The Trouble with Amy Pond: Reflections on Series 5 of Doctor Who

Major spoilers for Series Five ahead!

Christopher Eccleston was my first Doctor. And David Tennant became my favorite. I was sorry when Russell T. Davies left Doctor Who as showrunner because he had introduced me to a TV series that celebrated the best in humanity and encouraged them to look to the stars–for adventure, for wonder, for hope. Still, I was excited to see what Steven Moffat would do with the show. His episodes “Blink,” “Silence in the Library,” and “Forest of the Dead” were some of my favorites. I appreciated the tight storytelling, the suspense, the drama. What could he do with an entire season?

Series 5 of Doctor Who is undeniably more dramatic than previous seasons. It moves away from the campy and feels more like a big-budget production. Even the CGI looks better. But it’s not all show. The storytelling is tight and the characters have real, emotional moments. There’s just one glaring issue I have with the season: Amy Pond.

Amy Pond never feels like real character to me. Even though she has issues and insecurities, even though she can be brave and clever, she always feels like some sort of cardboard character who runs around following the Doctor mainly because someone writing the show thinks she’s sexy. I can never really understand what she is thinking or why she is acting certain ways because she weirdly toggles between acting childlike and being overly sexualized, as if that’s some sort of turn-on for someone: “innocence” combined with repeated references to her sexual appetites.

I’m not opposed to having sexy characters onscreen or woman who admit they like sex. However, Amy’s choices do not really feel like Amy’s. They feel like a male writer’s. Adult Amy is introduced to viewers in a “sexy police officer” outfit and she spends the rest of the season wearing short shorts and mini skirts, even when it is supposed to be cold. She says her job is a “kiss-o-gram”–that is, she goes to parties and kisses people–which basically sounds like it’s supposed to be a family-friendly version of a prostitute (Doctor Who is a family show). Then, weirdly, she spends the next few seasons acting childlike, being friends with the Doctor, saving planets and worlds with her good heart. All until the out-of-left-field moment where she sexually assaults the Doctor.

Let’s be clear. If Amy were male and the Doctor were female, the scene in which Amy repeatedly throws the Doctor against the TARDIS and tries to rip off his clothing while he protests and tries to run away would be read as an attempted rape. However, the show plays it off for laughs. Or maybe it’s supposed to be a turn-on. I’m not really sure. I just know that Amy’s sexuality was basically non-existent since her kiss-o-gram debut, until it’s revealed here in a very tasteless and uncomfortable scene. Amy and the Doctor had, until this point, seemed like the very best of friends, with Amy consistently relying on him in a childlike manner–all in keeping with the “fairy tale” vibes the season wants to give. Suddenly, she’s got the hots for the Doctor.

Her feelings for the Doctor will come up sporadically after this scene. For example, in the episode “Amy’s Choice,” the Dream Lord presents Amy, Rory (her fiance), and the Doctor with two realities and asks them to identify the dream one or be killed. He mentions Amy’s naughty dreams. Then he repeatedly asks her to choose: Rory or the Doctor. This is particularly weird because one reality has Amy and Rory married, with Amy expecting a child. (The repeated references to her size are, by the way, incredibly sexist.) In another episode, the beginning of the season finale, the Doctor makes a reference to how much trouble they can get in with Amy surrounded by a bunch of hot Roman soldiers. Her sexuality is constantly discussed (and mocked), even though it sort of seems at odds with how Karen Gillan typically chooses to play the character.

The two sides of Amy’s character–innocence and sexuality–never fully seem integrated or resolved. This, of course, raises the issue of whether sex should really be read as the opposite of innocence. In creating a disjunction between the two sides of Amy, the show (perhaps inadvertently) casts sex as potentially something bad. Yet it simultaneously is clearly trying to use Amy’s sexuality as a way to hook viewers. The result is not a character, but a mess.

