Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Debut of The Doctor


I must present a confession.  I did not watched the leaked version of Deep Breath, but somehow the first five scripts for Doctor Who's eight season fell into my lap.  The temptation was simply too great, but to my credit I read only three of them: Deep Breath, Into the Dalek, and Robots of Sherwood.  As such, Deep Breath, the first story with Peter Capaldi as the 12th Doctor (or perhaps Doctor 1.2), was already familiar to me.

Reading the script, I pictured that it would be more a Vastra & Company episode than a proper Doctor Who story, and that the comedic aspects Steven Moffat was thrusting upon us would dominate.  As it so happens, Deep Breath sticks close to that, but while there are some solid moments to be found this is, while not the worst debut story, a pretty weak one.

It is Victorian London, an a dinosaur is spotted by Parliament.  It's up to Silurian Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), her wife, the human Cockney Jenny Flint (Catrin Stewart), and her manservant the Sontaran Strax (Dan Starkey) to figure out what it's doing here.

Oh, yes, and somehow some guy inside a blue police box is involved, though he's a secondary character in this episode.

That character might be The Doctor (Capaldi), accompanied by his human Companion Clara (Jenna Coleman, long having dropped 'Louise' from her name). Clara is having a hard time accepting this older-looking man as The Doctor, at one point asking the all-wise star of the show (which would be Vastra) how they could change him back to 'her' Doctor.  In any case, the Doctor is having a hard time with his newest regeneration, but when he escapes in his nightshirt to find the dinosaur has apparently spontaneously combusted, he now has a focus.

That focus being to find out what killed the dinosaur, whether there have been other murders like this, and finding some clothes.  Clara, for her part, still upset about the change (no, not THE change in women's life, but the change from pretty Smith to wrinkled old Capaldi) finds an ad which mentions the 'Impossible Girl', leading her to Mancini's Family Restaurant.  Here, she and the Doctor meet, though each thinks the other sent the message.

At Mancini's, the food is always fresh, because to their horror, THEY are the main course.  This restaurant is really a lair to entrap unsuspecting humans so that the Clockwork Mice...I mean, Clockwork Men and Women can harvest their organs.  Their leader, the Half-Faced Man (Peter Ferdinando), wants to reach The Promised Land, but he cannot get there because his ship has been damaged for millennia.  At one point, the Doctor appears to have left Clara, with her only chance of survival being to hold her breath.

Mercifully, the Doctor and the Half-Faced Man battle it out on the latter's balloon made out of human skin, while the Paternoster Gang with special guest star Clara Oswald fight the Clockwork Mice.  The Half-Faced Man meets a sorry end, speared by the tower in Parliament (though whether he fell or was pushed is up for debate).  The Doctor appears to disappear but he does return for Clara, who gets a call from The Doctor (Matt Smith, in a cameo), where he reassures her that the old guy IS the Doctor.  With that, Rose and the Doctor go off for chips in London...I mean, Clara and the Doctor go off for chips in Glasgow.

At the end, though, the Half-Faced Man DOES arrive in Paradise, where Missy (Michelle Gomez), who claims the Doctor is her 'boyfriend', awaits the Half-Faced Man. 

What's good about Deep Breath?  Well, what's good is that it wasn't as disastrous as it read.  A great deal of the credit goes to director Ben Wheatley, who brought a nice look to the episode.  Any episode that makes the normally plain-looking Jenny into quite a beautiful-looking woman deserves some praise.  It wasn't until we caught Jenny 'posing' for Vastra that we saw Jenny with her hair down, and Stewart looks beautiful there.

We also have to compliment Capaldi, who has the potential to be a fantastic Doctor.  I say 'has the potential' because of Matt Smith and Steven Moffat.  Smith grew to be the worst Doctor of All Time: a blithering idiot who rarely commanded respect and authority but instead looked like he was trying to figure out how a door works.  Deep Breath in many ways reads like a Matt Smith-type script, with too many bad comedy moments (hearing a comic sound effect when Vastra manages to render the Doctor unconscious was just idiotic, plain and simple). The fluttery nature of the Doctor was Smith-like, and everything involving the Paternoster Gang (in particular the increasingly irritating Strax) was also Moffat's attempt to throw in what he thinks is comedy (and/or worse, what he think Doctor Who fans want).

