When the Doctor arrives in Victorian London he finds a dinosaur rampant in the Thames and a spate of deadly spontaneous combustions.
Who is the new Doctor and will Clara’s friendship with him survive as they embark on a terrifying mission into the heart of an alien conspiracy?
The Doctor has changed. It’s time you knew him.
Peter Capaldi is the Doctor in Deep Breath.
The Doctor (Peter Capaldi)
Clara (Jenna Coleman)
Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh)
Strax (Dan Starkey
Jenny (Catrin Stewart)
Half-Face Man (Peter Ferdinando)
Inspector Gregson (Paul Hickey)
Theodore Rex (Dinosaur)
Written by: Steven Moffat
Directed by: Ben Wheatley
Gifs by: J-Ru.
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Post-regeneration episodes have always been hit or miss. For every Spearhead from Space, you get a Time and the Rani. For every The Night of the Doctor, you get The Twin Dilemma. And for every The Eleventh Hour, you get the first half of Deep Breath.
Deep Breath is the official introduction to the Twelfth Doctor as played by Peter Capaldi. The TARDIS crash-lands in Victorian London after being spit out of a dinosaur. The recently regenerated Doctor is unsteady, confused, and doesn’t have any idea who his companion Clara is. The detective trio of Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax take him to recover from his post-regeneration trauma as Clara tries to come to grips with seeing the young man she traveled with turn old and gray with a brand new face and body. And elsewhere in London, a strange man, half-flesh, half-clockwork, is seen near the site of several cases of spontaneous human combustion, fires that are meant to hide a horrible secret…
Let’s start with the bad, since the first half of this episode had me cringing in my seat, wondering just what the hell I was watching. I’ve mentioned in my audio reviews that Doctor Who is a science fiction drama with occasional moments of comedy. Very rarely has the show embraced flat-out comedy, instead using it for punctuation and enhancement of a scene. Sometimes, you get a comedic scene like the “fish sticks and custard” bit from The Eleventh Hour that introduces the manic and flighty side of Matt Smith’s Doctor, but it’s used to show Eleven’s post-regeneration crisis. In Deep Breath, you have Strax, a Sontaran soldier, a race considered the ultimate warriors in the galaxy, reduced to bumbling comic relief. Comedic sidekicks work best in small doses. When every word out of their mouths and every action they take is silly and stupid, then they lose all comedic value. Really, the only scene that saw Strax done right was when everyone was holding their breath during the big climatic fight. Strax couldn’t hold his breath any longer, so he was going to shoot himself to avoid losing the battle. Well done, Moffat, with at least THAT bit of characterizaton.
The presence of Madame Vastra and Jenny in this episode also seemed reduced to nothing more than “lipstick lesbian ninja fanservice.” They flirt, they banter, Jenny stands in her underwear, they kiss…maybe it’s because I haven’t seen a good Silurian episode since the Third Doctor, but much like seeing a Sontaran reduced to a comedic stereotype, seeing Vastra boiled down to a randy lizard who gives Clara a bunch of crap for being really freaking confused at the concept of regeneration was not worth the screen time, especially since her “wisdom” at Clara’s anger made no bloody sense.
Clara – “When did you stop wearing the veil?”
Vastra – “When you stopped seeing it.”
And don’t get me started on Strax hitting Clara in the face with a newspaper or the “clang” sound effect when Vastra knocks the Doctor out, or else I’ll be here all day…
The clockwork villains were cool, and very well done with their jerky mannerisms and emotionless faces. The concept of “flesh to replace parts” was a nice mix of the clockwork villains from The Girl in the Fireplace and the flesh-gathering Cybermen from the Big Finish audio The Harvest. Peter Ferdinano did a great job as their leader/controller, and the effects on the left side of his face with the eyeball and clockwork pistons kept my eyes glued to him every time it was on screen. But their presence in the episode, with the exception of their “larder,” felt almost like an afterthought, a cool idea regulated to the background until it was time for them not to be in the background.
