I have been a bit disappointed with Doctor Who after Steven Moffat took over writing. Although Matt Smith had some great moments as the Eleventh Doctor (as in “The Pandorica Opens”), I have felt the series took a turn for the illogical. Laws of time and space get trampled when they are inconvenient for plot purposes, and characters develop new personality traits on a per episode basis for the same reason.
However, with Peter Capaldi starring as the Twelfth Doctor, I could not help but get my spirits up. Pre-series buzz indicated Capaldi has some strong opinions about the direction of the show (no Doctor/Clara romance for him!), and I hoped that some sense of logic would once again begin to govern the show. The first episode of Series 8 has left me still in some state of uncertainty, but it did have enough high points that I still hope the series will get stronger as it goes. After all, every new Doctor seems to take a few episodes to really grow into his role and his particular plotline.
The Initial Frustation
“Deep Breath” did open inauspiciously. The dinosaur rampaging through Victorian London element turned out to be completely unnecessary. (A friend suggested that perhaps the creators just thought it looked cool, which seems a likely enough explanation for me.) Frankly, Doctor Who has done dinosaurs before and better (“Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”) which further highlights how extraneous this one is. If the writers needed the Doctor to see something spontaneously combust, they could have had him stumble across the chain of people who had apparently already done so before the dinosaur did.
The characters did not fare much better in the opening scenes. The Twelve Doctor stumbles out from the TARDIS with little recollection of who any of his acquaintances are, blunders through their names even after refreshers, and keels straight over. If viewers remember, the previous episode (where Capaldi was briefly introduced) featured him asking Clara if she knew how to fly the TARDIS, because obviously he didn’t. Having the Doctor fail to remember almost anything integral about himself or he friends feels like a cheap way to demonstrate how disorienting regeneration can be. And there is no good segue into how he eventually comes more into his own; it just happens.
Finally, as the Doctor is off tramping about London in a crazed state, the other characters make assertions about him that are blatantly untrue. Sure, this could be the fault of the characters—perhaps they don’t understand him as well as they think—but the creators really seemed to be making a point here. Madame Vastra implies that the Doctor has control over his appearance when he regenerates, and that he is intentionally trying to project an air of maturity with his new look. But if the Doctor did have that control, he would have been ginger by now, and Matt Smith would not have ended the episode lamenting that his new incarnation is grey. Next, Clara asserts that the Doctor is “uncomplicated.” While Matt Smith’s Doctor may have projected an air of boyish exuberance, I would never say the Doctor, a man with an enormously long history full of death, loneliness, and hard choices, was “uncomplicated.”
The Turning Point
Once Clara and the Doctor find themselves in the deliciously creepy restaurant full of clockwork customers, however, the episode picks up and Doctor Who starts looking more like Doctor Who. There is an air of darkness and intrigue, but it is all lightened by a bit of banter.
Furthermore, once Clara is in immediate danger, she demonstrates real bravery and intelligence, standing up to a deadly robot and backing him into a corner where he has no choice but to negotiate with her. Clara, besides being totally awesome in this scene, finally begins to develop a personality. I personally found her forgettable in Series 7 and thought her “sassy” epithet was not entirely earned. I only hope she continues to demonstrate spunk and courage and that this is not a one-time event for her.
The Doctor, too, finally really shows up. He regains most of his senses and moves from just acting nuts to acting like the crazy genius he is. Brilliant solutions, pithy remarks, and good insights start flowing. A lagging bit of forgetfulness reminds viewers that he is still recovering from the regeneration, but no one really has to worry for him.
A bit of exploration of how Clara and the new Doctor can relate to each other, and what kind of man the new Doctor will be—one apparently focused on righting all the mistakes he’s made—ties up the episode, and gives viewers hope that Doctor Who will continue to be a show that explores facets of humanity and asks questions about right and wrong, in addition to exhibiting cool fight scenes with aliens. It takes a while to warm up, but “Deep Breath” is not a bad start to Series 8 at all.
6 thoughts on “Doctor Who Review: “Deep Breath””
I really enjoyed this episode. I was very wary at first.. I had to tun the telly up at one point because I was struggling to catch what Capaldi was saying. But it got better as the episode went on for sure. And I really loved Clara in this one!
I’m still not won over by Capaldi, but it’s looking hopeful 🙂
I always watch Doctor Who with the captions on, partially because the accents can be hard to understand and partially because someone’s always talking really quickly or muttering. Or maybe muttering really quickly.
I’m not entirely sure about Capaldi yet either, but I think every Doctor takes awhile to get into the role and to figure out what type of person his Doctor is going to be, so I’m hopeful, too!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Once the episode hit its stride, it was pretty good. As you note, the characters say a lot of stuff about each other that doesn’t make sense/isn’t true in an attempt to sound deep, but once we get that (and the extraneous dinosaur) out of the way and Clara and the Doctor start talking to each other, things looked up. The human element is what always made Doctor Who for me (and I think Moffat has lost that with his love of explosions and his attempts to be clever all the time), so their conversation where they attempt to get to know each other again was key. Also, I loved how Clara (as you again note) finally starts to have a real personality and is not just a convenient plot device. We can only hope her personality lasts and that it doesn’t change every time Moffat can’t figure out how to write her into the script.
But even though the episode was decent, I’m not holding out hope yet. Moffat is pretty good about delivering a solid episode, but he’s had trouble in the past sustaining an entire season with a clear arc and decent characterization. The season has to be good as a whole before I start letting go of some of my reservations about the current direction of Doctor Who. (I mean, what are the chances that all the women will stop being objectified?)
Agreed! I think you have a point about Moffat’s series arcs being a little wild. From this first episode, I really have no idea where that might be going for series 8, but I’m hoping things will start to be more cohesive. (No evidence to suggest that, of course, but maybe Moffat will get better with experience?)
I’ve seen a lot of people rejoicing that “Deep Breath” seems to be the “answer” to accusations of passive and objectified women in Moffat’s writing, but I definitely don’t think one episode is enough. They can’t show us Clara being independently brave and clever in one scene and think that covers it. She, and the rest of the women, are going to have to continue to deliver.
Great post about the episode! I too was side-eyeing some of those assumptions made about the Doctor as “uncomplicated” and the direction of his regenerations (but then again I always had some issues about that Paternoster group in general *shrugs* In other news, really wished someone made a comment about the Doctor still not being ginger; I always enjoyed that running gag).
But the unevenness of the episode and the usual Moffat tropes aside, I enjoyed this episode far more than the last few episodes of new Who; I love Peter Capaldi’s Doctor already and I’m glad that Clara has more to do/more to her character here 🙂
I was looking forward to a joke about his failing to become ginger, as well. It definitely hasn’t gotten old yet! Unfortunately, they made the Doctor essentially incoherent at the beginning of the episode, which really didn’t leave room for it.
I agree, though! I think, as far as Moffat’s contributions to the show have been going, this was a pretty promising episode. The lead-up marathon to “Deep Breath” made me realize all over again just how much I liked Tennant and his plot lines, so that made me critical all over again, but I’m trying to remain open-minded.