With the aid of some old friends, a new Doctor confronts an old enemy as both he and Clara struggle to come to terms with his new identity.
New Doctor, new man, new opportunities
You all sound all … English!
Let’s get the big question out of the way first: what is Peter Capaldi‘s Doctor like? The simple answer is that he is his own man and a very different version of the Time Lord to that of his predecessor Matt Smith.
From a viewer’s standpoint, that’s both a good and bad thing. It’s certainly risky. Having previously cast two young, energetic actors in Smith and David Tennant, Capaldi’s dark and brooding Doctor is a shock to the system. Some think it may alienate younger fans accustomed to a more comic book-style hero who wouldn’t have looked out of place trading quips with Spider-Man.
Will that driver viewers away? I don’t think so. Children are much more accepting of change than we give them credit for. If the stories are good and there’s plenty of action, scary monsters and quotable lines, they’ll soon accept Capaldi. It’s a transition that draws parallels with Troughton to Pertwee, and no more jarring than the regeneration of the gentle and vulnerable Fifth Doctor into the bold and brash Sixth.
For me, there was no option other than to make a significant departure from Tennant and Smith. In shedding the bonhomie of Ten and Eleven, the new Doctor is an altogether more ambiguous, dangerous and therefore interesting man. Did he push the clockwork droid from the spacecraft? It’s more intriguing that we don’t know for sure either way.
This new version of the Doctor opens up different dynamics between him and his companions, and presents opportunities for new forms of storytelling. Deep Breath is almost the polar opposite of The Eleventh Hour – more introspective, less manic and with a greater focus on the characters to carry the plot. Could either of the previous two Doctors have plausibly forced Clara into a one-to-one confrontation with the droid captain the way Twelve does? No.
I enjoyed Clara’s role in this episode too. Now that she is no longer the mysterious Impossible Girl, can she stand on her own merits as a companion? On the evidence of this episode, the answer is a resounding yes. Jenna Coleman does her best work here, taking the perennially chirpy Clara and giving her a real edge. Her relationship with the Doctor has spun on a sixpence too, and it will be interesting to see how new character Danny Pink fits into the dynamic.
If I have one criticism, it’s the episode’s big closing reveal: Matt Smith’s cameo appearance. It was as unnecessary and self-indulgent as the Tenth Doctor’s extended farewell tour in The End of Time.
Overall, though, Deep Breath heralds a new dawn – hopefully not a false one – for Doctor Who. For the first time in a long while, I’m not entirely sure what to expect from the series. And much though I loved Matt Smith, it was definitely time for a shake-up to stop things from getting stale. Can Steven Moffat and Capaldi follow through from this promising start? Let’s hope so.
Oh, and incidentally, isn’t the new title sequence magnificent? Dark, almost spooky – shades of Sapphire and Steel? And the spiralling clock motif works perfectly: 12 numerals on the clock face representing each of the 12 Doctors. Motion graphics artist and Who fan Billy Hanshaw created a concept of his own that impressed Moffat so much that he built the series’ new titles around it. Here’s the original:
Fun stuff, references & quotables
- The Doctor struggles to remember Clara’s name, calling her “Thingy … the not-me one … the asking questions one,” and then Handles. This last is perhaps understandable, given that the Cyber-head from The Time of the Doctor was his most recent and longest-serving companion, after all.
- The Doctor speaks both dinosaur and horse. Is it possible the Doctor’s real name is Dolittle?
- “Big … sexy … woman!”
- “I brought you along by accident. That’s mostly how I meet girls.” It’s remarkable how often that has been true during the Doctor’s history.
- The clockwork droids’ previous appearance was in The Girl in the Fireplace, a Tenth Doctor story also written by Steven Moffat. In that episode, the Doctor also rides a horse.
- “Planet of the pudding brains.”
- Madame Vastra’s network of Paternoster Irregulars is a play on Sherlock Holmes’ network of street urchins, the Baker Street Irregulars.
- I wonder where the Doctor got the idea of a big, long scarf from? Hello, Tom Baker!
- “They’re cross. They’re crosser than the rest of my face. They’re independently cross. They probably want to cede from the rest of my face and set up their own independent state of eyebrows.” Okay, it’s not a subtle piece of political commentary about the Scottish separatist movement but it is funny.
- “It’s times like this I miss Amy.” Me-ow! He doesn’t mention Rory, though.
- “I think there should be more round things on the walls. I used to have a lot of round things. I wonder where I put them?”