Deep Breath

capaldi doctor

Writer: Steven Moffat

Director: Ben Wheatley

Starring: 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)

Plot Summary

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.

Behind the Scenes

The announcement that Matt Smith was leaving Doctor Who was made in the summer of 2013, and his successor was announced in a live television programme on BBC One.  Peter Capaldi is the oldest actor since William Hartnell to play the role regularly, and the third Scottish actor to play the part after Sylvester McCoy and David Tennant, although unlike Tennant and like McCoy, he would keep his Scottish accent whilst in the part.  Capaldi at the time was best known for his role as the sweary spin-doctor, Malcolm Tucker in the political satire The Thick of It, but had also featured previously in both Doctor Who and its spin-off, Torchwood, something that would lead to an arc in the show.

Meanwhile, Jenna Coleman returned for what was initially believed to be her final series, having been a part of the show since the second half of series 7, but would eventually change her mind, finally leaving at the end of Capaldi’s second series.  The Paternoster Gang return here for the final time on television, and the role of the tramp, Barney, is played by Brian Miller, husband of the late Elisabeth Sladen.

Finally, Series 8 was the first to run a reduced number of episodes, from 13 episodes down to 12.

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.

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

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: Vastra: Give him hell, he’ll always need it.

 

 

 

Robot

k1-robot

Writer: Terrance Dicks
Director: Christopher Barry
Parts: 4
Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Nicholas Courtney (The Brigadier), Ian Marter (Harry Sullivan), John Levine (Warrant Officer John Benton), Patricia Maynard (Miss Maynard), Alec Linstead (Jellicoe), Edward Burnham (Professor Kettlewell), Michael Kilgarriff (Robot)

Plot Summary

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.

Behind the Scenes:

After four years running the show, producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks made the decision to move on from the show, passing the reigns to Phillip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes. Despite this, the pair cast the new Doctor, Tom Baker, to replace the outgoing Jon Pertwee, and Dicks wrote this episode. Pertwee had made the decision to move on partially due to the death of his friend, Robert Delgado, who had portrayed the Master, as well as the departure from the show of Katy Manning, who played Jo Grant. His replacement, Baker, was working on a building site at the time, and previously had played Rasputin in Nicholas and Alexander and Koura in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, which convinced Letts to cast him.

Elisabeth Sladen continued in her role as Sarah Jane, but was joined by Ian Marter as Harry Sullivan. Harry was mentioned in The Planet of the Spiders but makes his first appearance here. Marter had previously been cast as Benton in 1971, but had been unable to take the part due to other commitments. He later appeared in Carnival of Monsters in 1973 and was cast as Harry when there was the possibility of the Fourth Doctor being portrayed by an older actor.  When Baker was cast, the necessity of having Sullivan in the TARDIS was reduced, and so Marter left the series after The Terror of the Zygons.

doc and brig

This episode would also act as a swansong for U.N.I.T.  The Earth-based organisation had not been featured as much since The Three Doctors, but with the new Doctor and a fully operating TARDIS, the new production team wanted to explore new stories and new locations.  The Brigadier et al would reappear occasionally, most notably during the Fourth Doctor era in Terror of the Zygons and The Android Invasion.

Review:

Unsurprisingly, the Fourth Doctor’s debut feels a lot like a Third Doctor adventure, as UNIT are in a support role and the story is entirely Earth-based, being written by a key stalwart of the previous era.  This does damage the story somewhat, as it doesn’t help the overall atmosphere of change.

The strongest aspect of the episode is Tom Baker – he undoubtedly knows how he is going to play the part right from the off.  The manic energy he provides gives entertainment when this episode begins to flounder and struggle.  This is perhaps best demonstrated by the scene between Harry and the Doctor with the skipping rope.  This incarnation of the Doctor is remembered for being more overtly eccentric than his predecessors and a lot of

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 the less said with the bit with the tank, the better.  I’m intrigued to see how well they will have been to upgrade these for the release on Blu-Ray.

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

Best Moment: The skipping scene with Harry in part one.

Best Quote: The Doctor: Never cared much for the word “impregnable”.  Sounds too much like “unsinkable”.

Harry: What’s wrong with unsinkable?

The Doctor: Nothing. As the iceberg said to the Titanic.

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

The Eleventh Hour

Writer: Steven Moffat

Director: Adam Smith

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)

apple

“Can I have an apple?”

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.

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

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.

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