DOCTOR WHO Review: “Deep Breath”
By Kyle Anderson on August 23, 2014
SPOILERS: This review/recap is exactly that. It talks about parts of the Doctor Who premiere episode in depth as well as rehashes some specific scenes. If you haven’t seen the episode yet, we urge you to do so before reading the following analysis. You have been warned.
And we’re back. Boy, it sure did feel like the time between “The Time of the Doctor” and now was especially lengthy, didn’t it? Especially as we kept getting tantalizing news bites, casting reports, set pictures, and eventually interviews pertaining to Doctor Who Series 8. But, tonight, it all became real again. Peter Capaldi, the Twelfth Doctor, staggered out of the TARDIS and began what looks to be his manic and slightly dickish tenure as the lead of our favorite show. Not only that, but his companion Clara Oswald, played by Jenna Coleman, had to come to terms with this new man, and it seems it’s going to be an ongoing drama. “Deep Breath” had a lot to do, and the fact that it did that, plus added wackiness, cracking dialogue, and tense if not downright terrifying moments just solidified once again why this is my favorite show.
The episode, written by Steven Moffat and directed by Ben Wheatley, plays less like a feature film, as its length and screening in cinemas would have us believe, and more like a Christmas special, despite nothing having to do with Christmas going on. It’s Victorian London, which probably aids in that, and therefore allows for a few key things to happen: 1) some awesome costumes on both the heroes and antagonists, and 2) it allows the Paternoster Gang to come back. This is integral to the working of this story. If the Doctor is going to be all weird and aloof and crisis-y for a good portion of the story, Clara’s going to need someone to talk to, and who better than Vastra, Jenny, and Strax?
Victorian London is in a tizzy (which is to say standing around and gasping) over the sudden appearance of a huge Tyrannosaurus Rex-looking thing in the Thames. Nobody knows how it got there, though Madam Vastra says she remembers those from when she was a little girl. Suddenly, the dino coughs and out flies the TARDIS, landing on the ground nearby. The Twelfth Doctor emerges ranting about dinosaurs and things and it becomes immensely clear that he doesn’t really remember anything, referring to Vastra, Jenny, and Strax in weird ways and then calls Clara “the not-me one,” and “the asking questions one.” He also thinks she’s Handles… so stuff’s going on with him. They eventually get him into a bedroom, where he rants about it being a bedroom, and Clara says for the first of many times that she doesn’t know who the Doctor is, which Vastra gets very huffy about and decides they need to do the veil thing again.
She forces Clara to “see through the veil,” accusing her of missing the younger-looking Doctor because she liked flirting with him, and says she’d have a better time flirting with a mountain range. This leads to Clara telling her off good and proper, which was my first favorite scene in the episode. The Doctor decides to go out and talk to the dinosaur only to see it burst into flames. The Doctor is horrified and quickly joined by the others who begin asking questions that aren’t the right ones. The Doctor says the right question is “Are there any other murders like this?” Which is a weird question, except there HAVE been. Some steampunky-robot people are murdering folks, removing pieces of their anatomy, and burning the bodies to hide the evidence of removal. People are saying it’s spontaneous combustion.
Eventually, Clara and the Doctor reconvene at a restaurant that turns out to be a front for these clockwork people, and they take organs from organic life forms to try to upgrade themselves. The Doctor determines that the only way to fool the dumb repair droids is to not breathe (hence “Deep Breath”). The Doctor abandons Clara at a certain point and she’s forced to outthink the droid, despite her tremendous fear. The Doctor returns, having disguised himself as a droid, and talks long enough to allow Vastra, Jenny, and Strax to find their way down underground and help defend, which is easier said than done. The Doctor and the lead droid end up high above the city in a balloon-powered escape vessel, and the Doctor knows that only the death of the lead droid will stop the others and so either the Doctor throws him out of the pod, or he throws himself out. Which actually happens, we don’t know.
I’ve skipped quite a bit and haven’t yet talked about the denouement, but I wanted to address certain things separately. Plus, I’m assuming everyone’s seen the episode, so from here out I’m really going to talk openly. Be prepared.
Holy crap did I love this. This sequence actually focuses on time and it swirling around, which I thought was gorgeous, and Murray Gold’s new, slightly whiny version of the theme tune is perfect for the more mysterious and less friendly version of the Doctor. Loved to bits.
Vastra and Jenny
I love these characters, and I love that they’re unabashedly married in the 1800’s in England, despite them both being women and one of them is a lizard. I liked Vastra’s point that in public they have to pretend Jenny is just the maid in order to fit in, and how she related that to the Doctor and his recent series of young faces. I do worry though that Moffat is slightly running the “they’re married” thing into the ground; not THAT they’re married, but just that they mentioned it a LOT in this episode and made sure they said kind of off-handed randy things to each other just to make sure people get it. “THIS IS A LESBIAN COUPLE EVERYONE!” As if anyone was still unclear. Also, I kinda think Vastra was unduly cruel to Clara at the beginning, but I’m glad Clara got to monologue at her as a rebuttal.
I had worried Strax was getting TOO silly, but I think in this one he’s just the right amount of silly. He still just flatly doesn’t understand things, but he at least knows Clara better now. Though I’m not sure why he constantly wanted her to get her clothes off. That was a bit weird. Funny lines, though.
