Let’s play the Kill the Moon game again and put aside the question of public opinion, not look at comments, and just go straight out. Not because I’m about to go on another rave about how this is a transcendent piece of Doctor Who, although it basically is. You can basically fairly accuse it of being Kill the Moon as if it were the Olympic Opening Ceremony, and that’s a fair criticism, so, spoilers, I’m going to put it in second. Well, though you can fairly accuse Kill the Moon of being a pro-life parable. So I guess in the end it goes down to the aesthetics of the thing, and personal preference. I think the ending of Kill the Moon is paced a bit better. So still second, but damn, that’s close.
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Hello folks. Let’s take the temperature of the world, shall we? Comments thus far are quite positive. GallifreyBase has an impressive 84.4% in the 8-10 range, with 9 being the most popular at 32.69%, which has this at slightly more popular than Mummy on the Orient Express. I’ll be honest, that surprises me a bit, as I was, for the first time this season, a bit underwhelmed.
That said, this one is tricky, and in a way that feels as though there’s an unusually high chance of my revising my opinion on it upon seeing what it’s actually building to. We’re to the point in the season where the finale is tacitly hanging over things, and this one in particular seems to be making some points about Clara that could feel very different in a couple of weeks. But for me, right now, it feels messy and untidy. Like Mummy on the Orient Express, its emotional resolution is consciously ambiguous, in a way that makes it end off feeling slightly less developed than I think the story actually is. This is due in part to the sneaky power of endings to redefine and reimagine everything that has come before, but it’s also due to the ending actually just not quite fitting with what’s come before completely.
So much of what is going on here hinges on the question of what Clara being elevated to having to “be the Doctor” actually means. Which is indeed a complex question, given the way in which the season has largely treated the Doctor as an object of the sublime – at once wondrous and terrifying. And so for Clara to become the Doctor is not merely aspiration.
This is a marked change – typically the “companion steps up” story is about the companion striving to be better. With Clara, it’s not quite. Indeed, there’s a genuine sense that in becoming the Doctor she has become lessened. In a season in which we have repeatedly been asked to consider the idea of a dark Doctor, and have in many cases simply done so unbidden, without the text particularly pushing us to, just by the knowledge that Peter Capaldi is playing him. Instead, however, especially as her relationship with Danny continues to paint her into an increasingly unsympathetic corner, it feels as though it’s in fact a season about a dark Clara.
And the contours of this revelation have been slyly hidden in the way in which the Doctor’s part has never been written as a traditional lead.…
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|The best cosplay I’ve ever seen at a convention was a gender-|
swapped Link and Navi in which Link led her partner around
on a leash, having scrawled “no you listen” on his chest.
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Right. Top-line assessment is that this one’s a bit more polarizing than the last two, which seemed to be widely liked with an inevitable pool of detractors. The first comment on the episode to come through declared it to basically be the worst thing ever, and GallifreyBase currently has it at 55.48% in the 8-10 range. Which is on the whole still pretty good, but clearly the most mixed reception of the season to date.
For my part… well, look, this was never going to be my favorite episode. I’m not a huge fan of Gatiss, the celebrity historical is not my favorite Doctor Who subgenre, and I’ve seen enough Doctor Who at this point in my life that the business as usual/meat and potatoes episodes, while often enjoyable, aren’t exactly highlights. And this was, at the end of the day, a meat and potatoes celebrity historical written by Mark Gatiss.
But none of those are reasonable things to hold against the episode on any level other than ranking it in the list at the end of the review. One can’t critique a beach for not being a paperclip. Instead, what jumps out is that everyone involved knows exactly what they’re doing. This alone puts it ahead of Gatiss’s previous swing at a celebrity historical, in which nobody quite seemed to know what tone to go for at any given moment. Here, everybody from Gatiss on down understands that they’re doing a fluffy one.
Perhaps more to the point, however, everybody gets how best to approach one of these. Gatiss is at his best when he’s taking an old and well-worn structure and giving it a spit and polish to modern tastes (The Unquiet Dead, Cold War, The Crimson Horror), and so this is firmly in his wheelhouse. There’s nothing particularly extraordinary about the script (indeed, when the first five scripts leaked, more than a few people proclaimed four of them good and this one to suck), but it moves through its set pieces and knows what it’s doing at any given moment.
