Doctor Who Episode Review – Deep Breath

  • Series Title:  Doctor Who
  • Story Title: Deep Breath
  • Story Number: Series 8, Episode 1
  • Original Air Date: August 23, 2014
  • Cast: Peter Capaldi as The Doctor, Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald, with Neve McIntosh as Madame Vastra, Catrin Stewart as Jenny Flint, and Dan Starkey as Strax

“I am alone. The world, which shook under my feet, and the trees and the sky, have gone. And I am alone now… The world bites now, and the world is grey, and I am alone.” – The Doctor (Peter Capaldi)

“But he is the Doctor. He has walked the universe for centuries untold, he has seen the stars fall to dust.” – Madame Vastra

“I wasn’t. I didn’t need to. That was me talking. You can’t see me, Can you? You look at me and you can’t see me. Do you have any idea what that’s like? I’m not on the phone, I’m right in front of you. Please, just… just see me.” – The Doctor (Peter Capaldi)

I remember, just barely, watching “Deep Breath” in the movie theater for the premiere. And, of course, watching it and the rest of the season on BBC America and later still on DVD. See my review of Doctor Who Series 8. But I’ve decided to re-watch Peter Calpaldi’s Doctor Who from the beginning. If you have been reading my Patrick Troughton Era reviews, this means I very well may skip “The War Games” but I did review the rest of his stories that are available on DVD. Anyway, I have seen series 9 and 10 on BBC America, but not watched them on DVD so those reviews will be forthcoming eventually. What is amazing about “Deep Breath” is that although it in much more subtle than the Matt Smith era, it does set up themes that will be returned to over and over throughout the Peter Capaldi Era.

The opening of “Deep Breath” is in essence merely a McGuffin. As cool and as incongruous as a dinosaur in Victorian London in the Thames is, and as silly as said dinosaur vomiting up the TARDIS which caused it to be transported, that is merely a McGuffin – the dinosaur bursts into flames immediately upon the Doctor promising to save it. This leads the Doctor and the Paternoster Gang to investigate a series of similar murders, which leads to the Doctor discovering a restaurant of clockwork people, which is really an ancient spaceship.

This spaceship is the S.S. Marie Antoinette, sister-ship to the Madame de Pompadour, which the audience knows from the David Tennant episode, “The Girl in the Fireplace”. So the audience knows about it’s clockwork occupants who replace parts with human (and in this case, dinosaur) parts. The Doctor, however, keeps insisting that he can’t quite remember why it is so familiar.

My the themes of identity and obsessions with endings and even death link this story with the entire Peter Capaldi Era. From Clara not recognizing the Docor, not seeing him as the Doctor, and being freaked out that he regenerated, he’s “renewed”, but his “face has lines” and “he’s old”, to the “broom speech” where the Doctor is ostensibly talking about the droid leader, but he could easily be talking about himself. When he’s “translating” for the dinosaur who is so alone, the Doctor could be talking about himself as well. And in the last scene between the Doctor and Clara, he practically begs her to “see him”. Capaldi’s years as the Doctor would feature many more references to both the Doctor’s great age, and his almost being ready to give up because he’s fought for so long. This is what is very good about this episode – it introduces a theme, which will be returned too again and again, not so much in Series 8, but usually at least once a season during the Capaldi years. And even his final Christmas special is as much about whether or not he will regenerate as anything else.

However, independent of the season and the era, even though it looks very good, the plot of “Deep Breath” isn’t that impressive. The opening gambit with the dinosaur is used more as an elaborate joke and then as a McGuffin to introduce the real plot as anything else. I actually felt bad about the dinosaur exploding, but it’s a sign of bad writing as well. How do you get rid of the extraneous character who’s only purpose was to get your characters together so they can solve the mystery? Why making that character yet another victim in the series of crimes. Goodbye, dinosaur.

But worse, the central plot is lifted straight from “The Girl in the Fireplace”. Even the Doctor remarks that droids using human parts, a hidden spaceship that crashed eons ago and is looking to return home “the long way around”, and the name of the ship, S.S. Marie Antoinette, sister-ship to the Madame de Pompadour, sounds familiar. And for anyone watching, unless they never saw “The Girl in the Fireplace” – it does sound familiar – it’s the same plot. Steven Moffat is literally stealing from himself. And this isn’t the first time he does it – Amy Pond’s entire characterization and her arc plot are identical to Reinette in “The Girl in the Fireplace”, from first seeing her as a child, to Reinette/Amy’s steady belief that the Doctor will always be there for her (something Clara also does in “Deep Breath”). Moffat doesn’t so much write original stories, as re-write his most popular ones over and over again, changing only the character and maybe the setting. This something often found in genre writing such as mysteries or romantic suspense. It works for awhile, but sooner or later as a reader, one realizes it’s the same story over and over and over again.

