DOCTOR WHO – DEEP BREATH REVIEW
Out with the old but young and in with the new but old. Matt Smith’s foppish charmer is gone, and Peter Capaldi’s older, harder Doctor has taken over, with his eyebrows set to attack.
Much of this episode, the first of Season Eight, deals with who this new Doctor is, both to himself and to Clara. The Doctor’s current companion had the unenviable task of replacing Amelia Pond, the most popular and well defined of all of the Doctor’s tag alongs, and as of yet hasn’t really managed to become a fully developed character in her own right. Deep Breath is the show taking strides to amend that. Clara gets a decent amount of definition here and is starting to feel like an actual person rather than just being there so the Doctor isn’t talking to himself (which in all fairness, he does all the time, even when other people are with him).
It’s perhaps not ideal that much of Clara’s inner conflict this episode comes from her feelings of “eww the Doctor’s all old now”, but to his credit, writer Steven Moffat manages to make it work on a deeper emotional level. Much of Clara’s struggle to accept the new Doctor feels like the show anticipating the audiences reaction to Capaldi’s casting. With David Tennant in the title role the show developed a cult following in the States, and that following only grew once Matt Smith took over. The world responded to the younger, hipper Doctors, but as Deep Breath explains, that was a lie. That appearance was a pretty facade, a flirtation to enamor the Doctor to the youthful. Peter Capaldi is the truth. The hardened, dangerous man who has spent thousands of years fighting. And it is that person Clara (and the audience) has to accept now.
While all that does feel a bit meta, it gets grounded in character and gives Clara something interesting to do. When Clara asks Jenny what she would do if Madame Vastra changed into a completely different person, her response is surprisingly touching. It’s in these character moments that the show excels, especially during Steven Moffat’s run. When the Doctor and Clara meet at a restaurant there is some fun back and forth between the characters that demonstrates their sparky relationship, and what they think of each other (basically, they both think the other is an egomaniac and control freak). It’s these moments that give the show its heart and keep the audience coming back.
As for the plot itself, it’s fairly standard stuff. Androids are offing men and women in Victorian England and using the human remains to patch up and conceal their inner mechanical workings. And to make a hot air balloon out of skin (this is a kids show, right?). The Doctor is particularly displeased with them as they killed his pet dinosaur…
As far as villains go, the droids aren’t among the show’s most threatening or iconic, but they do provide one or two worthwhile moments. The first comes when the Doctor leaves Clara to fend for herself against a number of the droids, and we see exactly how Clara is different from previous companions, particularly Amelia. Where as Amy was naturally brave, Clara has a more typical response to situations that may very likely result in her death: terror. That is not to say Clara is a coward, far from it in fact. Her standing up to the lead droid whilst trembling and fighting back tears seems all the more heroic for how hard it appears to be for her.
But the most interesting interaction with the droids is saved for the Doctor himself. The Doctor asks the droid questions about itself, about if it can indeed have a self. If you have a broom, and then change the handle, and then the head, and continue to do so, is it the same broom? It’s a question the Doctor asks the droid in regards to the droid’s repeated swapping of body parts, but it is a question you could ask about the Doctor. This is the twelfth Doctor (Thirteenth if you count John Hurt) and each version is drastically different. Is he the same man? No. Yes. Both. Each Doctor has his own distinctly unique look and mannerisms, but strip all that away and what remains will always be the same. Much of this episode (and certainly the most interesting parts) deal with the newest Doctor reminding himself of that. His conversation with the homeless man early on in the episode shows how discombobulated he is in this new form. He is still a little goofy, but nowhere nearly as much as the previous incarnation, and now his humour comes with an edge. He is the most intimidating Doctor to date, with a hard, worn visage and a brutally angular brow. It takes the droids (with a little help from Clara) and the threat they represent to snap him back into focus of what he is, and always will be. He is the man who stops them. There’s no motivation for the Doctor to be the hero other than that’s simply who he is and what he does. It doesn’t need to be more than that. Peter Capaldi hits that note perfectly. He plays him with a menacing, ever so slightly unhinged swagger, but at his core he is still the Doctor.
As a whole the episode works well enough. It takes a little while to get going, relying on humour to carry it for the opening ten or so minutes (some of which falls flat – the newspaper to the face springs to mind), but once it gets to the meat of the central characters conflicts it starts firing on all cylinders. Both the Doctor and Clara get some revealing character beats. The villains and their plot don’t excite enough for the episode to be called a classic, but as an introduction to an interesting new take on the character, it certainly gets the job done.
Also, the new title sequence is wicked cool.
- Capaldi is great
- Clara gets some much needed development
- Meh bad guys
- dragged in the opening stretch