TV Evening. Well then yes, ok, there wasn’t a possible scenario in which I wouldn’t write about Doctor Who on Doctor Who night, especially after Keith said such nice things in the comments. There was a moment when I thought, you know what, they can do without me, I want Doctor Who to be just about Doctor Who and not about spending the following two hours writing about it before bedtime and the fixing process during the wait for the ratings in the morning. Why can’t I just make a few weak jokes on Twitter, tut at Gallifrey Base for two minutes then go off and wait for it to appear on the iPlayer so I can watch it again in HD, my television still being one the ones which says it's HD until you try to watch Freeview and the true horror of the deception is revealed. Yet, it’s Saturday night and here I am typing along to Adele’s Daydreamer. Again? Why? Why?
Well, because, frankly, there’s so much to write about. Even after nine years of being back on television, Doctor Who, the entity, the programme, the worldwide broadcasting phenomena, the franchise of franchises, still has the capacity, well the capacity to be old and new, borrowed and blue (actually with as slightly sepia hew but we’ll cover that in the relevant paragraph). It would have been very easy to simply continue the style and substance into the next Doctor’s reign, for the “Moffat era” to have a cohesive sheen ready for cultural theorists to pick over when the next person, sorry Mark Gatiss takes over, but like JNT when Andrew (one l) Cartmel took charge, or earlier under Graham Williams when Douglas Adams handed on to Anthony Root, the tone has changed. It’s a different programme. Except thanks to the differing mechanics of how television work now, it’s the same writer.
There’s a new executive producer of course. But due to the differing balance of power now, this whole shift was Moffat’s choice. He’s been a bit cautious in the run up to publication/projection about exactly how he views the change other than to say it was important to refresh things, and all we've really heard otherwise from both opening director Ben Wheatley (that’s A Field In England's Ben Wheatley) (for goodness sake) and Jenna, was about a darker tone, the scenes being longer, being more like the classic series which seems like a decent structure for the next few paragraphs. There’s just a general sense, despite the presence of the Paternoster Gang and a familiar adversary from the past, of everything being in the air, of the last vestiges of what we might expect from nuWho becoming something which isn’t really, is something else. There’s a political analogy here somewhere, probably, but it escapes me in a way that it doesn’t.
Darkness is an interesting word. How is the show darker? Clara’s literally breathless escape attempt isn’t that different an action beat to Amy pretending she has her eyes closed in the forest even if the former lacks the Doctor’s comforting voice to guide her. Is it that we genuinely didn’t think for a moment that the Doctor wouldn’t return to save Clara? Is it that for a second we thought he’d done something unmentionable to the homeless person to gain his clothes? That he called him a tramp? That he was capable of piking the clockwork man? Notice that we didn’t see a human spontaneously combust, just the dinosaur. Is it that lots of the scenes are visibly lit darker? The new creamier hue to the photography over the previous blues and greens? I’m not sure that it’s much “darker” in terms of story than previously in the likes of The Waters of Mars. We’ll return to this I expect. At this point I’m not sure. I'll get back to you.
Yes, the scenes are longer, and how. Whole scenes full of dialogue, characters talking that go on for minute upon minute without cutting away to something else. Which isn’t to say that in previous post-2005 years there haven’t been long scenes, and The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit springs to mind in this regard, yet here the scenes often play out in oners, on steadycams like some John Wells production or indeed the camera simply abides, with the action playing out within frame. That creates a new sense of unease as we expect a cut away to some other piece of business and yet there’s Clara going and having a look out of the window. We’re not already in the drawing room with Vastra and Jenny. This post-credits scene is six minutes long. Clara’s confrontation with Vastra’s another four minutes. Clara’s initial meeting with the Doctor in Mancini’s is ten minutes before the lift starts.
Lord knows how this will work in a much shorter run time and there’s the potential that along with the simplistic overall story, it’s simply a function of Deep Breath’s duration (finally mentioned the title) and introducing Peter Capaldi (and the new lead actor) nevertheless there’s a genuine sense of taking mid-twentyteens sensibilities and reintegrating the pacing of the classic series circa the 70s and early 80s. Even to the point that you can guess which bits might have been shot in the studio and which on film even though its all shot on HD. Even to the point that you wonder if some of those interior shots which are supposed to be exterior are purposefully looking like interior shots which are supposed to be exterior (because they do) (the beach). I’m almost amazed they bothered to create a CG T-Rex and didn’t simply buy a Walking With Dinosaurs action model from Amazon and push it into frame.
