Normally I’d stop responding to people like you after making my first pithy remark, but I have to admit that I’m fascinated. You don’t actually think episode reviews are something that Tumblr made up, do you?
Like, do you think we’re the first ones to look at the details of a plot and think about why the writers wrote an episode the way they did? Do you think we’re the first ones to pay close attention to the way an actor plays a part, and think about why they interpreted the role the way they did?
You think it’s sad that people do this? Seriously, there’s entire industries around doing reviews for everything. People get paid ridiculous sums of money to review movies, TV shows, and all kinds of products. People make their careers out of doing this. Have you never heard of Roger Ebert?
Now, I’m no Roger Ebert. This isn’t my career, and I’m not making ridiculous sums of money to do this (obligatory Patreon campaign plug here). This is my hobby.
But for a hobby, I’m doing pretty damn well. I’ve found a great community who are always willing to talk feminism and Doctor Who with me. I’ve had my work published in an anthology. And the university I just graduated from is funding my entire trip to London next weekend so that I can present my paper discussing feminism and Doctor Who at a symposium.
Yes, you’re right, my life is very sad. I’m going to be crying for hours on my free flight to London, drinking my free wine, so that I can hang out with awesome Whovians for a weekend in London, for free.
“Eccleston was a tiger and Tennant was, well, Tigger. Smith is an uncoordinated housecat who pretends that he meant to do that after falling off a piece of furniture.” — Steven Moffat
I think we all know who that makes Capaldi.
This is the best thing I’ve ever seen in my life.
Except THAT WASN’T MOFFAT!!!! Or if it was, he got it from elsewhere, namely from Lynne M. Thomas, editor of Chicks Dig Time Lords.
Lynne! Time for some provenance. ;-)
I see it.
You don’t understand the purpose of episode reviews, do you?
Yes, I know it is a week late, and yes, I KNOW that those of you in the UK are already watching the new episode, but my review of “Deep Breath” has finally been posted. I’m very sorry about the delay, but it couldn’t be helped.
But, I’ve moved into my new apartment, and for now my schedule will be a bit more reliable. I’ll be live-tweeting “Into the Dalek” during the US East Coast premiere, and my review will be posted by Monday at the latest.
Thanks for being so patient!
If you’ll forgive the pun, “Deep Breath” was a welcome breath of fresh air, bringing a much needed shift in tone and format and exploring characters in new and exciting ways. It was, of course, not a perfect episode, and I found that many of my early misgivings about this series of Doctor Who were realized. Yet, in spite of all of its problems, I found the episode engaging, and my interest in the Doctor and Clara as characters has been renewed. And, for the first time in a long time, I’m actually interested in seeing the next episode of Doctor Who.
The main plot of the episode was engaging but unobtrusive. It lingered in the background, injecting dread and driving the plot at crucial moments, but otherwise allowing the focus to be on the character-driven drama. To my surprise, I even liked the return of the clockwork droids. I was initially wary when it was revealed Moffat would be bringing them back for this episode because he has a tendency to take his uniquely terrifying villains and drive them into the ground until they are just ridiculous. But the clockwork droids remained macabre, and the half face man managed to be both poignant and terrifying.
The Paternoster Gang returned to provide support for Clara and the Doctor after their dramatic return to London (can we say that being thrown up by giant T-Rex in Victorian London is the most dramatic entrance a new Doctor has ever made?). Strax, as usual, was a bit too ridiculous for my taste, but Vastra and Jenny were unexpectedly interesting to watch this episode. I’ve always wanted to like Jenny and Vastra more than I do because, well for god’s sake, they’re a lesbian sword-wielding couple who (in Doctor Who, at least) provide the original inspiration for Sherlock Holmes! And they are so sweetly in love with each other that they are always charming to watch. Yet their relationship has always been a bit problematic. There’s been a lot of commentary on Tumblr about the weird way Jenny and Vastra maintain the Master-Servant dynamic in public and in private. And a lot of people had been frustrated that Jenny and Vastra had never shared an onscreen kiss, something that became exceptionally problematic last season when the only kiss Jenny received was an aggressive, non-consensual one from the Doctor.
