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30 August 2014 @ 04:10 pm
status: unresolved  

“Deep Breath”: an episode in which we are reminded that the 51st century apparently has a very weak attachment to the idea that faces belong on bodies (remember the Library computer choosing Donna a face it thought she’d like?), and in which we learn that Peter Capaldi’s eyebrows basically are Scotland.

I was finally able to watch the first episode of Doctor Who series 8 the night before last. My first, flippant reaction after it was over was, “Nope – still not ready to say goodbye to my Eleven.” (And that phone call at the end did not help.) But the more I think about the episode, the more I feel that it was actually constructed to leave me off-balance, with the feeling of uncertainty that I have right now. (I’m not saying that Moffat intended to do this – you’d have to ask him – rather, I’m saying that the construction of the episode itself, rather than just my love for the previous Doctor, is what’s pushing those buttons in me.) I found myself agreeing with Clara when she said to Twelve, “I’m so, so sorry – but I don’t think I know who you are anymore.” And I skim-read a review, earlier, that said that Moffat had displayed a lack of trust in his own writing, that after showing us who the new Doctor was, he undermined all that by having Eleven call Clara and ask her to accept the new Doctor – but I never felt that I had been shown that, and so I found myself needing that phone call just as Clara had: not because I was going to stick with Twelve because Eleven had asked me to, I’m not quite that far gone – but because it nudged me into remembering that this is how the show works, that this character is always still the Doctor. But I still don’t think I know this new man yet. (Which is okay – I just realize now that I’d been operating under the expectation that I would know, by the end of the episode.) It felt like an episode in which Clara was waiting for the Doctor to prove that he still was the Doctor, and he only did so – if at all – in fits and starts. At the beginning of the episode, his brain is completely disordered from regeneration, so much so that he can’t even remember basic facts and names, can’t even remember who Clara is. (This is why I think that Vastra was being terribly hard on Clara, accusing her of fickleness when she says things like “the Doctor was gone”: it’s not just the difference in his perceptible age, because Clara saw Eleven age far more in what was for her a couple of hours, and it didn’t matter to her one bit, because he was still himself. Here, she’s being confronted with an entirely new man, and isn’t even given the grace of having him remember her in his raving. No wonder she thinks he needs to be fixed, to be put right again.) And as the episode goes on, he does baseline “Doctor” things, like taking Clara’s hand when she reaches out for him, and coming back for her even when she’s not totally sure that he will, but who is he, apart from that?

Then there’s the central question the episode leaves us with: whether or not murder is a part of his “basic programming.” The episode cuts away from the moment that would have answered this question; we don’t see whether the robot (the credits referred to him as Half-Face Man) jumped from the balloon, or whether the Doctor pushed him – and then “Missy” asks that question at the end, to reinforce the uncertainty. It’s one thing to know that the Doctor is capable of murder, but it’s another, more unsettling thing entirely to have to wonder. Again, it makes me feel like I don’t know who he is: not because the Doctor has never been responsible for someone’s death before, but because he raised the idea that this was a line he couldn’t cross, and then potentially told us he was lying about that – the problem is that I don’t even know whether that was a lie.

