by William Hohmeister
Question: You take a broom. You replace the handle; and then later, you replace the brush. And you do that, over and over again. Is it still the same broom? Answer: No, of course it isn’t!
Doctor Who series 8 is here! Peter Capaldi plays the new Doctor*, and Jenna Louise-Coleman continues to travel with him as Clara Oswald. Clara is the first Companion since Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) to witness the Doctor’s regeneration. The first episode, “Deep Breath”, picks up directly after the end of series 7.
A dinosaur wanders in the Thames as Vastra (Neve McIntosh) and her wife Jenny Flint (Catrin Stewart) investigate. Vastra offers sonic lamps to corral the t-rex, just as it spits out the Tardis. The Doctor, who at the end of series 7 asked Clara if she knew how to fly the Tardis, is still having some trouble with it.
The Doctor seems almost senile at first. He does not remember anyone’s name at first, simply describing Strax (Dan Starkey) as Grumpy, one of the seven dwarves, and Vastra as “the green one.” He passes out, and Vastra takes him to her estate. He fights against going to sleep, but Vastra tricks him into it. She, Jenny, and Clara talk about the nature of regeneration.
Vastra, Jenny, and Strax are my favorite characters of the series. Strax is an eternally-concussed Sontaran nurse, and Vastra is a Silurian married to the human Jenny. They’re fanservice, but they are used so sparingly it works. And Jenny and Vastra have the most realistic, healthiest relationship on the show.
A Clockwork Droid, similar to those seen in “The Girl in the Fireplace”, steals organs from people and dinosaurs to keep himself functional, then burns the bodies to cover up the theft. The Doctor and the others race to the burning dinosaur in time to spot the Droid, and the Doctor escapes by jumping into the Thames.
The Doctor continues to struggle through his confusion, as he terrorizes and nearly mugs a hobo. Peter Capaldi first appeared in “The Fires of Pompeii” as Caecilius, and the Doctor seems aware of this. He thinks his prior incarnation (Matt Smith) sent a message by choosing this face, but he doesn’t understand the message.
The Doctor and Clara both answer an ad for the “Impossible Girl” at a restaurant. Each believes the other wrote it. The Doctor quickly realizes the restaurant is a trap, but too late to escape. He and Clara descend into a spaceship beneath the restaurant. The Doctor realizes what the Droids are, but as they wake up he abandons Clara. He comes back after the capture Clara, but he is a bit of a coward; he had no way to know they wouldn’t kill her outright, or that she would be able to hide.
Jenny, Strax, Vastra, and Clara fight off the robot flunkies as the control Droid escapes in a balloon made of skin. It looks like a giant testicle. Earlier, the Doctor wore a flesh mask he stole off a Droid. Either someone didn’t think this macabre turn of events through, or everyone on the set had a good laugh with this episode.
The Doctor develops a lot in this episode, and gives some interesting insights into the regeneration process and the continuing character of the Doctor. A massive blast of time energy, such as the time vortex of the Tardis (“The Parting of the Ways”) or receiving a new set of regenerations (“The Time of the Doctor”), knocks him out and confuses him. Compare this to Matt Smith, who got right back up after regenerating, possibly because it was his last one.
The Doctor confronts the control Droid in the Scrotulloon (scrotum+balloon). He tries to convince the Droid that its life is hollow and meaningless. He claims the “promised land” the Droid searches for is a superstition, a result of “cramming so much humanity in there.” He also says the quote at the top of this article:
“Question: You take a broom. You replace the handle; and then later, you replace the brush. And you do that, over and over again. Is it still the same broom? Answer: No, of course it isn’t!”
If this applies to the Droid, does it not also apply to the Doctor? He changes faces, bodies, even personalities; he has the knowledge and history of his past incarnations, but when Matt Smith leaves him a message, the new Doctor can’t decipher it. When Clara decides to leave, however, the previous Doctor calls her and asks her to stay and help him. The new Doctor echoes Matt Smith’s lines, so he must remember something. How much of the Doctor is just the character’s history mingled with the new person, and how much is a continuing consciousness?
I like this ending. The Doctor is unusually vulnerable and open, and has to trust Clara rather than the reverse. While Matt Smith asks Clara to help, the new Doctor begs Clara to: “Just see me.” His faith is rewarded when she changes her mind, and they continue to travel together.
The final scene is a bizarre epilogue, featuring the control Droid in “heaven”, with a woman named Missy (Michelle Gomez), who claims to be the Doctor’s girlfriend.
*The Doctor’s numbering is off. Capaldi should be the Twelfth Doctor, but because John Hurt is also technically a Doctor, he’s actually the Thirteenth – making Eccleston the Tenth, Tennant the Eleventh, and Smith the Twelfth. I imagine this would be confusing, however, so unless it’s an issue in the story I’ll refer to the Doctor from now on by his actor’s name or just…