Taking a “Deep Breath”: Doctor Who’s Season 8 Premiere
HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
“Deep Breath” marks the first episode with Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. We’ve gone from the youngest Doctor ever (Matt Smith, who was 28 when cast) to the oldest (Capaldi is 56, while the first doctor, despite his aged appearance, was only 55). That hints at significant changes, and so far, they’ve all been good.
The Title Sequence
The new title sequence is by far the biggest change they’ve made since restarting the show in 2005. Love it, love it, love it. Among other things, they’ve kept The Face: Doctors 2-7 all had their faces featured in the opening credits. Season 7 saw a return to the practice with Matt Smith, and it looks like it’s here to stay.
The sequence is actually based on a fan-made sequence which showrunner Steven Moffat found on YouTube. Double win.
Is a Young Doctor Necessary?
The recent Doctors have been appealing to increasingly younger crowds, and there’s been some expectation of them remaining so. Says one Capaldi nay-sayer:
David Tennant and Matt Smith were able to bring the one thing that The Doctor never had before — fan girls, more importantly, U.S. fan girls. Those rising ratings were attributable to girls discovering a sci-fi hero they could root for and lust for. (TVaddict)
First, I’ve never noticed a particular gender bias in the fandom. Second, and more importantly, how dare anyone presume the only way to attract girls is through sex appeal? Are we incapable of appreciating intelligence and wit?
As an Aside: I could also object to the use of the derogatory fan girl (meaning an obsessed fan, not simply a young female fan) as synonymous with girl, but it would turn into an entirely separate post.
Moreover, popularity among the immature is a ludicrous benchmark by which to judge Doctors, considering the wide demographic appeal of the show: out of 2.2 million American viewers, fully one million of them were 25-54. (source) Moreover, continuing to make the Doctor a romantic interest (which has been the trend for years) is contrary to the basic concept of change resulting from every regeneration.
The Doctor: Clara, I’m not your boyfriend.
Clara: I never thought you were.
The Doctor: I never said it was your mistake.
There’s several references in “Deep Breath” to flirting between Clara and the Doctor, and each time Clara insists she never did such a thing. The final exchange is the one above, where it becomes clear the error is on the Doctor’s part, not Clara’s: the Doctor is clarifying a change in his behavior, not informing Clara she needs to change hers.
It’s practically expected at this point that the companion will have a crush on the Doctor, which really cheapened what was originally complex relationship between Doctor 9 and first companion, Rose Tyler. Clara has been a breath of fresh air, an attractive young companion who nevertheless manages to act like a grown up and not fall for the first Time Lord she stumbles across. She can be a friend but not a girlfriend. Here, we’re promised we’re not going to go through such personal drama yet again.
Personality and Gravitas
I have largely hated the Matt Smith seasons. Part of it was absolutely the writing, but part of it was Smith himself. He was too young. I don’t mean the number 28 is too small. I mean his acting was immature, regardless of physical age. He couldn’t fill in the spaces between lines, nor could he develop a complex personality. He swung wildly from episode to episode, not understanding that even the most unpredictable people still have personality traits, except, perhaps, in the truly mentally ill.
Capaldi, on the other hand, is the opposite. The first episodes of a new Doctor are always a bit awkward as the actor gets a feel for his character, but Capaldi already has boots on the ground. Moving forward, he presumably won’t be as quite as weird (regeneration always addles the Doctor’s mind), but underneath the weirdness was real depth, gravitas, determination, love, sadness, and more than bit of unkindness.
Coming of Age
“I’ve made many mistakes. It’s about time I did something about that.” -The Doctor
The line has been repeated ad nauseum in adverts, but there’s good reason for it: it might well set the tone for the rest of the season.
Matt Smith’s Doctor, Doctor 11, in particular bumbled his way through the universe leaving a trail of damage in his wake. “A Good Man Goes to War” particularly stands out, when he calls in favors from across the universe to rescue a companion, getting plenty of people killed in the process. He paints himself as altruistic and loyal, but it’s a childish loyalty bereft of wider responsibility.
And, of course, there’s the Time War, which all three new Doctors (9, 10, and 11) have tried and failed to put behind them. That situation came to a head in the 50th anniversary story “Day of the Doctor,” when they finally stop running from the terrible thing they did to end a universe-destroying war.
No longer is the Doctor “the one who regrets” or “the one who forgets.” He’s the one who will finish what three Doctors started in “Day,” ensuring Gallifrey Falls No More. He will undo the destruction of his race rather than continue to run from it.
The last old incarnation we’ve seen of the doctor was the War Doctor played by John Hurt. Physical age communicated mental and emotional age, the face of a man pushed by necessity to do terrible things, to commit evil to avoid even more terrible evils. Now, Capaldi’s Doctor, another “old” Doctor, comes full circle to right those wrongs.
Face of the Doctor
“Deep Breath” makes clear the casting is no accident. “I wear a veil as he wore a face,” says Madame Vastra, an alien living in Victorian Britain. “The Doctor regenerated in your presence. The young man disappeared, the veil lifted.” He put on an air of youth because it was easier in dealing with those around him, but now he has set aside the vanity to show his true self: a 2000 year old Time Lord who has seen too much.
The Doctor himself spends much of the episode figuring that out. “Have you seen this face before?” he asks a beggar. It’s a joke on the fact that Capaldi has already appeared once on Doctor Who in “Fires of Pompeii,” but there’s more to it. There’s a message in the face.
Why this one? Why did I choose this face? It’s like I’m trying to tell myself something. Like I’m trying to make a point. But what is so important that I can’t just tell myself what I’m thinking? – the Doctor
Short of a handful of episodes specifically made to feature multiple Doctors, previous Doctors do not show up in current shows. Yet writer Steven Moffat, who continues to have an obsession with all things timey-wimey, and who cannot let go of characters when their time is up, has Doctor 11 call companion Clara from the past, urging her to help his new incarnation. Considering Doctor 11 died an old man, and we see him here young, I can’t begin to guess when this logically happens,which is one of my reoccurring objections with the Smith episodes in the first place.
However, I give it a partial pass for what it sets up: an illustration of the loneliness of being the Doctor and the detachment that comes from regeneration. Clara looks between the phone and the Doctor, cross because the Doctor knows what is being said, as if listening in. But, of course, he isn’t. He’s simply remembering making the call.
That was me talking. You can’t see me, can you? You look at me and you can’t see. Do you have any idea what that’s like? I’m not on the phone, I’m right here. Standing in front of you. Please just… just see me. – The Doctor
This new Doctor is a very different Doctor, but he is still absolutely the Doctor. As the Doctor begs, I could envision him as Matt Smith’s Doctor trying to be recognized behind the new face. It’s a moment of real pain, a man pleading with a friend to not see him as a stranger. I’m right here. Standing in front of you. Please just… just see me.