Amy Pond just doesn’t resonate as a companion the way Rose, Martha, and Donna did. She has Rory, yes, but otherwise she seems to have no family, no background, no life. We do not even know how she and Rory started dating or engaged–which I would like to know, since I am consistently baffled by Rory’s obvious devotion to Amy when she treats him like dirt and runs after other men, even trying to snog the Doctor in the bushes on her wedding day! Amy has nothing grounding her and this makes it difficult to figure out who she really is or what she wants. (Well, even Amy doesn’t know what she wants.) Her main dilemma throughout the series is her impending marriage, which, once again, focuses everything around her love life. But Amy Pond could be so much more.

Whom does Amy care about? What does she want to do in life? Who does she want to be? These are questions the show never clearly asks. Instead, Amy’s character is all over the place, allowing her to be whoever and whatever the plot demands. And a lot of the time what the plot demands seems to be little more than a young woman in short shorts.

I love Doctor Who. It’s one of my favorite shows. And I want to love Amy. But I can’t help but feel that her character deserved so much more than what she was given.

What do you think? Do you like Amy in series five?

My Journey with Doctor Who Begins–Again: A Reflection

I first fell in love with Doctor Who when I saw reruns of series one with Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor. I was drawn to the adventure and to wonder, as well as to the emotional depth I found in the Doctor. Eccleston played him as bitter and angry, but slowly changing as a nineteen-year-old human taught him to see the good in people once again. David Tennant continued that emotional journey, adding even more complexity as audiences watched him struggle with the reality of making friends, only to lose them repeatedly. Was their loss all his fault? Was he a truly a hero or had he been the monster all along?

David Tennant is my favorite Doctor precisely because of the emotion intensity he brings to the role. Even though Doctor Who is a space and time travel adventure, at its heart, it has always been about the relationships. The Doctor finds travelling companions because he is lonely, but also because he is constantly surprised and impressed by how resilient, brave, and kind humanity can be at its best. His belief in humans is arguably what often brings out their best. They want to live up to the vision he has of them.

I am drawn to the hope inherent in the show by virtue of the Doctor’s belief in the best of the humanity. But I also am moved by how that hope is so often tempered by the Doctor’s self-doubt. He exults in the danger and the adventure of saving worlds, but he has to recognize, at the end of the day, that that same danger hurts people he cares about. People who would have never been in danger if he had not brought them there. The riddle of the Doctor is that he loves life-threatening situations and that he somehow makes other people love it, too. He delights in things that scare the average person.

Characters in Doctor Who often express anger and disgust that he seems to be enjoying their peril. But the Doctor never loves that people are in danger. He loves being in situations where he can discover new things–meet new life forms, witness an event never before seen. And he manages to share that joy and wonder not only with his companions, but also with audiences. Many sci-fi shows present aliens as the enemy. And there are plenty of dangerous, violent aliens in Doctor Who. But Doctor Who also suggests that there can be a world where humans and aliens live side-by-side learning from each other and sharing the stars.

When David Tennant left the show along with executive produce Russell T. Davies, I was sad. They had created a TV series that repeatedly urged viewers to think of life as a grand adventure, with something wonderful always to be discovered. I had hopes for Steven Moffat’s takeover, though. I had enjoyed his writing on episodes like “Blink” and “Silence in the Library” and thought he would make an excellent showrunner.

As time went on, however, Moffat’s writing made me lose interest in Doctor Who. The way he seemed to try to make the bulk of his female characters “sexy” bothered me, as did the fact that his Doctors seemed to chose his companions, not because they were ordinary individuals who could prove themselves extraordinary–think Donna the temp using her secretarial skills to solve mysteries and type at speed to save the world–but because they were “special.” The girl with a crack in her bedroom and the universe in her head. The Impossible Girl. You couldn’t be anyone travelling with the Doctor anymore. You had to be a girl with a mysterious past who was going to prove to be a major plot point.

Additionally, the female characters under Moffat’s reign so often seemed more like cardboard cut-outs written to suit the plot, more than they seemed like actual people with lives, families, and backgrounds. It was difficult for me to understand who they were as characters because that would change from episode to episode. And their sexuality was repeatedly emphasized in ways that were uncomfortable, like that was one of their main selling points as a character, rather than their bravery or their cleverness or their kindness.

