Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My Kids Review TV: Doctor Who 8.1 — Deep Breath

This past Saturday was the much-anticipated return of Doctor Who, which, if you watch the show, you know it comes with much more than "what will the new season be like?" This premiere brought with it a new Doctor, new relationships, new personalities, and even a new TARDIS. As the fifth Doctor would have said, "You've changed the desktop theme again!"

That's not the only theme that changed.

Right from the beginning of the episode, we get a new song, and new opening credits. I actually quite liked them, even though if I had to choose my absolute favourite DW opening theme song it would be the 10th Doctor's one, midway through his run, all violins and heavy guitar. It was manic and pulsating and determined. This new opening is more retro, harkening back to earlier Doctors and earlier opening themes from the Classic Series, with more synth (I half-expected the episode to open with Ace) and clocks flying by. But I liked it, and I think it'll grow on me even more with time. It was such a shift, rather than the slight change they usually make. And, best of all, it was created by a fan, and the producers liked it so much they took it, tweaked it slightly, and made it the opening. How amazing is that?

And just as that fan's dream came true, so did Peter Capaldi's. A Doctor Who megafan since he was a kid, now he IS the Doctor, and gets to come in when the show is finally hot in the U.S. in a way it's never been before, and has a renewed and reinvigorated audience. Personally, I thought Capaldi was fantastic, and I know we're heading in a darker direction, but this first episode was hilarious on so many levels, not least of all in the acknowledgement that Capaldi is best known as the always-enraged Malcolm Tucker on In the Thick of It (that show my kids always want me to show them, to which I answer unequivocally: NO). Much was made of Capaldi being an older Doctor, and that is brought up again and again in this premiere episode, more as if the writers are answering the fans than anything else. The companions have always stood in for the fans and our responses, and this episode made Clara one of us in abundance.

The 9th Doctor emerged from a place of war, having just destroyed his home planet and everyone on it. He's broken and sad, but young and smiling and there to have adventures with Rose. The 10th Doctor was also a young man, going through a particularly difficult regeneration, but one where Rose stuck by him, knowing this might not look like her Doctor, but he's in there somewhere. The 11th Doctor regenerated and then crashed his ship, and awoke to a new face and a little girl standing by his side, someone who'd never seen him before but would pledge the rest of her life to him. Of the three, only one of them carried the companion from one body to the next, and that companion accepted him pretty quickly. And none of those men looked like they were older than 35.

But everything is different now. This companion, Clara, is the Impossible Girl, the one who isn't just a companion, but has actively saved the Doctor in every body he's ever been in. If there's one companion who should be OK with seeing a new face on the Doctor, it should be this one, since she's encountered every single one of them firsthand.

Only... she hasn't. It's rather confusing, but she split herself into many selves, each one of them assigned to a different spot on the Doctor's timeline, and the Clara that we see in this season 8 premiere has only ever been with the 11th Doctor.

And here is where we step outside of the show for a second, and look around at all the young faces now watching the show. Many of them began with the 11th Doctor. This is THEIR Doctor, the one they first encountered when their parents said, "Hey, wanna watch Doctor Who with me?" In the case of my then-5-year-old son (now almost 7), it was love at first sight. He carries the 11th Doctor's sonic screwdriver around with him everywhere. He thinks bow ties are cool. And he cried for 45 minutes straight when his Doctor regenerated late last year.

But he's had eight months to get used to Capaldi's face, seeing it everywhere, knowing his Doctor is gone but a new one is on the horizon. He knows it's still Doctor Who, but he still misses his Doctor.

My 10-year-old daughter first joined us when I was going back to the beginning of the New Series with my son during the hiatus, and so her first Doctor is the 9th. She adored him, and loved the 10th, and thinks the 11th is wonderful. She seems pretty amenable to the regenerations and the new faces, so I was interested in what she would think.

So last Saturday, we all gathered in front of our televisions to watch the premiere of season 8 live. It was me, my daughter Sydney, son Liam, and Liam's friend Christian. Christian is 7 and has never seen Doctor Who before, so I was interested to see what he would think of this. Liam tried his best to prep him, with his beloved and tattered copy of the 50th Anniversary book, pointing out each villain and each Doctor and explaining what all of this meant.

I worried that the 10pm end time would mean my kids wouldn't last, but they were on the edges of their seats, wide-eyed and mired in the suspense, right until the end. (Except for Christian; we lost him shortly after 9pm when he just leaned against the arm of the couch and went right to sleep.)

The next day at lunch, I asked each of them for their thoughts:

What did you think of the new theme song? 
Liam: I liked it.
Sydney: I LOVED it.
Liam: And all those clocks swirling around were cool.

What did you think of the new Doctor? 
Liam: I liked him, but I still miss my Doctor.
Sydney: Loved him. But I like darker Doctors.
Liam: But I didn't like when he just left Clara alone in the basement with the robots.
Sydney: Yeah, that wasn't very nice at ALL.
Me: But he had a reason for doing that, right?
Sydney: I still like him.