Yet to my surprise, both of these issues were addressed in “Deep Breath.” After Vastra remarks that she and Jenny maintain a pretense of Master and servant in public to be accepted, Jenny sarcastically comments on the fact that she’s treated like a servant in private too. And in the final climatic battle against the clockwork droids, Jenny and Vastra share a sort-of-kiss so that Vastra can share oxygen with Jenny.
So, has Steven Moffat been reading Tumblr in his spare time? If so, I’m thrilled that he seems to be trying to address these problems, but a little bit disappointed by the execution. After Jenny’s comment that she’s treated like a servant in private, Vastra shushes her, and everything continues on as normal with no change in their dynamic. And the “controversial” Jenny-Vastra kiss was actually a bit disappointing. Compare it to the kiss Jack and the Doctor shared in the Series 1 finale. That kiss required no justification and none was given. It was an intimate act—even between friends—given for the sole purpose that Jack was fond of the Doctor and fully expected to never see him again. But Jenny and Vastra didn’t even really kiss. It wasn’t an emotional, intimate act. Jenny and Vastra locked lips for a pragmatic purpose: so that Vastra could share the oxygen stored in her lungs with the oxygen-deprived Jenny. Why can’t they, as wives, lovers, and friends, just kiss?
"Deep Breath" also gave us our first real introduction to Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. And wow, what a Doctor he will be. He may not have Matt Smith’s rapid fire pace, but his Doctor is dynamic, fierce, and intense. He is brusque and coarse. He puts on no affable pretense and will tell you directly to your face exactly what he thinks of you. He seems to be a much more introspective Doctor, and he seems much more willing to directly confront his faults and his responsibilities. Yet he still retains the Doctor’s ridiculous charm.
This episode may have been about introducing us to Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, but it was Jenna Coleman’s Clara who was the true star of “Deep Breath.”
Poor Clara has been neglected by the narrative lately. I’ve been complaining for quite a while that Clara had little defining characteristics beyond her mystery and her title as “The Impossible Girl,” but in “Deep Breath” I felt we finally were getting to know Clara as a person. Exhausted from chasing after a newly regenerated Doctor, distraught at his sudden change, and deeply hurt that he couldn’t remember her, Clara still managed to keep her wits and continued fighting to keep him safe. As the Doctor said, she’s brilliant on adrenalin.
And despite being constantly challenged and insulted by both the Paternoster gang and the Doctor, Clara always defended herself. Quite possibly my favorite moment of the entire episode was when she stood up to Vastra for assuming that she only travelled with the Doctor because he looked like a pretty young man, which I also interpreted to be a wonderful meta-commentary on the rampant assumptions of many that young women will stop watching Doctor Who because they were drawn in by pretty young men playing the Doctor. Some have been upset that Vastra implied that the Doctor has appeared to be a young man so that he will be accepted by his young female companions, but I interpreted this as an attempt by Vastra to antagonize Clara, rather than a commentary on why the Doctor has appeared young in recent regenerations.
Overall, I’m pretty happy with how “Deep Breath” addressed the end of the romance between Clara and the Doctor. Clara may not have just travelled with the Eleventh Doctor because she fancied him, but it was clear that she did fancy him. The Twelfth Doctor made it very clear that he was not going to be Clara’s “Boyfriend,” but did not shame her for feeling that way about his former self and acknowledged his own role in encouraging her romantic feelings toward him.
However, I was bothered by the incredibly high number of insults Clara endured throughout this episode. Deflected narcissism. Control freak. Egomaniacal needy game player. Moffat really doubled down on trying to characterize Clara as a bossy control freak, but I’m just not seeing it. Sure, she’s assertive and likes to be in control of situations, but she’s not overly controlling or bossy. And her attempts to boss the Doctor around don’t hold a candle to some previous companions, like Donna.
