‘Deep Breath’ wasn’t perfect but it delivered on everything that was needed in both an opening episode of a new run of Doctor Who and a post-regeneration story. But whereas previous narratives have deftly left us knowing the full extent of the new Doctor, this time round we’re still left wondering. Peter Capaldi’s Doctor asked a bewildered Clara in the trailer for the new run of episodes whether he was a good man, to which Clara replied that she didn’t know. The viewers know. As of now, the Twelfth Doctor is a bad man. A very bad man indeed.
The pre-title sequence was a glorious stroke of Moffat genius. This time round a rampaging tyrannosaurus rex nearly careers into Big Ben, the Paternoster Gang come to the rescue, and the same t-rex belches the TARDIS out nearby the Thames. Only in Doctor Who could such a sequence occur. Its here that Peter Capaldi makes his introduction. He instantly mysterious, brooding and darker. He insults Strax and Clara and flirts with a dinosaur, all of which is delivered with Capaldi’s Scottish twang and an aura of youthful energy. Yes, Capaldi joins William Hartnell as the oldest actor to take on the infamous role, but the Doctor still feels young. Capaldi has an amazing grace and energy not unalike to his predecessor.
The titles come next, and no, I am not a fan. The RTD intro was perfect; the Matt Smith intro was gorgeous. Capaldi’s looks exactly what is it – a fan creation. The new theme tune is rather striking however – it sounds retro, like it could have easily been played over the first episode. Retro and organic.
Much like Smith’s Doctor, Capaldi suffers from his regeneration but not to the extent of David Tennant’s much-loved Doctor. A quick nap, in a confusing bedroom, and the Doctor is up-and-about. Here we see Capaldi play sorrow with aplomb as he laments the spontaneous combustion of the t-rex. His emotion is palpable and entirely believable and it makes this older, mysterious Doctor a man whom the audience can side with. Its only taken twenty minutes.
Whilst this is very much Capaldi’s episode, it’s Jenna Coleman who is the true star. She is simply sublime throughout the entirety of ‘Deep Breath’, sparring with Vastra and her troubled attempts to understand that Capaldi is really Smith. Her standout scene just has to be her determined standoff against main threat Peter Ferdinando’s half-faced man. She stands steadfast and portrays a whole host of emotions showing that Jenna is a brilliant actress. Clara has come a long way since she was introduced solely as a plot-device. Keep giving Jenna scenes like this, and Clara will go down as a classic companion.
Which brings us onto the threat of the episode. The Clockwork Droids, last seen in 2006’s stunning ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ return, although quite why we don’t really understand. Any other monster could have realistically taken their place and worked just as effectively, but ‘Deep Breath’ did bring a new twist to those not-so-classic droids. That said, much like their last appearance, the clockwork machinery was beautifully detailed and the whirring of the droids movements enriched the scenes they appeared in, drenching the restaurant in menace. Next week see’s the return (AGAIN) of the Daleks – please Moffat, give us a new monster. A proper good one at that.
‘Deep Breath’ also saw the Twelfth Doctor reunite with the Paternoster Gang. Strax, as usual, was there for the laughs. Vastra and Jenny, on the other hand, entirely worked. Showing glimpses into their home life, ‘Deep Breath’ was as much their episode as it was Clara’s. It’s still brilliant that a lesbian cross-species couple have become fan favourite characters on a children’s show airing before the watershed, although I don’t doubt that some fans will complain about the same-sex kiss. I’d like to think this was Moffat giving a massive two-finger’s to the naysayers and that he was actually striving to accomplish something with its inclusion rather than putting it in just for the sake of it. Anyway, Neve McIntosh is very much still the star of the Paternoster Gang (Jenny is always refined to the sidekick role, and rather needs more to do) and her confrontation with Clara early in the episode was brilliantly acted by everybody involved. Vastra is frosty, but like the question-test in 2012’s ‘The Snowmen’, she ultimately warms to Clara again.
‘Deep Breath’ wasn’t perfect though. Its longer running time ultimately meant that pacing was a problem – whilst some things needed the extra time afforded to them, others didn’t. For a large proportion of the middle section of the episode, not a lot happened. Come the ending, the much-touted ‘darker Doctor’ came hurtling to the forefront as, after a confrontation with the half-faced man, the aforementioned man was impaled upon Big Ben. Did the Doctor push him to his death? Its not confirmed, but nor is it denied, and either way the Doctor could have prevented his death (although technically the half-faced man couldn’t be killed since, y’know, he was never alive). ‘Deep Breath’ very much ends with the Doctor as a dark, bad man. And it’s a brilliant take on the role.
Sneaking in close to the end, Matt Smith pops up to help ease Clara into accepting the new Doctor. This must be the only time Smith returns for the foreseeable future – his time has passed. That said, the scene was beautifully tender and made me realise how much I miss Smith. Smith was brilliant (he’s going to have a successful career ahead of him) and he told Clara and the viewers to take a chance on the new, older man. Do it. You won’t regret it.
So a lot worked, and a little didn’t. Ultimately ‘Deep Breath’ delivered and its left the viewers wanting more. A mystery has been made about the Doctor’s new face so expect some payoff about Capaldi’s previous roles in the Whoniverse and Michelle Gomez appears ten episodes earlier than anticipated to lead the half-faced man through the gates of paradise and into heaven. Who is Missy? The Doctor’s girlfriend, like she said? Or someone much, much sinister? River? The Master? (Missy, short for mistress, as in female Master). The Rani? It’s going to be a long wait until the final, but the episodes in between sound glorious so I’m more than happy to wait for a resolution to that for now.