Take a Deep Breath: Doctor Who is Back in Fine Form

I’ve written this post a couple of times now, and each time I’ve started over, because it’s hard to explain how much I liked the premiere of Doctor Who‘s eighth season without also explaining how I disliked a number of things about its seventh season. The result has repeatedly been a post that’s supposed to be positive but ends up sounding negative. So here goes attempt number three as I try to get this posted before the next episode is aired tonight.

Alonzy!

I really liked the episode “Deep Breath” that aired last week on Saturday. The writing was tight, with a fantastic balance of humor and drama as Clara and the Doctor both try to adjust to his new regeneration coupled with the excitement of the episode’s self-contained plot. One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about Doctor Who is the fact that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, like other sci-fi series tend to do, and “Deep Breath” is in fine form in this regard.

The continuity between the 12th Doctor and his previous regenerations was much better handled here than in “The Eleventh Hour”. I understand that the beginning of the 11th Doctor’s era was also the beginning of Steven Moffat’s era as director, but the transition was a bit rough in terms of completely removing much of the supporting cast and plot elements that had been common during both the 9th and 10th Doctors’ eras under the watch of Russell T. Davies. The introduction of the 12th Doctor rectifies this in a superb fashion by not only dealing with the obvious continuity thanks to Clara, but by also involving the 11th Doctor’s Paternoster Gang and even making a whole-plot reference to the 10th Doctor episode “The Girl in the Fireplace”, which was made even better by the Doctor’s humorous attempts to remember why it was ringing some bells!

Peter Capaldi as the 12th Doctor does an amazing job of establishing himself in the role within one episode’s plot which includes a severe case of post-regeneration sickness. I would argue this is the best introductory episode of a new Doctor in the new series, which is saying  a lot because I’ve watched “The Eleventh Hour” numerous times and consider it one of my top favorite episodes. (“The Christmas Invasion” not so much because the 10th Doctor spends over half of it sleeping!) Capaldi manages to balance both the humor and frenetic energy of the Doctor with the season’s new focus on maturity- facing up to and dealing with his mistakes instead of running from them, and I look forward to seeing this explored in upcoming episodes.

The highlight of the episode, however, was Clara. I could never really get behind the whole “Impossible Girl” 50-year retcon storyline that the second half of season seven pretended to be focused on. Ten episodes of Clara, only four of which were actually pivotal to her story-arc, was simply not enough to garner my support for her role as revealed in the season finale, “The Name of the Doctor”. It’s a fine idea, sure, but the execution of it was not enough in my opinion. In addition to that, I also could not get behind her quasi-romantic are-they-aren’t-they relationship with the 11th Doctor. Every time they had a scene suggesting that, I wondered about River Song, the Doctor’s wife who had inexplicably disappeared from the show after Amy and Rory’s departure, only to show up under unexpected circumstances in the season finale. Now, don’t get me wrong: I greatly enjoy Clara’s character. Jenna Coleman does a great job playing her. But I did not like the story-arc; it needed more work.

“Deep Breath” completely rectifies this by confronting the romantic confusion and making a firm statement about it: No. This, alone, was one of my favorite things about the episode. No more playing around, no more vagueness. Yay for clarity! Even better, the back-and-forth between Clara and the 12th Doctor were some of the funniest moments of the episode. As such, I am very happy to have that issue settled, and very interested in seeing what happens with Clara and the Doctor next.

Season eight of Doctor Who is off to a fantastic start, and I am eagerly looking forward to the next episode tonight!

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