Except the tonal shift runs deeper. After previous regenerations we've been slap bang into a story set "now" (or "year from now"), partly because it was to RTD’s taste and expectation of the need for audience recognition and then Moffat aping such as a way of settling the audience into what was his new house-style then. Yet, here we are again in Victorian London, a place which in the past couple of years has the same claim to being the show’s “contemporary” setting as well, a contemporary setting. This isn’t quite like the shift from Pertwee to Baker. The Fourth Doctor was annoyed whenever the Brigadier dragged him back to Earth. It’s a shift in how the Moffat somewhat trusts the audience to keep with the show (more later) even when the setting doesn’t reflect their world, presumably because at this point the pretence that Earth-5556 has anything to do with the real world is unforeseeable.
But like The Eleventh Hour, he’s careful to provide enough points of familiarity, not least Vastra, Jenny and Strax being brilliant (and complaining about their screen time is like moaning about the Brigadier and Harry being in Robot a lot). Clara’s vital in this too, since as the other main tributary of continuity, she’s now shifted from being plot point in search of a character to fully fledged companion and viewpoint figure for the audience saying all the things we might potentially say about the new Doctor, perhaps voicing many of the comments that greeted Capaldi’s announcement in comment sections across the web. You could view that whole scene as Vastra telling such people to behave themselves and hold in their ageist prejudices. To an extent, that’s the bad cop approach, essentially saying “He’s the Doctor whether you like it or not…” and people will react to that the way that people will react to things.
Having always been a fan of Jenna Coleman, but understanding people’s resistance to her because of her status within the arc of the bottom eight last year, I was unsurprised by her luminance in Deep Breath. Having been hired because of her chemistry with one leading man, she’s continued that, albeit in a different way, with another and yes, I’m going to say it, in much the same way as Lis Sladen back in the day. Unlike Sarah-Jane however, this is arguably the same Clara. It’s simply, as we’ve discussed, she has tons more dialogue and character beats which aren’t about plot so much as giving her some extra dimensions. One oddity is her not apparently knowing who Amy is, or indeed the notion of regeneration which is which is at variance with what we saw in The Name of the Doctor, Clara and the TARDIS and The Ultimate Guide. Hmm….
The good cop approach is Matt Smith storming re-emergence at the end. This had been spoiled months ago by someone eavesdropping on set that day, but they’d surmised it was some message, yet instead here he was, the previous model interloping on his successors introduction. When was this shot? During the Time of the Doctor with Jenna filming the other side of the scene months later? Pixley only know but if so, it’s seamless and again, a new approach to an old problem but a problem which has changed slightly also thanks to the reason why the show went on the transcontinental publicity tour. Matt Smith helped break the show across the world and to some extent it is for that audience to reassure them that this is the same character with a different face. It’s also for kids for whom he was their first Doctor to reassure them of the same thing, in a different way.
You could ask why this is necessary - Tom’s Doctor didn’t phone Peter’s companions to reassure them ("Hello, Adric? Is that you? Could you put Nyssa on, I want to have a chat about the new chap.") but like I said Matt Smith is, or rather was as much a part of the brand as the TARDIS and sonic screwdrivers and although the show has always sold internationally it was nothing like this. Even the New York Times today ran a Capaldi interview and I haven’t seen Twitter speaking with one voice to quite this degree outside of proper news stories since the 50th. More than ever this is a managed transition and if those closing moments resemble anything, it's a US presidential inauguration albeit with a time and space machine being handed over rather than a country, and a single fictional constituent who didn’t vote for change to be convinced that it’ll be ok.
Having just rewatched that scene back it’s notable just how well directed and edited it is. When Twelfth asks Clara to look at him, his eyebrows and the rest of his face fill the frame but when we cut back to Jenna it’s from a side on view, then back to Capaldi’s face and it’s like we’re viewing him together and I bet there were a few of us who did finally accept him as the Doctor in the moment when she finally hugged him (though given the complex cleverness of his performance I expect it was much earlier than that). In an episode which if Extradential is anything to go by was shot in continuity, we can see the actor learning to play the character on screen as the character discovers himself and in those moments it is as though the performance reaches a nexus point (having toured a fair few Baker and Tennant-like moments along the way). He is the Doctor and I like it a lot.
Which would be the perfect conclusion to this thing I wasn’t going to write especially since it’s gone midnight, but what to make of the ending after the ending? Having said that the story arcs would be on the low-low this year here’s Michelle Gomez dressed as Eliza Doolittle and claiming to be the Doctor’s girlfriend Missy (“I mean Mom.”) (no scratch that, wrong telephone box) in what looks like the garden simulation from The Girl Who Waited. It seems like a classic misdirect from Moffat to cause to us moan about the adherence of the repeated Melody-Lem but if she is the one who's helping to keep these two together, whatever could her motive be? All will be hopefully be revealed in time for the 51st anniversary, give or take a couple of weeks. Has the Doctor given up on his quest for Gallifrey or will she turn out to be the vital clue that leads to its resurrection?