On the D/L – Doctor Who
Season 8 Episode 1 – “Deep Breath”
After around 8 months of waiting for a new season of Doctor Who we finally get out first full look at the new Doctor played by Peter Capaldi who embodies the thirteenth incarnation of the Time Lord adventurer.
Post Regeneration episodes are always a big ask since they have to introduce a new Doctor, set up a rough direction for the new series, convince fans that they should keep watching after the change in lead actor and function as an episode in their own right. After Matt Smith’s sterling introduction in The Eleventh Hour, Steven Moffat has a difficult task in living up to the high standard set by that inaugural outing.
This episode begins with a temporally displaced Tyrannosaurus Rex stomping around London with a familiar blue box stuck in her throat. Seeing the TARDIS coughed up from a T-Rex is a great series introduction that could only occur on Doctor Who. I really liked that the audience introduction to the new Doctor was from the perspective of returning supporting cast comprising of Silurian Madame Vastra, her human maid and wife Jenny, and Sontaran butler Strax. All of these characters have a connection to the Matt Smith incarnation so they all have different insights on how to get used to this new regeneration. They also have different levels of expertise on getting used to this level of change so bringing these characters back was a good move from that perspective.
As the plot continues it transitions into a murder investigation that begins with the spontaneous combustion of the wayward Dinosaur forcing the new Doctor to use his regenerated brain to get to the bottom of the mystery. This is where the episode starts to fall apart; unfortunately it’s not all that interesting to begin with and the revelations only serve to dampen any intrigue that it manages to provoke. The main issue is that the story is so scattered between getting to know Capaldi’s Doctor, solving the murder of the Dinosaur and showing how Clara reacts to this new incarnation to really explore any of these in detail. I think if the murder story had been a mid-season episode it would be less of an issue but it doesn’t hold up as an exciting season opener. Fans of the series will feel that the story is familiar and the script presents the illusion of being clever by immediately inviting that comparison but it doesn’t do anything new or interesting with the idea; all it really did was remind me of a better episode from David Tennant’s era and make me wish I was watching that instead.
I don’t really feel that I know anything worthwhile about Peter Capaldi’s version of the Doctor after this outing either; I appreciate that this is to be expected in an episode that is structured around a new personality asserting itself but even at that the characterisation was all over the place. A lot of time was spent exploring where the face could have come from and hinting that it was chosen for a reason which leads me to expect a future ham fisted explanation for why he looks like Roman merchant Lucius Caecilius Lucundus in the David Tennant episode The Fires of Pompeii. This isn’t something I really care about so it baffles me why so much time would be spent on this. The episode also implies that this Doctor is a lot darker and less compassionate but this seems to be outwardly contradicted minutes later. In contrast The Eleventh Hour does such a good job of establishing the uncertainty of a new Doctor as well as keeping the journey of self discovery at the forefront of the story to give the audience an idea of what to expect by the end of the episode. I don’t feel like I know much of anything about this version nor if I want to follow him as a character. Don’t get me wrong I’m not against the concept of a darker Doctor I just don’t think this episode sets this up as well as it could have.
In general I found the writing to be pretty weak; I read somewhere that Moffat was planning to ditch the childish humour in favour of a darker and more adult tone but I see no evidence of this here, the jokes are still as juvenile as they’ve always been and drama is repeatedly compromised for a silly joke. It seems like the script is too overstuffed with past and future references to really come into its own as a standalone piece. As mentioned above the main story wasn’t interesting enough to base an entire episode around and the fact that this episode was longer than a standard outing makes it even worse. Awful pacing really brings this episode down as the story meanders awkwardly between the different subplots. This wasn’t helped by Capaldi’s uneven performance suggesting a lack of engagement with the material.
It wasn’t all terrible, this is the first episode where I have felt like The Doctor’s companion Clara functions as a character rather than an extension of the plot. I feel like I know more about Clara than I ever have before and the development she was given here was really good. I found it difficult to swallow that she would have so much difficulty accepting a new Doctor given the knowledge she has gained over the course of the series but the scenes written around that were excellent. A particular highlight was the restaurant scene where they bicker like an old married couple hinting at a different dynamic for the characters in subsequent episodes.
This new series is off to a really bad start; the first outing of Peter Capaldi as the Doctor is awkwardly paced and thinly written. A boring story and uneven characterisation don’t inspire much confidence in this supposed new direction for the franchise. If this is to be a very different approach then there is no evidence of that here. Hopefully it’ll get better as it goes along but I’m not enthusiastic so far.