Did you find the episode easy to understand? 
Liam: Um... yeah. But I never like the clockwork guys, they're creepy.
Sydney: I didn't get the ending, where he said he was in Heaven. What was that about, were we supposed to understand that?
Liam: Yeah, I didn't like the Heaven part.
Me: I think they're setting that up as something we're going to come back to.
Sydney: Why did that woman refer to the Doctor as her boyfriend?
Me: That's a very good question, and one I wondered about, too.
Liam: I thought it was the woman from Time of the Doctor at first, the woman in the church.
Me: Me too!
Sydney: You know what, I think we're going to find out that the woman is actually River Song! That she regenerated, and that's why she's in that place now, and looks different.
Me: Ooh, that's an interesting theory.
Sydney: And THAT is why she called him her boyfriend!
Liam: No, didn't she use up all her regenerations?
Sydney: When?
Liam: In that one episode when she was with the Doctor, the Hitler one? She says she used up all her regenerations!
Sydney: Yeah, well the Doctor said HE used up all of his, too, and then it turns out he has a whole bunch more. So... bam. It's River.
Me: Heeeheeeeee!!!!

Christian, did you like the episode? 
Christian: Yes!
Me: Would you watch it again?
Christian: Yes, I thought it was very funny.

What was your favourite part of the episode? 
Christian: I liked the dinosaur at the beginning a lot.
Liam: Yeah, I liked that, too, but I think they made it too big.
Me: I thought so, too! That was the biggest T-rex ever.
Liam: A T-rex would be a little taller than our house.
Sydney: Haha! Yeah, and this one was as tall as Big Ben!
Me: I think they need some 6-year-old boys on staff as dinosaur consultants.
Liam: My favourite part was when Madame Vastra and Jenny dropped to the floor and then suddenly Strax came flying down behind them!
Sydney: Yeah, that was my favourite part, too. I also like the Strax kept calling Clara a boy.
Christian: Who's Strax?
Liam: The one that looks like a potato!
Christian: Oh, haha! He's funny. I liked when he threw the newspaper at the woman and hit her in the face.
Liam: HAHA! Oh yeah!!

What do you think of Madame Vastra and Jenny? 
Sydney: I like them a lot, but she was mean to Clara.
Me: Yes, I agree; that was a little over-the-top. But Clara got to stick up for herself in a big way and I loved that scene.
Liam: Madame Vastra and Jenny are cool, but how can a lizard and a person be married?
Me: Well, she's like a human, right? And she's still quite beautiful even as a lizard.
Liam: True. I like Strax when he's with them.
Sydney: I liked when they kissed, that was sweet.

Did you find it scary at all? 
Christian: [nods furiously, wide-eyed]
Liam: I thought the part in the basement with the robots was scary.
Sydney: Ooh, when they made Clara hold her breath! Yeah, I didn't like that. But you know what, you haven't asked us if anything made us sad.
Me: I haven't gotten there yet.
Sydney: Can you ask that now?

Did anything make you sad in the episode? 
Sydney: Yes, when the dinosaur died. That was so sad, Mommy, why did they do that?
Me: The Doctor could understand what the dinosaur was thinking and feeling, so he was translating. The dinosaur doesn't know what these things are surrounding her, she's a stranger in a strange land, and she's scared and frightened. She just wants her world to come back and be the way it used to be. They were trying to draw a parallel between the dinosaur and the Doctor, who doesn't know who he is anymore, but also Clara, suddenly surrounded by a new and frightening world. Everything she knew seems to be gone.
Christian: I didn't like when the dinosaur died, either. I didn't like him on fire.
Liam: No, I didn't like that at all.

Did you guys like Clara in this episode? 
Sydney: I LOVE Clara.
Liam: Yeah, I thought she was awesome. But I miss Amy.
Sydney: I miss Rose.

And... what did you think when the 11th Doctor suddenly appeared at the end of the episode? Did you think that was going to happen? I had a feeling we'd have a cameo by him at some point, and so I half-expected that to happen, but it still made me so happy when it did. 
Liam: I did a gasp.
Me: [laughing and laughing]
Syd: [laughing and laughing]
Liam: But it made me miss him more again.
Me: But did you think that we needed him to be there?
Sydney: Clara needed to know that the older man was still her Doctor. And that phone call reminded her of that.
Liam: I do like the new Doctor, but I want mine to come back more. Will we see him again?
Me: Probably not; I think that was him officially passing the torch. Now we're on to the new Doctor.
Sydney: And I think Clara likes him now.
Liam: And next week there are DALEKS!! Christian, you HAVE to watch the Daleks!!
Christian: Are they scary?
Liam: A little, but they're awesome.


JS said...