I stopped watching Doctor Who sometime during series seven. I tried again when Peter Capaldi took over as the Doctor, but was disappointed by his apparent hatred of humanity, which seemed antithetical to everything the Doctor stands for. I haven’t really watched Doctor Who since, except for two episodes with Jodie Whittaker. Now I’m beginning the show again. But, as I finish watching David Tennant’s final episodes, I cannot help but wonder if I will still be disappointed with the same aspects of Moffat’s writing.

Doctor Who Review: “The Husbands of River Song”

Husbands of River Song

Spoilers, Sweetie.

This was a tough Christmas special for me.  I’m behind on watching Doctor Who, so I’m almost done with series 8 but haven’t seen series 9 at all.  The Christmas episodes usually aren’t too dependent on prior knowledge, but this one did raise basic questions for me, say, about Clara’s absence. (I think I saw a spoiler she’s dead??? I don’t really know, though.)  I also never liked River Song as a character, so I wasn’t too thrilled to see an entire episode, an entire super special Christmas episode focused entirely on her.  I watched this one with some reluctance, and was almost relieved to end feeling bland about it rather than frustrating or angry.

I was primarily disappointed that the episode didn’t particularly seem Christmas-y.  There are some decorated houses in the opening scenes, and the show ends with the Doctor and River celebrating Christmas at a restaurant, but these were setting details and completely irrelevant to the plot and even the atmosphere.  The story could have been set during Halloween or Easter or Valentine’s Day and there wouldn’t be much of a difference.  I know Wilf’s Christmas spirit is hard to live up to, but I’d like to see some of the newer specials try.

Plot-wise, I think the episode was also unremarkable.  I watched with some friends who were playing games at the same time and basically just checking in.  When they asked me roughly twenty minutes into the special, “Is there actually a plot here?” I had to answer no.  The whole thing about the cyborg king was, again, primarily background.  Moffat obviously wanted to focus on the Doctor’s and River’s relationship here and seemed to throw in a monster because it was expected.  The idea of the self-acting cyborg body was interesting, but I wasn’t wowed by it the way I was by villains in episodes like “The Next Doctor.”  I suppose the head of the cyborg was made laughable rather than scary or awe-inspiring to break the tension of the Doctor’s and River’s sadness.

Though, when it comes to the relationship, I’ve already revealed I’m not invested.  I never was, since River was introduced to the show, and this episode didn’t change my mind.  I did not find River quite as annoying as usual, but I also thought Alex Kingston was playing her differently.  She was trying to be pushy and bold and glamorous, but it didn’t come across the way it usually does.  I haven’t made up my mind if that was intentional acting, since River was supposed to be sad in this episode, or not.

I did find it interesting to see a softer side to the Doctor (this Doctor), as well.  I’m not sure if that’s something he developed throughout series 9, since in series 8 he’s still, inexplicably, walking around callously watching people die without caring.  I thought that was out of character for the Doctor since Peter Capaldi’s introduction, and I’d love to see it change.  For me, the Doctor is characterized by his concern for life, and it’s a shame that was thrown away in series 8.

“The Husbands of River Song” was mostly a boring experience for me, which is a disappointing reaction to a show I look forward to watching all year, but it does give me hope that the show is going in a direction I will like.

What did you think of the episode?


Doctor Who Review: “The Caretaker”

The Caretaker

Spoilers, sweetie.

“The Caretaker” places the Doctor in the midst of Clara’s school, interacting with contemporary humans, and it sets the Doctor up for some truly brilliant moments.  Of course, it’s always fun to watch the Doctor attempt to blend it.  For some reason, he seems to botch pretending to be an ordinary person worse than anything else, and Twelve seems to be worse at it than any Doctor has before him (though I secretly hope he does it so badly partially to drive Clara insane).  The episode also has some funny moments as the Doctor interacts with one persistently nosy student; one can see that this Doctor has no patience for children but is just a little intrigued by her attitude.  Finally, the enemy for this episode is fantastic, stunning in appearance and definitely frightening.  It quickly becomes evident however, that the “The Caretaker” is primarily about character development, not the fight—and as with much of Doctor Who since Moffat took over, character development just isn’t its strong point.

