Deep Breath

capaldi doctor

You sound all…English.  You’ve all developed a fault!

The Twelfth Doctor

Synopsis

Following the events of The Time of the Doctor, the newly regenerated Doctor arrives in Victorian London, while his companion, Clara, struggles to deal with his new regeneration.  They are joined by the Paternoster Gang, who are investigating a series of spontaneous combustions around London.

Review

This is a strong opening episode for the Twelfth Doctor, which benefits hugely from the central performances of Capaldi and Coleman and the directorial experience of Ben Wheatley.  For me, it is not an instant classic, like Spearhead From Space or The Eleventh Hour, but a strong debut none the less.

I will address some of the weaker elements of the story briefly first.  I believe that the extended running time perhaps harms the story, but when I was watching it for this review, I was at a loss to see which scenes I would cut out.  There is also the inclusion of the Paternoster Gang, who feel like a hangover from the previous era.  I discussed in my review of Robot that an element like this can ultimately harm the episode.  However, I like the Paternoster Gang and it is nice that they get a final appearance here.

On to the stronger points of the episode. I really like the ambiguity of the new Doctor’s character and I feel that the strongest reflection of this is when the Doctor appears to abandon Clara in the spaceship under Mancini’s Restaurant.  The new Doctor has been established to this point as being different from his predecessors, which allows sowing seeds of doubt in the viewer’s mind.  This also leads to Clara facing off with the Half-Face Man, where she uses her own worst nightmare of her first day of teaching to get answers from him, and another strong moment for her when she says that she doesn’t know where the Doctor is:

But I know where he will be.  Where he always will be.  If the Doctor is still the Doctor, he will have my back.

Clara Oswald

This is a fantastically directed moment as there is a pause whilst Clara puts her hand out behind her for the Doctor, so that, just for a moment, you think that the Doctor might not be there for her.

veil

Another strong moment in this episode comes in the veil scene with Madam Vastra, and this is part of the reason I don’t mind the Paternoster Gang being in this episode – they serve a purpose.  In this scene, it also feels like she is not only addressing Clara in the story, but also the audience, who may have become used to seeing younger actors playing the role, especially Smith, and almost gives Capaldi a clean slate.  Even with Clara’s previous experiences and history regarding the Doctor, it is understandable that she reacts the way she does.  After all, the Doctor goes from outwardly appearing to be a similar age to her, to looking so much older in the space of a few seconds at the end of The Time of the Doctor.  The idea of the veil Vastra wears only being there when Clara sees it to be there is a really nice idea, and this is a really nicely written scene.

Onto the villain.  The Half-Face Man is from the same ‘family’ of robots as the Tenth Doctor and Rose faced in The Girl in the Fireplace, but the Doctor doesn’t remember these events.  The clockwork droids are still looking to use human parts to repair their ship to get to the Promised Land, which forms a part of Series 8’s arc.  The fact that the Doctor does not remember them is not an issue for me, as the Doctor has been through quite a lot since then, and even more recently, he has spent 900 years defending Trenzalore.  He’s going to forget some things.  The Half-Face Man is very menacing, and the droids themselves do benefit from good direction from Ben Wheatley, especially that wide shot during the restaurant scene with the Doctor and Clara.  While the villain might be slightly forgettable, the threat they pose whilst watching the episode is unmistakable.  The scene I mentioned previously where Clara has been abandoned and is holding her breath to avoid detection is terrifying – you know she’s going to have to breathe eventually.

Speaking of the villain, the final confrontation between the Doctor and the Half-Face Man really helps with the uncertainty we are supposed to have about this new Doctor.  In the midst of this, we get a really nice shot where the Doctor holds up a silver serving platter to the Half-Face Man to show him how far and fruitless his quest has been, and in the reverse shot we see a reflection of the new Doctor (“You probably can’t even remember where you got that face from!”).  The climax of this scene is the Half-Face Man’s death on the spire of the Clock Tower of the Houses of Parliament and the uncertainty of whether he was pushed or he jumped.  Personally, I’m about 90% certain he jumped, but the cold and ruthless nature of this new Doctor does make me doubt myself.

half face man

I’m just going to say a few words about the phone call from the Eleventh Doctor at the end of the episode.  I feel that this is an important part for Clara, to see that this really is the same man.  In addition, honestly, when the Twelfth Doctor pleads with Clara to “just see me”, my heart breaks a little for him.

doctor clara

A final two points. Firstly, I feel that the comedy in this episode really works, and personally, the scene where Jenny is posing for a portrait with Vastra, only for it to be revealed that Vastra is actually working on the case is one of the best moments of the episode for me.  Secondly, the chemistry between Capaldi and Coleman is great from the off here.   Jenna Coleman has such great chemistry with both Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi, which really helps this episode, especially where it isn’t so action based at times, like in the restaurant scene where Clara and the Doctor meet.

