Doctor Who Review: “Deep Breath”

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No need to wait with bated breath anymore; Doctor Who is back in full force.  Stephen Moffat is at the writing helm for the premier episode: Deep Breath, starring Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor and Jenna Coleman returning as the Doctor’s latest companion, Clara.

For those of you who had actually kept up with season 7, you have had significantly more time to process all of the happenings and speculate on all of the things you might love and hate about Capaldi before getting to this point.  I was still reeling from the season 7 marathon I inflicted upon myself by procrastinating until the last minute. Whereas others may have had reservations about the Doctor or the writing or the companions, I eagerly dove into the new season still fresh from The Time of the Doctor’s episode which had already revealed the transition and introduced the Twelfth Doctor.

The recap (spoilers, sweetie): we start out in Victorian London to familiar faces Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax who are recruited to assist in a rather large issue of a dinosaur appearing outside the Houses of Parliament. As Madame Vastra suggests, almost knowingly, that the dinosaur came from another time, the TARDIS is coughed up and we dive right into meeting the new Doctor. As is growing tradition, he seems to have no recollection of how to fly the TARDIS, but in addition, this time around he also struggles with his friends’ names, seemingly even more lost than his predecessors in the early stages of their newly regenerated selves.

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The party returns home to let the Doctor rest and try to sort out the usual issues cross-Doctor companions seem to run into. As Madame Vastra confronts Clara about her prejudices against an “old Doctor”, the Doctor hilariously steels away to help the dinosaur’s distress calls. Realizing but moments too late that he’s gone, the companions arrive on the scene just as the dinosaur bursts into flames which enrages the Doctor and sends him off to roam the streets seeking answers. The companions are forced to wait until he pops up again and stumble across a clue that sends Clara to a mysterious restaurant where the Doctor finally shows up. After a quick spat, the Doctor realizes the other patrons are not eating or breathing and when they try to make a subtle exit they are immediately blocked by the robotic patrons. Once they are seated again to try and sort out another plan, they get buckled into the booth and sent to a lower level where they come across more robots and the leader cyborg bad guy.

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After the cyborg reveals that he’s been collecting human parts to help him survive so he can reach the promised land, as you would expect, the rest of the robots wake up and the Doctor and Clara are about to make an escape. As she pushes him through an entryway, Clara gets trapped in the room with the robots and the Doctor appears to leave Clara to her own defenses and runs off to save himself. Quickly thinking about a clue the Doctor left her, Clara tries to hold her breath to escape but can’t hold it long enough to get away and is subsequently captured. As the cyborg interrogates Clara, the Doctor comes to her rescue at the perfect moment with the other three companions close behind him. In the scuffle the cyborg escapes in a hot air balloon made of skin but he does not elude the Doctor. After assessing the cyborgs motives, the Doctor issues an ultimatum: the cyborg must kill itself or the Doctor will have to kill it to save the people of London. Both acknowledge that neither of them were “programmed” to kill, either itself in the cyborgs case, or others in the Doctor’s case. Either way, the scene cuts to the cyborg impaled on Big Ben and the remaining robots all deactivate.

The party finds themselves together again, sans the Doctor at first but he quickly re-appears with his iconic outfit, ready to leave with Clara. Still having unresolved issues with all the change, she initially rejects him until a touching phone call from a dying Eleventh Doctor changes her mind and sends her back into the arms in a strictly platonic way. We leave the two of them beginning another adventure looking for coffee and re-connecting with one another. The closing scene sends us to a lovely garden with the presumed dead cyborg and a woman that claims to be the Doctor’s girlfriend and that the scene is “the promised land”.

Cue credits.

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There are so many things to take away from this episode, let’s start from the beginning. As a viewer, fan, whatever, I was so frustrated at the excessive lack of memory Twelve had. After Rose, I would have thought The Impossible Girl wouldn’t be so easily forgotten, even right after a regeneration. Obviously they wanted Twelve to be different and unique in his own right, so taking a different route than the ever-vain Ten and monstrously starving Eleven, being totally forgetful about everything was new, I suppose, but the ridiculous amount of clues being dropped with the cyborg, especially being from the SS Marie Antoinette, I was sportsball-style yelling at the TV about The Girl in the Fireplace episode. It killed me.

Paternoster Gang

I can not get enough of the Paternoster Gang and while I’m kind of suspicious about why so many unusual events happen in Victorian London for them to remain there for such a long time, I’m rather pleased they were brought out in Twelve’s first episode. Their presence really helped even out the character conflict between Clara and Twelve and added the necessary elements of humor and camaraderie that would have been lacking without them.

The Twelfth Doctor has been touted to be radically different than Ten and Eleven, though I definitely felt like there were elements of Ten very much displayed in Twelve’s demeanor already. While much more fierce and intimidating, Twelve showed a lot of that anger and resentment that Ten had in his beginnings. That harshness and unrelenting contempt when crossed, Twelve definitely seems to be bringing that dark side to the forefront again. And the vulnerability that Ten did oh so well, when Clara had gotten off the phone with Eleven, Twelve looks her in the eyes and pulls out all the feels stops with: “You can’t see me, can you? You look at me and you can’t see me. Do you have any idea what that’s like? I’m not on the phone. I’m right here. Standing in front of you. Please. Just…just see me.”  That right there is when Capaldi won the show for me. Being able to go from the bantering, joking, not-sure-if-serious, and sometimes even flippant behavior seamlessly to the serious tells me he’s clearly got the range and the depth to knock Twelve out of the park.

Clara hasn’t been a particularly strong companion, in my opinion.  She treats everything like a test or a game and has an almost constant whimsical demeanor with everything until, of course, things get serious. She doesn’t handle serious very well at all. Perhaps with the new Doctor she’ll take on a little more character development as time goes on, but hopefully we will avoid this “I don’t know who you are anymore” rut she seemed to fall into for most of the episode.

The biggest question that remains, among the many questions this first episode has left us, will the writing stand the test of time as Doctor Who enters its eighth season with a new Doctor? Deep Breath felt like a very conservative script and more of an explanation to the fans of why this old man is now the Doctor instead of the pretty, take-home-to-mom faces we’ve been accustomed to for several years now. The “he’s not your boyfriend” bit seemed a little too overplayed and while it was played off as a jest, the self-criticisms on Capaldi’s eyebrows, accent, etc. all seemed to be preemptive explanations/apologies to fans who might not be fully on board with the change. Capaldi very clearly has the aptitude and seemed to be very natural in his role as the Twelfth Doctor. I hope the writers really take the vision they have for Twelve and give Capaldi the room to make it great in his own way, the same way Eccleston, Tennant, and Smith made Nine, Ten, and Eleven so unique, and so very much their own Doctors.

What were your reactions to the new Doctor Who episode? What are you looking forward to in the coming season? Tell us here, in the comments, on Facebook, or Google Plus!

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