There may be a ratings drop, but they'll be back. Even average Doctor Who is preferable than that X factor bilge. I give it a 5/10. Average Nuwho fare. It wasn't as bad as some of the other season openers. I liked the 'handmines' and its good to see Skaro back and the Dalek city.
However the plot was typically OTT and it felt like a cross between Star Wars and a typical RTD era season finale. It seems to me that Moffat's Doctor Who is getting more and more of the visual look of the Star Wars franchise every season. Now Davros is a 'Dark Lord' apparently!
Also, I seem to recall that in 'Remembrance of the Daleks' Skaro was destroyed. I'm more than happy that it wasn't, but this isn't explained. Also it wasn't explained how Davros survived his apparent death at the end of his last appearance.
My biggest question is this. If the Doctor can just travel back in time and kill Davros as a child to change the future then why hasn't he done it before? He could in one small trip eliminate the Daleks forever.
The biggest problem with the episode was, of course, depicted medieval Britain as multi racial. Its BBC 'blind casting' gone mad. There were indeed non-whites in medieval Britain but not in the proportions suggested by that scene. The whole scene was ridiculous and the casting of the audience was just one aspect of that. Mind you the whole scene was ridiculous. As if a medieval audience would accept a tank and a man playing an electric guitar without being freaked out. Ridiculous. It spoiled the whole episode. It was ridiculous and displayed a complete lack of understanding of medieval history. Those people would have been terrified. I hardly think that in 3 weeks an audience of medieval people would get used to a man riding around on a modern tank playing the electric guitar. He would have been killed by them as soon as they no longer feared him.
And as to these people saying I'm "just mad because Ben Chatham isn't canon", that is untrue on both counts.
In short, he liked it. At least in comparison to the last couple of years' output.
And, in a disconcerting sychronicity, so did I.
Because, while there was undoubtedly much to admire and appreciate from Capaldi's first year it sure as hell wasn't enjoyable. It wasn't fun (bar Robot of Sherwood) and showed us Dave Owen's ideal 90s idea of Doctor Who escheing wacky-hijacks through time and space for confronting what is rotten in the human soul. Cause family viewing likes that. After over a year where the only levity was Capaldi's hypocritical and stupid insults we at last have a story you might, you know, desire to watch. I mean, everyone agrees Children of Earth was perhaps the most awesome Torchwood ever got or ever would get, but it's hardly bright, life-affirming, LOL enjoyment is it? Frankly, if I want televisual art I will go and rent the fucking blue-ray, until then I'll stick with Gareth Roberts's statement that normal people prefer Androids of Tara to The Keeper of Traken anyday...
But episode one, The Magician's Apprentice (why IS it called that? It's meaningless!), throws back the veil of grim darkness and bitter recrimination. Some, like Spara, have noted the distinct Jediverse vibe to events and I heartily endorse that - because instead of the pretentious misery of Revenge of the Sith we're getting the awesome adventure of A New Hope. It's all summed up by the new bad guy Colony Saff.
Sounding like some bizarre yeast-infection ointment, Colony Saff is a villain designed specifically to make you go "Wow! Awesome!" He is basically the offspring of Emperor Palpatine and the Fendahl, a gestalt of snakes in a black hooded robe and an ugly mug. He has no back story, no motivation, and both the Doctor and Davros think he's a moron unworthy of contempt. The first ten minutes of the show if Saff gatecrashing old stomping grounds of NuWho - Dorium's space vegas, the Shadow Proclaimation, Karn and all that was missing was him slithering around the Powell Estate trying to look menacingly. Indeed, the fangasms of seeing Ood and Hath and Judoon and Shadow Architect (now with Afro of Proclamation) and Ohila covers up the fact we are getting the same exchange in ridiculously convolted montage.
"Where is the Doctor?"
"Fucked if we know."
"Meh. Worth a shot."
Then he pulls his one shtick by turning into a giant snake. And not a particularly impressive one. At least the Mara had fangs. This one looked like a swift rolled up newspaper would do him in. But that's it - there is a creepy guy who is actually made of snakes! That's all there is! He isn't a suicidally-depressed cyborg yearning for blissful oblivion, or an unknown quantity from another realm threatening to annihilate life as we know it (not that there's any reason to care). He's just a bad guy who tries to bully people and no one accepts him as a bully. Missy snaps one of his snakes' necks when she gets bored and Clara apparently does the same in one of those "meh, why leave it in?" edits.
