, the Doctor fancies her; she's a live-in babysitter; oh, now she's a trained and certified teacher; now she's able to command an army; oh, wait, did you know the TARDIS doesn't like her?

*bursts out laughing* For all of my Clara defence, I thoroughly agree with that. (And a solid half of those senseless "character facts" bugs the hell out of me. Basically, I love Clara despite of the writing, isnʼt that excellent XD)

I really enjoyed the focus on psychology and Claraʼs reaction, too—that was one of the highlights of the episode for me. Of course she should know, and understand, but at this point sheʼs pretty much in denial—she canʼt deal with it, and she finds herself having no control on the situation, which she just handles very poorly. (Plus, from her POV, the beginning of Deep Breath takes place straight after the entirety of Time of the Doctor. Companions have the longest of days sometimes.) Asking about changing him back is incredibly awkward and rationally senseless, but the whole point is that she is not being rational. She wants control, and she wants Eleven back. Denied that, she just balks.
Aug. 31st, 2014 08:43 pm (UTC)
That being said—contrived is the exact right word regarding both the parallels and Moffatʼs blatant attempt to prod the fanbase along. Just… ugh. I was so angry at the Eleven appearance—seriously, I love Eleven to bits, but come on. The clock is striking twelve. Itʼs Capaldiʼs time! His relationship with Clara is between the two of them! Stealing this moment, this whole difficult and crucial process of finding their connection again from them is just a horrible and senseless thing. I hate that they felt the need to defend Twelve so much against the audience—do they really give so little credit to a) Capaldiʼs huge talent and b) the audienceʼs maturity and devotion to the show? Do they seriously think every girl who found Matt Smith hot will stop watching? Ugh, ugh, ugh. The devoted fans will stay because they love Who; the casual audience will stay for the entertainment and quality. If the quality drops like that, well, there they can freaking start being worried.

*deep breath* (See? That plot point is actually ever so relevant, just not in the way it was first intended.)

Re: Vastra/Jenny: mmm, I see your point there. We saw the scenes differently there: while I agree about the rather careless treatment of Jenny, it was all right by me because it felt consensual—a part of their relationship, flawed, but smiled and teased about as it sometimes happens in solid couples. It felt to me like Jenny was teasing with the tea thing, and a bit irked with the posing, but not overly so. It doesnʼt mean Vastraʼs behaviour is right; but the way I see it, the flaw doesnʼt really lie in Vastra/Jenny… Iʼll leave you to guess where it lies. *coughs* I do love Moffat, honestly. But countless things about him just mess me up. ALL THE PATTERNS! And those patterns include casual talking down/objectification of the partner as a full part of the dance of seduction. It happens, under various forms but with the same spirit, in River/Eleven and Amy/Rory. In one couple it can be okay and even cute because of the consensual-joke factor—heaven knows Iʼm in love with River and Elevenʼs sharp banter and push-and-pull dynamic—and with two it could still be accepted because Pond women, if we want to be lenient… but three is starting to be a damn lot. And three focus couples too. Just… someone teach Moffat that variety is a thing. There is not one strong woman. There is not one thrilling relationship. There are a billion entirely different and unique human beings! Stop reducing your characters and ships to what freaking turns you on! (Especially when what turns you on can be so problematic if handled with no subtlety. Moffat evidently likes his female characters strong, cocky and confident—yet he will also fall for easy male turn-ons, the guy saving the day and protecting the girl, the angel face with the wicked tongue, the objectification quite obviously. Even Vastra can sure call men monkeys; itʼs incredible how she takes the clichéd "manʼs pose" in the relationship, from the objectification to the subtly having the upper hand in some situations—even her alien disregard of some human emotional reactions and of wordiness could be seen as the good old "men are into action and women emotion" subtext. I just… why did I start analysing this? I guess Iʼll try to get back to being blissfully happy about a lesbian married couple in my favourite show…)
Aug. 31st, 2014 08:44 pm (UTC)
I've mentioned before that one of the things I really disliked in Series 5, 6, and 7 was the handling of the overplot, where some snippet of information was unveiled in the first episode (the crack, Madame Kovarian's eyes, the "Impossible Girl") and then in each succeeding episode, it's thrown at the screen each time (often as an extra scene without being part of the story) without giving the audience any more information about it, until it's suddenly explained at the end of the arc.

