Guest Post: REVIEW: Dr Who “Deep Breath”

REVIEW: Dr Who “Deep Breath By John Stringer

BBC Season 8: Episode 1 (Peter Capaldi, new Doctor).

Global simulcast and cinema screenings 23/24 August 2014.

I was tempted to take a rubber toilet plunger with me to DR WHO 8:1 (the 12th Doctor, well sorta the 13th or maybe the 15th) that opened worldwide yesterday as Season 8, Episode 1 (ok, both the numbering of the Doctors and episodes is as confusing as the time continuum).  In New Zealand it was featured at Hoyts cinemas. I attended the sunday 10am session (both sessions completely sold out) with Sky Goddess and Off Spring 2.  Here’s the official trailer as an appetizer before we get in to it…

Dr Who, Romance and Same-Sex Marriage

This outing is written by Who master Steven Moffat, responsible for much of the genius of the revived franchise and was directed by Ben Wheatley.

It returns several old favourites: Strax the Sontaran (who opens this meal), the Silurian Madame Vastra (in a same-sex marriage) and companion Clara (whose ‘romance’ with 11Dr Matt Smith is well and truly ‘put to bed’ [pun intend].  Capaldi 12Dr: “I’ve made some mistakes, but I intend to do something about that…I am NOT your boyfriend!”  “I miss Amy…”  “WHAT?” “Nothing.”).

Well, I’m glad we got that sorted out: no more ambiguous metro-sexual shenanigans in the Tardis, thank you, we’re British! And being an older man (“who worried these wrinkles on to my new face?”) it’s nice to re-establish the Hartnell plutonic-ness of an older Doctor hanging about in Police Boxes with young attractive women in public places. Rolf Harris and all that.

And as if to reiterate the point, Capaldi 12Dr wears a… but we’re getting ahead of ourselves (how very Time Lord of me).

The Opening (Strax)

Episode 8: 1 opens with a humorous video report to camera by Strax recapping the respective reincarnations of the Doctor, which is very useful for new entrants.  Lots of tongue-in-cheek references to chins, ears, scarves and Strax continually mistaking Dr Who’s gender.  Hilarious.  I’ve never really liked Strax, he’s kind of like Pumba from Lion KIng, and as a military race(“Kill them and melt them with Acid!”), Sontarans should have deeper more menacing voices, like the Zygons. They’re like happy Mr Potato Heads in armour.

And Strax is rendered permanently cartoonish when 12Dr’s opening lines are to confuse him with “Grumpy?” “Sleepy?” “Dopey?” of the Seven Dwarves.

This ability to laugh (and Strax roars with laughter) at the previous actors has always been an ease of the Dr Who writers and an accepted playfulness.

The Previous Doctors

Previous doctors have been nicknamed by other Doctors, as:

  • 11Dr. Chinny -Matt Smith
  • 10 Dr. Sandshoes -David Tennant (married to 3Dr’s daughter in real life).
  • 8.5D.r Granddad -John Hurt, to which we might add:
  • 3Dr. Dandy –Jon Pertwee
  • 4Dr Scarfie –Tom Baker
  • 5Dr Cricket -Colin Baker.
  • 12Dr Capldi will perhaps win the moniker “Eyebrows.”  “Look at these eyebrows. These are attack eyebrows! They could take off bottle caps!”

Capaldi as 12Dr

Peter Capaldi is brilliant: quirky, sexless, eccentric, old(er), darker, all hands and legs and YES a Scottish accent that wafts in and out. 12Dr: “You all sound… English! You’ve developed a fault!” He is a conscious move away from the younger Dr Whos of the past decades This is reinforced by the new costume, a throw back to the coat tails of the 1Dr (Hartnell) and 2Dr (Troughton) but with contemporary accessories (Dr Martin type shoes and a red inner lining). Capaldi pulls this off.  I would place him as a combination of Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee.

Capaldi has been in Who before, as a Roman character, but is perhaps best known to us as the scientist at the back end of World War Z with Brad Pitt.