Still, having re-watched Patrick Troughton’s Era on DVD, I’m excited about re-watching the Peter Capaldi era again.

 

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Book Review – The Invisible Man (Audio)

  • Title: The Invisible Man
  • Series: Big Finish Classics
  • Author: H.G. Wells (original novel)
  • Adapted by: Jonathan Barnes
  • Director: Ken Bentley
  • Characters: Griffin (the Invisible Man), Dr. Kemp, Teddy Henfrey, Mrs. Hall, Thomas Marvel
  • Cast: John Hurt, Blake Ritson, Dan Starkey, Annette Badland, Peter Noble

Spoilers

Big Finish’s audio play adaptation of HG Wells’ classic The Invisible Man is a full audio play and not simply a single person reading the book, or even a two-hander adaptation. The play has a full cast, music, and special effects. The CD version even includes audio-only tracks and interviews as extras.

The story is framed by on the first disc, Kemp interviewing Thomas Marvel to learn the story of the Invisible Man, though it soon picks-up with Griffin turning up, out of the snow, at an Inn, and paying lots of money to not be disturbed. At first the innkeeper, Mrs. Hall, is glad of the money and willing to leave the man alone as he requests. But eventually she becomes suspicious, especially the way Griffin treats her maid, waitress, and cleaning girl. When the money runs out, Griffin quickly gives her more – but Mrs. Hall remarks that the amount he gives her was the exact amount taken from a local vicarage in a recent robbery. Being suspicious already, she calls in the police. They, however, are unable to catch the Invisible Man, and he escapes.

Griffin encounters a drunken tramp on the road, and talks/bribes/threatens him to become his partner. This is Thomas Marvel, who is able to fill in Kemp on his own direct experiences. However, although he at first benefits from the partnership, eventually Marvel learns to fear Griffin (with good reason) and even turns himself over to the police for a series of robberies and thefts since he believes he will be safer in jail.

Griffin talks Marvel into returning to the Inn so he can claim his books and clothes. The book are especially important as they apparently contain the secret to permanent invisiblity but are written in code. Marvel makes off with the books, and they both fail to get Griffin’s clothes – though Griffin does escape.

Once he escapes, Griffin shows up at the house of Dr. Kemp. Kemp slips a letter to his maid, but tells her to wait three hours before delivering it by hand to Colonel Adye at the local army base. Kemp interviews Griffin, who tells his story in his own words, from his fascination with light, to his career as a student then a professor who studies light. Though Griffin doesn’t reveal his formula, he does reveal his general process and theories.

The army colonel arrives, but yet again they are unable to catch Griffin. Kemp suggests they put glass on the roads, order that all doors be locked, lock-up all food, and monitor all exits from the city by road, ship, and rail. Although the Invisible Man eludes capture for awhile, after he kills a man, the Invisible Man is eventually captured, attacked, and beaten by a mob. It is Kemp who prevents the mob from killing him. He is captured and dies in jail.

However, Kemp, who is interviewing Marvel, demands from him the Red Books that contain the Invisible Man’s secrets. Griffin had said that he and Kemp were the same, and although at first Kemp seems stable and sane and even happy with his life – in the end, Kemp also becomes obsessed with light and concealment.

I have actually read HG Wells classic The Invisible Man although it was years ago. I remember it as being more political – more about isolation and being marginalized than the mere terror of someone becoming invisible. Yet this adaptation is still excellent. Hurt plays Griffin with a whispering menace, and it quickly becomes clear why everyone fears him – he’s a scary dude, invisiblity or no. Many of the other characters in this tale are also lower class (Marvel, Teddy, Mrs. Hall, the two servant girls and even the female university student) who ultimately place survival above helping Griffin. Still, it is a good story, told in a creepy way. Recommended.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click here to order The Invisible Man on Download or CD.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

Doctor Who “The Snowmen” (Christmas Special 2012)

  • Title:  ”The Snowmen”
  • Series:  Doctor Who
  • Cast:  Matt Smith, Jenna-Louise Coleman, Richard E. Grant, Ian McKellen (voice), Catrin Stewart, Neve McIntosh, Dan Starkey

This is definitely my favorite Matt Smith Christmas special, but then I was somewhat disappointed by the previous two:  ”A Christmas Carol” (predictable, as is anything inspired by the Charles Dickens short story; though the fish in the fog were, um, whimsical – and impossible) and “The Doctor, A Widow, and the Wardrobe” (which just irritated me).  But, seriously, I really liked “The Snowmen”.