Summary:  A strong start to the Twelfth Doctor’s tenure.  The chemistry between Capaldi and Coleman is very strong, and despite some pacing issues, it is a very enjoyable story.  8/10

Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald), Neve McIntosh (Madam Vastra), Dan Starkey (Strax), Catrin Stewart (Jenny), Peter Ferdinando (Half Face Man), Paul Hickey (Inspector Gregson), Brian Miller (Barney), Ellis George (Courtney Woods), Michelle Gomez (Missy) and Matt Smith (The Doctor)

Writer: Steven Moffat

Director: Ben Wheatley

Behind the Scenes

  • Peter Capaldi became the oldest actor to play the part of The Doctor regularly on television, surpassing William Hartnell.  John Hurt, William Bradley and Richard Hurndall were all older than Capaldi when they took the part, however, none of these have played the role on a recurring basis on television.
  • Capaldi is the third Scottish actor to play the Doctor, following Sylvester McCoy and David Tennant.  Similarly to McCoy, he plays the part with his natural accent.
  • Capaldi is the second actor to portray the Doctor after appearing as a guest star in a previous episode (The Fires of Pompeii) after Colin Baker.  Capaldi also appeared in the spin-off Torchwood, and the recoccurence of his face would be addressed in his second series.
  • Series 8 was the first series since the revival to have a shortened run, reduced from 13 to 12 episodes.
  • To date, the final appearance of the Pasternoster Gang on television.

Cast Notes

  • The tramp who sells the Doctor his coat is played by Brian Miller, the husband of the late Elisabeth Sladen who played Sarah Jane Smith.  He appeared previously in Snakedance and provided Dalek voices for Resurrection of the Daleks and Remembrance of the Daleks.

Best Moment

The moment with Clara’s worst nightmare – the unruly class – that teaches her the lesson that threatening the ultimate punishment leaves you with nowhere to go.

Best Quote

Give him hell, he’ll always need it.

Vastra

 

 

 

Robot

k1-robot

There’s no point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes.

The Fourth Doctor

Synopsis

While the Doctor is recovering from his latest regeneration, there are a number of thefts of secret plans threatening global security, with the guards killed. The culprit appears to be a robot, created by the National Institute for Advanced Scientific Research, however, his basic programming prevents him from killing.

Review

Tom Baker’s debut story marks the start of his seven-year tenure as the Doctor.  Viewed by many as the definitive incarnation of the Time Lord, the Fourth Doctor is an arguably more eccentric character than his predecessors, bringing a booming voice, imposing height and a frankly extraordinary amount of teeth to the role. Robot, sadly largely feels like a Third Doctor story largely down to the presence of UNIT and the holdover of production team for this story.

doc and brig

The story’s biggest strength is undoubtedly Tom Baker, who clearly knows how he wants to play the part from the off.  This incarnation of the Doctor is much more alien and much less concerned with the affairs of Earth than his immediate predecessor – the moment that he is left alone with his TARDIS, he makes a move towards leaving UNIT and Sarah Jane behind.  The most marked change between Baker and Pertwee is their relationship with the Brigadier.  Whilst Pertwee and the Brigadier mostly got on during the Doctor’s time on Earth, he would also get much more frustrated with the Brigadier for going against him.  In this story, we see the Doctor treat him with much more humour, whilst retaining the same level of obvious affection for the man despite his pomposity.  Baker brings a sense of unpredictability to every scene that he is in and even when he is not speaking, the viewers’ eye is drawn to him to see just what he will do next.  He has some great facial expressions here too, especially the first time he sees the TARDIS and realises he has the opportunity to get away and when he walks through a door marked ‘Positively No Admittance’.

Naturally enough, the only country that could be trusted with such a role was Great Britain.