*sighs* Same feeling. Well, to be exact, I really enjoyed that kind of plot exposure at the beginning—up until mid-s6, pretty much, when things were still slowly unfolding and it felt like it was all going somewhere. Then the plots got too long, so complex that the belated resolutions turned into giant messes (Wedding of River Song still makes me blink when I think about it… Not even mentioning Elevenʼs tomb on Trenzalore, omfg), while plot points were left hanging for so long we believed they were abandoned so good, had the time to fume for a while, and when they did get wrapped up, they were so faraway nobody really cared anymore (and it had to happen in five minutes because it was TOO FAR BACK and really a mess. Seriously! I LOVED the idea for the resolution in Time of the Doctor—the Time Lords behind the crack in the wall all along? Count me in. Brilliant. But stuff from two seasons back resolved in five minutes? It couldnʼt be anything but a mess. One smashing idea, wasted). Another point for which Iʼll sit in the corner and wail until someone gets Moffat a solid critical team: SOMEONE TELL HIM TO CUT INTO HIS PLOTS WITH A SWORD! The ideas can be awesome and exciting. Theyʼre too complex, and too long. Over one season or half a season, it could be neat. But the way they are handled right now is really bad—and the thing is, we expect it to keep being bad. When Twelve threw the woman in the shop at Clara, I swear to you my mind flashbacked to Eleven at the end of s5 being like "haha, yeah but we still donʼt know who blew up the TARDIS" and I could have shouted at my screen. WE WILL KNOW AT THE END OF THE SEASON. IF WEʼRE LUCKY. Fml. I called it Russian dolls in the past season; now Iʼm beyond even joking about it…

*other deep breath* Haha. Yeah. Thatʼs all I had to say. While merrily breaking post wordcount ;) But it made me feel better to read your opinions/get it all off my chest… I havenʼt seen Into the Dalek yet, likely will over the coming days; still having hopes for that and the rest of the season ;) We have Capaldi, we have more character insight, hopefully, and hopefully more solid Clara characterization. Fingers crossed and spirits up! ♥

Go you for doing the Fifth Doctor outfit! :) Happiest note to finish this on!

Sep. 3rd, 2014 11:23 pm (UTC)
Wow that was a lot to read! :) But thank you for writing it all! It's always fascinating to find out what other people are thinking, and you explain yourself so well every time.

You know, it never occurred to me that all the creepy, zombie-ish villains are pretty much the same. What's funny (at least to me) is that it's the same as the old classic show villains - all slow, trundling across the landscape, don't talk, just menace. We just have CGI and better costumes nowadays.

I'm hoping that now that the series has started, the writing will settle down and they'll be more successful with writing Dark!Doctor, when they're not trying to make the "ooo, this is dark!" point. I actually really liked the Doctor's treatment of Solomon a lot, because it's what he'll do when he's pushed past his limits. It's very similar to the Doctor's punishments of the Family of Blood, though I think he had far more reason for the Family than for Solomon.

I can certainly see that Clara's inability to accept regeneration makes more sense if you assume that she's been pushed past her limits and is trying to retreat to a world that hasn't gone mad for her. Now, *that* would have been an interesting storyline to see in this episode, Clara's descent into temporary "madness" and recovery due to the Doctor's influence. Ha, now that would be an cool AU fanfic to write.

Yes yes, about Moffat only writing one type of relationship, one type of strong woman. He makes me wistful for Rose (me, missing Rose? Stop the presses!), Martha, and Donna (as well as Sarah Jane, Jackie, Francine, Sylvia, and Harriet Jones), all strong women, but in different ways and with different weaknesses. And interestingly, only one of them carries a weapon (Rose).

Have you see "Into the Dalek" yet? I liked it a lot better, but it has its flaws (as all episodes do). And I'm eager for the new episode this Saturday. :)
Sep. 10th, 2014 08:13 pm (UTC)
Haha, you're very welcome! It was good discussing it all :) And really? Thank you :D I'm always worried I'm not arguing things well, so that's nice to hear! ;)

Yes, that's a very good parallel with classic!Who actually! I guess Moffat is channelling love for that era/loves that kind of scary, but it really works well once or twice; the repetitiveness considerably lessens the impact, and stronger plot reasons to be freaked out would help too…

Yes, fingers crossed! To answer your question, I havenʼt finished watching Into the Dalek yet (=P) but I saw a good part of it and quite enjoyed it—and I felt they did a good job showing the darker, more ruthless side of the Doctor in Twelve, and his limitations too. It was interesting. Letʼs have hope! :) I agree about the treatment of Solomon, and that parallel with the Family of Blood (how I ADORE that two-parter ♥)—I always really enjoy seeing the Doctor lose control too, but at the same time I guess I can understand why some people criticized his behaviour…

Ohhhh, indeed. A fic about that would be great :D

Indeed—RTD women were so… varied and deeply relatable. All the love for all of them ♥
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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