Hello Whovians and DAPs-devotees, and welcome to the first review of Doctor Who. There’s an all-new opening sequence, new storylines, and of course a new Doctor. What better place is there to start than the premiere of Doctor Who Season 8 Episode 1, ‘Deep Breath.’ Warning, spoilers ahead!
The Doctor crash-lands in Victorian England and has brought along a friend. No, not Clara, but a gigantic Tyrannosaurus Rex. As the Doctor falls in and out of touch with his companion and Madame Vastra and company (as well as in and out of consciousness), Clara wrestles with her apprehension towards this newly regenerated man. In the chaos and confusion, the Doctor must answer three questions: why are living creatures spontaneously combusting, who is the cyborg found at the scene, and most importantly, is the Doctor a good man?
The Opening Credits:
From the beginning the viewer can tell this is a new Doctor Who: the credits roll as clock gears turn and sundials spin. The visuals are accompanied by the theme, which has gone from an energetic electric vibe to a high-pitched and somewhat unsettling tune. Shifting away from the space-filled wonder of previous seasons, the sequence does give off the distant and alien feeling Steven Moffat has been hinting at up to the premiere. While the sense of interstellar exploration is missed, it is nice to see the fans getting involved in the show.
Peter Capaldi makes his debut as the Twelfth Doctor in an episode with a T-Rex in Victorian London, spontaneous combustion, and organ-harvesting cyborgs. If it sounds somewhat dysfunctional, then you might be new to the series, where timelines are wibbly-wobbly and the story arcs are even more so. However, even the infamously erratic show does feel a bit off-kilter with so many plots and subplots filling the story. Between the Doctor’s regeneration, Clara’s conflicted feelings towards his latest incarnation, and the mystery of the dino-inferno, the viewer has a difficult time focusing on any one aspect.
The episode also has trouble balancing humor and drama: in one scene the Doctor is contemplating his older look and what kind of man he is in a self-evaluating dialogue worthy of Hamlet, and in the next Strax is throwing a newspaper at Clara’s head. This isn’t to say that the comedic bits aren’t appreciated, but they come across as jarring when compared to Capaldi’s conviction. Tennant and Smith were usually the comic relief in their seasons and managed to carry a sense of lightheartedness with their serious moments. Capaldi is capable of great wit and dry humor as made evident in his previous roles, but the darker direction Moffat is taking the character gives us fewer chances to see it.
The ones making the jokes are now the companions, who have their share of hits and misses. Strax established himself as a comedic force in previous seasons, so his scenes feel natural to the character. Whether falling back into his old soldier ways in setting traps for the Doctor or literally falling into the villain’s lair, Strax’s brand of comedy is familiar and on point. When Madame Vastra flirts with Jenny and has her pose prettily for “art,” it feels a little less genuine. The normally serious and cool-tempered Silurian warrior is cracking jokes and making eyes at her wife; for any other character it wouldn’t merit notice, but it’s a tonal shift from the fearsome sword-wielding warrior we have come to know.
Perhaps the hardest pill to swallow in this episode was Clara’s ardent rejection of the newly regenerated Doctor. From the start she wants to “turn him back,” which earns a stern judgment from Vastra, and she continuously questions this new Doctor. If it were any other companion I would understand the hesitation, but Clara is the Impossible Girl. She has seen every incarnation of the Doctor and attempted to help him for all 2000+ years of his life; why would this incarnation cause her so much concern, especially when she has yet to know or understand him? Despite this, Clara shines in all other aspects: she is brave, witty, resourceful, and even puts her faith into the Doctor when her life is on the line. Seeing her loyalty when it mattered most makes up for her previous hesitation, though the Matt Smith cameo at the end to reassure her undermines it somewhat.
Capaldi is the most impressive and unsettling performance of them all, taking the Doctor to darker depths than the viewer has seen in years. That is, when he isn’t dashing around Victorian England in a mad-cap rush for clues and cyborgs. The discombobulated plotline hinders his introduction somewhat; it isn’t until halfway through the episode when we get a chance to sit and really see what this new Doctor is like. In a backalley having a conversation with a homeless man that swings between contemplative and aggressive, Capaldi shows a harsher, impatient Doctor that is still trying to figure out who he is. He questions why he has an older face, why his body would choose it, and what kind of man he is. Throughout the rest of the episode, we see a stern yet scatter-brained Doctor in the same vein as Colin Baker early in the series. The episode culminates with a lengthy introspective discussion with the episode’s antagonist, leading to said antagonist falling to his death and leaving the viewer wondering if he jumped or was pushed. The episode ends with Capaldi giving a truly heart-wrenching plea to Clara (and presumably the viewer), begging her to see him as the Doctor and not a stranger. While his trademark dry wit was only sprinkled sparingly, Capaldi’s gravitas is the makes an otherwise good yet disjointed episode into a thoroughly entertaining one.
Honestly, there have been better introductory episodes to the Doctor. The plot had one eye on the companions and the other on the titular character, and instead of going in-depth on the two different reactions to the regeneration, it only made me cross-eyed. Yet when Capaldi was on screen, he captured my focus and made me pay attention. We have moved on from Matt Smith quirky question “Doctor Who?” and moved onto Peter Capaldi’s “Am I a good man?” While I can’t answer for him, I can safely say that I’m more than a little eager to see the next episode.