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Deep Breath

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Deep Breath

Posted by Scott Matthewman on .
This is a post about the Doctor Who episode Deep Breath, and will contain spoilers.

1. “Well then, here we go again.”

In what feels like an age, we’ve got a full series of Doctor Who. And Ten Things About… is back, too – in a new home which will hopefully have life after this twelve-week series of Doctor Who has finished.

Madame Vastra’s line is an echo to the Brigadier’s reaction as the Third Doctor began regenerating. Which makes me wonder – which other Doctor, apart from the Eleventh, has Vastra met before?

2. The title sequence

No beating about the bush: I hate it. I wasn’t overly impressed when Billy Hanshaw’s fan-made version got a rapturous reception, but when I heard that the new titles were to be based upon it, I assumed that the BBC would just be taking a few principles from it. But no, we now have a cartoonish title sequence more fitting to Inspector Spacetime.

After the ethereal howlaround that prefaced William Hartnell’s first episode, up to the beauty of Matt Smith’s final title sequence, zooming around galaxies with the breathless enthusiasm that typified his Doctor’s approach to travel, we end up with “he’s a Time Lord so let’s use a lot of clock faces”. Depressing, isn’t it?

What’s even more distressing is that the CG looks so cheap – on a par with the not-quite-solid meteors of Sylvester McCoy’s opening titles.

3. Why the shock, Clara?

I get that Clara’s role as the companion is the audience’s way in to the programme. And I get that, for some of its younger viewers and fans, the transition from ‘their’ Doctor to this new, “older” one – a face which has wrinkles awarded as if by Father Time rather than Neill Gorton – is going to be troubling. So I understand the temptation for Clara to be the character that gives voice to those concerns.

And yet, and yet. This is the girl who jumped into the Doctor’s timestream to meet, save and otherwise shape the lives of the Doctors. Who helped the Eleventh Doctor and his immediate predecessor change the actions of the War Doctor. In short, the one companion who has more experience of the Doctor’s regenerations – and their varying ages – than any other.

So it’s a shame her character could not bring any of that to the table. That instead, she was presented as the change-averse, “I want my Doctor back” simpering companion that Rose already presented way back in The Christmas Invasion. Yes, Madame Vastra calls her out on it – but we have seen Clara accept the idea of regeneration so readily in the past.

The best internal conflict, in fiction as in life, comes when our head and our heart are telling us very different things. Here, we’re clear that Clara’s heart is still yearning for the floppy hair and the chin. But a little more indication of her internal head voice, some internal conflict of her own tumult of emotions, would be better than relying on another character to verbalise it.

4. “The neck, that’s what’s wrong with it”

Victorian knowledge of dinosaurs was far more insubstantial than our own. A few dinosaur skeletons had been located, and had been incorporated into the British Museum’s natural history collection as it grew into the Natural History Museum and moved to the South Kensington home we know today.

The discussion of the two Londoners about why the dinosaur looked “wrong” is most likely a reference to scientists’ conclusions about the creatures’ size, weight and build having been formed from the relatively few complete skeletons that had been discovered – conclusions we now know to have often been wrong.

Unveiled in 1854, the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs are now Grade I listed constructions, forever preserving the state of knowledge as it was at the time – and forever highlighting how scientific knowledge is never static.

5. Lesbianism in Queen Victoria’s day

There’s a common urban myth that consensual sex between women was not outlawed in the same way as it was between men because Queen Victoria could not believe that lesbians existed.

In truth, then as now, the monarch had no real power to veto legislation – it was Parliament who devoted its attention to what male adult couples could, and could not, do with each other. 1885’s Criminal Bill Amendment Act was primarily aimed at tackling prostitution, especially child prostitution. But an amendment tabled by Liberal MP Henry Labouchere (and so unsurprisingly known as the Labouchere Amendment) introduced the offence of ‘gross indecency’ for men, in addition to the existing punitive punishments for sodomy. Women were not covered by this amendment, despite the original bill being predominantly about preventing the procurement of women.

There was certainly more hysteria, more outrage, over the conduct of homosexual males than females, during Victoria’s reign. But the idea that it was the Queen herself who prevented legislation against women is bunkum.

Which leads me to think about…

6. The Paternoster Gang: The TV Series

The more we see the world in which Vastra, Jenny and Strax live, the more I’m convinced there are plans afoot to try and make a spin-off series work. If that is the case, there are a few things I’d like to see:

  1. Make it more steampunk. We’ve had glimpses of what a Victorian world infused with technological advances could look like – including, in Deep Breath, three devices devised by Blue Peter competition winners: Vastra’s sonic hatpin (created by Amber from Kent, aged 7), Jenny’s gauntlet (Connor from Somerset, 13) and Strax’s diagnostic lorgnette (Arthur from Hampshire, 11). In a world where the Cyber King has previously risen (in The Next Doctor), a steampunk fantasy world would be great to explore on TV.

