Sunday, February 22, 2015

Take on a Deep Breath & Listening Trek

The first Peter Capaldi season of Doctor Who is now available on DVD etc., my preferred medium, so I've recently seen the first one, "Deep Breath."  This is also the long episode that got shown in movie theatres (a la the 50th anniversary ep "Day of the Doctor") following a world publicity tour.  So the most disappointing thing about this DVD is that the special features are mostly about the pre and post showing hype.  Although even that has its moments.  No commentary on the episode, though.

It's interesting that the guests and fans on the BBC and BBC America post-episode shows were so breathlessly hyped up about "Deep Breath," and talked about its most pleasing surface features, its cute, exciting, touching and tweetable moments, so the show succeeded on that level immediately.  The opening image (a dinosaur in Victorian London, spitting out the Tardis) got predictable wows, and everybody loved Peter Capaldi as the Doctor.

But what really interests me is that once producer/writer Steven Moffat got all the flashy stuff going, and all the coy references that fans will get, he actually did what he probably didn't have to do and gave the story some texture and substance, as it dealt with the Doctor's questions about his own identity, and went head-on at the most obvious change: he's older.  In the process, the ep said some things about how people feel as they get older, that you maybe have to be older to get.

There are these writerly, even classical moments of reflected meanings, as when the Doctor (apparently asleep) seems to be vocalizing the thoughts of the dinosaur roaring outside but ends up saying something that's about himself, identifying himself in some sense with the dinosaur, as a stranger and perhaps--in a way--as old.

Later Calpaldi in a Scrooge-like nightshirt has a great rant as he tries to deal with his new self after regeneration, muttering that he's seen his face before (and of course, fans know where--in the David Tennant episode about Pompei), speculating on what message he was trying to send himself with this face, but still not remembering where it came from.

Then when he confronts the android (derived from yet another Tennant episode) who is a machine remaking itself with human parts, he accuses him of not even remembering where he got his face. To emphasize the connected point, he's holding up a shiny metal tray to the android's face as a mirror, but we can also see the Doctor's face reflected in the other side.  (Mirrors as well as various kinds of reflections and projections are prominent in this ep.)

You've changed so much and so many times, there must be very little of who you were originally, the Doctor shouts, in a nice piece of projecting, so you wonder if he's not wondering if that's his fate as well.

Moffat neatly disposes of the possible awkwardness of quite older Doctor and quite younger companion by having the Doctor say directly, I'm not your boyfriend.  But he also manages to broaden the Doctor's post-regeneration identity crisis, and Clara's not being able to accept him because he's much older than her boyfriend Doctor (Matt Smith, who makes a brief and emotionally effective appearance), by having the Capaldi Doctor say, "You can't see me, can you?  You look at me and you can't see me.  You have any idea what that's like?  I'm not on the phone.  I'm right here standing in front of you.  Just look at me."

Besides the Doctor talking to Clara, he's speaking for many older people, who may no longer look like the person they feel they are inside.   Younger people do tend to look right through them, but even worse, they don't see who they are.

The episode also includes that intrepid trio of Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax, fighting crime in Victorian London.  Strax is great comic relief, Jenny is appealing and apparently a fan favorite, but I am most impressed with Neve McIntosh as Vastra.  I sense their repeated appearance is setting up the possibility of their own spinoff series, which would only be right: since the Moffatverse has eliminated Sherlock Holmes from late 19th century London, it's only fair to replace his crime-solving skills with Madame Vastra and her crew.

Meanwhile in Trekville...

Speculation and consternation continue as, soon after the new director for the 2016 official NuTrek feature film was announced, so were the new writers.   Consternation seems natural, whatever the gifts of the people newly in creative charge, since 2016 happens to be Star Trek's 50th anniversary, and so far there is no clear connection to that living legacy.  Even Abrams' Trek films had a connection through Leonard Nimoy.  Now so far there's nothing, except rumors of cameos.  Meanwhile there are all these talented and experienced directors, actors etc. whose lineage goes back to Gene Roddenberry, who know what Star Trek is about, with many of them quite eloquent on the subject.

Meanwhile, it's interesting to look at the Star Trek sites in this period between movies, and the Doctor Who sites, between seasons.  Though both announce new ancilliary stories through comics and novels, and both tout products (toys, memorabilia), the balance on the Trek sites is much more towards products, and on Doctor Who sites towards stories.  And it's worth seeing why.

Doctor Who seems much more active in revisiting its past, in creating new stories for past characters, and especially in using actors from that past.  That's largely through an emphasis on audio/radio drama, something that Star Trek has never really done much of.

Partly that's a cultural thing--radio drama (as well as stage drama) is much more part of UK culture (and Canadian, come to that) than US.  Some years ago, Star Trek actors employed themselves in radio/audio drama, doing (for example) non-Trek science fiction, through Alien Voices and L.A. Theatre Works.  But official Star Trek has not embraced this medium.  Which means that those great voices out there associated with various Star Trek series are not doing the new stories they could be doing, adding to the Star Trek legacy as well as reviving it.  Instead, we get the Star Trek cuckoo clock.

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