Personally, I have the most issues with the Doctor’s character.  I just can’t reconcile the fact that a man who essentially had dedicated his life to helping protect the human race because he believed they were amazing, and worth protecting, suddenly has such an apparent disregard for their individual lives and continuously makes disparaging remarks about them, their intelligence, etc.  In “The Caretaker” he compares them to otters—explaining they’re even less complex and easier to mimic.

This Doctor also has an extreme dislike of soldiers, and I do not quite understand what the origination of this abhorrence is.  The Doctor, of course, has definitely exhibited distrust for the military in the past, and he is not necessarily wrong to do so.  It seems right for him to worry in “The Caretaker,” for instance, that the military’s first reaction to the threat would be to attack it—which would be the worst possible action.  However, the Doctor’s hatred of Danny, who is not but simply was a solider, and who at no point does anything in the Doctor’s presence that looks remotely martial (early on), morphs into an unreasonable prejudice/obsession.

“The Caretaker,” in terms of characterization, is very much a rehash of “Robot of Sherwood.”  The Doctor doesn’t like another man, so he throws some temper tantrums, and the other man gets ticked off and throws temper tantrums right back.  Charming.  So, yes, I found Danny in this episode to be just about as childish and petulant as the Doctor.  The Doctor certainly fights first, but I didn’t find Danny’s pretending to be a perfectly behaved solider speaking to his commander to be funny or clever or anything admirable.  Danny comes across as a jerk just as much as the Doctor does.  And I lost a bit of respect for him.

Danny also makes a lot of “insightful” comments about the Doctor really being a solider himself—and someone Clara should watch out for—that just didn’t ring true to me.  This is not a moving scene, such as when Adelaide Brooke (“The Waters of Mars”) tells Ten that he doesn’t get to play God—and we know that she’s right.  This is a man trying to make the Doctor look bad because he’s angry the Doctor doesn’t like him.  He has a right to be angry, but I sincerely hope the writers didn’t expect viewers to take Danny’s words seriously, to wonder if there’s a grain of truth in them, because if there’s one thing we do know about the Doctor, which never changes, it’s that his companions can trust him.  Having Danny suggest otherwise is so ludicrous it fails to be in any way thought-provoking.  This season needs to move on from clashing male egos to real character growth and exploration.

“The Caretaker” does have one shining moment of characterization, however: when the Doctor believes that Clara has chosen her bow-tied fellow English teacher for her beau.  For once, Twelve isn’t crotchety or insulting someone or proclaiming his own importance; he’s soft.  For a moment, I could believe this Doctor was once the Eleventh Doctor, and the Tenth.  He seems to truly like Clara here, and shows it, instead of saucily bantering with her, and he seems to recognize the friendship that she and Eleven had was special, to both of them.  I hope there are more moments like this written for Capaldi because it is a lot more real than most of the grumpy old man dialogue he has been given thus far.

“The Caretaker” is not the worst of season 8’s episodes by far (I’m still reserving that title for “Deep Breath”).  As I mentioned in the first paragraph, it has some very good discrete moments.  However, it loses a lot of points because it really fails at its primary goal: introducing the Doctor and Danny and showing viewers more of their personalities.  If I learned anything from “The Caretaker,” it’s basically that I wouldn’t want to be friends with either of them if they keep up this behavior, and I’m feeling very bad for Clara for having to put up with two childish men who each think they need to protect her from the other one.  I hope their reconciliation at the end of the episode is completely sincere, because if their fighting with each other and over Clara becomes a pattern for their behavior in the series, I don’t think I’ll be interested in watching.

Doctor Who Review: “Time Heist”

time heist 2

Spoilers, sweetie.

