Saturday, August 23, 2014

Don't Be Afraid - Review of "Deep Breath"

Review/Recap for Doctor Who, Series 8 Episode 1: "Deep Breath" - SPOILERS!

Actually, before I get into my review properly, I have a quick story (that will have some spoilers anyway, so be careful about that). Right after Christmas last year, I got this overwhelming feeling of dread. Like I did not want 2013 to end. Like I knew (or I suspected) that 2014 would be a hellacious year for me. I had no reason to think so, nothing pointed to that being the case. I just did not want 2014 to come. And call it a self-fulfilling prophecy, but honestly, 2014 began as one big shithole. I think it was April before I started feeling even the slightest bit okay about it (and even then, things weren't that great). It's too long and complicated a story to go into in this review - it was a combination of a second job being foisted upon me, plus general anxiety about my life, lots of responsibilities that I wasn't sure I could keep up with, guilt about not being good enough, etc., etc. (Sheesh - don't most people have these mid-life crises when they're almost 40?) My journal from that time is full of stuff like "Why am I even trying anymore?" and "Would anyone really miss me if I just up and left?"

I don't share any of this be all "Oh, I'm such a pitiful creature - please give me sympathy." I hate getting attention for this garbage (which is why I try not to talk about it unless I really feel like I should. Even then, it's like pulling teeth to get me to open up about it). But I want to illustrate how I cope with these things. And Doctor Who is a huge part of that.

Back in January - just as this mess of anxiety and depression and general brain muck was getting started - Doctor Who began filming. Usually, I stay far far away from spoilery set pictures and video and things. But such was my state of mind at the time that I simply did not care. I just remember laying in bed until about 11:00, not wanting to get up for anything even though I knew I should. I'd had a major meltdown the previous night and I was surprised I even managed to get into my pajamas to go to bed.  That morning I mindlessly started scrolling through Tumblr on my phone. And I found a video that someone had posted of Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman filming on an open street in Cardiff (at least, I assumed it was Cardiff).  Well - here's what my Tumblr post says -

I am sitting on my bed, having endured a week of hell, feeling like I don’t have anything good to look forward to and all manner of dark and scary thoughts are racketing around in my brain. I barely have the endurance to get up and do anything today.

I don’t normally seek out set reports or videos or pictures - preferring to keep myself unspoiled for the actual episode. But today, I've kind of quit caring and thought “oh, what the hell - I’ll look at this.” I couldn't hear what Jenna and Peter were saying, but I saw the TARDIS, Clara… and the Doctor. Clara’s obviously trying to get used to the Doctor’s new face - we've seen similar post-regeneration scenes before. And then - she accepts that it’s him and gives him a big hug, which he’s not sure what to do with, but it’s a good thing all the same.

This will sound ridiculously stupid and over-emotional, but I just started bawling. Because this is the kind of thing Doctor Who has done for me for the past three-and-a-half years - takes me out of that dark abyss and gives me some tiny glimmer of hope. And it’s never through anything grand or ostentatious - it’s always through the small moments that end up meaning so much. I don’t mind that I've been slightly spoiled on this scene. I may even remember this in eight months (or whenever) and recall how watching the cast and crew working on this scene a world away helped pull me out of a rough spot. And the emotion will be there again - just as poignant and just as important.

Therein lies, I believe, the theme of "Deep Breath."

Plotwise, a lot of things are recycled here, particularly from "The Girl in the Fireplace" (another Steven Moffat-penned episode that's, actually, one of my favorites) - Clockwork droids rebuilding a 51st century ship out of human parts (ew), having to take the slow path or "going the long way around." But I'm okay with that because what surrounds it is pieced together so beautifully. The important things here aren't the dinosaurs or the droids or the monsters or even death. What's important here is the theme of coming back for the people you care about and making sure they're okay even when you're rocketing around like your ass is on fire.

The scene where the Doctor's left Clara behind with the droids (they're more like Reverse Cybermen, now that I think of it - robots becoming human rather than humans becoming robots) - it feels hopeless. Out of all the moments that I've seen in Doctor Who, the extremely rare times when the Doctor has left his companions behind are the scariest, I think. Even though Clara shows how capable she is - relying on her experience as a teacher with an unruly and snotty class - she is scared to death. But she has faith or trust or whatever in the Doctor that he will come back for her, even though they're both way out of their elements.

"The Doctor - if he's still the Doctor - will have my back."

And here I am, August. Eight months after that stolen video on an open set hit the internet half a world away from me. Spoiled as hell for the scene, but still sobbing because of what that scene ended up becoming. A mutual friend - the Eleventh Doctor - popping in real quick to let Clara know that this is still the Doctor. He's trustworthy. He's a good man. She doesn't have to be afraid of what he's going to do, even if it doesn't make a whole lot of sense in the moment. And the Doctor needs Clara to get through this - admitting that he's just as scared as she is (and Eleven's probably plenty scared right before his regeneration - it probably never gets any easier, no matter how many times he does it).

A part of me almost doesn't want to know what fandom thought of this. I don't want to hear the academic analyses of plot and character and camera angles and counting how many times Vastra, Clara, and Jenny didn't talk about the Doctor and somehow that makes the story good or bad (depending on how many beans Miss Bechdel counted in the jar). Sometimes, fandom opinion tends to ruin those special moments that I had with an episode just because they deal in cynicism and their Ivory Tower Peer Reviewed bullshit all the damn time (much like what happened with "The Rings of Akhaten" - which is still awesome and marvelous and the haters can go pound sand for all I care). But another part of me hopes that most people are able to look past the literary criticisms and the special effects and production values and love the heart of the message behind the story.

I love the Twelfth Doctor. I sort of knew I would. Or maybe I resolved to do so out of sheer stubbornness and on principle. Yeah, he's off-kilter due to regeneration sickness (or whatever we're calling it), but even through that, he's a marvel. There were points where I could see the Doctor shining through so much that it was hard to believe that Peter Capaldi hadn't always been the Doctor. I love the new additions to the TARDIS console (the bookshelves along the upper walls - feels like that was a personal gift from the set design team just for me. Don't get me started on that beautiful winged-back chair - I need five of those). I loved the Paternoster Gang. I loved that this longer episode allowed for time to see them in a more domestic setting and their day-to-day doings as well as their madcap adventures in Victorian London. I loved Clara's interactions with them - both the serious conversation with Vastra about whether Clara believed the Doctor was still the Doctor, and the quirky little medical interlude with Strax (man, Strax is a treasure - never change). I tried to pay attention to the music - to see if I could pinpoint any new themes for the Twelfth Doctor, but the music blended into the background so well and the story was so engrossing that I didn't really catch much (I did catch Clara's theme, which is always going to be a favorite of mine). I ADORE the new title sequence - we've had so much of space-themed stuff, I think a time-theme is quite appropriate. Really, I can't think of anything I didn't adore about "Deep Breath." From the technical standpoint - the writing and the directing (which was so good and such a great added variety to all the styles Doctor Who has had in the past) - to the heart and soul of the story (plus the effect it had on me emotionally), it's on par with "The Eleventh Hour," which is a classic in and of itself. I don't know that it has the standalone potential as "The Eleventh Hour," but I'm okay with that. It starts a new era of "Doctor Who" in a new and exciting way, plus it helps bridge the gap between the hoopla and pageantry of the 50th Anniversary year into this new direction going forward.

And, just like Clara, I know the Doctor's going to have my back. Through all of this - whether it's the fantastical space and time adventures or the days that I'm collapsed in a heap on the floor - the Doctor's going to be there. And I will be okay. We're all going to be okay.

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