I have very mixed feelings about the dynamic between the Doctor and Clara. On the one hand (and this is probably going to sound very strange to all of you who have been following me for awhile) I actually liked that he seemed to be a much less reliable Doctor. That moment where the Doctor abandons Clara to the clockwork droids chilled me to my core, and I liked it.
Because the truth is, the Doctor has never really been a reliable friend to Clara. It was shocking and horrifying that the Twelfth Doctor put her in danger and lied about his intentions to get more information about the droids, leaving a terrified Clara to fend for herself. But how was that substantially any different from the Eleventh Doctor taking Clara along with him on his adventures to try to figure out how multiple versions of her have existed across time and space, knowing that this could put her in mortal danger, and deliberately hiding his intentions from Clara?
This has forced Clara for the first time to directly confront the fact that the Doctor is not reliable and does not always have her best interests at heart.
And yet, I was frustrated by the ultimate resolution between Clara and the Twelfth Doctor. Clara had clearly been through quite a lot throughout this episode and was disconcerted by the change in the Doctor. When she said “I don’t know who the Doctor is anymore,” she was very justified in doing so. But the focus was entirely on reassuring the Doctor. Matt Smith’s cameo was sweet, but ultimately it was about convincing Clara that she should remain with the Doctor because her fear was not as great as his. I can’t even begin to tell you how mad this made me. Clara was put in danger and abandoned several times by the Doctor; she was afraid by how unreliable this new Doctor seemed. But instead of confronting this problem, Clara is simply guilted for not accepting the Doctor as he is.
I don’t want the Doctor to more visibly be an unreliable friend to Clara because Moffat finds it fun to mess with Clara. The Doctor is a very flawed protagonist, and Doctor Who is at its best when it acknowledges and confronts this fact. If this is going to be a more prominent part of the Twelfth Doctor’s characterization, I want the show to address it and confront it. It’s early yet in the Twelfth Doctor’s tenure, but I have to say that the end to “Deep Breath” didn’t give me much hope that this will be meaningfully addressed.
This wasn’t Steven Moffat at his best, but “Deep Breath” was, in my opinion, his best work since Series 5. With a new Doctor and an opportunity to redefine the dynamic between the Doctor and his companion, Moffat seemed to finally be challenging himself to break out of his old patterns. And I’m curious to see what the rest of the Series will bring.
Yes, I promise! Ugh, I hate being this late but I swear there was nothing I could do about it. I’m writing it up right as we speak and I promise episode reviews will actually be on time for the rest of this series!
Yes! I will be posting reviews of every episode this season!
I was supposed to post a review about Deep Breath tonight, but I just moved into a new apartment and just got the internet turned on here, so it won’t be posted until tomorrow evening.
After the train-wreck of an episode that was "The Time of the Doctor," I was ready to quit watching new episodes of Doctor Who altogether. This blog makes me feel obligated to continue watching, though I did very seriously consider spending the fall reviewing Season 8 of Classic Who instead, thinking it would be more enjoyable. (Spoiler alert: I did watch it and it is ridiculously fun.)
But in spite of my strong dislike for the current direction of Doctor Who, I find myself intrigued by what Series 8 might bring. Optimistic, even. If some of the early teasers and interviews regarding Series 8 can be believed, some of the major problems of Series 7 might be corrected.
Let’s start by discussing one of the most widely quoted statements by Peter Capaldi, given during an interview with the Sunday Times Magazine (note: the interview itself is behind a pay wall):
There’ll be no flirting, that’s for sure. It’s not what this Doctor’s concerned with. It’s quite a fun relationship, but no, I did call and say, ‘I want no Papa-Nicole moments.’ I think there was a bit of tension with that at first, but I was absolutely adamant.