I normally like to post my Doctor Who reviews earlier in the week, closer to the episode’s initial air date, but this past week I have been feeling somewhat uninspired.  Not because I didn’t enjoy “Time Heist,” but because I did.  I didn’t want to just rehash how Clara actually has an interesting personality this season, how the Doctor has found a footing for his new personality, how this episode’s structure incorporates all this great about Doctor, etc.  I basically said all of that last week.  On the bright side, however, I am glad that I can still say it, that it looks as if Series 8 is going to do great things, and that “Listen” was not a fluke in the series.

Nonetheless, I will try to touch on a few things that are “Time Heist” specific. To start, this episode is very Doctor Who-cool.  I love watching the Doctor achieve the impossible, and robbing an unbreakable bank is very high on the list of awesome impossible things.  However, one does wonder why the bank with the best security in the galaxy never invested in a few simple video cameras; they could have located the Doctor and his team immediately.  (Amateurs.)  And although the Teller is creative and deliciously creepy, I think the security system in general should have been played up a bit more.  The episode was certainly tense, but it really could have been played up more.

Beyond that, the episode also touches on pieces of what it means to be human.  Psi and Saibra, the two short-term companions, manage to win their way into viewer’s hearts in the space of a single episode.  The first impression they give is very much along the lines of “kickass humans with crazy superpowers,” but they quickly become more complex.  Both have backstories, both have something they want more than anything else in the universe, and both reveal something about what makes humans tick: the need to love, and the desire to fit in.

I also love the twist this episode gave to the classic “character giving his life for others and for the good of the mission.”  The fact that Psi and Saibra don’t actually die is very fitting, since the Doctor is the one who organized the mission (I’m surprised it took him that long to figure that out, though) and is a nice offset to the fact that this Doctor is seemingly so unaffected by human deaths.  “Professional detachment” as Psi says.  Psi and Saibra’s surprise return also just wanted to make me shout, “Everybody lives!” because the viewers know how rare that is for the Doctor.

Of course, everyone doesn’t live, which may be the one odd point of “Time Heist.”  At the end of the episode, the bank is clearly destroyed by the solar storm and everyone inside clearly roasted.  Obviously, that was not at all the doing of Madame Karabraxos, so I understand how she probably felt more personal guilt for the imprisonment and extinction of the Teller’s species.  However…it is really strange that no one mentions the fact that everyone else in the bank dies, and no one seems even passingly sad or regretful.  If the Doctor had said something about the bank’s destruction being a fixed point in time or explained he just can’t save that many people, I would have been satisfied.  As it stands, the Doctor and his team seem to be present at one of the universe’s major tragedies, and they just overlook it.  That’s pretty harsh.

So, “Time Heist” is lacking some contemplation of one of the major moral question of the plot line (the other, as others pointed out, being whether one should rob a bank—the Doctor just assumes they all had a good reason to agree to it).  Beyond that, however, the episode is exciting and highly satisfying, featuring a great story and great acting.  Very enjoyable.

Doctor Who Review: “Listen”


Spoilers, sweetie.

“Listen” is one of the best episodes Doctor Who has given viewers in a while.  Deliciously creepy, it manages to once again introduce us to a lurking type of monster we cannot quite identify but somehow feel is there.  Anyone who thinks the Silence are scary will be equally as chilled by “Listen;” this is definitely not an episode to watch with the lights off.

I was not entirely convinced of this merit at the start of the episode, however.  Having the Doctor sit on top of the TARDIS and suddenly whisper, “LISTEN!” is certainly dramatic, but the moment has literally no context.  The following scenes fare only slightly better.  It is unquestionably delightful to see the Doctor walking about, muttering to himself, and positing wild theories.  However, his theory about creatures who live only to hide also has no context, no catalyst that the viewers see.  Later in the episode he mentions having noticed in a number of historical sources that a lot of people seem to have the same dream: one where they wake up, get out of bed, and have a hand grab their foot from beneath the bed.  It would have been nice to hear about this research much earlier, or to have the episode open with the Doctor having that dream himself, then doing the research—then coming up with his theory.