Naturally, I mean, the rest were all foreigners.

The Brigadier and the Fourth Doctor

Baker is ably supported by his continuing companion, Sarah Jane Smith, as well as the Brigadier and faithful and newly promoted Benton.  Sladen, Courtney and Levene do their best here to provide the comfort blanket for the audience to introduce this new Doctor, and the first two certainly find the more eccentric personality of this new Doctor exasperating at times.  This story finally introduces us to a new companion in the shape of Harry Sullivan, who was mentioned in Planet of the Spiders, and is played by Ian Marter.  Harry is a rather old fashioned sort of man, however, he is played with a sense of charm which makes him endearing to the viewer, even if he may doubt Sarah’s capacity to help in their investigation of the Scientific Reform Society.

Unfortunately, the story does suffer from some forgettable villains.  Miss Maynard and Jellicoe and the Scientific Reform Society fit into the role of generic scientific baddies with the titular robot perhaps saving this story from monotony.  I am loathed to criticise the special effects of the classic era of Doctor Who, but the effects towards the end of part four when the robot grows really hasn’t aged well and picks up Sarah Jane, and the less said with the bit with the toy tank, the better.  That being said, The Doctor’s fight with the K1 Robot in the Kettlewell’s laboratory is really enjoyable.

Verdict: A mediocre start to the Fourth Doctor’s tenure, with a strong central performance from Tom Baker. 6/10

Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Nicholas Courtney (The Brigadier), Ian Marter (Harry Sullivan), John Levene (Warrant Officer John Benton), Patricia Maynard (Miss Maynard), Alec Linstead (Jellicoe), Edward Burnham (Professor Kettlewell), Michael Kilgarriff (Robot)

Writer: Terrance Dicks

Director: Christopher Barry

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • The first introductory story for a new companion not to be written by Robert Holmes since The Wheel in Space.
  • Despite the production team of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks stepping down, they were involved in the casting of the new Doctor.  Originally, they considered casting an older actor, hence bringing in Harry Sullivan, who was name-checked in the previous story.  Terrance Dicks wrote this story, whilst Barry Letts produced it, with incoming producer Philip Hinchcliffe shadowing him.
  • Tom Baker was working on a building site at the time of his casting as the Fourth Doctor.
  • The last appearance of the Third Doctor’s lab, and the last time Bessie is seen until The Five Doctors.  The incumbent Doctor would not be seen to be driving Bessie until Sylvester McCoy did so in Battlefield.
  • This story reveals the Brigadier’s full name as being Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart.
  • This story was in production at the same time as Planet of the Spiders, meaning that both Tom Baker and Jon Pertwee were playing the Doctor simultaneously.  Additionally, Nicholas Courtney, Elisabeth Sladen, and John Levene were involved in both productions.
  • This can be seen to be the last regular appearance of UNIT.  The role of the organisation had been gradually phased out since The Three Doctors when the Third Doctor was able to travel in time and space again, but UNIT still reappeared. They would reappear in Terror of the ZygonsThe Android Invasion and The Seeds of Doom, however in the latter, neither the Brigadier nor Benton appeared.

Cast Notes

  • Christopher Barry considered casting future Sixth Doctor Colin Baker as Arnold Jellicoe.   Ultimately, the part went to Alec Linstead, who had previously played Sergeant Osgood in The Daemons.
  • Ian Marter had previously been cast in the part of Yates, however, was forced to drop out due to other commitments.  He appeared in the Third Doctor serial Carnival of Monsters and became the third actor to be cast in a regular role following a guest appearance after Peter Purves and Nicholas Courtney.
  • Michael Kilgariff had previously played the Cyber Controller in The Tomb of the Cybermen.
  • Edward Burnham appeared alongside John Levene and Nicholas Courtney in The Invasion.

Best Moment

The skipping scene with Harry in part one.

Best Quote

Never cared much for the word “impregnable”.  Sounds too much like “unsinkable”.

What’s wrong with unsinkable?

Nothing. As the iceberg said to the Titanic.

The Fourth Doctor and Harry Sullivan

Next time: There’s a dinosaur in London, as the Twelfth Doctor makes his debut!

The Eleventh Hour

Can I have an apple?