That dinosaur sure didn’t do a whole lot other than be a dinosaur, did it? It just sort of stayed in one place and roared at the Doctor before getting set on fire. Kind of a waste of an interesting idea if you ask me, but it got the ball rolling in a new and different way. Man, this show is a jerk to dinosaurs; two murdered in as many series.
An interesting idea to have them be kind of reverse-Cybermen, constantly getting new organic parts to replace the ones that have gotten old. Also liked that they’re from the sister ship to the Madame du Pompadour from “The Girl in the Fireplace,” but the Doctor can’t remember it.
Hold Your Breath
Clara was again amazing, as she has been almost her entire run on the show, certainly for the last three episodes. We see a different side of her because she’s obviously much more on edge with this new Doctor and he brings out other parts of her personality, he pushes her buttons a lot more. She gets to shine in a few moments: the telling-off of Vastra which I’ve already spoken about, the scene in the restaurant which I’ll talk about in a moment, and the fantastic scene where she is scared but effectively outthinks and out-talks the droid who doesn’t negotiate very well. That’s Clara’s shining achievement if you ask me, and it’s made even better by the fact that as far as she knows she’s been abandoned entirely by the Doctor but still won’t give up the information.
Now we come to the biggie, a whole new Doctor complete with a whole new set of weird foibles and peccadilloes. I thought Capaldi came out of the gate guns blazing. He’s very strange and shouty and, a bit like a know-it-all kid, doesn’t care all that much if he hurts someone’s feelings or effectively leaves his friend to die. He does have really nice moments with Clara, too, though where he talks her up good and proper to the villains. The scene when the Doctor is talking nonsense to the vagrant in the alleyway is great. He does the usual New Face barking (especially his can-opening eyebrows that are independently cross) but this time he says he remembers this face but can’t quite place it and wonders why he’d chosen this face specifically. Clearly, they’re going to tie in Capaldi with the person he played in “The Fires of Pompeii,” probably entirely ignoring how Capaldi also played a character in Torchwood, but no matter. It’s also explained that the Doctor is Scottish now, actually Scottish apparently, and that explains his accent and his general grumpiness. Nice touch, coming from a Scottish actor and Scottish writer.
The Restaurant Scene
I’ll admit, as much as I liked a lot of the elements of the first half of the episode, the scene when Clara and the Doctor meet in the restaurant after both “figuring out” the puzzle in the paper, is where the episode really came to life for me and kept me invested for the rest of the run time. It’s just a brilliant and hilarious bit of writing and acting. I love this scene to no end. Every line lands perfectly and the two characters have a good ol’ row about Clara’s apparent egomania. They’re catty to each other in a way that only good friends can be and I let out a belly laugh a couple of times. Then it suddenly switches into serious “Oh crap it’s a trap” mode but they don’t lose their verbal edge toward each other. It’s so important that this scene is here and goes on as long as it does. It establishes their relationship and gives them a buddy comedy to work through, and both actors really shine with this kind of dialogue.
The End Bits
After being gone awhile, and Clara maybe thinking she’ll be stranded with the Paternoster Gang (though in her heart knowing she won’t), the Doctor comes back and says he needs to make up for the wrongs he’s done. He says he’s not Clara’s boyfriend; she says she never thought he was, to which he replies that he didn’t say it was her mistake. This is very weighty, you guys. The Doctors of the New Series, obviously without every expressing it, always did seem like they considered themselves the beau of their young and pretty companions. There was a jealousy when other guys were involved, even a bit between the Eleventh Doctor and Rory. This tells us that everything is going to change and he’s not going to be that guy anymore.
Clara says she can’t stay with the Doctor because she doesn’t recognize him. She gets a phone call which she takes outside and *surprise* it’s the Eleventh Doctor, calling from Trenzalore right before he regenerates. He says that Clara should stay with the new man because he’ll need her, then laments his face getting older and his hair going grey. This is, I think, as much for the audience’s benefit as for Clara’s. The show, especially in America, really picked up momentum with the Eleventh Doctor and they wanted to make sure it was a nice sendoff and handover to Capaldi so people will accept him. Maybe unnecessary but at least handled in a classy way.
Clara finally “sees” the Doctor in Capaldi’s face and gives him a hug, though he’s not much of a hugger anymore. He definitely seems like a younger man in an older man’s body, the exact opposite of Smith. I like it.
We get the first look at what I’m guessing will be this series’ throughline: Heaven. Michelle Gomez, who we saw in production materials was playing a character called “The Gatekeeper to the Nethersphere,” makes her first appearance, claiming to be named Missy, welcoming the half-faced lead droid to his fabled Promised Land. She refers to the Doctor as her boyfriend, also. Intriguing. I’m interested to see where all this goes. Could it be River? Doubt it. Could it be the Rani? Eh, it’s possible. Could it be the Master now a woman? Seems unlikely. Could it be someone else entirely? That’s what I’m guessing.
There are lots other little bits and bobs I enjoyed about this episode, but this is already 2,000 words long and who has the time? Just go watch it again. Overall, I think “Deep Breath” worked incredibly well for introducing a new Doctor, reestablishing his relationship with a companion, setting things up for the future, and giving us questions about what kind of a man the Twelfth Doctor really is. The dinosaur was unnecessary, really, but it did look cool, and ultimately the episode picked up when they got to the restaurant. Still, a really fine opening to a series. Away we go! Next week, an episode entitled “Into the Dalek” written by Moffat and Phil Ford and directed by Wheatley. See you then.