Take for example when the Paternoster Gang comes to the rescue (the second time they serve as a form of deus ex machina).  You have what is suppose to be a very dramatic, even exciting moment as these two master assassins descend to the lair by means of cloth wrapped around them.  All well ad good I suppose, but then what could have been an effect moment is ruined by having Strax crash down right behind them.  It's as if Moffat simply can't trust the audience to have a moment that would require drama or action without giving them a 'light, comic' moment.

I hated Vastra's 'carriage alarm' business, which wasn't funny or clever or smart.  I hated the idea of having Strax still not understand the idea of 'clothes' or hitting Clara with the newspaper (though the thing with the water wasn't too bad.  Still dumb, but not dreadful). 

Moffat spends far too much time with the Paternoster Gang in unnecessary things.  The entire scene with Strax examining Clara (and naturally getting things wrong) should have been cut because it added nothing to either character development or plot.  Curiously, while Moffat kept this bit (I figure to justify showing Deep Breath as a film of sorts in theaters), he cut the 'spontaneous combustion' investigation and shifted to the 'restaurant' business. 

I wondered why in all this time the police never bothered to investigate the disappearance that must have been noted by family and friends of those who were last seen either going to or entering Mancini's.  This had been going on for several years, yet am I suppose to believe every person who went into Mancini's had no friends or relations to worry about should they just disappear?  This is a plot point that, like many in Moffat's oeuvre, is conveniently forgotten when needed. 

The focus on the Paternoster Gang is perhaps the biggest detriment to Deep Breath.  Having Jenny declare that she is in love with a lizard (confirming my long-held belief that same-sex bestiality is something that shouldn't be featured on a family show) doesn't help, nor does the idea that VASTRA, all-wise and all-knowing, knows what regeneration is (despite never seeing it herself) but CLARA doesn't.  Clara has, if Doctor Who is to be believed, interacted with ALL the Doctors, and has met Doctors who are much older-looking than Capaldi's version.  In fact, it was CLARA who told the First Doctor which TARDIS to take (even if that does contradict a previous Doctor Who story where the TARDIS said it had chosen the Doctor). 

If anything Clara should be the one to best understand the concept.  In the times a Companion straddled two Doctors, the Companions took quite easily to the idea of change.  Able Seaman Ben Jackson and Polly, who were the first to experience the Doctor's regeneration, struggled a bit but didn't struggle with the concept and quickly saw Patrick Troughton as THE Doctor.  Sarah Jane Smith went from Jon Pertwee to Tom Baker and not once ever thought of wanting the 'old one' back.  When Adric, Tegan Jovanka, and Nyssa saw the Fourth Doctor become the Fifth, they never struggled.  Even Rose, who saw the first NuWho regeneration, immediately accepted the Tenth as the Doctor.

Given all that, why does Clara appear so unaware of what was going on?  It makes her look shallow, and perhaps that was the intent, but it still is not logical.

Then again, since when was Doctor Who interested in things like continuity?

The issue about Smith's cameo is troubling for two reasons.  First, it has the negative effect of treating the audience as weaklings and imbeciles, either unable or unwilling to accept a concept that, after four actors, they should already know and accept by now.  It's a sad commentary that fans apparently need help in coping with a change in cast.  In all the fifty-one years of Doctor Who, neither fans or Companions ever had to be basically hand-held in accepting one actor as The Doctor over the other.  Tennant never barged in on Smith, nor did Tom Baker ever have to pop up to help those Doctor Who fans accept Peter Davison.

Are Doctor Who fans THAT emotionally and intellectually weak?

Second and more insidious to me, Smith's appearance has the effect of stomping over what is suppose to be his successor's first story.  How can you have a real showcase for one actor when you got the guy you replaced to basically pop in and say, 'Hey, remember me?'  This was suppose to be Capaldi's moment, so why does Smith have to rear his big chin into the proceedings?    There was no need to have Smith appear in Deep Breath apart than to placate HIS fans, not Doctor Who fans, not the same thing.

Still, Capaldi's Doctor, though at times relegated to being more Smith-like than anything, manages to show that he can do good things.  When he challenges the Half-Faced Man it does give us hints that perhaps he will be a darker (read, better) version of The Doctor.  It's too soon to say whether Capaldi can be a good Doctor, but so far the hope is still there.  Sadly, the same can't be said for Coleman.  Apart from having something odd about her left eye which kept my attention whenever she was on screen, Clara is still dim, weak, and devoid of real personality. 