But this isn’t a story about the clever script. It’s a story about dancing merrily through the obligatory set pieces. Gatiss holds up his end of the bargain by getting them all in and keeping the pace up. But the heart of this one is the execution, and it’s there that this does sparkle. It’s pure melodrama, and everybody gets that. The episode would be completely derailed if either of the two major guest roles (Robin and the Sheriff) pulled a Graham Crowden (or, if you want a more recent option, a Roger Lloyd-Pack).…
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There is a certain perspective from which, going in, this looked like the most cynical thing imaginable. Since every Doctor requires a Dalek story, they get it out of the way up front, treating it as something to get over with instead of something to anticipate. Accordingly, you take the Daleks and an unapologetically high concept premise and basically give Capaldi a second episode of having lots of other stuff going on to cover as he beds into the role. And with Gatiss having finally cracked the problem of how to pander to the sorts of fans who want a return to the classic series without losing the other 100% of the audience last season with Cold War, an unabashedly straightforward “just like you imagine Doctor Who being” episode becomes the order of the day. Fair enough, but equally, the sort of episode that a segment of fandom (by which I really just mean myself) looks at and (along with next week) goes “well, at least there’s a proper Moffat episode coming on the 13th.”
(Mind you, there’s a logic to it. Matt Smith got the same basic treatment with River Song and the Weeping Angels in his first two episodes. This time they actually shot Capaldi’s first two episodes first, so they put the Paternoster Gang and the Daleks in to smooth out the transition. And the series can’t serve up my kind of episode every week because, again, the other 100% of the audience would rightly object.)
So with the caveat that this is not an episode after my own heart and that I went in with fairly minimal expectations, I thought this was quite good. I seem to not be alone – comments so far on the post are broadly positive, Twitter’s pretty enthusiastic, and the GallifreyBase poll has it running slightly better than Deep Breath was. (72.7% in the 8-10 range, but skewed higher in the range) I suspect that a year’s hindsight will help Deep Breath and hinder this a little, but we’re all about the now here, and this seems, in the immediate aftermath of broadcast, to have scratched the itch it aimed for.
The script, obviously, is primarily bibs and bobs of other Dalek stories, most obviously the ones by Rob Shearman. But this is not entirely unsurprising. Phil Ford’s an odd writer – his best script prior to this was, of course, the one Russell T Davies rewrote entirely. His next best was an episode of Torchwood. And then there’s a succession of Sarah Jane Adventures that range from the quite good (The Lost Boy, Prisoner of the Judoon) to the bizarrely lightweight and disposable (Eye of the Gorgon, The Eternity Trap). The late addition of a cowriting credit for Moffat suggests that in this case he was commissioned as a matter of production expediency – that he was there, in effect, to provide the broad shape of a script for Moffat to tinker with.…
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If anyone cares, the number one single is Nico and Vinz’s “Am I Wrong.”
Let’s work from Cardiff, shall we? It’s a late summer day, with the temperature peaking at 16 degrees, and not really moving far off of that. The episode starts at 7:50, a carefully chosen timeslot that sits ten minutes before even the earliest of childrens’ bedtimes, making it nearly impossible to keep them from watching. Twenty-nine minutes in, just as the Doctor is realizing that he’s Scottish and the story finally starts to bother with the plot, the sun sets. (In London, it’s twelve minutes earlier, just as Clara is seeing through Vastara’s veil and the Doctor is climbing up on the rooftops.) Fifteen minutes from the end, as the Doctor asks the cyborg what he thinks of the view, civil twilight gives way to nautical twilight. (In London, it’s right as Clara passes out because she can’t hold her breath anymore.) US transmission skews later – I’m typing this bit half an hour before transmission, right as the sun is going down, so it’ll start in civil twilight and continue through to the nighttime proper.
This feels like something that the series, under Moffat, has been working towards and never quite getting. Moffat has been complaining about the problematic relationship between barbecue forks and Doctor Who ever since the end of Season Five, and now, finally, he gets a run of episodes that starts in the dying days of summer and will run right through the height of autumn, before coming back for one last flourish for the solstice. And the first one transmits right across the sunset, starting right in the golden hour. The orange glow of the late day and the coming autumn permeates the episode. So this is our mission statement: a crepuscular series.
The early returns seem largely positive. A fair number of people seem unimpressed with anything that isn’t Peter Capaldi, though virtually everyone is at least on the same page about him, it seems. GallifreyBase’s episode poll is around 72% rating it as an 8-10, with only six people proclaiming that they’d rather listen to a tape loop of leaf blower noise, which is pretty good, but it’s worth noting that of that 72%, 31.87% are picking 8/10. So well-liked but not an insta-classic, apparently.
Which seems fitting. This is an episode with a lot to do. A premiere of a new Doctor is as much about showing the potential of the rest of the season as it is about being brilliant in its own right. Ultimately, more important than whether people absolutely adore Deep Breath is whether they stick around for Into the Dalek. And clearly, this is something the production team is mindful of, as they decided to just drop the inevitable Dalek story into the second slot to try to offer as big an opening one-two punch as they could possibly manage.…