TV Review: Doctor Who – Deep Breath

Please pardon the lateness, I’ve been really excited to do a review of the Doctor Who season premiere, hence why things are posted a bit later than usual.

Deep breath
Deep Breath Poster by Timelockgraphics.

Back around Christmas 2013, we saw Matt Smith’s incarnation of the Doctor leave as tides of change returned once more. And with it, we saw a new face. At the end of the episode, we got a taste of the “12th Doctor” played by Peter Capaldi. While his “Attack Eyebrows” made a cameo in the special from a month prior to that, we didn’t know much about him. We’ve seen many trailers of the premier as well as teasers for his new wardrobe. (3 + 9 = 12!) But, it wasn’t as satisfying as finally sitting down and watching the count down to the new episode; a new adventure for a new doctor!

The first arc of the episode is delivered akin to The Christmas Invasion… well, at first. A confused and jumbled doctor sputters out of the TARDIS and his companions must protect him while all hell breaks loose. Instead of evil christmas aliens, it’s a temporally displaced dinosaur rampaging through a Victorian London. When the Doctor comes to, he makes a farce of himself by running amok in pajamas as he steal clothes form a homeless man and rides a horse into the darkness after securing it form a carriage. On top of this, the absurd red herring plot of the dinosaur romping around made for defining an oddball direction for the doctor. But, this wouldn’t be complete without the Doctor shouting surreal comments at the T-Rex continuously. The second arc almost felt like an episode of another Moffat show, Sherlock. This isn’t a bad thing per se, but the arc felt like one of the neutral Sherlock episodes that wasn’t as memorable as the best of the series. That said, Madame Vastra is Sherlock in the Doctor Who series and she could have been a greater asset to the plot, in my opinion. Having her involved more would have been fun for me. But, we saw her in battle mode for the first time since A Good Man Goes to War, which is always awesome.

In a way, these two parts of the plot embody the new doctor! He proudly displays his intelligence (in a somewhat disparaging way, hence “planet of the pudding brains), while he’s not afraid to do what he wants! He doesn’t even care if his actions come across as ridiculous! He reminds me of the 4th Doctor in some respects and the 6th Doctor in others. Hell, he’s practically the Cosmic Hobo from the 2nd Doctor era from his quirky actions seen here alone. To wrap up his character, he’s decidedly more bonkers than Matt Smith’s incarnation while not afraid to boast his intelligence. To me, he’s a mix of Sherlock (from the BBC show) and Colin Baker’s 6th Doctor. He seems detached at times, too brainy for it own good; also having an alien mindset that becomes downright scary at times, and is not afraid to use force if a point needs to be made, as well as looks ridiculous to people who don’t understand where he’s coming from.

This side of the Doctor brought out all sorts of interesting developments from the rest of the cast in this episode. Madame Vastra showed a mentor like side, trying to open Clara’s mind to see that the crazy old man in the box is still the Doctor. In addition, when she’s not being her usual self, she felt a lot more philosophical throughout the episode. Clara become just as moody as the Doctor, if not more. She was challenged not just against evil foes, but against her own beliefs. As a result, she became defensive and frustrated. Throughout the episode, we saw the beginning of a new arc for her; coping with change. In a sense, she’s almost a metaphor for the Doctor Who fandom… if not humanity as whole. While the related message about change became heavy handed at times, she represents how we as people become shocked with change and need time to adjust to it. Beyond the character, we got to see different approaches to the character from Jenna Louise Coleman. While fans know she is an excellent actress, this episode displayed a greater variety in her character. That said, nothing really changed about Jenny and Strax, but they always felt like companions to Vastra to me.

It would be hard to miss the throwbacks to the Davies era of Doctor Who scattered throughout, which is strange for an episode that became so emphatic that it was in a different era. There’s a good reason why a short clip from The Girl in the Mirror was used for teasing the new doctor, as the antagonists from this episode shared quite a few eerie similarities! While not my favorite Doctor 10 episode, it was still a dramatic adventure with terrifying mechanical people. Also, the ending heavily reminds me of both the Library’s database from Silence in the Library, as well the garden from the medical station in The Girl Who Waited. While the former was either an homage or perhaps the same enemy, the latter is likely a coincidence… That or it was just BBC reusing sets like they usually do. Either way, it inspired some great personal head-canons.

Beyond plot and character, the visuals were quite enjoyable, not nothing we haven’t seen before. The foggy Victorian London streets provided some delightful atmosphere and seemed to get darker as the plot unveiled, leading to a bright but slightly polluted industrial sky. The cinematography and lighting really brought said aspects together. In terms of visuals, the scenes where the Doctor and co observe the burning dinosaur over the bridge really made the mood for me. Everything was tense, things were getting kind of creepy, and the blazing inferno behind everyone set things up for the action ahead. Combine this with the shadowy silhouettes throughout the city and you have a sense of dark mystery lurking about.

I could argue that it wasn’t as strong of an opening as The Eleventh Hour was with Matt Smith’s doctor, but Deep Breath is a fantastic establishment of Peter Capaldi’s doctor and what to expect from there. By all means, this isn’t the best Steven Moffat has done, but it’s still a fantastic episode. Here’s to hoping that Capaldi and Moffat make a good team together. In the meantime, Deep Breath deserves a 8.5 spontaneously combusting dinosaurs out of 10.

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