It’s also the case, though, that this episode doesn’t establish the personality of the new Doctor as the other New Who episodes have gone out of their way to do; the Doctor didn’t declare himself. He says, touchingly, to Clara, “Just see me,” but doesn’t tell us what it is she’s looking at. And other post-regeneration episodes have been a lot more emphatic about setting up the parameters of the Doctor’s new personality. Once Ten wakes up in “The Christmas Invasion,” he commands the stage, talking and talking until we know who he is, giving us defining statements like “rude and not ginger” and “no second chances – I’m that sort of a man,” even if he would go on to exceed those introductory phrases. He proves that all of his memories are still there by telling Harriet Jones something that only “her” Doctor could have known. The episode also makes a big moment out of the Doctor’s choosing his new costume, “Song for Ten” playing in the background as he goes through the wardrobe and settles on the brown suit and long coat, revealing himself at last to Rose with a beaming grin. In “The Eleventh Hour,” Eleven proves to us that he is the Doctor because even without a TARDIS or a sonic screwdriver, he’s still clever enough to trick and defeat Prisoner Zero (“Who da man?” – another form of asking us to confirm his identity), and then casually authoritative enough to bring the entire Atraxi fleet to heel. (I’ve always loved that he doesn’t rage at them, doesn’t need to; instead, he’s just completely affronted and dismissive at the same time: “Oi, you lot – back here, now,” as though they’re rowdy children.) He starts out the episode by saying that he doesn’t know who he is yet, because he’s “still cooking,” and by the time he sheds the last of Ten’s old skin (“To hell with the ‘raggedy’ – time to put on a show”) and gets his bow tie into place, he has his answer, and so do we. He’s the Doctor, he’s a madman with a box; he’s a lover of fish fingers and custard and fairy-tale names, he’s a man who makes a lonely little girl a promise in a garden and tries as hard as he can to keep it.

But Twelve – Twelve trades his “beautiful” favorite watch for a tramp’s smelly coat, then puts on the face and clothing of a robot as a disguise, and finally chooses his new costume when there’s no one around (either Clara or us) to see him do it. Twelve can’t yet remember his own past, even when directly confronted with it (“Sister ship to the Madame du Pompadour – nope, still not getting it”), let alone comfort anyone else by proving that he still knows them. [Not sure how I feel about bringing back the plot of “Girl in the Fireplace,” though. It is okay not to revisit past monsters sometimes, Moffat.] Twelve leaves us wondering whether he’s a murderer and sees himself as akin to the face-stealing robots, a broom whose parts have been switched out so many times that there’s nothing of the original left. (It’s an odd decision to create the parallels between Half-Face Man and the Doctor – not just in the replacement of parts, but in the way that the Doctor is initially willing to take that coat from the tramp because he needs it, as Half-Face Man takes human parts in order to keep himself alive. And in case we missed the parallel, that battered silver platter that the Doctor holds up, to confront Half-Face Man with his face, reflects the Doctor’s face back at him, too. So many mirrors, this episode - but unlike the mirror that called Eleven back to himself by showing him that he’d put on his bow tie again in “The Snowmen,” these mirrors keep showing Twelve things he doesn’t want to see. Don’t look at that mirror, it’s furious; this face is full of lines, but I didn’t do the frowning; what is it that I can’t just tell myself?) His victory is weirdly anticlimactic, too, with no defining moments or speeches: either Half-Face Man simply gave up on wanting to “keep going” (also like the Doctor? Is he happy about all these new regenerations he’s now got?), or the Doctor just shoved him out of the balloon; and Vastra, Jenny, Strax, and Clara are all saved because the other robots just wind down, now just puppets with cut strings. It’s not really a victory at all; it’s just a stopping, a cessation of action. What we seem to know about his personality so far evinces a sort of callousness or even cruelty – which is not the same as darkness, which we’ve seen from the Doctor before; here, Twelve keeps implying that his personal welfare is more important than anyone else’s, as when he demands the coat from a homeless tramp by saying, “There’s no point in both of us being cold,” a phrase he uses again when he tells Clara, “Too slow. There’s no point in them catching us both” – a moment that’s really shocking, because it’s not even that Clara gets trapped behind a door that he can’t open and he leaves her; he deliberately chooses not to open the door when he could – even raises it partway, reconsiders, and shuts it again. Obviously he didn’t quite mean that, in her case, and had a plan to come back for her, and Clara is able to gather up the last shreds of her fraying trust in him to believe that he will “have her back” – but is it any wonder, after that performance, that Clara thinks she doesn’t know him? That it’s hard for her to see her kind and tender Doctor, who put her gently to bed and left her a plate of biscuits on the first day she met him, in this stranger who looked her in the eye and told her he was going to leave her behind in order to save himself?

