A Deeper Breath – more on Doctor Who

The first viewing is raw, impressions are quick, and it’s about trying to get the vibe of it, The Castle style. Later, on reflection, and upon a brief survey of what other people think (everything from deep love to resentment at this new guy and the title sequence), it’s time for further analysis of Deep Breath.

Writers are taught, or learn, to show, don’t tell. On and on. And in Deep Breath, I felt there was much telling. There were telling conversations, grand soliloquies and heart breaking dialogue. The action serves to deliver a mystery to solve (as each must), but also reflects aspects of these conversations (as I discussed in the previous post regarding identity and change). But still, there was an awful lot of telling scattered throughout the robots, the dinosaur and restaurant that was a space ship (sadly not like the Bistromath).

Perhaps so much talking made it feel like melodrama. But in its defence, within the story regeneration is a big deal, and from outside of the plot, changing the main character of a very successful long running TV show is also a big deal. Over-emotional excitement, fear, and a bit of cheesy stuff seems par for the course, compared with similar episodes.

However, there was more talking about who and what the Doctor should be in this episode than in previous regeneration episodes. David Tennant’s doctor wondered who he was, briefly, in The Christmas Invasion, and then revealed who he was through his interactions with the aliens, the Prime Minister, and the Doubting Rose. It was in this sense, of more showing and less telling that he discovered he could talk a lot, find meaning in the Lion King, fight with a sword and not give second chances, all in his jim jams. All his actions and then his choice of outfit completed him…and that’s it – he won Rose’s approval and ours.

In the 11th Hour, Matt Smith’s Doctor had little time for introspection, except to briefly wonder if he was a girl. His Doctor was shaped around what Amelia had to feed him and the mystery she presented. Later, he is shaped by Amy, the girl who lies about her identity and pretends to be other people for entertainment, and all this happens before he realises what he looks like. In addition, he takes the clothes of other people. More than previous Doctor’s he is influenced by others – especially Amelia/Amy. In her presence, he is an awkward son-in-law with the look of a rakish nephew, big brother, friend, replacement family, guardian, and sometimes something-almost more-ish if it wasn’t for Rory. With Amy and Rory gone it was their loss that then shaped him; his grief and latent anger driving him headlong into Clara and the new family that is the Paternoster Gang.

Which brings me to Clara.

With Clara I’m not sure the viewers are completely seeing The Doctor from her point of view – as we did with Rose. Which is funny if you think about the word – Clara – Clarity – seeing clearly. I think their relationship is, if anything, both more straightforward and more hidden than The Doctor’s with Amy or Rose or Martha. Straightforward because the episode in a very didactic manner tells (again not showed) us it is not romantic, and hidden because Clara feels like she is still working out who she is. Or maybe we are working out which Clara she could be. This also means there is a certain distance or reserve. Are we really on her side, if she is doubtful of The Doctor again? She may not really see The Doctor, but are we or The Doctor really seeing her clearly?

Furthermore, Clara doesn’t show The Doctor who he is, like Amelia does, but tells him directly. Maybe this is somehow meant to be a comment on her role as a teacher? But the best teachers, in my mind, get students to find the answers. Anyway, in the ship Clara says out loud he is there to rescue her, and later, contradicts his own emerging knowledge of himself – see below:


No hugging - I'm Scottish.

No hugging – I’m Scottish.

Again, the writing  is reflexive of the medium. Thus, as for being someone with a unique perspective on regenerations, Clara is more like the viewer than ever before. She has knowledge of his past selves, been inside his head, but as with many viewers, remains suspicious and doubtful of the new Doctor’s self. Like viewers, she is both prepared to abandon him, but willing to be convinced too. The Doctor needing Clara is thus, directly analogous to a program needing viewers, and in fact for writers and their need for readers. Yet, it also says something about the need for acceptance in relationships of all kinds.

The Clara/Doctor relationship works both ways. The loss of the Ponds means The Doctor – for all that he let Clara in (literally inside his timeline) – pushes Clara away (eg excluding her with talks with the Tasha Lem of the Papal Mainframe). However, The Doctor is always the one running back to Clara – every Wednesday off they go.  He is both distant and protective of her and I think this will change. Perhaps Clara will become distant, or, perhaps she will become more, not exactly maternal, but represent his softer side while I hope she learns to toughen the hell up and stop looking so scared.  Perhaps she will get to be the protective one, as Deep Breath indicates, as the Doctor gets to demonstrate more of his analytical Malcolm Tucker side.

This is where the emotional negotiations will take place and drive the tension between them or resolve who they are to each other. And part of this maybe bound up in why <insert whatever> wants them together. Thus, identity, emotions, trust, and what these two are to each other and say to each other maybe more important to the overall arc of this season than previous Doctor/companion situations.

So, for all of his more thorny attributes, this Doctor may get more time than ever to talk about who he is and what he feels. That would be a cool contrast to previous incarnations and a better focus than just oooo Old Doctor.

In the end it kinda comes back to the choice to hire Peter Capaldi. Since he has played characters in both Who and Torchwood, I wonder if the series has made a rod for its back regarding finding an explanation for his regeneration. Or whether it provides an opportunity to explore aspects of The Doctor’s physiology and personality that are rarely discussed. Hiring Capaldi means viewers must suspend disbelief to forget we’ve seen him before. Alternatively, our awareness must be heightened so hiring this particular (very fine actor) must be made meaningful. I can only hope the meaning drawn from his regeneration is worth the weight/wait of (possibly) an entire series.

But it’s not like aspects of regeneration haven’t been talked about before. It was a seemingly throwaway line but Melody Pond ‘concentrating on a dress size’ as she becomes River Song indicates the possible influence of conscious thought on regeneration, and I suppose we can also add subconscious influences too. Earlier, when we met the Tardis, The Doctor spoke of fellow Time Lords – and mentioned their choice of gender when regenerating. So all of this feeds into whether This Doctor had a choice to become what we see before us, or whether it was driven by an undercurrent of something and what this means.

So we wonder, what was the writing foreshadowing? There is the Papal Mainframe, The Wire, The Library where River Song is stored, and the episode where people are rewritten like software while others were uploaded to the net. Now, we have the promise of a new exploration of the nexus between technology, religion and identity  – this time with the purported paradise of the robots. And again we have The Doctor being so sure of something, only to have the final scene look like he is absolutely wrong.

To sum up. I suspect identity, trust and how relationships of all kinds can shape and inform who individuals become, will remain themes for a while yet. Most especially since the next episode is Into the Dalek and there is no better SF metaphor for the notion of a public mask (of cold efficiency) versus deep inner turmoil and self loathing than a Dalek.

Of course I could be wrong about everything.

I mean it’s only a kids family TV show, right?

2 thoughts on “A Deeper Breath – more on Doctor Who

  1. In regards to that last line… absolutely not! Ha ha! Great, reflective piece here, Bec. You got me considering aspects of the Doctor’s changing identity that had not occurred to me before.

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