Doctor Who: Cult Fix Writers on “Deep Breath”
Cult Fix writers give their verdict on Peter Capaldi’s debut in Deep Breath.
Mark McCullough: A dinosaur rampaging past parliament in the Thames in Victorian London, it can only mean one thing: Doctor Who is finally back, with Peter Capaldi making his debut as the Doctor in the excitingly titled Deep Breath. In the build up to the episode much had been teased about how Capaldi’s take on the Doctor was more alien and less understanding to human nature. We were warned that he may not be as likeable as previous incarnations, as far as I’m concerned this isn’t true. I adore Capaldi’s Doctor, right from the moment he stepped out of the TARDIS. His delivery of the script and his timing were perfect allowing him to showcase multiple sides to his character.
If anything threatened to detract from Capaldi’s performance, it was the fact that he was rivalled by equally stellar performances by his co-stars. Coleman excels in the role of Clara offering perhaps the most realistic portrayal of a companion’s reaction to regeneration to date. The strength of Moffat’s script allows Coleman to showcase her range of talents as she goes through almost every emotion throughout the course of the narrative. McIntosh (Madame Vastra) and Stewart (Jenny) also produce notably excellent performances giving a much needed extra layer to their respective characters.
The plot itself is rather simple yet so typically Moffat with twists and turns along the way. The narrative allows a deeper exploration of the Doctor and gives Moffat the opportunity to make the fans question if they really know the Doctor after all. The series has been dubbed as a darker version of Doctor Who and so far it lives up to that billing, we’ve had: a tragic death, the Doctor stealing from the homeless, an abandoned companion and a question about the Doctor’s morality. All things considered the relationship between Clara and the Doctor looks set to be a highlight and the chemistry between Capaldi and Coleman is evident.
My only complaint about the episode goes in the direction of Strax. I felt that his slap stick humour was unnecessary and at times detracted from the scene. This was especially evident in contrast to the character driven humour which I found to be far superior. Deep Breath was not perfect by any stretch. However it was as good an introduction as I could have hoped for, for what is shaping up to be a fantastic series/era of Doctor Who.
Sam Rahaman: I’m just going to cut straight to the chase: I love Deep Breath. It was a fantastic, though not perfect, series opener that was so wonderfully written, so perfectly acted, and contained some of the best direction we’ve seen on the show so far. I’ll go as far to say that it was one of Moffat’s best written episodes in a long while; it’s an assured, confident, character piece that really sold the darker, more gothic tone of Series 8 that has been teased for so long.
If you ever had any doubts before this opener, there sure to be gone now; because this episode made one thing very clear: Capaldi is the Doctor. He was stunning from the very first moment he walked out of the TARDIS, all the way to that final climactic scene between the Doctor and the antagonist, which was so tantalising in its ambiguity and the ramifications it may possess. Capaldi is certainly the Doctor, but not one we have been used to before, at least not in New Who.
Praise must also go to Jenna Coleman who shone as Clara in every single scene she was in – you really got to connect with her more than ever before, which was very welcome indeed. But what I found most exciting was the chemistry between Clara and the Doctor. Their banter was hilarious, and the scenes where they clash and argue were similarly entertaining; yet there’s a definite fondness between them, which was adorable to watch. I have no doubts that this will make their relationship one of the highlights of Series 8.
For me though, the best thing about Deep Breath was the gorgeous direction from Ben Wheatley – it was sublime and I’ll go as far as to say it’s some of the finest direction we have seen from the show so far. I was in awe for the entirety of the episode, it felt “new” and like a Hollywood blockbuster and yet it was still quintessentially Doctor Who – just as it should be.
Of course the episode was not without its faults. Due to the length of the episode is did feel a bit slow at times, and certainly a few scenes did feel to drag on longer than they should; especially during the first third of the episode. However these were only tiny niggles for me, as overall Deep Breath was a very strong and promising start to what is set to be one of the best series we’ve had in a long time; I for one cannot wait for more!
James Wynne: The Doctor is in, and, as if there was any doubt, Capaldi is absolutely the perfect fit for the shoes that Matt Smith vacated last Christmas. From the moment he brusquely shushes Strax to his suggestion of coffee and chips to Clara, Peter Capaldi just is the Doctor, through and through. Although, for most, this was already the case when we first glimpsed his bottle top-detaching, attack eyebrows back in November.
His Doctor, once he’s begun to settle in the aftermath of his post-regenerative trauma, has got more of an air of unquestionable authority to him than his predecessor, and is more outwardly abrasive. But there’s a deep-seated vulnerability that’s exposed beautifully when he confronts Clara’s inability to see that he’s the same man underneath the drastic change in appearance.
There’s also a recklessness and unpredictability to him, which is unmistakably reminiscent of Hartnell’s Doctor. After fifty years, you’d think it would be hard to have the Doctor do anything truly shocking anymore without betraying the character completely, but him leaving Clara in peril as a part of some elaborate scheme to glean information was eyebrows-to-the-hairline surprising. It was so believably, callously depicted, that I doubted for a brief moment whether he would come back for her at all.
What’s remarkable about Capaldi’s performance is that there are shades of all his predecessors incorporated into it – Smith’s erratic, physical comedy carries over during the opening sequence; his spryness similar to Pertwee’s is remarked upon, and there’s a certain debonair quality that also mirrors Pertwee to some degree – but it never feels imitative, and is just one, small element of his unique, layered spin on the character.
