After a nearly 9 month wait, Doctor Who is back on the air with Series 8, Episode 1 “Deep Breath.” This episode is important because it is the premier of Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. The change of any actor in a show is a major one, but for a character like the Doctor, it’s a pivotal change – the entire flow of the show revolves around the nuances of the Doctor and his actions and feelings.
That introduction being done, let’s look at the episode. Of course, there are some spoilers, but nothing too major.
For some reason, many of the past few years major episodes have happened in late 1800’s London, and this episode is no exception. The TARDIS apparently is stuck in the throat of a Dinosaur that is rampaging along the river Thames. Comical? Sure. An odd season opening? Certainly. A bad choice? Not really, but you think for such a critical episode they would try something a little more typical, maybe. Then again, since when was Doctor Who typical.
Of course, this being set in the time frame it is, it has our good friends Strax, Jenny, and Madame Vastra. While I think the time frame they are set in is somewhat boring, I personally do enjoy this trio for their dynamics – Good actors, very comedic writing for Strax, and an interesting inter-species same-sex relationship keep things interesting, if the same-sex aspect is a little overused, even in this episode.
Whatever case, Vastra and her team go to the TARDIS to discover a somewhat confused Clara, and a man they don’t recognize; at least, not instantly. They soon, after talking with Clara, realize that this new, older man is the Doctor.
Of course, having just regenerated, the Doctor is basically confused about everything. You would be too if you had every cell in your body shifted around, regenerated, or replaced, resulting in an entirely new body. There is some good writing for the Doctor’s madness, including him questioning what a bedroom is, as well as many references to classic Who. Phrases such as “here we go again” or the doctor wanting a long scarf, only to determine such is a silly idea are clear references to the Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker eras, and regenerations.
In the middle of the night the Doctor decides to leave his room at Vastra’s mansion, and climb the rooftops, still in his sleeping clothes, to try to apologize to the dinosaur for bringing it to this time period. This seems to be going fine until the dinosaur catches on fire.
This leads to the Doctor running off to find out just what happened.. still in the aforementioned night clothes. Vastra, Strax, Jenny, and Clara try to figure out where he went, and just what is going on with a series of deaths through London involving spontaneous combustion.
So we have Clara following clues to find the Doctor, the Doctor trying to figure out what is going on himself, and a very sudden “in too deep” moment, where the realization of just what is going on in London hits them.
As is usual for a post-regeneration episode, the Doctor during much of this episode is trying to get himself together. He is still sharp as a tack, as they say, noticing subtleties no one else would, but the tension between he and Clara is strong.
This isn’t the same Doctor that Clara has been traveling with. To her, this is a new man. She doesn’t realize this is someone who is almost timeless, nor that she isn’t the first person to travel with him. Far from it. As the episode progresses though, she eventually does realize that he is the Doctor. The Doctor isn’t one particular face, voice, or behaviour – he is a composite, always evolving and changing for the better. Even the Doctor himself questions why he chose “this face.” indicating it, to him, has a reason for being. This is the first “old” body he has used in the new series, and the contrast is night and day.
This, indeed, is a source of much of the focus of this episode. When it was announced that Capaldi would be the new Doctor, the fan reaction was very mixed. The older, more mature audience accepted and looked forward to this new actor and change of face, but the younger audience, used to what, for the lack of better words were “pretty boys” like David Tennant and Matt Smith, rejected this choice. The episode is filled with Clara filling the role of the fans who hated this choice, simply because he is “old” or “different”, with her eventually realizing his face doesn’t matter, that he is the same person, the same Doctor, and also that he “isn’t [her] boyfriend,” which quite well captures the attitude many of the fans seem to have had to the previous actors. By the end, Clara does accept him, but only after a very special phone call.
Back to the core plot of this episode, I find it interesting the choice of adversary this time around – the clockwork robots from I believe a Series 2 episode. I have not seen the episode, but I know the basic plot, and it is fascinating to see the moral dynamics of life being debated in such an odd way between the Doctor and the robot leader.
The episode has a slightly odd ending to the core plot, but by the time the end credits roll, you feel a sense of progress. The core story is wrapped up, save for one odd aspect which I won’t spoil here, and the dynamic with Clara and the new Doctor makes some traction towards being stable.
With all said and done, the episode shows Capaldi will be a good doctor, in my opinion. I never doubted him, and I am glad to see other reviewers giving the episode praise. It certainly wasn’t the best episode ever, but it is in no way bad. Pacing is a little iffy, but for what the episode has to do, it is understandable. In the end, I enjoyed it, and can’t wait till next week.
Doctor Who S8E1 “Deep Breath” gets an 8/10 from me.