From Doctor Who TV, a spoiler free review of Deep Breath
Note: While this review refrains from mentioning plot specifics, read on at your discretion.
Eight months after we saw Peter Capaldi question the colour of his kidneys, Deep Breath is almost upon us (just 24 hours to be precise). We’ll waste no time with fancy introductions and cut straight to the chase: yes, we can confidently now proclaim that Capaldi is definitely the Doctor. But this is assuredly a new, volatile and more dangerous Time Lord. Capaldi is riveting to watch from the word go.
The Doctor starts the episode in a typical post-regenerative fashion as he stumbles out of the TARDIS in a barmy scene that echoes The Christmas Invasion. Yes, for the first third of the episode it’s fair to say the Doctor has lost his marbles a tad! This leads him on a journey of self-discovery involving a lonely T-rex, horses and the homeless (a hilarious moment featuring a nice cameo). It’s not until the mid-point and Steven Moffat’s publicised ‘dining scene’ where the episode and Capaldi really start to come into their own.
Comparisons to previous Doctors are inevitable. It’s easy to see shades of classic Doctors like Hartnell, Pertwee, and the Bakers (yes both of them, and the latter in a good way) but Capaldi is definitely his own Doctor and shows as much range as a seasoned actor should. Much has been made of his incarnation being ‘darker’ and by the conclusion and one sure-to-be-debated scene you definitely feel he is not a Time Lord to be trifled with. Yet there’s still a warmer, more vulnerable side, it’s just more hidden and harder to access than it was before. There’s also a decent amount of humour, most of it coming from the Doctor and Clara’s bickering!
It would be premature to say you feel you have an exact handle on Capaldi’s Doctor by the end of Deep Breath, but that’s part of the fun. There’s still plenty to be learnt about Capaldi and it is definitely going to be a very interesting journey to see how he develops over the course of the series.
Of course as much as the episode is about Capaldi’s Doctor, there’s a strong focus on Clara and how she is reacting to the mad man in the box she thought she once knew. There’s a portion of fans that won’t quite feel comfortable with this new person claiming to be the Doctor and Moffat knows this all to well and projects this on to Clara. It means we get to see Jenna Coleman go through a wide range of emotions and she pulls it all off with aplomb. It’s no Moffat lie to say Capaldi brings out some of the best in Clara we’ve seen. Other standout scenes include one where Clara enters a verbal joust with Madame Vastra and another when she’s placed in a particularly deadly monster confrontation.
Speaking of the monsters, the darker nature extends to these too. While Doctor Who is still obviously a family show for BBC One and violence can’t be dwelled on, there are some grotesque themes here that are far from ‘family’ (which could explain the slightly later timeslot). Guest star Peter Ferdinando plays the lead villain, the Half-Face ‘Man’, and he is a creepy counter to Capaldi. The best thing is that the villains actually feel a bit more threatening and are given more screen time.
Series 7 was criticised for having some pacing issues. Some stories moved along so fast there was little time to breathe and endings could feel rushed. Thankfully, Deep Breath’s extended run time obviously affords more time for quieter moments and character development. It remains to be seen how subsequent episodes will hold up with the regular 45-ish-minute slots. Why can’t Doctor Who have at least an hour every week?
Bringing acclaimed film director Ben Wheatley (Kill List, Sightseers, A Field in England) on board was a wise move. He gives the episode some very unique and striking visual shots. There’s an eerie, unsettling atmosphere running throughout this version of Victorian London. The direction is complemented by Murray Gold’s score. While pieces like Clara’s Theme are present and correct, there are several new arrangements. At this stage it’s hard to tell if any of the newer tracks will develop into Capaldi’s own theme.
For all the praise, Deep Breath isn’t perfect. The first third feels a little mixed in terms of tone and perhaps it takes more time than necessary for the central plot to kick in. But this is very much a character episode so that’s probably understandable. Other issues will probably come down to your tolerance of the Paternoster gang. If you’ve grown tired of Strax’s comic antics there is little to change your mind here. He feels a bit out of place with the tone of the episode, but is largely kept to side scenes. Jenny and Vastra get more screen time and are far more tolerable, but again it’s hard not to feel that they all should have been confined to Matt Smith’s era.
To conclude, while it’s a strong opener, it’s not quite as accomplished as Steven Moffat’s previous Doctor debut, The Eleventh Hour. But coming second to that is little to complain about. Deep Breath leaves fans wanting to see plenty more of Capaldi, and that’s the most important part.