8.25.2014

David Sedaris - Six to Eight Black Men

The former bishop of Turkey will be stopping by tonight . . .

Television: Doctor Who, "Deep Breath"

It's a safe bet Steven Moffat knows "The Girl in the Fireplace" is widely considered one of the best of the modern-era Doctor Who episodes. So when faced with a large group of people who criticize Moffat's running of the series (and note that Russell T. Davies was running the show when "Girl," which was written by Moffat, aired), it's not surprising to see him jump back to what must seem like safe footing by going back to what worked before. He didn't try to hide it. In fact, Moffat beat viewers over the head with the whole clockwork/Madame Pompadour callback, making the ties even more painfully obvious than they would have already been. It's the equivalent of screaming, See! Remember? You liked this last time!

The episode begins with Peter Capaldi's Doctor attempting to emulate Matt Smith, and that was a bit painful to watch. And Clara's response to the change ("but why is he so old now?"), while understandable, doesn't make her very likable. I could barely tolerate her as it was; this episode made me downright despise her at points.

I think we all know by now that Strax, Jenny, and Vastra should probably have their own spin-off program. They steal the show every time they're featured. And Clara is more bearable when she's with them than when she's with the Doctor; perhaps it's a matter of dilution.

The story, then, is that Clara and the Doctor accidentally bring a dinosaur back to Victorian London (the age Strax, Jenny, and Vastra happen to inhabit). I think the dinosaur was supposed to be in the Thames, but I never once saw or heard any sloshing water, and I'm pretty sure a T-rex would make a lot of waves. Guess the budget didn't go quite so far. When the dinosaur spontaneously combusts, the Doctor asks Vastra if there have been any other similar murders, and Vastra tells him there have. Then—spotting a potential candidate for the murderer?—the Doctor jumps into the Thames. It's not clear exactly why except that the plot required the Doctor and Clara to be separated, and since he's apparently a little messed up post-regeneration, I guess Moffat figured it wouldn't matter what kind of weird shit he did. (Was he going to maybe examine the dinosaur's submerged remains or something? Look, I'm trying to be generous here and assume there was a point to it.)

Why did the Doctor and Clara need to be separated? So we could have the stupid-cute bit with the advertisement in the Times. Which brings the Doctor and Clara together for lunch at a restaurant run by the clockwork people, thus putting the Doctor and Clara in mortal peril. I won't go into the details at this point except to say the episode title comes from the idea the clockworks can't tell if you're alive except by your breathing. Which is pretty lame. I mean, don't you also give off body heat? They should have internal thermometers for that, right? (I won't go with smell, since maybe their noses are just cosmetic or something.) I just feel like there are a lot of ways these clockworks should be able to detect living humans. Holding your breath shouldn't fool them. Else, they're not very intimidating adversaries.

By the time we get to the last big fight, too . . . Vastra, Jenny, and Strax join Clara in fending off a cluster of clockworks, and it's so clear they're trying via editing to make it look much bigger and more intense than it really is or should be. Meanwhile, the Doctor and the head clockwork are having some kind of existential discussion about whether Heaven exists or something. And whether it's worth continuing to kill people for their organic material just to get to the "promised land." (Couldn't the Doctor have simply argued that killing people would, in fact, ensure one does not get to Heaven?)

One of my biggest criticisms of Matt Smith's turn as the Doctor was the lack of gravitas. He did manic very well, but it was hard to believe him as something or someone species across time and space might fear to anger. He did not appear to carry the weight of millennia on his shoulders; he did not feel ancient. And that wasn't so much his appearance—David Tennant was not "old" but was able to convey that weight and weariness, and he was absolutely believable as someone with a dark side one would wish to avoid. And it seems now that Moffat can't quite decide where Capaldi will fall on the spectrum. Which is why he leaves it to the viewers to decide whether the Doctor did, in fact, push the clockwork leader to his death or whether he merely talked the clockwork into suicide.

Kind of a cop-out, but then again, character isn't Moffat's strong suit. He does dialogue pretty well, but if you close your eyes and listen, that dialogue is not attached to character. Many of the exchanges in "Deep Breath" could easily have been in an episode of Sherlock instead. It's all interchangeable.

There was what seemed to me to be a half attempt at explaining why the Doctor's new face (and faces were necessarily the big theme for the episode) looks exactly like a character from "The Fires of Pompeii" (Peter Capaldi having starred in that episode): the Doctor says of his regenerated features, "I never know where I get them." Apparently it's possible for him to see a face somewhere and eventually become that person's doppelgänger in a future incarnation?

The clockwork leader, btw, finds himself in a garden with a fountain, where a woman named Missy tells him he's reached the Promised Land. (I feel like there is more to that story, but . . . maybe not.*) And Clara struggles with whether or not to continue to travel with the Doctor now that he is so different, so changed, at least on the outside. It takes a phone call from his former self to assure her he's still, well, him. No matter what he looks like.

But that's never been entirely true, has it? Every incarnation of the Doctor has been a little different from the next. Seeing Capaldi attempt to be Smith was off-putting, but he did seem slowly to become his own man. Nice accent. And the togs are quite natty. I am curious to see how he develops.

*Did they ever say who did put the ad in the newspaper? Did I miss it? I was wondering whether this Missy was tied to that somehow.