When I read this quote, I quite literally sighed with relief. Unfortunately in recent episodes, “flirting” has come closer to resembling sexual harassment, and attempts to put the Doctor and his companion in sexualized situations have become increasingly uncomfortable. In “The Time of the Doctor,” for example, the Doctor attempts to show Clara’s family they are dating by slapping her ass. And the primary comedic conceit of that episode was an extended nudity gag, in which Clara and the Doctor were walking around naked (but wearing holographic clothes because “family show”). At one point the punchline of the gag was that thousands of people had just viewed Clara naked without her knowledge or express consent.
Now, the lack of flirting by the Doctor doesn’t mean there won’t be any questionable “flirtatious” behavior in Doctor Who, but I am glad that at the very least it won’t be coming from the Doctor. I’m especially thrilled that Capaldi has adamantly refused any “Papa-Nicole” moments. (For the confused, “Papa-Nicole” is a reference to car advertisements in the 1990s that created an impression of a romantic relationship between a man and a younger woman before revealing they were father and daughter. Don’t worry, I had to look it up too.) I was fully expecting several exasperating moments where the will-they won’t-they dynamic was strung along, but I’m glad that dynamic is going to be killed off fairly quickly.
Series 8 will also apparently bring a dramatic shift in tone and format. One of the biggest problems I had with Series 7 was the movie of the week format. While the episodes themselves had a larger, grander feel, they also felt isolated and disconnected. There was little to no continuing character growth from one episode to the next. Big emotional scenes would happen with little grounding or build-up, making them feel hollow and ultimately unsatisfying.
But Series 8 will apparently be moving away from that format. In an interview with Empire Magazine, Jenna Coleman stated that: “Steven [Moffat]’s changed the format quite a lot. We have much longer scenes now.” Ben Wheatley, who directs the first two episodes, added: “For me, they’re back to Classic Who, or the mid-Tennant adventures, where you’d tell a story and move on to the next one, less tied up in the final machinations of long plot arcs.”
And in the same Sunday Times Interview, Capaldi stated:
We still blow a lot of shit up. That’s very important, but it’s going to be a bit different from what we’ve seen over recent years. A bit more gravity. Some situations are more sombre and I think there are more rooted dramatic scenes. Over the past two or three years, which I’ve loved, there has often been a breathless vigour; we still have that attack, but we have another level of drama, another tone. And the scenes are longer.
Hopefully, this means there will be more quiet moments to explore the Doctor and Clara’s relationship together. I’m also hoping this means there will be more opportunities to explore Clara’s character. Clara has so much potential, and Jenna Coleman plays her with such charm and sass that I really want to like her. But I still don’t feel like I know much about her character, and I want to see more of how Clara has grown since the Series 7 finale.
Unfortunately, Clara is also the person I’m most concerned for this Series. In a interview given way back in January, Moffat discussed Clara’s relationship with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor:
But once she had the Doctor on a leash, as she did with the Matt Smith Doctor, she just seemed so totally in control and so sort of perfect and sweet that you really wanted to mess her around a bit and say, now let’s give her a situation that she can’t control […] Now we’re going to give her a Doctor who’s not like that at all, who’s a much older, fiercer, madder, less reliable Doctor, who leads her a merry dance.
At the time this quote was released I was very concerned, in part because I felt like Moffat had vastly overstated the amount of control Clara actually had over her life. Clara was bossy and she had control over some very superficial things, like limiting their adventures to a weekly date, but the Doctor was never very reliable and had no problem acting without her knowledge or consent if he felt it was best for her. He had knowledge about her life and the different copies of her that existed, yet refused to share that information with her, with nearly fatal consequences. In “The Time of the Doctor,” he was more than happy to abandon Clara on Earth, even when he explicitly promised not to. Clara never really had “control” over him.
Yet, after I spent the summer watching Classic Who, particularly the Pertwee era, my feelings towards this quote have slightly shifted. The Third Doctor is, without a doubt, my favorite Classic Who Doctor, and his relationship with Jo Grant is one of my favorite companion-Doctor relationships, ranking right up there with Ten and Donna.
