In a MostlyFilm Saturday Night special, it seems a small number of people watched a certain television programme this evening. Here, our Doctor Who correspondent Ricky Young offers his thoughts. Feel free to keep them, or hand them back at any time.
OBLIGATORY SPOILER WARNING; although, listen, if you’re on the internet reading this and you haven’t watched ‘Deep Breath’ yet, then you clearly don’t understand how these things work. Go and watch it, and then come back later. And try not to hurt yourself on the journey.
An unkempt, angry Scotchman staggers out onto a London street in clothes that aren’t his, brain in tatters and shouting incoherent nonsense to passers-by.
Well, we’ve all been there.
The Doctor is back, and after banging his head against a table in a workplace Health & Safety violation, he’s tumbled three decades of face ahead. No longer has he Matt Smith’s peculiar combination of smooth *and* angular, the Doctor is now Peter Capaldi, for all the world looking like he’s been stuck together out of grey Peperami.
Here at MostlyFilm we’ve recently talked about the problems Doctor Who has faced, and we also touched upon the new casting, thrilled with the boldness of the move. We did slip in a few caveats here and there, and hoped that some lessons may have been learned regarding the show’s tone and direction. We even liked some of the Big Celebrations! Despite ourselves! And now we’ve all seen ‘Deep Breath’, and are we all happy?
Well, quite a lot yes. And a little bit no. The weighting of the former to the latter is, at this very specific point in time, something of a relief.
We did love Matt Smith to begin with. We really did. But the scripts the poor guy was lumbered with seemed to grind him down, episode by episode, and there’s a rumour – one that we completely believe, by the way – that the stress actually made him lose all his hair and he had to go and get a role in a Ryan Gosling movie and pretend that was the reason why.
And now Peter Capaldi is the Doctor, in the role he’s waited for all his life, and brilliantly and conveniently for everyone involved, he’s amazing in it. Funny, scary, mysterious, furious, kind, sinister, oddly beautiful in a strange way and able to convey sweet *and* angry in the same second? You can stay, mister. Even the lovely little phone-call from the past (where we were given one final glimpse of what we loved about Mr. Smith) only added to the new boss. He’s NOT the same as the old boss. Men are talking now. Men who, admittedly, do come across as child-like from time to time, but that’s okay. We’ve all got an inner child to take care of, although I do wish mine would stop trying to phone Esther Rantzen.
But, to change tack slightly, men *are* talking now, and have been for quite a while. There’s a middle-aged Scotchman on-screen as we can all see, but the middle-aged Scotchman who runs the enterprise still has his hand firmly on the tiller, and we just can’t avoid talking about the Moffatisms still in place.
MOFFATISM: n; ‘Mystifyingly odd choice made odder knowing it’s been made by a hugely talented writer.’
He still just doesn’t know what to do with young women once they’ve served their purpose – The Girl Who Waited? Well, she did wait, and after that she was rubbish, and got the boot. The Impossible Girl? Well, now she’s not, and while less teeth-grindingly awful than last series, she’s rumoured to be getting the boot too. There’s an off-putting creepiness to some of the writing here, and while it’s difficult to put a finger on, how many lines about young women having no clothes on, or being asked to take their clothes off, or being forcefully medically examined by a giant potato does one show need? Less than this, certainly.
He also likes his Mysterious Older Woman As An Enigma, does our Steven. We’ve had River Song, Madame Kovarian, Idris, Tasha Lem, and here we’re presented with Missy. Now, despite liking Michelle Gomez a lot, our tolerance for forcefully confident puzzle-ladies setting up what generally turn out to be underwhelming season-long semi-mysteries isn’t what it once was. And it wasn’t that big a thing to begin with.
(Sidenote: every member of this year’s writing staff is fully stocked with y-chromosomes, you might be interested to know. Make of that what you will.)
For a lot of people the episode might have lived or died on The Paternoster Gang, and while they provide a healthy degree of the sort of continuity that a regeneration show requires, you either dig them or you don’t. I’m not quite sure what pushes me into the no camp here – maybe it’s the forced humour, maybe it’s wondering why they’d put up with Strax getting everything so wrong all the time, maybe it’s the distinct impression given that they are in fact a bunch of vigilante murderers. It could be any of those. But still, it’s not as if they’re getting their own show or anything. At least not yet.
Talking of being pushed into the NO camp, one wonders what the Scotch Nationalists are going to make of some of the new, playfully-referenced changes. Equal measures glee and irritation, no doubt. This Scotch correspondent wasn’t expecting the little run-through of regional-variation RADA-Scotch ‘accents’ when Doctor realised he was no longer Home Counties-based, but anyone who didn’t like it? Fuck ‘em.
But something does feel fresher about this new series, slightly less bogged down in Moffat’s ultra-teasing style of storytelling engineering. Director Ben Wheatley (of whom we’re fans) brings an unshowy efficiency to the fore, and despite spending slightly too long in the bowels of the restaurant, no actual five-minute period of ‘Deep Breath’ was actually boring, which isn’t something you could ever say about series seven. And while the story’s never going to be hailed as a classic, that’s not really the point of regeneration episodes – they have to get from Oh Noes! to Kthxbai in however many minutes the BBC provide. On that level, ‘Deep Breath’ works.
So we’re breaking out the Official MostlyFilm Benefit Of The Doubt, which to be fair, we have handed to Steven Moffat previously, before he threw it back in our faces in a fit of windy, lobster-faced pique. And we continue to be permitted to yawn at the automatic suggestion of ‘darker’ meaning ‘better’, perhaps sci-fi’s easiest trap. But, maybe the guy Moffat picked to front the show might keep him in check this year. He’s the one with the Oscar, after all.
The last we see of the Doctor in ‘Deep Breath’ is him on a Glasgow shopping street, hassling a pretty girl for money ‘for chips’. There but for the grace of god etc. Still: do look at the title of this post, Mr. Moffat. I really, really hope you’ve got some change in store for us. But anyway, here’s 50p. Just don’t spend it all on drink.
Ricky Young can be avoided on The Tweeter.