8.1 – “Deep Breath”
Whilst investigating a series of unusual murders, the Paternoster gang are sidetracked by the sudden appearance of a Tyrannosaurus Rex in the River Thames. When the giant dino proceeds to vomit up the TARDIS, Madame Vashtra and company are faced with yet another challenge; a newly regenerated Doctor.
New series, new Doctor! As always, the high anticipation of meeting the latest incarnation of our favourite Time Lord does require a fan to step back a little and try to be objective. It would be very easy to get caught up in the hysteria and excitement – particularly if, like me, you’re already a fan of Peter Capaldi as an actor – but ultimately the first story of the Twelfth Doctor’s tenure has to stand on its own merits. Does it have an interesting story? Does it work well as an introduction to a new Doctor? For those of you who just want the shorthand review of the episode, here it is;
It’s pretty good, but nothing amazing.
The arrival of a dinosaur in the middle of London is obviously attention grabbing, so it’s no surprise that the Paternoster gang turn up to find out what’s happening. They place a bunch of sonic devices around the T-Rex to keep it confined to one place but before long it’s developed a headache and vomits up a familiar blue police box. Out steps The Doctor, newly regenerated and very confused. It’s the traditional post-regeneration bafflement that gives Capaldi five minutes to be silly and have some fun before he passes out. Madame Vashtra and the gang take him and Clara back to their apartments, where The Doctor catches a nap and a clearly distraught Clara is subjected to a bit of a grilling. She’s not taking the whole regeneration thing too well and Vashtra accuses her of being more concerned with outward appearances than with The Doctor’s well being. This pulls Clara out of her “OMG he’s wrinkly and grey” mood and for once she shows a bit of fire (much to Vashtra’s enjoyment). It’s a nice scene, a good way of establishing Clara’s doubts about the older looking Doctor and a suitably direct middle finger to all of the clueless fangirls who said that Peter Capaldi was too old for the role.
During the night, The Doctor wakes to the sound of the T-Rex being attacked and quickly commandeers a horse from it’s owner (or pet, as The Doctor sees it) and heads down to the Thames to check out the situation. Before long, Clara and the Paternoster gang are also on their way in a carriage, where they find The Doctor bemoaning the stupidity of “pudding brained” humans for destroying the T-Rex. But his concern immediately turns not to why the beast was killed, but if any similar murders have happened recently in London. When Vashtra confirms that they have, The Doctor jumps into the Thames in pursuit of an unusually stoic stranger…who only has half a face.
Realising that The Doctor will always come back to the TARDIS, Strax sends the carriage to retrieve it and then assaults Clara with a copy of The Times (which did get a genuine laugh out of me). Meanwhile, The Doctor has gotten into a one-sided conversation with a tramp, rambling about his new face one minute (with a little reference to recognising it) and revelling over his new Scottish accent the next – “I can complain about things, I can really complain about things now!” He sees an article in The Times about one of the latest murders and Clara sees the same article. On the back of the newspaper, directly parallel with the article, is an invitation to dinner. Meeting up at a restaurant, The Doctor and Clara have a bit of fun bickering before realising that neither one of them placed the advert for the other, but that’s not the only unusual thing – all the other diners in the restaurant are repeating the same motions over and over again. And they’re also not breathing.
That’s when we get into the meat of the episode. The Doctor and Clara find themselves taken beneath the restaurant to a staging area for the clockwork droids (led by Half-Face) who are using body parts from the people they kill to rebuild themselves. They destroyed the T-Rex because it had a part they needed (not sure how accurate the biology is there, but whatever). This is where the mood is well and truly set to creepy, with the music and the sparse use of dialogue helping to build a sense of dread for our heroes, especially during Clara’s “long walk”. There’s some nice continuity humour as The Doctor keeps remembering bits from his encounter with the droids in “The Girl In The Fireplace” but can’t quite put his finger on it. Capaldi shines throughout this portion, going from curious to cowardly (he abandons Clara at one point) to commanding before turning quietly menacing for the final showdown with Half-Face. He offers Half-Face a drink and a chance to talk things over but the droid decides it’s time to split and the restaurant suddenly takes off, revealing itself to be an escape craft. Now we see The Doctor in full rage mode as he scraps with Half-Face, accusing him of being nothing more than a hodgepodge of bits now that he’s replaced so much of himself (the old broom handle argument). There’s an ambiguous end for Half-Face (did he fall or was he pushed?), followed by a much needed conversation between Clara and The Doctor…or should that be Doctors?
Admittedly, there’s plenty to like here. One of the episode’s biggest accomplishments is the pacing; too often in New Who we’ve raced through a story at breakneck speed, barely stopping to gather our thoughts and take in what has happened so far. That’s not the case with “Deep Breath”, which has periods of quiet where suspense and atmosphere are built up and both the story and the characters are given the chance to breathe a little. There’s a tone of menace underlying events that is very reminiscent of the faux horror of some Fourth Doctor adventures and Murray Gold’s dependently brilliant score helps to ratchet up the tension. Unfortunately, some old problems still rear their ugly heads, with concepts like Half-Face’s individuality not explored to their full potential and there’s far too much time spent in the company of the returning Paternoster gang. I like Strax just fine but there’s only so much of his “comedy” that I can tolerate in a single sitting. If you took out the bulk of the Paternoster gang material, this episode could easily have been a tight 45 minutes of solid New Who.
With all of that said, what’s the verdict on Peter Capaldi? Personally, I think he does a great job of presenting a Doctor who is not immediately familiar to us but is interesting enough to make you want to know more about him. As the story progresses, we see quite a few different sides to the Twelfth Doctor and, with each new story, we’ll likely see other dimensions to his personality. Some people might be tempted to say that Capaldi’s Doctor is darker and actually quite hostile, but I think that would be missing the mark. He has a no nonsense attitude; he’s not looking for approval, he’s not trying to be your best friend or the hero of the hour, he’s just looking to get to the bottom of whatever it is that’s grabbed his attention. He still has all of the wonder and enthusiasm that the character has always had, but it’s tempered now with determination and the occasional dose of biting sarcasm. It’s his first full episode so, yeah, his Doctor is not yet fully formed but I for one can’t wait to see where Capaldi takes it from here.
“Deep Breath” succeeds in giving us a good introduction to the Twelfth Doctor and a new change of pace that ultimately benefits the story. But it fails to flesh out the story’s concepts and still suffers from an excess of baggage. Still, not a bad start for Peter Capaldi who is instantly intriguing in his more mysterious portrayal of The Doctor. All in all, a solidly enjoyable 7/10.
Written and edited by Richey Hackett