I agree with Liam and Sydney's assessment - overall pretty cool, still miss Amy, and Rose, it seemed mean of The Doctor to leave Clara in the basement with the robots, and they didn't have to kill the dinosaur with fire.

Page48 said...

Yeah, I'm with Liam: I'm on board with the new Doctor, but I miss Matt Smith, although I really felt that his first season was his (and Amy's) strongest. After that, I felt like I was dealing with a different Amy altogether.

I was happy to have Vastra, Jenny and Strax on hand to hold my hand so we could all get used to Capaldi together.

Although I never would have noticed on my own, I thought it was very nice to have Elizabeth Sladen's husband appear as the old man in the alley.

There's always going to be someone to miss on DW, whether it's Amy, Rose, Donna's Gramps or previous Doctors, but it's the nature of the show and that's what gives it the longevity we all enjoy, so it's hard to argue against the constant changes in the cast.

Bill Gilligan said...

I'm for the curveball of when the showrunners will give us 2 new doctors in the same season.....a mid-season regeneration.

Ya know it has to be coming at some point.

Blam said...

All those clocks swirling around were cool, Liam. I really liked the new opening credits. From the Roman numerals (a sly reference to Capaldi's previous appearance in Pompeii, maybe) to the image of the Doctor's haunting eyes (reminiscent to me of their surprise cameo in "The Day of the Doctor") to the fact that the gears and swirling planets lent the sequence an old-fashioned feel even amidst the quality CGI, good work.

Of course, I'm saying that partly out of simple relief, given that the new credits kicking off Matt Smith's tenure felt like a giant step backwards to me. In contrast to many friends and acquaintances whose opinions I respect — but also in concert with several others' — I was overall not a fan of the 11th Doctor's era, although I don't blame my dislike entirely or even mostly on Smith. Had it not been for Karen Gillan's delightful Amy Pond, I might not've made it through the early episodes, and indeed after more-or-less ditching the show it took the hype around the 50th anniversary and the news of a new Doctor to get me to go back and catch up last year.

While I felt (and still feel) primed to enjoy Capaldi in the role, I don't know that I can render a verdict yet since the character we see for most of this episode isn't fully himself yet; both in-story and out, he hasn't quite formed into what we'll think of when we think of the 13th Doctor. I appreciated the humor and the winky meta-commentary and what Capaldi's brought to the table so far.

@Nikki: // This companion, Clara, is the Impossible Girl, the one who isn't just a companion, but has actively saved the Doctor in every body he's ever been in. If there's one companion who should be OK with seeing a new face on the Doctor, it should be this one, since she's encountered every single one of them firsthand. //

I couldn't have said it better myself. Even with only scattered memories of the lives lived by the instances of her created when she entered the Doctor's personal timestream, what I took away from that scene in "The Name of the Doctor" and especially from "The Day of the Doctor" — she, this actual Clara, meets not just the 10th Doctor but his secret incarnation, the War Doctor as he was credited, the one who didn't deem himself worthy of the title Doctor — that all makes her reticence in "Deep Breath" completely bizarre to me. She has not only ever been with the 11th Doctor unless, and this is entirely possible, I've missed something.

Blam said...

// Me: I haven't gotten there yet.
Sydney: Can you ask that now? //

Go Sydney! Who's in charge of this interview anyhow?

I watched a little bit of Tom Baker's 4th Doctor on PBS in the late '70s but never became the big fan that some friends were. The series always intrigued me, though, and like I said above I did start watching after hearing acclaim for Christopher Eccleston, then especially David Tennant, in the revival. I've therefore never fully related to Doctor Who as a children's programme because New Who is not one. It's accessible to kids, with judicious parenting, depending on the kids, and I'm glad your kids, Nikki, have gotten so into it. This stuff is, however, about as far a cry from the 4th Doctor as the television I'm watching it on now is from the one I tuned to Channel 12 for Baker's adventures once upon a time.

Missy and the "promised land" into which she welcomed Half-Face Man were very intriguing. Although my immediate thought was that she was the TARDIS, notwithstanding that she refers to the Doctor as "boyfriend" rather than "husband", upon rumination I did also consider the Master (as well as, naturally, wonder if Moffat was setting up an entirely or at least partially new expansion/revelation of the series' mythos). The fact that we saw the cyborg's body dead on a spire means something funky is going on; he wasn't just spirited away unless we're talking about his actual spirit. It's an intriguing idea that people who've come into contact with the Doctor and his temporal energy might somehow be absorbed into his time machine's matrix as a form of afterlife.

// I think they need some 6-year-old boys on staff as dinosaur consultants. //


Colleen/redeem147 said...

Can we please have an episode open with Ace?

I didn't know that was Liz Sladen's husband. How lovely and sad.

I think I already love this Doctor more than I loved Eccleston and Smith (though I'll see how I feel after I see him today.)