How to Fix Doctor Who: Deep Breath

(Warning: Major Spoilers Ahead)

This episode is so uneven, like a miniature version of Moffat’s tenure at Doctor Who. There are some brilliant ideas – having the Doctor bring a dinosaur along for the ride after it swallowed the Tardis – and some utterly daft ones – who wants to see an older man flail about in a nightgown? – all mixed together, but never congealing into something coherently enjoyable.

Of all the things that went wrong, though, there’s a huge missed opportunity that stands out.

Clara should have left at the end of the episode.

Imagine if she did. There’s no last-minute phone call from Matt Smith manipulating her into staying, no puppy-dog eyes from the current Doctor to beg her to stay. No. The Doctor touches down in Clara’s time, she asks if she’s home, and he says “Yes.”

He drops her off, and explains why: his past self made a mistake in thinking of her in a romantic way, and some unknown person is manipulating their relationship. Until he knows who that person is, and why they’re doing it, he’s not going to play into their plans and perpetuate his predecessor’s mistake. This is a different Doctor, a Doctor that’s not as needy, and he’s strong enough to let her go when he sees it’s best.

Making that the final scene would recast the episode as the breakup of the Doctor and Clara, giving it some emotional heft, and making his abandonment of her in the middle a kind of foreshadowing. It would also give the season a little more tension: will Clara and the Doctor ever travel together again? Will he find out who’s been manipulating them? Will he take on a new long-term companion, or will this Doctor be more independent than the past?

I feel like this approach is something an earlier Steven Moffat would have done. The writer of The Girl in the Fireplace and Forest of the Dead would have seen the opportunity for a defining, bittersweet moment, and taken it. Instead Moffat’s new Doctor, perhaps like Moffat himself, does not know when to let go.

The Rent is Too Damn High by Matthew Yglesias

Short, direct and to the point. Yglesias makes a good case that housing prices in the US are a serious problem, and one we can solve. The driving cause is not techies taking over, or greedy landlords driving up rents. Instead, the roots of the problem lie in regulations that restrict housing density.

3 Things I Learned:

  1. The meme comes from a real debate held in the run-up to the New York governor’s election of 2010.
  2. Tall buildings are actually illegal, not just hard to approve, in most suburban areas.
  3. Parking regulations have a large impact on the feasability of a project. For example, if the law requires one parking space per unit, and the bedrock prevents building more than two stories for underground parking, you’ve got a hard limit to high up you can build. Ironically, with denser development placed closer to jobs, we wouldn’t need as many cars. Requiring the parking spaces actually makes congestion worse, in addition to driving up housing prices.

The Plantagenets by Dan Jones

Surprisingly good. Jones covers almost 300 years of history at a pace that feels perfect: not so fast that you miss out on interesting details, not so slow that you ever want to stop reading. Each chapter zooms in on just a few years, keeping them short and easily digestible but still giving him space to tell a dramatic story.

Three things I learned:

  1. I always thought England went thousands of years without an invasion by a foreign power: from 1066 to the present. Turns out France invaded during the chaos at the end of the reign of King John (who you may remember as the villain in most Robin Hood movies).
  2. In many ways, the early Plantagenet kings were really French lords that happened to have the throne of England. They spent most of their time in France, since that’s where most of their wealth and power came from. John was the first king to spend the majority of his time in England, and the local barons got so sick of him they forced him to sign the Magna Carta.
  3. I thought the Glorious Revolution was the first time parliament deposed and chose a king, but really it goes back into the Plantagenet era: both Edward II and Richard II were deposed via parliament – Edward in favor of his son, Edward III, and Richard in favor of Henry Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV.

Chase, part twelve: Jack

(Start with Part One)

The next few days were a hell of paperwork. Blake and his suits bugged out of town with their coma patient – who woke up twice on the way back to the station, screaming every time – leaving Lacey and I to justify the whole thing. We told the Captain the FBI had closed the case, told the parents the perp was in federal custody, and told ourselves we didn’t want to know what had really happened.

After all, if I knew the story behind that scream, I might go a little crazy myself.

Chase, part eleven: Jack

(Start with Part One)

There was a coma patient coming with us to the bust.

We were on our way up to UCSD, hoping to find Ms. Hernandez. She wasn’t in her apartment, but a couple of photos were: two young boys, both just now reported missing.

I was almost glad Blake had taken over the case. It kept getting stranger, and the woman in the back of the ambulance following us meant it would probably only get worse from here.

It was bad enough when it was just groggy kids. Now it felt like some cult was stirring up shit.

We pulled up to the building Hernandez worked in. The ambulance stopped behind us. Two guys in dark suits just like Agent Blake’s hopped out, then hustled to the back, where they pulled out a stretcher.

“She’s not going in with us, is she?” I asked Blake.

“Of course she is.” He replied, climbing out of the car. “That’s why we brought her.”

The two other suits helped Blake lift the coma patient out of the ambulance bay and onto the gurney. They strapped her down, checked her IVs, and nodded at each other.

“Let’s move,” Blake commanded.

