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long-awaited thoughts on "Deep Breath"

I finally watched the series eight Doctor Who opener, "Deep Breath." On the off-chance that I'm not the last person in the known universe who wanted to watch it and hasn't, I'll put my thoughts below a cut.

[Spoiler (click to open)]I've always loved Doctor Who when it punched quite a bit of an emotional wallop, where the story was frightening or exciting or just flat-out moving and where it got me thinking about my ideals in a new way, either challenging or reaffirming them. It could involve elements of the bizarre and the alien, definitely, but it was often seeing how they made me feel a connection to the universe as a whole that really made this show so special to me. Take one of my all-time favorite episodes, "The Girl in the Fireplace." For those that don't remember: Rose, Mickey, and the Doctor explore a spaceship and eventually have to save the Madame du Pompadour ("Reinette"), mistress of Louis XV, from aliens wishing to harvest her brain to repair their ship. The set-up is absurd but the actual plot, focusing on a romance of sorts between the Doctor and Reintte, is just heartbreakingly wonderful. I tend to prefer stand-alones rather than sequences, ones with strong and interesting character where the weirdness almost is incidental, like a sherbet to cleanse the palate to taste what really matters, the heart of the story being told. So... The Unquiet Dead. The Shakespeare Code. 42. Midnight. Waters of Mars. The Beast Below. Let's Kill Hitler. A Town Called Mercy. Just... unf.

You get the idea.

I think that's what I've really missed about recent series, and definitely since Clara came on board. It just feels like they're trying to tell too grand of a story that they lose a lot of what the show at its best is all about. Gods and monsters, and aliens that are surprisingly human (and humans that are surprisingly alien). And I think that explains a lot of "Deep Breath" strikes me as ... not weak, but also not great. I just wasn't moved like I was with the other two introductions, the Christmas Invasion and the Eleventh Hour (both of which, incidentally, I loved - much more than any regeneration episode).

This episode seems to be more about setting the stage for a larger story, like the cracks in the wall thing with Amy that kept getting dragged out and woven back in. More than that, though, a lot of the characters are just... odd not as a way of nudging us out of our comfortable framework of tropes but just to be odd. There's Jenny and Vashtra, who always struck me as having the potential to be really interesting characters but they just always strike me as trying their hardest to be as different as possible and all but daring people to say anything. (And the Johnlock parallels are so obvious, at least to me, it felt like they were just trying too hard.) Strax is good for a laugh, but not much else. You have a !@#$ dinosaur in the middle of London, Victorian London no less, and it just... fizzles. There's no real rhyme or reason behind its presence other than an accident, and there's no real payoff, no deeper connection with the Doctor or Clara or any of the rest.

Clara herself showed a bit of improvement here. I lked that she got angry. My inner egalitarian really liked that she stood up and said being petite and pretty didn't mean that was all there was to her. The problem was, it's kind of undercut by the deeper thrust of the episode: she does seem to be put off by the fact that the Doctor is now old and not "pretty" or "fun" anymore, and that makes her look both silly for being fooled initially and superficial for being this thoroughly bothered by it. I think this comes from the fact that I never got a strong sense for why Clara felt compelled to travel with him anyway. It just seems like a hobby to her, something she does on her afternoon off and someone who's nice to spend time for, and so I never got a strong feeling for why she was willing to risk her life for him and even intentionally die for him, like in the episode before "The Day of the Doctor," with the Great Intelligence; sorry, I can't recall the name. Rose, the only other companion who's really seen both sides of a regeneration, was so utterly transformed herself by her experiences with her doctor - losing that would be both confusing and involve real grief. But I never really wrapped my head around why Clara was so connected to the doctor except that she thought it was somehow her fate or duty, and perhaps because he was "cool," so her struggle to find her place with this new doctor just seems... off-kilter, I guess.

There were some really bright spots that I laughed at, or found thrilling. And as far as episodes go, it seems a big step forward from the last season, though still not back to the connection I felt with the first five. The restaurant scene, however garbled the setup seemed to me, was genuinely thrilling. Seeing Clara work things out and being an asset for her own reasons and not just because she was the girl born to save the doctor was quite nice. I loved seeing Capaldi work out who and what he was, and the Scottish touch was just such a nice reversal on Amy Pond's sense of being the Scottish girl in London - intentional or not, it worked for me. The opening was really wonderful, even if I thought it lacked any real pay-off down the line. So... could be worse, definitely. This show has been worse. But it also doesn't feel like it's firing on all cylinders yet.


I'll be interested to see how it proceeds from here. Also, what other people thought of it, if you want to comment on my reflections or drop me a link to your own review. It's nice to finally watch the show again, in any case.

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