Doctor Who: 801 “Deep Breath” Review
Reviewed by John Hussey.
Introducing a new Doctor can be a tricky period for any Doctor Who fan. Their first adventure is a pinnacle moment as it determines whether or not they will be successful or a failure. So the question is: was Peter Capaldi’s first outing any good?
I would like to point out that it was very clever of Moffat to incorporate more dinosaurs into Doctor Who. As he admitted in the Live Q&A after the episode aired, the dinosaur part was the first thing he thought of just because it was a great idea of introducing the new Doctor. And why not. I found it to be entertaining and better still got straight to the point: here is a crisis and here is the new Doctor in a mad incident. Bang, boxes ticked – on with the show.
‘Deep Breath’ took on a very comedic approach during the first half of the plot through post- regeneration shenanigans. The Twelfth Doctor was blundering around throughout his first scene by having no true recollection of his friend’s names or appearances. It was a battle between his memory and his traumatised body. This kind of scene was to be expected as most of the new Doctor’s to date have experienced some sort of crisis after regeneration.
His post-regeneration scenes were most enjoyable to watch. His rant over the meaning of a bedroom, his confusion over his new accent and of course coming to terms with his familiar face were just some of the hilarity that sparked off a great opening to Capaldi’s Doctor. The latter two really did bring purpose to the whole development stage I found. This idea of the Doctor now being Scottish is new and pretty exciting really. It means his mannerisms have changed even more, nicely accompanied with sly remarks of a Scottish kind with my favourite being the Doctor’s claim of now being able to complain at things.
It was interesting as well that for the first time the Doctor actually questioned about the origins of his new face. We have already seen before that the Doctor has resembled someone else like with the First, Second and Sixth Doctor. I suppose it poses the question of whether or not the Doctor’s bodies are original. As Capaldi had been on the show before it was a way of taking a little spin at that and getting something across in a simple manner to address the viewer with. What made that scene all the more better was that the question was posed to none other than Elizabeth Sladen’s husband Brian Miller.
I found Clara’s thoughts over the Twelfth Doctor’s arrival extremely harsh and completely out of character. I’d even go as far as saying her character didn’t make sense. From my recollection of Series 7B, and Clara’s journey from that point, she should be well acquainted with the idea of regeneration.
So I ask the question of why was she so sceptical over the entire event. The only way I can defend this sudden character change is due to her experiencing the change at first hand. But even then it’s hard to defend such sceptic behaviour over the Doctor’s change. As I keep emphasising she should know the formula of how the process works.
What made her attitude worse was the fact she almost seemed angry over the fact he’d become older. This is where companions can become annoying and too controlling. Clara thought that she knew the Doctor better than everyone else but failed to remember he is an alien and has lived for thousands of years. Just because his appearance was youthful don’t assume that reflected his age. Appearance can make any normal person look younger or older than what they appear.
The matter of this statement is made worse by my argument of Clara supposedly knowing all of this. How could she forget such important details when she has already come across this during her journey with the Doctor to date? If you ask me it was a bit of poor writing on Moffat’s part. It didn’t make sense and made me actually dislike Clara for a short period of time.
It was a saddening moment when the Dinosaur died in such a horrific manner. It was kind of disappointing as I believed the dinosaur would hold a more significant role within the episode but alas it was more for show at the beginning. But on the other hand it did get the seriousness and the grotesque nature of the story rolling, putting the plot towards the true threat.
After a long period of the Twelfth Doctor and Clara being apart it was nice to see them reunited during the brilliant restaurant scene. That was a defining moment I find as it really did capture Capaldi and Coleman’s chemistry and showcased for the first proper time how they worked together and how their characters reacted to one another. I felt from that scene onwards that they were just right for each other and Clara’s character could mingle in well with the Eleventh Doctor’s replacement. Her chemistry with the Doctor wasn’t the same and yet it was. Something old and something new and I can’t wait to see how they progress together throughout the series.
Moffat did another interesting moment of having time be used to bring characters and important information together, i.e. through the mysteries newspaper summoning. The bickering stopped as the Twelfth Doctor noticed quite cleverly through the usage of Clara’s hair that something was wrong with the rest of the customers. It was an eerie moment and really did give a great opening to the villains. They felt threatening and truly disturbing.
The Half-Face Man proved to be a unique villain in terms of design. In terms of characteristics he fell flat due to his robotic nature and having no true character. But that didn’t knock his scenes and merely enhanced the fact he was inhuman to the core.