The Eleventh Doctor

Synopsis

After an explosive regeneration, the Doctor is thrust into the heart of the action, having to investigate a crack in young Amelia Pond’s wall.  Due to damage suffered by the TARDIS, he leaves and returns later, finding a grown-up Amy

Review

The casting of Matt Smith was a massive gamble.  The new production team, headed by Steven Moffat, after being unsuccessful in attempting to convince David Tennant to stay on for another series, cast the relative unknown, Matt Smith to portray the Eleventh Doctor.  Smith, who was 26 when cast, became the youngest actor to portray the Doctor, and due to his unknown status, the announcement of the casting was greeted by the headline “Doctor Who?” in some national newspapers.  The eyes of the watching public were truly on the new production team as they put their new series of the show into production.

But you couldn’t tell it watching The Eleventh Hour.  In my review for Spearhead From Space, I talked about how Doctor’s debuts were much more effective if they felt like a breath of fresh air, and this episode certainly does this with aplomb.  I remember watching this episode in 2010, and Smith winning me over as the Doctor almost instantly.  The supporting cast surrounding Smith, especially Caitilin Blackwood, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill, give strong performances and when Amy turns around to the Doctor and says “Why did you say five minutes?”, you completely believe that the angst and resentment behind those words.  Additionally, scenes like the one introducing the grown-up Amy to the audience are really nicely performed by the leads and Karen Gillan is really likeable here.

The weakest part of the episode for me is the villain, but this doesn’t really impact on the quality of the story too much.  Prisoner Zero is a completely forgettable villain – there are so many things that can be done with shapeshifters, but this one is just…there.  That being said, I still love the moment when Prisoner Zero uses Amy’s mind to turn into the Doctor and Amelia, and the Doctor doesn’t recognise himself.  The Atraxi, whilst not the main villain seems like a rather obvious metaphor for the watching world, and whilst not exactly a menacing presence, they do contribute towards the moment where the new Doctor steps through the image of his immediate predecessor.  In this episode, with the youngest Doctor and with it following on from one of the most popular Doctors, it feels important to emphasise that this is still the same man, with a different face.

who hart

Speaking of allusions to the show’s past, the main one here is obvious – the Doctor picks his new outfit from a hospital changing room, just like the Third Doctor in Spearhead From Space and the Eighth Doctor in the TV Movie/The Enemy Within.  There are also some references to David Tennant’s time in the role, such as the sonic screwdriver, and phrases like “You’ve had some cowboys in here”.  One of the main changes is to the TARDIS, and personally, I love both the interior and exterior of this one.  The St. John’s Ambulance logo is back on the door, I love the shade of blue (it was one of the colours for my wedding!) and the steampunk interior is great.

Matt Smith

Summary: A strong opening episode to the Eleventh Doctor’s era.  Matt Smith inhabits the role quickly and the episode really romps along.  10/10

Starring: Matt Smith (The Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams), Caitlin Blackwood (Amelia Pond), Olivia Coleman (Mother), Marcello Magni (Barney Collins), Nina Wadia (Dr. Ramsden), Annette Crosbie (Mrs Angelo), Tom Hopper (Jeff), David de Keyser (Voice of the Atraxi), William Wilde (Voice of Prisoner Zero)

Writer: Steven Moffat

Director: Adam Smith

Behind the Scenes

  • This story sees a change to the show’s logo, an unprecedented third variation on the theme composed by Murray Gold, a new TARDIS interior and exterior and sonic screwdriver, along with new lead actors and production team.  The St John’s Ambulance logo appears on the TARDIS door for the first time since The War Machines.
  • Caitlin Blackwood and Karen Gillan are cousins, a fact that was convinced the production team to cast Blackwood in the role of Amelia.  They had not previously met before working on Doctor Who.
  • A retailer reported a 94% increase in the sale of bow ties following the broadcast of this episode.
  • The first episode since Fear Her to feature no onscreen casualties.
  • The first televised episode to feature two different console rooms.  The Ninth and Tenth Doctors’ console room was reconstructed and left standing in order to be able to film The Doctor’s Wife for Matt Smith’s second series, at the request of writer Neil Gaiman.

Best Moment

This is a toss-up between entering the new TARDIS for the first time and the Doctor’s speech to the Atraxi.

Best Quote

I’m the Doctor. Basically – run.

The Eleventh Doctor

Up next: Tom Baker’s first episode, Robot!