After this exposition, however, “Listen” progresses beautifully.  The Doctor’s hunt for the elusive beings he thinks are always with us, unseen, is wild and frightening—not least because the Doctor is right in that many of us do have that dream, or that sense of being watched, or that feeling of hair standing on the back of our necks when no one is there.  Even more terrifying: the viewers get no closure: no sense of, “Oh, now we know what those creatures are, so now we can deal with them.”  The thing on Rupert’s bed may have been a friend playing a trick, but we can never tell ourselves that for sure.

Yet “Listen” is not all chills.  There is also some fantastic time jumping, which always helps to bring some fun and whimsy to the series.  I love it when characters get to go back in their own timelines to fix a few small mistakes.  I also love when the Doctor inadvertently looks about in their future.  “Listen” gives some delicious hints about where Clara’s life may lead her, although, again, viewers cannot be entirely certain.  Does Orson Pink have that toy soldier because Clara gave it to the young Rupert Pink…or because Clara will marry Danny Pink? [Although the fact that Clara goes back and gives the young Doctor the toy, before Rupert can own it, may complicate things.  Or we may be meant to ignore such timeline inconsistencies.] Further episodes may be more revealing, especially as Danny’s been given enough airtime it seems reasonable to assume he will end up in the TARDIS himself.

Finally, Peter Capaldi has really found his stride as the Doctor now.  It is possible I am more sympathetic because the Doctor is never outright mean in “Listen,” unlike the previous episodes where he seemed uncharacteristically callous and unconcerned whether humans lived or died.  The Doctor certainly has some insults left to throw here, but that all comes back to a bit of obliviousness and lack of tact that is entirely in keeping with the Doctor’s persona (insulting Clara’s makeup, for instance).

“Listen,” in my opinion, is the best episode so far this series.  It brings back just about everything Doctor Who does best—monsters, time travel, questions about what it means to be human—and does not muck them up by relying too heavily on referencing past episodes or by trying too hard to be philosophical.  “Listen” is a truly forward-moving episode for series 8, and I am optimistic about where the rest will bring us.

Doctor Who Review: “Robot of Sherwood”

robot of sherwood

Spoilers, sweetie.

I always love when Doctor Who goes literary or historical.  It breaks up the alien trend of the show (even though aliens are still involved, the focus is not necessarily on them), and it takes advantage of the fact that the TARDIS can travel through both time and space.  Plus, seeing the Doctor interact with famous historical figures is just fun, as it tends to be two geniuses at play.

“Robot of Sherwood,” does not deliver the same quality I have come to expect from historical episodes.  Viewers are given a quick intro to Robin Hood’s band and do get to watch the famous archery competition.  The show also amusingly recreates Robin’s fight with Little John on a bridge as a fight between Robin and the Doctor.  However, the show lacked some of Robin’s spirit.  Basically, Robin spends much of the episode laughing maniacally just to tick the Doctor off, and squabbling with him as though both of them are six.  I could have believed (and enjoyed) some animosity between the two characters since they both possess some level of arrogance, but the immature fighting seems out of character and out of place.

This episode does further damage to the Doctor’s character by premising everything on the fact that the Doctor does not believe in heroes, and since heroes do not exist, Robin cannot be real.  This leads to some truly interesting discussions about the nature of heroism and some very touching moments when Clara attempts to explain the reason she believes in heroes: because she met the Doctor.  However, the Doctor’s skepticism does not make sense.  He has met heroes, too. (Adelaide Brooke from “The Waters of Mars” perhaps?)  Also, if anyone is going to believe in heroes and “impossible things” it has to be the Doctor.  He has seen too much of the universe to rule anything out.

And, cute as it is, it also makes no sense that now Clara is blithely proclaiming the Doctor her hero.  Two episodes ago, she had no idea who the Doctor was.  One episode ago, she could not say whether he was a good man.  Now, suddenly, he is her unequivocal hero.   It seems clear that the writers have gone back to eschewing any type of logical character development in order to get good sound bites.  Whatever the plot, and the theme, of the episode calls for is how the characters will behave.

