Doctor Who: Deep Breath

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Written by Peter Grehan

We seem to live in a culture that worships youth and superficial good looks. A good indicator of this is the growing number of ‘pretty young things’ presenting science and nature programmes and the way they are centred in shot while looking at some specimen of fauna or flora in an exotic location. This is often after a prolonged sequence of them travelling along a road or track in an open 4×4, their hair blowing in the wind like some seventies TV shampoo advert. It seems that even in science, if you want to make it onto the small screen, you have to have the looks as well as the brains.
The producers of Doctor Who’s almost palpable nervousness, therefore, in introducing us to the oldest manifestations of the Doctor is understandable. (William Hartnell was 1 year younger than Peter Capaldi when he started playing the Doctor). Throughout the episode there are reassuring references to the continuity of Doctor Who, like mention of the robot head companion “Handles”, “Round things on the Wall” (of the TARDIS), “a big, long scarf” and of course the presence of the Paternoster Gang. To be fair the regeneration of a Doctor can be a traumatic time for a fan. I know several (mostly female) fans of David Tennant’s Doctor who now refuse to watch the series. Most fans will preserver and learn to love the new manifestation of the Time Lord, but an older Doctor is something of a culture shock. The writer Steven Moffat almost admits this through the Character of the Silurian madam Vastra, when she says,
“He looked young. Who do you think that was for? … Everyone. I wear a veil as he wore a face for the same reason. …To be accepted.”
A young (pretty) Doctor helped the regenerated series establish itself and allowed that smouldering sexual tension between the companion and the Doctor to heighten the interest for a new generation of fans. But here also Moffat adds clarification in the dialogue between companion Clara Oswald and the Doctor,
DOCTOR: …Clara, I’m not your boyfriend.
CLARA: I never thought you were.
DOCTOR: I never said it was your mistake.
It was perhaps the mistake of the new generation of Fans, those who wanted there to be “relationships” between the Doctor and his companion, a mistake that longing standing fans of Classic Doctor Who would never make. Moffat is putting the record straight, announcing a new era of the series that has deep roots to its past.
Making the Doctor old is brave, even with an actor of the class of Peter Capaldi, so the producers enact their concerns between Clara, representing the audience, and the Doctor; even bringing the “young” eleventh Doctor in to give his seal of approval and persuade the audience to allow him time for them to get to know him.
Deep Breath represents a huge change and the antagonists, the clockwork androids and the half-face man mirror this perfectly. The androids were original part of the complement of SS Marie Antoinette, a time travelling spaceship that had crashed in Earth’s pre-historic past and, presumably, the sister ship of the Madame De Pompadour from the tenth Doctor story The Girl in the Fireplace. Like the androids in that story the repair droids use human beings as a source of spare parts. The control node droid, the Half-Face Man, has had so many human part replacements it is now more Cyborg than android. It also seems to have acquired a human trait of believing in a promised land, which is its justification for all the killing it has done; a reference to religious ideological justified murder perhaps? In the final confrontation between the Doctor and the Half-Face Man the Doctor challenges the notion that they are the same androids that originally travelled on SS Marie Antoinette.
“You take a broom, you replace the handle, and then later you replace the brush, and you do that over and over again. Is it still the same broom? Answer? No, of course it isn’t. …You have replaced every piece of yourself, mechanical and organic, time and time again. There’s not a trace of the original you left. You probably can’t even remember where you got that face from.”
The Doctor then holds up a silver plate between himself and the Half-Face Man, but it reflects on both sides and the Doctor has just echoed himself discussing his face with Barney, the homeless man,
“You know, I never know where the faces come from.” But the Doctor is meant to regenerate and survive for a long time, the androids were not.
There are hints of a Moffat story arc with appearance of the intriguing Missy, the Gatekeeper of the Nethersphere, at the end of the story, referring to the Doctor as her boyfriend. Then there is the reference to a woman bringing the Doctor and Clara together in the first place and possibly placing the advertisement in the newspaper for their appointment at Mancini’s restaurant.
All in all a very promising start to a new era of Doctor Who.

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