REVIEW: Doctor Who – ‘Deep Breath’

Clara and the Doctor get to grips with one another in the Series 8 premiere, 'Deep Breath'.
Clara and the Doctor get to grips with one another in the Series 8 premiere, ‘Deep Breath’.

So What Happened?

After the TARDIS is unceremoniously barfed from the jaws of a time travelling dinosaur on the banks of the Thames in Victorian London, we’re re-introduced to the confused Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi), who is struggling to get his bearings after his latest regeneration. Equally troubled by his newest incarnation  is his companion, Clara (Jenna Coleman), and her struggle to come to terms with his new/old face is the meat of this episode. What ensues is a murder mystery of sorts, with the Doctor forced to investigate a spate of spontaneous combustions after he watches the T-Rex  he was responsible for bringing from the past go up in flames in the heart of the city, helped along the way by the Paternoster Gang (Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax), who provide much of the light relief of the episode.

As they investigate, it transpires that a group of ailing droids that have accidentally been propelled back from the future are harvesting body parts from human hosts and then burning them to cover their tracks, all from their seemingly normal base in a restaurant. Being forcibly transported to their underground ‘larder’, a stand-off takes place between the Doctor, Clara and the droids that ends with his companion apparently abandoned by him, after an unsuccessful escape attempt where she attempted to trick the robots by holding her breath. Clara being Clara, she manages to hold off her imminent doom with a mixture of sass and teenage mind games remembered from her first days as a teacher, long enough for the Doctor and the rest of the Gang to intervene. As the ‘Half-Faced Man’, the leader of the droids, attempts to escape to the Paradise he’s convinced he’s been promised, Capaldi’s character follows him and they discuss the futility of searching for a Nirvana and the lengths to which the Doctor is prepared to go to to protect humanity, all in a conversation peppered with references to past adventures, and that ends with the droid leader skewered on top of Big Ben. Did he jump or was he pushed? Perhaps we’ll never know… Except perhaps we might. Minutes later we’re transported to a hazy, suitably idyllic looking garden, where the newly deceased ‘Half-Faced Man’ encounters a delightfully bonkers woman called Missy, who claims he’s in Paradise after all and that she’s none other than the Doctor’s ‘girlfriend’. Confused? You’re not the only one!

The real emotional punch came in the episode’s denouement. After Clara briefly frets that the Doctor would leave her with Vastra and Jenny, he predictably comes back for her, and in an attempt to transport Clara home, ends up taking her on an impromptu visit to Glasgow. There a heart-rending phone call from the previous incarnation of the Doctor (Matt Smith) shortly before his ‘death’ on Trenzalore gives her the kick to accept the Doctor in his new skin. Coffee and chips are the new fish fingers and custard!

The New Doctor?

Danielle: I’m a fan. I liked Capaldi immensely in ‘The Thick of It’, but like everybody else,  I held my breath. I needn’t have worried. Twelve is a very different beast from Eleven, but that stands to reason if they’re going for coherent character development. As promised, this 2000 year old version of the title character is older, darker and wiser, with moments of great wit and comic timing, which sit well on the shoulders  of such an accomplished actor. Of course many people will lament the loss of the fun, flirty dynamic that’s been present between the Doctor and his companions since ‘New Who’ began, I’ve enjoyed it myself, but here a change may very well be as a good as a rest. In short,  I’m a relieved and happy bunny.

Marieke: I only knew Capaldi from Fortysomething in which he played a maniacal and utterly weird doctor (hey, ho!) who was driving everyone in the practice crazy. I figured if he could keep the maniacal side but toned down, we’d have a fine Doctor. I admit I took me a while to really warm to him in this role. For me the fan service that was Eleven reassuring Clara that Twelve (he is just going to be Twelve, screw the War Doctor count) was him, also helped me. As if the click of ‘let’s see what this Doc has in store!’ finally happened. He actually is made for the part. So my curiosity is triggered and I can’t wait to see where on the already large Doctor scale Twelve will manifest himself!

The rather unconvincing Half Face Man.
The rather unconvincing Half Face Man.

“Monster” of the week.

Marieke: Well, basically it was completely irrelevant this week wasn’t it? A baddie was needed, other than that it was all about the set up of the new Doctor. The androids were creepy in the restaurant, but that soon went away for me when they went down with the sofa lift. Androids with rotting human organs who only attack when they notice humans breathing didn’t really do it for me. I think the androids were a bad combination of the clockwork robots from The Girl in the Fireplace with less scary Blink type mechanics. Although I admit I held my breath when Clara did. I think not blinking is scarier and better for audience participation. You wouldn’t want your kid to turn blue whilst watching this show.

Danielle: Nothing much more to add here other than the fact the T-Rex was a little pointless too. Now the CGI budget has been blown for a few episodes, I’m expecting a few ‘invisible’ aliens in the coming weeks.

Creep Factor

Marieke: This show is supposed to be scary at times. As I said before, the steps in the restaurants and the androids standing up to create a barrier for the Doctor and Clara were a bit creepy to me. But it soon faded after and even during the fight with Vastra, Jenny, Clara and Strax the androids looked incredibly incompetent in killing. Even without the whole not breathing thing I am sure there are better fighting machines out there who do the job quicker! (Cybermen?)

Danielle: Although we weren’t in cuddly ‘Adipose’ territory from the Russell T era, the tension really wasn’t there for me. Those droids ain’t no Weeping Angels!

Mystery

Marieke: We did get a nice set up for the rest of the series. At the end we saw an unknown lady who will no doubt be very important for the big arch this series. Does she have to do with getting the Doctor and Clara together? Was she really in heaven? And will the Doctor learn to love his new liver? All sorts of questions popping up.

Danielle: For me, the real mystery at the heart of ‘Deep Breath’ was whether or not the Doctor pushed the ‘Half-Faced Man’ to his doom or not. If we knew, we’d have a better idea of just how dark Twelve really is, and the lengths he’s prepared to go to safeguard the humans he’s protected for so long. The fact that he was apparently wrong about the ‘Heaven’ the chief droid was seeking is an interesting puzzle that we’ll no doubt see solved in the coming episodes. Was I the only one being reminded of River being saved by Ten onto the Library’s computer system?

The Verdict?

In spite of the sloppy Android B-plot, we both found ‘Deep Breath’ to be a promising start to Series 8. With a completely altered dynamic between the Doctor and Clara, there’s plenty of impetus for new adventures that don’t cover old ground. Overall, we’re still very much along for the ride!

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