Doctor Who
Doctor Who Review: The Doctor's Going to Some Dark Places

Elizabeth Harper | 25 Aug 2014 05:00
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Welcome to the S.S. Marie Antoinette
There's a reason why the Doctor thinks this is familiar: we've met these bad guys (or at least their distant cousins), in an episode that was rather better than the one we're watching now. In the 2006 episode The Girl in the Fireplace, the Doctor (David Tennant), Mickey, and Rose land on a 51st century spaceship -- in this case, the vessel is called the Madam de Pompadour -- only to find it has windows in time to 18th century France.

Why? The android crew has been trying to repair the ship using human parts -- the human crew has been recycled for parts -- and they've decided that they need the brain of the historical Madam de Pompadour to finish their work. The droids in that episode are presented as having a few screws loose: their plan isn't exactly practical as they're wasting a tremendous amount of energy trying to reach Madam de Pompadour while their human crew is dead and any mission they had presumably long-since ended.

The droids we see here are similar, but not identical, to the previous clockwork droids (they certainly have better CGI effects, with their blend of human features with clockwork parts), and really the fact that their sister ship is named as the Madam de Pompadour is the only thing that establishes a clear connection between the two. Unfortunately, that link mostly serves to remind us of how great Doctor Who used to be -- any way you want to look at it, comparing Deep Breath to Hugo award-winning The Girl In the Fireplace ends with the latter coming out on top.

While these human-droid hybrids are decidedly creepier than Fireplace's all-clockwork droids, they make a lot less sense. Despite the fact that the mechanical components we see of these droids -- and the droids in the previous episode -- seem like things that could be constructed with Victorian-era technology, they're harvesting human organs to keep themselves going. Even if this is perhaps meant to disguise them, it makes little sense to have fully human disguises for the large number of droids we see -- especially when they've clearly not managed to harvest enough parts to get their ship going again. (By comparison, on the Madam de Pompadour we saw human organs wired into machinery, helping the ship actually function.)

Further, the villain's end game of getting away in an escape pod -- the ship's original escape pod, turned into a hot air balloon made out of human skin -- stretches credulity. Even in the Victorian era, surely there was a more practical material with which to make a hot air balloon than human skin. (Though it does rather make these droids the poster children for why we need Asimov's laws of robotics.) Instead of having the clockwork droids flow naturally into the framework of the story, you have to wonder why the droids of Deep Breath -- and their connection to the earlier incarnation -- are there at all.

Though the connection will presumably be explained as the season progresses, the story just doesn't stand up well on its own, and the bad guys left me more confused than intrigued. (And really wishing I'd spent the last hour rewatching The Girl in the Fireplace.) The story just would have worked better -- and made more sense -- without forcing the connection to Fireplace.

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