Lee Savery returns to put the new Doctor through his paces. Welcome back!
“Well, then, here we go again.”
Madame Vastra utters these words we’ve heard before as the new Doctor faints after talking to a dinosaur that had been spat out of the TARDIS onto the banks of the Thames. It’s the Steven Moffat way of introducing Peter Capaldi to audiences in his role as the Twelfth Doctor. Although a beginning that felt like the “new Who” we’ve become used to, what followed was incredibly different but also incredibly good.
Regeneration stories have always been a tough episode to pen for any of the show’s writers. Moffat had introduced Matt Smith in a brilliant manic adventure in “The Eleventh Hour,” which kickstarted a strong opening series for the Eleventh Doctor. A crazed story fit such an expressive incarnation of the Time Lord, which is why we had something tonally and totally different for the beginning of the Capaldi era.
In seventy-five minutes, we got introduced to Twelve as he went through the strain of a regeneration he should never have had – this was always going to cause problems. So, for the first half, we saw him completely bemused by a bedroom, flirt with a dinosaur, and berate a tramp for his coat. Although, by the time the credits rolled, the dark, calculated side appeared with an air of mistrust. This reached its climax during the battle of logic with the leader of the Clockwork Androids, who made their first appearance since their début in “The Girl in the Fireplace” (also written by Moffat) back in series two.
Although the androids weren’t the most effective of enemies, as most creatures of logic in science fiction often aren’t, they did serve their purpose for two key moments of character development. Clara, in Jenna Coleman’s best performance to date, is given a one-on-one with the leader and has a flashback to when she couldn’t control her class in school. It was the first bit of real depth we’ve seen of her after the tangle of “The Impossible Girl” storyline. Clara is central to much of the story with The Doctor wandering about in his delirium. A brave move when introducing a new Doctor, but one that worked out well.
The second key moment came with The Doctor sitting down for a reprieve and offering a drink to his foe. When telling his adversary that he will, effectively, kill him whilst sitting down to a glass of whiskey, you realised that someone new was now occupying the role and breaking the rules. Capaldi’s angry eyebrows and stern delivery really helped. The ambiguous question of whether he did or did not deliberately push the android out of his ship to impale him on the spire of Big Ben was as chilling as the look Capaldi delivers to camera.
This is a Doctor to be unsure of, and with the series proposing to focus on whether The Doctor is a good man, our Scot in the TARDIS is certainly the right man for that narrative. That path was explored with Clara not coming to terms with this new incarnation, despite knowing about his past lives. It felt like this was put in more for the younger audience who need reminding this is the same show after nine years of younger faces. It also allowed for that surprise cameo of Matt Smith as Eleven convincing Clara to stay with the new him. A great moment.
With everything changing, including that beautiful new title sequence, the Paternoster Gang of Jenny, Vastra and Strax are on hand to provide familiarity. It was great to spend more time with them in Victorian London. Strax was the real highlight, though, as he created some great comic relief but the moment where he would rather kill himself than lose his breath, which would have put his friends in danger, was touching.
The Moff has been known to recycle some of his past ideas and this episode was no exception. Don’t blink became don’t breathe, for instance. Director Ben Wheatley (The Kill List) did a fantastic job of putting on-screen the pressure of holding your breath in a pressured environment. Wheatley’s film experience really pushed the cinematic feeling of this opener in the back-half, which certainly helped for the joint multiplex screenings.
Whilst “Deep Breath” had its positives, it was far from perfect. The glacial pace of the first thirty minutes will have put off some. The story felt a bit stretched for the seventy-five minute duration. After series seven had a number of episodes crying out for more time than forty-five, we get the opposite effect here. Also, despite its hype in the trailers, the T-Rex is really no more than an early plot device. It would have been nice if the story had made more use of her. Also, those new titles (designed by a fan plucked from YouTube) and the remixed theme will have caused new debates amongst the fandom, but we at SquabbleBox loved them.
The first episode was an ambitious one that didn’t always hit the mark but was ultimately a successful new beginning. We have a new, intriguing Doctor and the character is only going to get better. Coleman looks set to have a better time with Clara, too. Also, who is the mysterious Missy? Is she a female incarnation of The Master? Is she The Rani? Or is she someone completely new? Well, we will certainly see more of the “gatekeeper of the nethersphere” this series. Heaven awaits but our appetites will be fully whetted by the time we get there.
“Deep Breath” has set the standard for Series 8. With Peter Capaldi, the TARDIS certainly appears in safe hands.