Overall, the first half of the episode felt like the original draft of it’s script. Ideas are put to paper and then, instead of being revised, revisited, and refined, just throw on screen because “sounding cool” beats “being good.” But when we get to the second half of the episode, where Clara and the Doctor meet again for the first time, things really kick into gear. Jenna Coleman (notice the lack of the “Louise” now) suffered from Moffat telling us time and time and time and time again how “awesome and important” Clara Oswald was. Her story arc was the ultimate case of “show don’t tell,” where her importance to the Doctor’s history was boiled down to a bunch of clips of her inserted into scenes with previous Doctors. It’s not a knock against Coleman, who is a fine actress and did very well with what she was given. Coming off the amazing chemistry between Matt Smith and Karen Gillan, I just never felt the same spark between Coleman and Smith. But man alive, when she sat down opposite Peter Capaldi in the restaurant and the two of them started going back and forth, they just CLICKED. Between that scene and Clara staring down the Half-Flesh Man in the face of death, this was the first time since The Bells of St John that Clara felt like a companion to me; she didn’t take the Doctor’s gruff and pretty much told the villain where to stick it. That’s classic companion right there.
And then, all the way at the end of the review…Mr. Capaldi. Who, thanks to Chris Hardwick (and don’t get me started on his “those were all the Doctors” clip when he didn’t show Five, Six, or Eight!), I know how to finally pronounce his name – “Cah-POW-Dee.”
Being a big fan of Doctor Who nearly his entire life, Capaldi got to bring “his” vision of the Doctor to life. Now, one of the quotes making the media rounds in the weeks leading up to Deep Breath was how this was going to be a “darker, edgier” Doctor. Words like that usually make me cringe. But Capaldi nailed that aspect. We start with the comedic “who the hell am I, what’s a bedroom, when did you regenerate into Clara, Handles” aspect of post-regeneration, but then we go to the Doctor being incredibly pissed off over the death of the dinosaur that had brought him to London, angry at the people who had let it die. But then, he realizes there’s a mystery to be had, and he disappears. The next scene with the Doctor, when he scares the living crap out of a drunken hobo by ranting in a confused manner about how he’s got “attack eyebrows” and “is Scottish, so he can complain about things,” came off as the “ok, the Doctor’s going to be a dick while he comes to grips, so let’s have it happen to a complete stranger to avoid messing with his friends” scene, but Capaldi sold the hell out of it.
But as for the “darker and edgier” portion…when he “left” Clara to die, I was floored. It caught me, as a viewer, completely off guard and had me on the edge of my seat. I knew the Doctor wasn’t going to abandon her, as seen in the “I know the Doctor has my back” line, but how it was pulled off? Very Seventh Doctor, and definitely a Doctor ploy I don’t recall seeing in the revival!
“I have the horrible feeling I’m going to have to kill you. Thought you might appreciate a drink first. Know I would.”
The Doctor keeps giving the Half-Face Man the chance to surrender, to admit he’s wrong, and go out without violence. But when push comes to shove, the Doctor knows the only way to save the day was to deactivate the Half-Face Man; to kill him. We know the Doctor kills when there’s no other choice…
…but did the Half-Face Man jump to his demise out of his own free will? Or was he pushed?
We don’t know. And I like that. Ten and Eleven held their anger and potential for violence behind humor, bravado, and a sense of adventure. Twelve may not. He might just be, not The Man Who Wouldn’t, but the Man Who Won’t Lie About It.
So we get to the end of the episode, after Clara and the Doctor reunite, but Clara doesn’t know if she’s so sure about this Doctor. Understandable. But in order to drove home the fact that this older Scotsman WAS indeed the Doctor, Moffat again went to the “show don’t tell” playbook. By having the Eleventh Doctor call her, right before he regenerated, to let her know the man in front of her was indeed the Doctor and needed her help. Matt Smith’s cameo was completely unnecessary and ruined his “goodbye” speech from The Time of the Doctor. It just felt like PLEADING to the fans who were come to the show with a young Tennant and a much younger Smith to “please stick around, we know he’s an older Doctor, just give him a chance, Matt Smith says it’s ok!”
And as for the bumper at the end with “Missy,” I’m a little wary on Moffat’s long-term “mystery arcs,” so I’m going to see where this one is going before commenting in depth on it. I will say, however, that I hope it is Moffat’s long-term tribute to Kate O’Mara.
In the end, Deep Breath is a strange bird. The first half of the episode would put it firmly near the bottom of post-regeneration episodes in terms of quality, but the second half elevates in into the “upper middle of the pack” range. If I took anything away from this episode, it’s that Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman will be fine once they get out of Victorian England and begin having their own adventures. While the episode left me cold, I’m eager to see where the Doctor and Clara end up next.
Next up – With the Doctor facing his greatest enemy, he needs Clara by his side. Confronted with a decision that could change the Daleks forever, he is forced to examine his conscience…
Peter Capaldi is the Doctor in…Into the Dalek.