(So – the phone call. The problem with the phone call is that it made me fall in love with Eleven all over again: that one of his very last acts as himself was to call Clara, to ask for her help, and – crucially – to tell her not to be scared. He took that time to think of her as well as of himself. Because Clara knows about regeneration, and has even met two of the Doctor’s previous “selves.” The call isn’t to prepare her, to tell her what’s happening; it’s to help her, so that she’s not alone with this frightening thing, even when he didn’t strictly need to, or could easily be forgiven for not thinking of it. And so the contrast between that tenderness and Twelve’s emotional manipulation just feels really stark right now. I keep trying to tell myself that it shouldn’t – that Eleven told his friends “Don’t play games with me. Don’t ever, ever think you’re capable of that,” and said “You embarrass me” to River and “I won’t thank you for this, Amelia Pond” in “The Wedding of River Song” – but I also keep thinking that, well, he thought they were lying to him in one case and trying to convince them to kill him in the other, and I keep thinking that even though he keeps secrets from his friends all the time, and lies to them, I also can’t think of a previous moment in which he got separated from those friends and didn’t tell them he’d come back for them. And maybe I’d feel differently if this had happened in, say, Twelve’s third or fourth episode, rather than his first – when he and Clara had a bit more trust built up between them, when she wasn’t already reeling and unsure. Which may be part of his point, at the end: that she shouldn’t need to build up trust with him, because he’s the same man, and she knows he’ll come back – but at the same time, from her point of view, how can she really know yet what in him has changed?)

This all sounds rather negative, and I actually don’t mean for it to? I have lots of questions, but I’m interested to see how they’ll be answered as the season progresses. There was a looser, more slapstick quality to this episode in parts (the Doctor fainting and falling asleep, complete with sound effects; Clara getting whacked in the face with a newspaper; the dialogue between Clara and the Doctor [“Nothing is more important than my egomania!” “You actually said that.” “You never mention that again”], and I wonder if it’ll continue into the rest of the season. There were these little flickers of heartbreaking looks on Peter Capaldi’s face that really got me (“Am I home?” “If you want to be” – the hope on his face was just too much), and I loved all the quieter scenes between his Doctor and Clara; I really liked the rhythm that they built between themselves. I’m fascinated by “I’m not your boyfriend…I never said it was your mistake.” And I really like that of all the things he might have said to win her over, it was “You look at me, but you don’t see me – do you have any idea what that’s like?” Because yes, of course she does; the Doctor did the same thing to her – and she knows how unfair that feels. And I greatly enjoyed the little glimpses of Clara’s past and personality we got in this episode, from her Marcus Aurelius pin-up to her first day as a new teacher. All of the visceral holding-one’s-breath stuff was effectively done, and Vastra and Jenny were wonderful (although the fact that Vastra also has a larder that sometimes holds human beings continues to be creepy, especially in this episode.) I also loved that Clara’s crying didn’t mean that she wasn’t brave, or clever – that being those things doesn’t mean that you can’t also be terrified. So often on TV, bravery looks like never showing any “weakness” to the enemy, and I was glad to see something different here. So there was a lot to enjoy, even if I’m not over the moon and completely sold, the way that I was at the end of “The Eleventh Hour.”
teliesinteliesin on September 8th, 2014 10:54 pm (UTC)
I am at three episodes now and still not sure who Twelve is. It's not that I don't like him.
Just seem to know the other Doctors sooner.
tempestsarekindtempestsarekind on September 9th, 2014 06:00 pm (UTC)
I've still only seen the first one - the new school year just started! - but that's how I felt, too: that I'd just gotten to know the other Doctors by the end of their first episode, even if they went on to develop from there. But this episode was about questions - and about Clara's *not* knowing him - instead of our getting to know him through the course of the episode.