I was at first a bit disappointed with him and his fellow Clockwork Droids due to the simple fact I didn’t find them a true threat in the large scheme of things. They weren’t after global destruction so beyond the small threats that appeared the Twelfth Doctor and his friends weren’t exactly pressured with defeating them. On the other hand if you look at in a different perspective their threat was actually greater than your average villain.
Instead of conquest they merely wanted to repair their ship and bodies by any means necessary. This led to them throughout history committing morbid murders by dissecting living humans for spare parts. That in itself is far more dangerous and disturbing.
By this point the Twelfth Doctor really started to showcase his proclaimed darker tone along with an alien nature. The first hints of this were way back upon the bridge scene where the Twelfth Doctor angrily claimed humanity had brains made of pudding. His anger grew as his friends failed to guess the right question towards the death of the dinosaur before asking calmly if there had been any other resembling deaths. After all that anger it seemed totally alien to ask such a distasteful question. His alien nature really kicked into action when he casually just left Clara behind at the mercy of the Half-Face Man, claiming it wasn’t worth them both being captured.
This was where the title of the episode came in through an extremely inventive idea. By holding your breath the Clockwork Droids were unable to distinguish people from robots. But everyone knows that you can only hold your breath for a short period of time and knowing that Clara had to keep going knowing her life was on the lines was just torturous. That scene proved truly tense and emotional and you really felt sorry for her especially when escape was thought to be achieved only for her to be confronted by an endless corridor of droids.
I also found Clara’s scene with the Half-Faced Man to be extremely clever as she tried using her emotions against his logistic mind and in doing so made the creature have to think of the next logical step in trying to intimidate her into answering his questions.
Of course the Twelfth Doctor quickly returned to Clara at the moment she required him but you were still given the impression that his alien side was more dominate again like within his earlier incarnations. This continued to be apparent as he confronted the Half-Face Man alone and challenged his basic programming, pushing him to go against his nature by self- destructing. The creature did the same back by challenging the Twelfth Doctor with the notion of murder, an act that is also against his nature.
The Twelfth Doctor released his rage by informing the Half-Face Man that he shouldn’t underestimate how far he would go in order to save humanity as he’d already come so far. The genius behind the Half-Face Man’s defeat was the ambiguous nature of it. It leaves you wondering who was truly lying about not being able to go against their basic programming. Did the Doctor actually commit murder? It could be either way but I’d like to say that the darker nature of the Doctor is stronger now and he was pushed to do the unthinkable. I believe this kind of dilemma will be a reoccurring notion throughout the series and the Twelfth Doctor will push for more drastic solutions to problems.
It was nice to see the return of Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax. Once again they felt perfectly useful within the story. Their appearance made Capaldi’s transition calmer as they shared elements from Smith’s tenure and it allowed the two eras’s to come together with ease. It also helped Moffat to establish the new Doctor, unlike in ‘The Eleventh Hour’ where everything was new. As well as Clara you had the Paternoster Gang there to emphasise that the new Doctor was still the Doctor.
They even went as far as to help Clara with the transition and persuaded her to stop her foolish attitude towards this new man. As well as that they more than proved that they had the Doctor’s back and could handle themselves in battle. With Strax on the other hand he was still there for his comedic moments and he hasn’t lost his touch.
The return of the Eleventh Doctor was another clever move by Moffat as it added even more new things to an introduction story. Never have we had the previous Doctor coming back to comfort the companion with their change. It was a nice emotional piece which really added to Smith’s end and showed how caring his Doctor was. This final attempt pushed Clara into finally accepting the new Doctor and their journey together was now underway.
An interesting element cropped up with the idea of the Promised Lands. What does this mean exactly? It seemed a strange idea for Doctor Who, something that hadn’t been brought up before. The idea of Heaven really delivered a new approach and the character of Missy, announced by the BBC as the Gatekeeper of the Nethersphere, was a confusing addition to the mix. Just who exactly is she and what connection does she have with the Time Lord? Better still what are her intentions? I guess this will be the guessing game of the series and I for one can’t wait for the outcome.
So was Capaldi’s first episode a success or not? I for one say yes. It delivered all the points it needed to, it established the new Doctor in a clever way and really made you want to know more about him. It didn’t come across to make you necessarily like him, more be intrigued at what he can do. So yeah, I think ‘Deep Breath’ was a success and established a new era for the show which I’m definitely looking forward to watching his progress.