The Third Doctor is almost exactly the type of Doctor Moffat described: he’s an older, fiercer, less reliable Doctor. He is pompous, condescending, and patronizing to almost everyone he encounters, except for the times in which he is charming, gracious, and sweet. He’s very fierce, demanding respect and willing to fight (physically or verbally) with those who oppose him. And he’s also just a bit ridiculous-this is the Doctor who paused during a sword fight with the Master to eat a sandwich and made it look good.
Many comparisons have already been drawn between Capaldi and Pertwee, from the way Capaldi’s poses echo Pertwee’s publicity shots, to the way the red lining on his coat reflects the red lining of Pertwee’s cape. Capaldi is also probably the only Doctor who is able to compete with Pertwee in the eyebrow-acting department.
So if this is the type of Doctor Moffat and Capaldi are aiming for, I hope they also reflect the relationship between the Third Doctor and Jo Grant. The Doctor never seemed very reliable during his time with Jo at UNIT. You had the feeling that he would leave at any moment if he could, and even when his TARDIS was functioning properly it seemed as if the Doctor was only very tenuously remaining at UNIT. He would often essentially kidnap Jo, taking her on journeys to far flung planets even if she just wanted to stay at home and go on a date. Worst of all, he would often be downright rude and patronizing to Jo.
Jo rarely directly criticized the Doctor for his behavior, but it was often shown in quiet ways that his behavior was inappropriate. In “The Curse of Peladon,” there’s a lovely moment where Jo blunders in and scares off the monster Aggedor, which the Doctor had been trying to capture. After the Doctor berates her, Jo points out that she was only trying to save him. The Doctor relents, agrees with her, and even praises her for being brave enough to endanger herself to save his life. Similarly, in their heart-breaking final episode together, Jo and the Doctor dance around the conflict that Jo doesn’t want to travel to far-flung planets anymore, when there are problems here on Earth that she wants to address. In the end, they quietly, mutually acknowledge that the Doctor’s life isn’t what Jo wants anymore.
I still am very wary of the fact that Moffat seems not to recognize how little control Clara had in her life. But I hope that creating a more visibly fiercer and less reliable Doctor will force him to more directly address the fact that the Doctor isn’t very reliable and that Clara has never really had any control over her interactions with him. Ultimately, it could mean we have more honest and direct scenes discussing their relationship.
So, I will be watching “Deep Breath” tonight with considerably more optimism than I had at the end of “The Time of the Doctor.” This could mean that I am setting myself up for an even greater letdown. I don’t expect this coming Series to be perfect; I know from spoilers from the leaked scripts that there will be moments in this coming episode that I will not enjoy. But for now, I will give Doctor Who another chance.
I’ll be live tweeting “Deep Breath” during the US East Coast premiere tonight @WhovianFeminism. Follow me there to watch my live reactions!
As you all probably noticed, I haven’t been active on Tumblr for the past few days. There was a pretty good reason for that: I was just hired for my first post-college job! Meet Benton, my tiny desk-dinosaur, who was given to me by my new supervisor and who now guards my desk-TARDIS!
This is an amazing job that will become the foundation for the rest of my career, and the reason I’m gushing to you all about it is because I wouldn’t have gotten it without you. I’m serious. This blog was listed on my resume and was discussed during my interview. You all helped me get my first real job, and I can’t thank you enough for it.
But I’m also telling you about this because I want to encourage everyone who follows me to keep writing and engaging critically with pop culture. Even if you’re just writing commentary in the tags, or adding small notes on a reblogged post. Don’t be dissuaded or discouraged by people who tell you that this type of commentary isn’t important, or that Tumblr isn’t a valid medium. Everyone starts somewhere, and your start can come from anywhere.
This will be a little hectic for me over the next few weeks between settling into the new job and moving into a new apartment, so please be patient as there will likely be fewer posts. But I’ll be back in full force once Series 8 starts, and there will be many updates during the first week of September when I’m in London for the Doctor Who Politics and Law symposium.
Again, thank you all so much!