All in all, this wasn’t an entirely flawless episode (e.g. some of Strax’s humour felt a bit intrusive at times), but it was hugely enjoyable, and the new dynamic between the Doctor and Clara (Jenna Coleman on stunning form here) is scintillating. There were some fantastic swipes at ageist preconceptions in Moffat’s dialogue, and a running theme cleverly woven throughout that age does not define a person, least of all the Doctor. But it also begs the question of whether something can truly remain the same if everything about it has been changed. The Doctor’s broom analogy (the question is…was this inspired by Only Fools and Horses?) might have seemed throwaway, but his closing remark that even with its handle and head changed, the broom still sweeps applies to the Doctor wonderfully. His form has changed twelve times, and aspects of his character with it, but the Doctor will always be the Doctor, regardless.
M. Coats: The new Doctor has landed. It’s time you knew him.
As an ardent fan of Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor, I might have been expected to have a little difficulty accepting his successor. Fortunately, I’m delighted to say that Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor absolutely won me over in very little time at all. His pitch perfect portrayal was absolutely magnificent; displaying everything from sardonic wit to open vulnerability. His sense of comic timing was particularly in evidence, the ‘Door. Boring, not me.’ scene probably being the best example of several choice moments. Capaldi’s portrayal, while utterly his own has strong echoes of Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor in that I genuinely believed that he could turn at any moment. I’m looking forward to him keeping me on my toes throughout the series.
Equally good was the returning Jenna Coleman’s Clara. I’ve been a fan of the character since the beginning, but this was her best episode to date; with Clara called upon to ground the episode and display a full range of emotion, a task which Jenna rises to with aplomb. The emotional realism of her reaction and her passion has already won her a legion of new fans who were on the fence at the end of the last Series. Her face offs with various characters were all highlights of the episode, and her sparkling chemistry with Peter Capaldi has me hugely enthused for the further development of their relationship as the series continues.
Also returning were the Paternoster Gang, and I have to take a moment to discuss the portrayal of Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint’s relationship in this episode. The kiss and the development of the relationship were not only flawlessly judged, but matter hugely. This was DW’s first (on-screen) lesbian kiss. The importance of this for queer women (an audience woefully represented in DW and in general) cannot be underestimated, particularly for young women who are just starting to question their sexuality. This is a huge step in the right direction and should definitely be applauded, puritanical criticisms be damned.
New director Ben Wheatley is terrific, beautifully framing the aforementioned kiss and creating a gothic, genuinely unsettling tone. Composer Murray Gold is also superb, his new work being one of his strongest episodes to date. While the episode did drag a little in the middle, it was peppered with some great character moments of the sort that have become rare in Doctor Who during the last couple of years. Steven Moffat was on great form, the ‘I am alone…’ scene once again showcasing his immense gift for poetry. Not content with merely bringing back the Clockwork Droids from 2006’s The Girl in the Fireplace, Moffat uses them to great effect to make a commentary on the process of regeneration and what really remains the same about the Doctor in each incarnation.
James Amos: Right from the beginning there was a lot riding on this episode. Not only does it have the job of introducing a far older Doctor, but it was also walking in The Day of the Doctor’s footsteps with its big cinema release. So did it deliver?
Uncontroversially, I would say that it absolutely did. I mean, if the dinosaur walking across Victorian London didn’t make you crack a smile within the first five seconds of the episode, then Doctor Who probably isn’t the show for you. This is as mad as Doctor Who comes, at times I wonder whether Steven Moffat (head writer) just randomly had the idea of a Tyrannosaurs Rex walking across London, chuckled to himself, and slipped it into the episode for laughs. It’s completely unneeded, ridiculously implausible, but ultimately brilliant. I’m loving the episode straight away, and the ride doesn’t stop there. We see the new Doctor battle his own mind as, for what may be the first time, he tries desperately to understand where this new face comes from. But not only is the face new, the Doctor’s personality itself is brand new. Think about it, we’ve gone from a Doctor comforting a girl who is afraid of a crack in her wall to a Doctor cornering a tramp in an alley in an attempt to rob him of his coat. I like this new Doctor, he’s unpredictable, terrifying and Capaldi pulls this off with ease.
In fact, performances all round were perfect in this episode. I’ve had my doubts about the Paternoster Gang, especially Strax, but this episode has left me wanting to see more from them. Vastra delivered some brilliant lines on how the previous Doctor wanted to be accepted, Jenny showed that love is based on a person’s heart and not their appearance, and Strax offered to remove Clara’s clothes. I’m sold on these three now, I look forward to seeing more adventures with them in the future. As for the plot, well I actually enjoyed it. It was dark, clockwork droids killing people and stripping them of their body parts, what isn’t to like about that? The idea of having to hold your breath to go undetected was also a neat little trick, very similar of course to not blinking, although not breathing can have more serious consequences.
There are a few negatives I’d like to point out however, for instance the Eleventh Doctor’s appearance near the end. Totally unneeded, and not in a good way this time, he’s had his goodbye, this is Capaldi’s time to shine. I don’t need the previous Doctor to tell me this new bloke is the same man, it’s up to the new bloke to show me that himself. And I believe he did show me this, right at the moment he, as Clara put it, “had her back”. I am also beginning to seriously question Moffat’s portrayal of women, any women for that matter. As soon as ‘Missy’ appeared at the end of the episode, I had her character’s personality cracked within five seconds. I even knew she would refer to the Doctor as either her ‘lover’ or her ‘boyfriend’, and she did! I’ve seen this character before, with River Song and Oswin from ‘Asylum of the Daleks’, they’re the same person, only Missy is probably dreadfully evil. Also, Moffat, we know Vastra and Jenny are lesbian partners, let’s not point this out every five seconds of their screen time; there’s more to them than their sexuality.
All in all, I’d say this is a good job jobbed. I only hope the quality continues into the second episode of the series and beyond, with Peter Capaldi steering this new Doctor into new and dangerous situations, I can only presume we’re all in for a treat.