As for the Paternoster Gang, I do wish they would all just go.  I'm tired of constantly hearing about how Jenny and Vastra are 'married' (again, WHO would perform the ceremony).  I'm tired of Strax's bumbling (you'd think the 'he's too stupid to figure things out' routine would have died by now). 

Even worse, Deep Breath with Gomez's wild and over-the-top Missy (a mix of River Song and Madame Kovarian), we are going to have to endure more season-long arcs that are a drag on the show.  Rather than a simple series of adventures, we're going to be dragged through more 'Bad Wolf' and 'Cracks in Time' and 'Impossible Girl' stories where every episode seems like one long prequel to nothing.  It's a bit like what a critic wrote about the 1963 Cleopatra: at six hours it might have been a movie, but at its current version its a series of coming attractions for something that will never come.

Finally, Murray Gold has got to be fired.  Plain and simple.  While the new opening sequence was visually impressive, the new theme is too screechy for my taste (almost like hearing a group of cats being tortured) and attempting 'funny' music or 'crying-inducing' music just drowns the story with unnecessary baggage.

Deep Breath has about only one real positive in it, and that is Peter Capaldi, who is better than his material.  In almost every other aspect, from the Vastra & Company spin-off in all but name, to the actual story itself and the 'Missy' subplot that will eventually take center stage, I think we don't have to hold our breath that this season will be a major improvement over last.

Sadly, in this episode, we don't even need the Doctor all that much.  With that, Deep Breath shows just how irrelevant the Doctor has become on Doctor Who.     


Next Episode: Into the Dalek

Friday, August 22, 2014

Parody Review: The Nerdist on "Deep Breath"

The Following is a Parody of The Nerdist's review for Deep Breath, the new Doctor Who episode premiering on August 23 on BBC America and in selected cinemas at midnight.


By: NOT Kyle Anderson

With Peter Capaldi taking over as the 12th Doctor (give or take a few), Whovians may be fearful that Capaldi and Steven Moffat's darker take on the beloved Time Lord may alienate fans (no pun intended).  Deep Breath, however, makes it obvious that The Moff may be tweaking the franchise, but with some beloved returning characters (who really need their own spin-off) and one of the best Companions of All Time (who comes so close to being among the greats like Rose Tyler and River Song and some old lady called Smith or something back before anyone actually watched the show), the fifty-year old show is as new as when it first premiered.  In fact, Doctor Who now is more exciting, more intelligent, more brilliant than at any time in its half-century.  Past Doctor Who writers like Robert Holmes, Terrance Dicks or Douglas Adams and past producers like Verity Lambert or Philip Hinchcliffe could only look on in envy as Doctor Who writer/showrunner Steven Moffat outdoes them all yet again!

The Moff is Our Hero, Our Leader, This Generation's Greatest Writer, and soon to rank up there with Shakespeare and Dickens, and goes past others like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (who technically created Sherlock Holmes but could never turn him into the brilliant creation Moffat has) or Dame Agatha Christie (whom nobody remembers, until Moffat comes up with Marple and casts Sienna Miller as the feisty, flirty Jane Marple rather than the old spinster we got stuck with).

The Doctor (Capaldi), still in the throes of regenerational confusion, lands in Victorian London with Clara (Jenna Coleman) the Impossible Girl, who now fears that the Doctor may not be the man she knew all his lives.  His regeneration confuses the brilliant Paternoster Gang: Silurian Madame Vastra (Neve Macintosh), her human wife Jenny Flint (Catrin Stewart), and their manservant, Sontaran Strax (Dan Starkey).  This new figure isn't the Doctor, but Clara is still Clara.  It takes some work to temporarily confuse the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes, but Madam Vastra soon sees that it IS the Doctor (the giant dinosaur in London being her big clue, and this dinosaur outdoes not only Dinosaurs on a Spaceship but a previous little-seen or remembered Doctor Who story called Invasion of the Dinosaurs, which might mercifully be one of those lost stories that perhaps should remain lost). 