In short, we get a villain that doesn't make the Doctor look bad for once. If Saff had left corpses everywhere he went, it would be a reflection that the Doctor's pity-party was costing lives. But no, people are allowed to live. A happy ending - at least not one with the Doctor and Clara standing on a heap of corpses saying it could've been worse - is in the offering, even so. The Doctor doesn't even have to murder him in cold blood, or make huge and wild guesses about his nature that are not systematically broken down and proved to be wrong when innocents die because of it.
In Deep Breath, the Doctor was granted a brand new life-cycle to travel the universe with his best friend. And he immediately turned off the lights in the TARDIS, sulked and repeatedly avoided people. Or planets. Or exploring. Just basically sat there in the dark wondering if he was a good man. Frankly, Danny Pink wasn't the only one wondering why Clara thought he was so awesome given he was such crappy company and they never went anywhere nice. Other Doctors you can imagine spending time aboard the TARDIS painting or reading or spring-cleaning or finding out exactly what that red button does? This Doctor occasionally lights some candles and does an equation on a blackboard.
Lo, Deep Breath said, this is the REAL Doctor, not the cheeky friendly act he puts on to befriend people.
Well, thought I, fuck you then. You're not just a prick I don't like, you've undermined respect for all the others. Instead of proving himself as the Doctor, Capaldi just said all the others were liars and if you don't like that then you are a shallow, feeble creature unworthy of his love. HE HAS A DEGREE!!!
Compare the first scenes of the Doctor last year - drinking coffee and bullying a terrified woman he'd just kidnapped and left her brother to die, or deciding to destroy Clara's faith in Robin Hood, or sitting on the sidelines watching gazelles getting eaten to prove a point, or trying to ruin Clara's date, or telling her they're going to die and its her fault, or hurling abuse at a teenager he can't be bothered to remember, or bitching at Clara for showing more enthusiasm, or bitching that Clara is boring, or telling a little girl to piss off and stop bothering him...
The first time we see the Doctor this year (prequels aside) he's dressed as a hippy cosplayer in Spike Thomson shades, shredding an electric guitar on a tank in a medieval fighting pit, convincing an entire society to start each sentence with a Michelangelo-style "Duuuuuuude!" before serenading his friends with a rock version of Pretty Woman.
Compare and contrast people.
Moffat said the "dark" season eight was there to lure Matt Smith for another year, but it seems this episode feels way more like a Eleventh Doctor rewrite. Maybe it's the time-filling clipshow of people in interesting story-worthy locales trying to find the Doctor, or his defeatist acceptance of a death sentence out of shame over betraying a small child, or even a half-arsed cliffhanger involving murdering the main cast. (I assume the sudden way all the exterminated regulars magically vanished in light was a deliberate gambit so no children would be upset - fricken hell, two of them were wearing vortex manipulators...)
In comparison to last year, spoilers have been non existent. It makes me personally wonder if the massive security leak where scripts and episodes were released onto the internet was actually a carefully-orchestrated method to prevent culture shock to those who'd suffer it (personally, it worked on me to the point the finished product was comparitively upbeat and entertaining). Because, shit dude, Davros was in this! Julian Bleach's Davros - the uncontested best bit of the Season 4 finale - who managed to remain thoroughly, contemptuously insane even though he spent the whole episode dozing off into his fist. I had honestly no idea, and perhaps I should have - because I spent my first view of the episode basically going "WTF? WHAT THE JIGSAW-ASSEMBLING SWEET ONION CHUTNEY FUCK!" to appreciate the episode. Hell, I was doubtful there would even be Daleks in this one.
Does this actually improve the experience, I ask myself? Having grown up well and truly spoilered over every classic story bar The Space Museum and MindWarp (for some reason), I always experienced Doctor Who as a kind of "you've read the book, now see the movie" which bled into my consciousness - I see the opening moments of The War Games as Jamie realizing that they've failed to take him home to Scotland, or knowing Drax's "replacement parts" were actually the Crown Jewels, or Vorg surprisingly not mentioning the Ice Warriors in his scope and so on. I settled in to watch Frontier in Space, knowing roughly what I was getting in for and appreciating the differences to my perceptions. I did the same thing with most of Eccleston's season, having seen screencaps of his last three stories but having no clue as to plot or dialogue or what was happening.