“Robot of Sherwood” is enjoyable as a standalone episode.  It has a few great Robin Hood allusions, some pretty scary aliens, and a whole scene where Clara gets to be clever and badass.  As part of the series arc, however, the episode fails heavily on character development.

Doctor Who Review: “Into the Dalek”

Into the Dalek

Spoilers, sweetie.

“Into the Dalek” is a solid episode but is simply not the most original contribution to Doctor Who.  The idea of miniaturizing people and inserting them into another living being in order to solve a health problem may be a new experience for the Doctor but is certainly nothing new for science fiction (and honestly made me immediately think of The Magic School Bus, though the miniaturizing there was accidental).

“Into the Dalek” also draws very heavily from past Doctor Who episodes, sometimes in good ways and sometimes in lazy ones.  The Doctor asserts that inside the Dalek is the “most dangerous place in the universe.”  Yet I’m pretty sure the Dalek Asylum was supposed to be the most dangerous place in the universe.  (And we’re working on a technicality that the trip outside the universe in “The Doctor’s Wife” doesn’t also earn this designation.)  Declaring that something is dangerous doesn’t make it so and doesn’t build real suspense.  The plot itself has to do that, and the work is harder when everything is supposed to be the “most dangerous” thing.

Also, the entire plot is based around the idea that there might exist a “good” Dalek. (A side note: I don’t think “good” is ever adequately defined, but there is a working sense of the word for the purposes of the plot—apparently the Dalek does not want to kill everyone on sight.)  The Doctor is skeptical; there can be no such thing.  Apparently the Doctor forgets “Dalek” from series one, when a Dalek is unwilling to kill Rose.  Yes, there was some tampering that resulted in that “malfunction,” but the same is true of the Dalek in “Into the Dalek.”

However, there are some good throwbacks in this episode.  The Doctor can never really be reminded enough that he would be a good Dalek.  We also have the classic side character who is willing to give her life for the sake of the mission and humanity.  Maybe it’s cliché to have so many, but maybe the show is also saying bravery and selflessness are characteristic of humans, and that we and the Doctor remain sane by remembering that.

Clara continues to be a much stronger character than she was in the previous series.  The Doctor entrusts her with coming up with “clever” solutions to difficult problems, and she delivers.  The new Clara appears as though she may be consistently brave, smart, and strong—a character the audience can really get behind.  This episode also incorporates more of Clara’s “real” life as a schoolteacher, which helps to further give her a more defined personality.

Clara’s unrelenting ignorance about the Doctor’s personality, however, is a more troubling trend.  In “Deep Breath” she blithely proclaimed the Doctor is “uncomplicated.”  In “Into the Dalek” she says she has no idea whether he is a good man.  She’s travelling all through time and space with him and isn’t even sure whether he’s a good person?  Is that even safe?  She has a little more closure by the end of the episode, but her interpretations of him are baffling.

The Doctor, too, is still growing into his new role, and Capaldi is doing very well.  He, as the audience expected, is generally a more mature and serious Doctor, though personally I think a lot of the supposedly “intense staring” he does is simply dull.  I am also concerned by the fact that he seems to be somewhat more callous than previous Doctors, even though his primary concerns are supposed to be correcting past mistakes and being a good man.  Can one do that without feeling genuine compassion?

So far, the general direction of Series 8 appears to be going in a strong direction.  Clara is becoming a great character, the Doctor is finding his footing, there is a mix of old and new, and there is some mysterious “Paradise” plot line that will probably tie the series together.  The problems are mainly in the details.  The characters are spouting lots of lines the writers probably think sound deep, but they make little sense in the context of the show.  And someone somewhere is overlooking a lot of the Doctor’s previous history.  I am a big Doctor Who fan but not the biggest fan; if I can pick holes in the plot line, the writers really need to take more care to keep things accurate and fresh.

