DANGER: THERE BE SPOILERS HERE!
We’re three episodes in to the new season of Doctor Who, and I’m dying to know what Steven Moffat has up his sleeve. I remember reading a while back that part of “the Moff’s” plan for Series 8 was built on deliberate parallels to the show’s first season. So far, that holds up. The Doctor is in the first of a brand-new set of regenerations, he’s sporting the face of a 50-plus-year-old earthling, and he’s traveling with a young teacher from Coal Hill School (and is about to pick up second). But, as any savvy viewer can tell you, the recent parallels to the program’s history hardly end there.
The question, of course, is what are we to make of it all?
Moffat goes out of his way to highlight the connections between this episode and his Series 2 entry The Girl in the Fireplace. The Doctor can taste the deja vu in the air – the stranded ship, the clockwork robots scavenging through humanity for spare parts – but can’t seem to remember where he’s seen it all before. Even the reveal that he’s aboard the SS Marie Antoinette, the sister ship of the Madame du Pompadour, fails to stir his memory. At the close of The Girl in the Fireplace the tenth Doctor leaves without ever learning the ship’s name or discovering why the Madame du Pompadour herself was seemingly so critical to its operation.
The Girl in the Fireplace aside, there are at least four other scenes in Deep Breath that connect back to earlier episodes in the revived series.
First, the newly regenerated Doctor is mentally unstable (itself a potential homage to the entire Colin Baker era), and his first appearance – stumbling from the TARDIS in a borderline incoherent state before passing out and having to be cared for by his companions – echoes David Tennant’s first appearance in The Christmas Invasion. In each case he arrives in the same general time and place where he met his current companion: mid-2000’s London near the Tylers’ apartment in The Christmas Invasion and Victorian-era London (where the Doctor first met *a* Clara face-to-face) in Deep Breath.
Later in the episode, the Doctor is struggling to remember who he is and wrestling with the fact that his face is disturbingly familiar to him. The Doctor’s inability to piece together his own identity is reminiscent of the eighth incarnation’s confusion after regenerating in the TV Movie. I think it’s safe to assume the fact that he feels like he’s seen own his face before is a deliberate reference to The Fires of Pompeii (in which Peter Capaldi played the Roman Caecilius opposite David Tennant) and is all part of the “master plan” that Russell T. Davies supposedly started hatching when Capaldi was being considered for Doctor #11.
After the episode’s climax, the Half-Faced Man’s arrival in heaven appears to take place in the same garden that features in The Girl Who Waited. This could, of course, be coincidence (there are a finite number of shooting locations, and an even more finite number of immaculate garden terraces), but the fact that there are shots featuring the same views shot at essentially the same angles seems to suggest otherwise.
Finally, the Doctor and Clara’s final scene – where Clara comes to grips with the Doctor’s new face, chooses to continue adventuring with him, and the pair ultimately decide to get to know each other again over coffee – strongly parallels the final scene of The End of the World, wherein Rose chooses to commit to a life of travel with the ninth Doctor and the two of them decide to catch their breath over chips.
Into the Dalek
Before even addressing matters of story, the placement of this episode parallels the show’s first season. The Doctor and the Daleks meet for the first time in William Hartnell’s second serial, almost immediately turning the show into a phenomenon in its native Britain. Here, Peter Capaldi’s Doctor has his first encounter with the Daleks in his second story as well. Furthermore, because of the events of Asylum of the Daleks (more on that shortly), this is also effectively the first time a Dalek has met the Doctor.
Within the context of the revived series, this episode bears remarkable similarity to the Series 1 classic Dalek. In each case, a lone Dalek has been found and imprisoned then subsequently tortured and subjected to experiments. Both Daleks are in the midst of a crisis of conscience, questioning their own existence as well as their destiny. As each episode progresses, the Dalek finds itself inadvertently restored by a time traveler (Rose in the first case, the Doctor in the second), which prompts an inevitable killing spree. Both Dalek and Into the Dalek reach an emotional climax when the Dalek in question overcomes its own nature (thanks again to Rose and the Doctor, respectively). In Dalek, the title character taunts the Doctor with the suggestion that he “would make a good Dalek”. Capaldi’s Doctor is told much the same, although in a notably different context. When the Doctor laments that perhaps there can never be a “good” Dalek, the Dalek corrects him: “You are a good Dalek.”
Into the Dalek also echoes the Series 7 premier, Asylum of the Daleks, wherein the Doctor meets *a* Clara (called Oswin) for the first time (though he never actually sees her). Clara/Oswin literally spends the entire episode inside of a Dalek, her quarters a mock-up of the interior of a Dalek’s head/dome. This presages the Doctor’s discovery that the mysterious Oswin is herself an inmate in the asylum. Like the title characters of Dalek and Into the Dalek, she’s bound by chains, being held in isolation, and on the verge of madness as she fights against her own nature. Oswin’s a Dalek…but she’s a good one in the end.
Robot of Sherwood
The setting and nature of this episode – and even its title – are reminiscent of the Tom Baker-era Androids of Tara, which itself is colored with shades of Robin Hood. Both are set in a Feudal(ish) society, both include mechanical beings in pivotal roles, and both feature storylines about noblewomen who are kidnapped and potentially coerced into marriage as part of a jaded nobleman’s bid for power.
As far as more recent parallels are concerned, Robot of Sherwood is also reminiscent of The Fires of Pompeii (Peter Capaldi’s debut appearance in the revived series). The plot revolves around aliens who are stranded in Earth’s past and improvising with the technology of the time in their efforts to restore themselves to power. The threat to Pompeii is self-explanatory, and a similar threat looms as Medieval England faces the possibility of annihilation.
The antagonists of Robot of Sherwood also echo those of Deep Breath. In both episodes, robotic aliens are trying to fix a damaged ship so they can continue on their journey to The Promised Land. This element evokes additional memories of Series 5’s The Lodger, in which mysterious aliens (one of whom bears passing resemblance to William Hartnell from where he lurks in the shadows) are abducting humans in an attempt to make their derelict ship (which may or may not be a TARDIS) operational again.
Tune in Next Week…
Questions still abound about where Steven Moffat is taking us – Is there something I didn’t spot in Into the Dalek‘s glimpse of Heaven? Is The Promised Land another Utopia? Should I be worried that the Cybermen are set to feature in this season’s finale…and were introduced in Hartnell’s final episode (the Doctor’s first regeneration)? – and the answers aren’t forthcoming. I suppose all we can do is wait until Saturday. Listen looks like a creeper, and I know we’ve had a few of those since 2005…and 1963.
Are there any parallels I’ve missed? Anything you think I’m reading too much in to (besides Doctor Who in general)? If you have a thought, a criticism, or even a theory about where this regeneration is headed, please share it in the comments section below. I will probably be updating this post as the season progresses – probably more than once – so I’d love to hear what you have to say.
As always, thanks for reading.