This week, that covered approximately two minutes of the episode as Missy and Clara have tea in Spain or somewhere while Kate and Sassy Black Lady at UNIT HQ watch on in worry. Everything else was basically being beaten up by fangasm moments or stuff I appreciate (in particular the "could you kill that child?" soundbite which non-fans needed to know about the drammatic irony) but I found my brain struggling to keep up with what was happening? Was the cliffhanger a dream, a hallucination, a fakery? What the hell happened to Davros? Are they really going to kill him off? Why was Skaro invisible? Is it a fake or not? How come the Daleks know who the Doctor is? Why have we finally got "every Dalek ever" in a story that bluntly does not require it? Where did Colony Saff bugger off to?
I know it's part one of two, but I personally hadn't had time to work out which was stuff I was expected to imagine (like how Missy survived) or what would happen next week (like the Doctor pulling the trigger). The "compassion is a weakness" argument also left me slightly bewildered at Davros' logic, since his actions weren't his own but a reaction to the Doctor. Quite simply, if Davros is killing people to make a point then whether or not he was shown compassion is meaningless! It's like running up to someone, smashing their kneecaps and then telling them that kneecaps are a weakness...
(And, to be honest, has the Doctor been that compassionate to Davros? He was willing to kill him the first time they met till Nyder knocked him out. While he did hesitate later, the Doctor DID blow up the bomb he'd attached to Davros. Again, the Fifth Doctor didn't actually get a chance to decide whether or not to kill Davros, he just prioritized his friends and would have returned to the lab if Davros hadn't locked the door. Sixie got no chance to do so on TV but on audio we now he blew up a ship Davros was on, let Mel Bush of all people crush him with Mechanoids (whereupon Davros showed compassion on him!). Seven blew up Skaro and Davros's ship again, then marooned him on a planet of ghosts. Eight destroyed Davros' personality and would have killed him if he'd had the chance. Frankly, only Ten ever showed compassion (bar the unspecified version that tried to save Davros in the time war and even then that was surely for strategic advantage)...)
And Missy again! I'm surprised yon Emperor hasn't complained at the entire ship-sinking phenomenon when Missy herself is disgusted at the idea she would have sex with the Doctor whatever genders they were (and thus the slash fic withers and dies), but Ms. Gomez easily conveys that she and the Doctor are wontoks, entirely on the same level and genuinely affectionate to each other now those damn drums aren't in the way. It's a feat that perhaps only Delgado and Simm evoked, as none of the others have ever showed that they enjoy the company of the Doctor. You can't argue with her that she's more likely to be the Doctor's closest friend than any companion, as Clara has barely known him for five years - it's like a guy choosing as best friends someone he chatted to on the way home.
Again, cut out the homicide and she's probably more Doctorish than the Doctor is, even this week. Missy dances through Daleks and paints them into a logical corner. The Doctor falls to his knees and begs for mercy. Missy is reasonably surprised to find herself on Skaro. The Doctor has a screaming fit. Missy bluntly threatens to kill Davros for causing this mess. The Doctor can barely look at him in shame. It feels more and more that, rather than the Pertwee years, we're actually going through a kind of Eric Saward renaissance of heartless bastards and social darwinism the Doctor isn't built to cope with but his enemies are. Of course, Moffat has an advantage that Saward doesn't in that Grand Moff Tarkin gives a flying fuck about finishing the story and bringing things to a conclusion.
So while Saward chickened out of the Doctor making the decision to kill Davros, Moffat confronts it head on and shows us him blowing the fucker's head off. Apparently. The visit to Davros' childhood doesn't quite perfectly synch with BF's vision (unless it was bring-your-kid-to-work-day on the Kaled lines and after this Davros' family kept him out of harm) but it's closer than RTD would have gone. Frankly, remembering what a homicidal maniac teenage Davros was means that while non-fans would no doubt gasp at the idea of murdering a child, us diehards are thinking the Doctor's practically acting in self-defense.
Handmines, though? I don't know whether I should scoff or demand they be digitally inserted into Genesis of the Daleks. Can you imagine Harry saving the Doctor from one of those? And did the other soldier say something that the clams are attacking? I honestly don't know, but it'd be awesome.
At long last, the Doctor actually treats events as if they matter to him enough to display emotion. He makes friends, he has fun, he will fight for those he cares about and people care about him.
In short, about freaking time.