So, with the confused Doctor temporarily out of commission, it's up to the beloved Paternoster Gang (along with a very reluctant Clara) to attempt to both help the Doctor through his regeneration crisis and to see about that big dinosaur walking around London.  However, there's evil afoot, as a strange half-faced man is walking around, bringing death in his wake, including to the poor dinosaur (insert tear for that creature).  The Doctor, now looking like a hobo (obviously echoing a not-well-remembered character on the show nicknamed The Cosmic Hobo) and Clara eventually find each other through the Victorian version of Facebook: the newspaper ad.

They meet at a restaurant where they discover to their shock that THEY are the soup of the day.  Soon, they have to face-off against a half-face man.  As this Doctor would say, "Strike the last part".  Fortunately for the Doctor and Clara, in comes the Paternoster Gang to the rescue as they fight off the Half-Faced Man and his Droid Army intent on supplying themselves with new parts.  The Doctor and the Half-Faced Man then go off in the Half-Faced Man's beautiful balloon, where the Half-Faced Man continues talking about going to "the Promised Land".  Despite his best efforts, the Doctor cannot bring the Half-Faced Man to life, but despite crying over a character we never got to know we see that the Doctor now is on a quest.  It's not find Gallifrey (which is still out there, somewhere), but to repair the mistakes of his past.

Clara, despite herself, is still not convinced that the Doctor is HER Doctor, until a familiar voice comes back to guide her to the light.  It's none other than The Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith himself), temporarily restored from his old age in the brilliant The Time of The Doctor (the greatest, saddest, and most brilliant story in Doctor Who history until Deep Breath took its place, which is natural since The Day of The Doctor had been the most brilliant story in Doctor Who until The Time of The Doctor took its place, and before that The Name of The Doctor had been the greatest Doctor Who story of all time.  In fact, we've had nothing but brilliant stories going all the way back to Rose, and no Who from the pre-Rose days would ever compare to something as brilliant as Love & Monsters or Fear Her). 

Smith's Doctor is there to comfort Clara and to reassure her (and us) that Capaldi IS The Doctor, and with that, we are off on more brilliant adventures.  We even get little bits about how the season is going to go, with the Half-Faced Man truly in Heaven, there to greet him is Missy (who is an instant Doctor Who icon).  Who could she be?  River Song (she did call the Doctor her boyfriend)?  An alternate version of Clara (she IS the Impossible Girl)? 

Oh, we'll just have to wait and see.  Moffat you brilliant dick...

Adding Smith, even if it was only for a brief cameo, is a brilliant send-off for the best Doctor (not counting David Tennant and maybe that old guy whose cameo in The Day of The Doctor excited everyone, because that ex-Doctor is the only one still with us from the original, though inferior, version of Doctor Who. He's a bit like that old Smith woman: the only pre-Rose Companion any of us actually remember, albeit vaguely).  It gives us a heart-touching final farewell to someone who will become as important to childhood as Winnie-the-Pooh or Peter Pan.  Just hearing Smith's voice gives us Whovians who have loved Smith's eternal child-like Doctor a chance to cry one more time.  Seeing him just got to me emotionally, and I know all true Whovians shed tears at seeing that face (and chin) one last time, a grand moment that will be remembered for all time.  Moffat really knows how to hit us emotionally while still making us laugh at the same time.  It may not be Smith coming back in full form (which might upset some Whovians) but Moffat in his genius gives us the viewer comfort that things will be OK, like the Good Shepherd of Doctor Who that the Moff is. 

There are so many inside jokes that zing by us so quickly you'd need a second watch to catch them all (even though all real Whovians will watch this again and again rather than the stodgy old stories like The Aztecs or Tomb of the Cybermen).  "You know I speak Dinosaur!" Capaldi's Doctor bellows at one point.  Who DOESN'T remember the genius of Smith's Doctor "talking Horse"?  Vastra's "Well then, here we go again," echoes to the late-and-much-missed Brigadier's line where we got Tom Baker (the only Classic Who Doctor that any of us know, remember, or care about). 