First, I really liked Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax.  I liked them so much I’d watch a spin-off about Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax set in the Victorian Era where they solve crime.  OK, yes, it’s a bit unbelievable that nobody noticed a lizard woman and a Sontaran in Victorian London, but somehow I just really, really loved those characters and I hope to see them again.  I know Madame Vastra and Strax were in “A Good Man Goes to War”.

I also loved, loved, loved Clara.  So much better than Amy Pond.  Now, I’m not one of the very vocal “Amy-haters” one finds on-line and at IRL conventions.  But, overall, Amy wasn’t one of my favorite companions, and I can’t even put my finger on why I didn’t like her (other than her life making no sense whatsoever).  I liked Rory better, and I thought he made more sense as a companion.  But I digress. Point is, I like Clara… in all her forms:  barmaid, governess, slightly insane Dalek, you name it.  I recently re-watched “Asylum of the Daleks” and actually enjoyed it more than the first time I saw it.  I hope Clara returns.  And, I hope Moffat doesn’t make her life too complex, like he did with Amy Pond.

I did have a question though – as soon as the Ice Governess pulled Clara off the cloud and into the sky… why didn’t the Doctor run to his TARDIS, disappear, and re-appear to catch her before she hit the ground? In the swimming pool if necessary.  After all, he’s done it before to save Dr. River Song.

So who is Clara?  How will she return?  Will she return? (The previews for the rest of Series 7 suggest she will).

The other part of the special I found very interesting was the Great Intelligence.  The Doctor at one point remarks, “It sounds familiar.”  It should – it did to me too, so I looked it up.  Here’s what I found:
Great Intelligence:  Entity from another dimension, which was exiled into ours, and condemned to hover between the stars and without substance.  It eventually took over Padmasambhava’s mind.  It planned to reincorporate itself and conquer Earth, when its gelatinous substance flowed through a pyramid gateway.  In spite of its robot Yeti, the Intelligence’s plan was thwarted by the Second Doctor, Jaime, Victoria, and Professor Travers in the mid-1930s.  The entity was banished when the Doctor held it in check mentally while Jaime and Thomni smashed its pyramid. (The Abominable Snowmen)
Thirty years later, Travers reactivated a robot Yeti’s silver sphere, which led the Intelligence to launch a new attack, this time in the London Underground.  It was again opposed by the Second Doctor, with the help of Travers, Jamie, Victoria, and Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart.  The Intelligence plotted to drain the Doctor’s mind, but the Doctor secretly reversed the polarities of the device, and would have turned the tables on his enemy if Jaime had not unwittingly wretched the device from the Doctor’s head at the last minute, thereby releasing the evil entity. (The Web of Fear)
Quote from:

Lofficier, Jean-Marc.  Doctor Who:  The Universal Databank, pp. 168-169, London: Doctor Who Books, Imprint of Virgin Publishing Ltd.

I also loved both the idea of the Doctor keeping his TARDIS up in the clouds, both physically away and separated from the world – and mentally and spiritually separated from helping people.  The Doctor has become cold indeed.  The new interior design I love, though, it’s so reminiscent of the late-70s/early-80s council rooms (prior to the stacked white boxes in the interior of the TARDIS council itself).  Clara climbing the staircase to “nowhere” reminded me both of “Jack-and-the-Beanstalk” and Mary Poppins.  Actually, Clara, as the magical governess, reminded me a lot of Mary Poppins.  OK, yes, Poppins was a nanny, but still, especially with the umbrella the Doctor gives her.  Very much Mary Poppins.

So who is Clara Oswin Oswald, really?  Is she a future Doctor?  A future River?  River or Amy’s future child?  Jenny – the Doctor’s Daughter?  And will she be back? I hope Mr. Moffat answers these questions!

UPDATE (9/6/2014):  The above review was written immediately after seeing “The Snowmen”.  As we know, Clara became the Doctor’s companion, and is the 12th Doctor’s Companion as well.  In terms of Moffat making her life too complex, we do have the “Impossible Girl” storyline which was wrapped up with Moffat turning Clara into a Mary Sue who spends her entire life saving the Doctor.  However, Series 8 seems to have forgotten entirely about that plot thread.Thank goodness.

Oh, and one more point, although the first story to feature the Great Intelligence, The Abominable Snowmen is still missing and presumed destroyed; the second, The Web of Fear is available on DVD.  The Doctor Who Missing Adventures (original paperback series) novel Downtime, also features the Great Intelligence and the Yeti (as well as Victoria, the Brigadier, Sarah Jane Smith, and Kate Stewart, the Brigadier’s daughter).  My review of Downtime is on Goodreads.