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.