This is also a good time to look on Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint, perhaps the greatest secondary characters Doctor Who has ever created (apart from Captain Jack, of course).  These two show without a doubt that Steven Moffat is not a sexist or homophobe.  Far from it.  He's given us the greatest female characters in television history.  There's River Song.  There's Irene Adler from Sherlock.  Now, he's given us a kick-ass same-sex interspecies love story with two females who not only can take care of themselves but care about each other.  Vastra and Jenny are more than the John Watson and Sherlock Holmes of Doctor Who (and who are neck-and-neck with the brilliant take on those characters on another Moffat show with the always brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman).  They are the embodiment of all the best of Moffat's writing about women.

They are strong.  They are unafraid of their sexuality.  They are intelligent.  They are what all little girls aspire to be.  Fangirls need look no further for heroes than Vastra and Jenny, and soon they will be called the Cumberbatch and Freeman of Doctor Who.  They might also have their own show, which Deep Breath could serve as an excellent pilot for.  Imagine the possibilities: while the Doctor is off somewhere, the Paternoster Gang is out there, solving crimes and deep mysteries with Strax providing much-needed comic relief.  The Doctor could drop in on them once in a while, and who knows: maybe one day they'll be a massive Vastra/Doctor Who/Sherlock crossover.

Oh, my fanboy heart leaps at seeing Macintosh, Capaldi, and Cumberbatch in one gigantic epic episode of three shows!  Think of it: The Doctor takes Madame Vastra and Jenny to 21st-Century London, where our favorite same-sex bestiality couple meet their spiritual (if not physical) descendants, and together the Victorian Holmes and Watson meet their Internet-age counterparts and join forces to defeat the newly-resurrected Jim Moriarty (or his own theory) while Strax continues to bumble and stumble his way around poor Molly and Inspector Lestrade's workspace, attempting to figure out this even crazier world.

If Moffat disliked women so much as his jealous, bitter, dumb enemies keep saying, why would he give these television icons the power of ESP?

Dan Starkey's Strax continues to make the Sontarans the joke their creator, Robert Holmes, always intended them to be.  Ever since they debuted in The Sontaran Strategem (at least their official debut, their unofficial one being a little-remembered Third Doctor story called The Time Warrior), which I should point out was written by a WOMAN (thus forever closing the book on that whole 'Moffat is a sexist' nonsense that smears the good name of our Dear Leader), the Sontarans were always suppose to be silly.  Robert Holmes could never get the Sontarans to be as dumb as he wanted them to, probably because he didn't have the writing skills of The Moff.  However, thanks to Moffat, Holmes' great dream of making his allegedly war-obsessed aliens into the comic relief has come true. 

Starkey's Strax continues to be the lovable dimwit he was created to be (just like Smith's Doctor was suppose to be dimwitted as per a fan letter in Doctor Who Magazine).  It is amazing that despite all these years working for Madame Vastra and her human wife, he still doesn't get the concepts of clothes and hair, but who cares: The Paternoster Gang is BACK!  We even get a quick shout-out to the Paternoster Irregulars.  Seriously, Conan Doyle obviously stole from The Moff, because only Steven Moffat in his brilliance could have come up with something so clever, so funny, so heartwarming, so heartbreaking, and so epic all in one feature-length long story. 

There might be a few things that perhaps may confuse some of the lesser intellects who can't comprehend Moffat's intricately complex plot, like who sent the newspaper message that the Doctor and Clara happened to find knowing that the other would not only find it but think it came from the other. However, because Moffat's plots are always so brilliant and always tie in together brilliantly in the end, all those questions will be answered in the season finale because the always brilliant Moffat will connect everything into this massively epic story that will be studied for its incredibly tight storytelling. 

We get little nods to that thanks to a reference to Clara's first adventure with 'her' Doctor, The Bells of Saint John, when we're reminded of the tech helpline telling Clara to call a certain number.  We might have forgotten about that mystery, but the genius of Moffat's genius so ingeniously ties things from past stories to present stories and to future stories in that wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey way that only someone of Steven Moffat's genius could. 

Mark my words: once we discover who Missy is (my theory: a character from The Doctor's past, like something called a "Romana" or some other vague character whom we never really learned anything about during her brief time on Doctor Who), we Whovians will not only realize how brilliant Steven Moffat is, but see that he gave us clues that everybody missed!  It will be so obvious only those nitpickers who complain about things like coherence will grumble. 

Next week, the Doctor and Clara face off against his greatest foe, but with a brilliant twist that only The Moff can give us. 

Kyle Anderson:
As Objective as FOX News or MSNBC.