Doctor Who Review: “Deep Breath”

Deep Breath 2


My Hopes

I have been a bit disappointed with Doctor Who after Steven Moffat took over writing.  Although Matt Smith had some great moments as the Eleventh Doctor (as in “The Pandorica Opens”), I have felt the series took a turn for the illogical.  Laws of time and space get trampled when they are inconvenient for plot purposes, and characters develop new personality traits on a per episode basis for the same reason.

However, with Peter Capaldi starring as the Twelfth Doctor, I could not help but get my spirits up.  Pre-series buzz indicated Capaldi has some strong opinions about the direction of the show (no Doctor/Clara romance for him!), and I hoped that some sense of logic would once again begin to govern the show.  The first episode of Series 8 has left me still in some state of uncertainty, but it did have enough high points that I still hope the series will get stronger as it goes.  After all, every new Doctor seems to take a few episodes to really grow into his role and his particular plotline.

The Initial Frustation

(Spoilers, sweetie.)

“Deep Breath” did open inauspiciously.  The dinosaur rampaging through Victorian London element turned out to be completely unnecessary.  (A friend suggested that perhaps the creators just thought it looked cool, which seems a likely enough explanation for me.)  Frankly, Doctor Who has done dinosaurs before and better (“Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”) which further highlights how extraneous this one is.  If the writers needed the Doctor to see something spontaneously combust, they could have had him stumble across the chain of people who had apparently already done so before the dinosaur did.

The characters did not fare much better in the opening scenes.  The Twelve Doctor stumbles out from the TARDIS with little recollection of who any of his acquaintances are, blunders through their names even after refreshers, and keels straight over.  If viewers remember, the previous episode (where Capaldi was briefly introduced) featured him asking Clara if she knew how to fly the TARDIS, because obviously he didn’t.  Having the Doctor fail to remember almost anything integral about himself or he friends feels like a cheap way to demonstrate how disorienting regeneration can be.  And there is no good segue into how he eventually comes more into his own; it just happens.

Finally, as the Doctor is off tramping about London in a crazed state, the other characters make assertions about him that are blatantly untrue.  Sure, this could be the fault of the characters—perhaps they don’t understand him as well as they think—but the creators really seemed to be making a point here.  Madame Vastra implies that the Doctor has control over his appearance when he regenerates, and that he is intentionally trying to project an air of maturity with his new look.  But if the Doctor did have that control, he would have been ginger by now, and Matt Smith would not have ended the episode lamenting that his new incarnation is grey.  Next, Clara asserts that the Doctor is “uncomplicated.”  While Matt Smith’s Doctor may have projected an air of boyish exuberance, I would never say the Doctor, a man with an enormously long history full of death, loneliness, and hard choices, was “uncomplicated.”

The Turning Point

Once Clara and the Doctor find themselves in the deliciously creepy restaurant full of clockwork customers, however, the episode picks up and Doctor Who starts looking more like Doctor Who.  There is an air of darkness and intrigue, but it is all lightened by a bit of banter.

Furthermore, once Clara is in immediate danger, she demonstrates real bravery and intelligence, standing up to a deadly robot and backing him into a corner where he has no choice but to negotiate with her.  Clara, besides being totally awesome in this scene, finally begins to develop a personality.  I personally found her forgettable in Series 7 and thought her “sassy” epithet was not entirely earned.  I only hope she continues to demonstrate spunk and courage and that this is not a one-time event for her.

The Doctor, too, finally really shows up.  He regains most of his senses and moves from just acting nuts to acting like the crazy genius he is.  Brilliant solutions, pithy remarks, and good insights start flowing.  A lagging bit of forgetfulness reminds viewers that he is still recovering from the regeneration, but no one really has to worry for him.

A bit of exploration of how Clara and the new Doctor can relate to each other, and what kind of man the new Doctor will be—one apparently focused on righting all the mistakes he’s made—ties up the episode, and gives viewers hope that Doctor Who will continue to be a show that explores facets of humanity and asks questions about right and wrong, in addition to exhibiting cool fight scenes with aliens.  It takes a while to warm up, but “Deep Breath” is not a bad start to Series 8 at all.