Lacey got out of her own squad car and joined me as we followed Blake and the gurney into the building.

“Any idea what’s going on?” I whispered.

She shook her head. “I can’t believe they wouldn’t let us bring more backup.”

“Yeah, I don’t think the vegetable here counts.”

We split up once we got inside. The suits and the gurney took the elevator up to the fourth floor. Lacey, Blake and I started up the stairs.

“She should be in one of the labs up here,” Blake whispered to us. “Room 408. Let me go in first, then the patient, then you come in, ok?”

“How about we leave the patient outside? You’re just giving her a hostage.”

Blake shook his head. “She goes in. Can you follow directions or not?”

I felt like punching him. “Yeah, sure. It’s your freak show.”

We rejoined the suits and gurney at the elevator. It was quiet on the fourth floor. We’d called ahead to the other labs to try to get everyone out of the building.

The door to 408 was open just a crack, enough for us to hear someone weeping inside the room. I thought of the kids, probably scared out of their wits, and pulled out my gun.

Blake swung the door fully open and stepped in, no gun, just a grin on his face.

“Lieutenant Angela Burns,” he beamed, “it’s good to see you again.”

Hernandez had one of the boys cradled on her lap, her face buried in his hair. When she looked up at Blake, I could see black streaks on her face where tears had run through her makeup.

“David?” she said, disbelieving. “What are you doing here?”

“It’s time to go home, Lieutenant,” he said, stepping toward her. The suits pushed the gurney further in, turned it so the patient’s left side was right behind Agent Blake, then started pulling on what looked like thick leather gloves.

I glanced at Lacey. She raised her eyebrow, then shrugged and moved to her right. I moved left, keeping my gun up and aimed at Hernandez.

“I found him, David,” Hernandez whispered. “I found Jacob. I found our boy.”

I glanced at the kid in her lap. I recognized him from the photos back at the station. That boy’s name was Marcus, not Jacob, and his mother was most certainly not a pre-med college kid. Hernandez was raving.

Blake just nodded his head, like everything she was saying made sense, and took another step toward her. “That’s great, Angela. Now, let’s take him home.”

She pulled back at that. “Home. No. I’m not going back. You took him from me. Why did you take him from me?”

Blake stopped. Hernandez stood up, clutching the little boy, and started looking for a way out.

“Don’t move, Hernandez!” Lacey barked. “Let the kid go, and step away!”

Blake pointed at Lacey but kept his eyes fixed on Hernandez. “Stand down, Detective.”

Hernandez looked from one to the other, hesitating. “You’re going to do it again, aren’t you?” she asked Blake. “You’re going to take him away again?”

Blake lunged for Hernandez. Her eyes widened and she turned to run, still holding on to the boy.

She couldn’t move fast enough with the child. Blake slammed into her. All three of them tumbled to the ground in a tangle of arms and legs.

I moved closer, preparing to take a shot if one came, if it was necessary. From the corner of my eye I saw Lacey doing the same on my right.

The two suits by the gurney ran toward Hernandez as soon as they saw their boss jump. A few seconds after Blake, Hernandez, and Marcus tumbled to the ground, they moved in, efficiently extracting Hernandez from the pile.

“No!” she screamed. “Don’t take him away again! David!”

Lacey put her gun away and ran in to help Marcus to his feet. I lowered my weapon but stayed back, ready in case Hernandez should break free and try to run for it.

Blake stood up. “Hold her still,” he ordered the two suits.

He pulled a small case from inside his jacket, opened it, and withdrew a syringe. He strode over behind Hernandez and stabbed it into her backside, then pressed the plunger down, injecting whatever it was into her system.

She struggled and screamed for a few more seconds. Then she shivered, and her body slumped between the two suits.

“Get her to the gurney,” Blake ordered.

His men lifted Hernandez off the ground and carried her next to the coma patient. Blake walked over to stand behind the patient’s head. He put one hand on her forehead, touching it with just his fingertips, and placed his other hand against Hernandez’ temple.

He whispered something I couldn’t make out. Then the coma patient blinked and opened her eyes. Her eyes focused on Blake. I heard her whisper, “David?”

Then she looked down at her own body, and screamed.

I’ll never forget that scream. It held such unbridled horror, and so much despair. Just thinking about it makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

Blake only nodded and grinned. He pulled another syringe from the case, and injected its contents into the coma patient’s IV.

She stopped screaming. I holstered my gun, realized I was shaking. I took some deep breaths to try to stop.

When I felt like I had it under control, I walked over to where the suits were still holding Hernandez in the air.

“Can I cuff her now, Agent Blake?” I asked, reaching for my handcuffs.

He shook his head. “That won’t be necessary, Detective. Take that young woman home.”

“What the fuck do you mean?” I whispered, trying not to be heard by Marcus just a few feet away. “She just kidnapped two kids!”

Blake stared down at the coma patient. “No, she didn’t. Go easy on her.” He waved his suits to lower Hernandez to the ground. “If she’s lucky, she won’t remember any of this.”