This 12th Doctor is confused and ‘lost’ in the ruin of his latest transformation, and dashes about like a concussion patient, rambling manically, but eventually gets to the crusade.  That helps to establish this character as a bit darker a bit more unpredictable (doesn’t Dr Who always reflect his age, as in era)?  The girlies are left abandoned and gasping, only to be saved and reunited “just as friends” in time to hold the female audience (who after all, like older men?).

The wrinkles and gravitas coupled with the Matt Smith and David Tennant acting physicality is a perfect blend.

The Tardis and its Arrival.

The Tardis arrives creatively, caught within the throat of a ginormous roaring female T-Rex godzilla-ing herself around Edwardian London and threatening to knock over Big Ben.  “Sorry, I brought you over accidentally…I’m not flirting…but you are a big sexy female…”  Momma T.Rex eventually gets roasted from within by the bad guys.

The Tardis is re-decorated for this new Doctor, evoking the eternal script line, “You’ve re-decorated! I don’t like it.”  “Yes, I miss the roundy things, I need more roundy things.”

Clara

Is awesome.  There is a very moving phone call between Clara and 11Dr Who (Matt Smith) through time and space that helps embed the transition to Capaldi…but no spoiler on that.

Let’s get to the baddies.

Rubbish Robots from the Dawn of Time

A new alien beastie.  A half man half robot restaurateur, not a cyborg exactly, who makes a ghastly Edwardian air balloon out of human skin.  He’s all ‘borrowed’ eyeballs and clanking clock wheels, oh, and a blow torch on his Hellboy fist stump.  None of them breathe, thus the episode’s title “Deep Breath.” His minions evoke the scary Weeping Angels but with slashers. BothOff Spring 2 and I thought we were witnessing the origins of the Cybermen.

Like the Snowmen, and the Weeping Angels before them, these clockwork cyborgs tap the rich Dr Who vein of childhood fairy tale creepiness (Victorian clockwork dolls).

Oh and head Rubbish Robot looks like Liam Neeson. More of that Scottish theme again, to go with Clara’s tartan mini skirt.

Brick Bats

I did not like the new theme version, it was a bit ‘soft.’  Bring back the grimy mechanical earlier versions.

I’m a bit tired of the London period pieces, and Matt Smith’s Western episodes were a bit kitsch. I’d like some more alien planet stuff (cue some obligatory BBC CO2 smoke).  But 8:1 I guess sets off from where it began, London, and British Victorian and Edwardian stables. British Empire and all that hurrah!  Dr Who is re-colonising the world, including the USA.

Extra Features

There were some extra features, and we got to view Who and Clara (Jenna Coleman) at the first script reading of Episode 8:1 with the other actors.  You see here just how brilliant these actors are and how much talent is required to pull this stuff off.

The real hero for me was the writing.  The dialogue is quick, witty and fun.  The show is able to be hilarious, almost cartoonish, yet sinister and moving. Not many shows can achieve that (and over 50 years?): Dr Who does this in Zygorian spades.

Here are some of my favourite quotes from the first episode.

•12Dr and Silurian Vastra: “I never bother with sleeping. I just do standing-up cat naps.”
”And when do you do that?” 
”Generally, when everyone else is talking. I like to skip ahead to my bits [of the script].”

• “I could use it to blow this whole room if I see one thing I don’t like, and that includes karaoke and mimes.”

• “He’s seen stars fall to dust. You might as well flirt with a mountain range.”

• “I need clothes. Yes, clothes and a big, long scarf. No… never mind that. That’ll look stupid.”

• “Have you ever looked in a mirror and thought, ‘I’ve seen that face before’?”

• Re the same sex marriage between Vastra and Jenny…”I don’t like her, ma’am, I love her. And as to different, well, she’s a lizard.”

Great relaunch and reincarnation.  Full of change and re-setting, with lots of back to the Future and framing the future with the Past.  Dr Who just keeps us guessing. We-oo-o-ooo.

~ John Stringer.

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