  2. Include a couple of familiar faces. Jackson Lake (The Next Doctor’s David Morrissey) could be a useful ally. Or, given that Madame Vastra has indicated that she’s met previous incarnations of the Doctor, maybe a mysterious figure who may, or may not, be the nation’s favourite Time Lord? Someone give Paul McGann a call…

  3. Introduce a regal benefactor. While the section above talked about the real reason why lesbians weren’t subject to the harsh strictures imposed upon men during Victoria’s reign, what if there were an in-world reason? One would like to see Pauline Collins reprise her performance as Her Majesty Queen Victoria from Tooth and Claw, becoming the group’s secret sponsor1 and using her influence to protect Vastra and Jenny from prosecution…

7. “I’m Scottish!”

Lots of planets have a Scotland, apparently. Of course the Doctor has been Scottish before (the Seventh, back in the era when numbering of Doctors was much simpler), as well as being played by a Scotsman but with an Ensligh accent (the Tenth and, um, Tenth-A). One can only wonder how jokes about how the Doctor’s eyebrows want to “secede” play out in areas of the world where there is substantially less awareness of the impending referendum on Scottish independence.

8. Where do these faces come from?

The Second Doctor was offered a choice of faces for his enforced regenerations (so has nobody to blame for himself for ending up looking like Margaret Rutherford on a diet). Romana tried on multiple faces before settling on Princess Astra’s likeness for her second incarnation.

Is the Doctor’s claim that selecting an older, familiar face – one that he would have spotted when visiting Pompeii with Donna in The Fires of Pompeii – a message of some sort leading anywhere? If so, what message was the Fifth Doctor sending himself when he turned himself into a slightly blonder version of Commander Maxil?

Incidentally, talking of faces, the tramp Barney should be a familiar one to Doctor Who fans of old. Brian Miller was in 1983’s Snakedance as Dugdale, provided a number of Dalek voices in 1980s serials, and had a guest role in The Sarah Jane Adventures story The Mad Woman in the Attic. That last mention is significant because Miller is also the husband of the late Elisabeth Sladen, who of course played Sarah Jane.

9. Enough already with the redecoration line

“You’ve redecorated. I don’t like it.”

The occasional reuse of this line – first uttered in The Three Doctors, then repeated in The Five Doctors, Closing Time and The Day of the Doctor – is growing a little long in the tooth now, isn’t it? Would it have killed to change it up for once, and for Clara to appreciatively say, “You’ve redecorated. I love it!” Or even, “You’ve redecorated – I’ve been on at you for ages to put those shelves up ever since we landed in IKEA, and that’s a weekend of my life I’m never getting back.”

I’ll admit, if you’re committed to including the line, Jenna Coleman’s delivery gives it a new spin. And it did get a cheer in our cinema screening, albeit from just one member of the audience who’d possibly had one too many Smirnoff Ices.

But maybe next time Michael Pickwoad does a dull redressing of the console room set, we can come up with a better line?

10. Play Missy For Me

So. Missy. This seems to be the character who first pushed this Clara into the Doctor’s way, who placed the adverts in the paper, and whose dastardly plan is the crux of this season’s arc. Michelle Gomez has already been announced as a guest star for the series’ two-part finale, so her unheralded appearance in this episode wasn’t as complete a shock as if a recognisable actor had popped up with zero mention at all.

But who is Missy? Why does she think of the Doctor as her “boyfriend”? Some thoughts:

  • The Rani. Every sodding year, we get told the Rani – the female Time Lord seen in two 1980s stories, played by the late Kate O’Mara – will be returning, by people who have no clue really but just want the Daily Star to write some nonsense about the show. It’s never been true up to now, and won’t be true this time. Not least because if The Rani were returning, Big Finish wouldn’t be launching ‘The New Rani’, starring Siobhan Redmond.2

  • Romana. Last seen walking through an ornate garden in the E-Space pocket universe (albeit a black and white photograph). Known as ‘Mistress’ to K9, who remained with her.

  • The Master. My personal favourite choice. Is ‘Missy’, aka ‘Mistress’, a new female incarnation of the Master? It would give the papers the male-to-female regeneration that habitually gets them salivating. Steven Moffat recently said the Master’s story was “sort of done”. But remember Rule 1a: The Man Who Writes the Doctor Lies.

And if it turns out to be some future version of Clara, I’ll be very, very cross. But not entirely surprised.


So that’s my first Ten Things… of 2014 done. You’ll note I didn’t use up any of the ten points to discuss whether Capaldi was any good (of course he was). Or whether the clockwork robot that is now in Missy’s version of paradise has anything to do with Michelle Gomez being in the same production photos as some Cybermen from a later episode. In fact there are loads of things I couldn’t sneak in this week. If you have any thoughts on this episode, do use the comments box below.

  1. Well, only a fool would place their complete trust in the Torchwood Institute, wouldn’t they?

  2. Although Redmond is also Scottish. Which is either an indication of something, a complete coincidence or a vast global conspiracy to have all Doctor Who characters come from North of the Border. Your choice.

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Scott Matthewman

A lifelong Doctor Who fan, now a part-time theatre and TV critic