Doctor Who Review Vol. 12.1 – ‘Deep Breath’
Here we go again. The first episode of any new incarnation of the Doctor is a delicate prospect for the production team. Whether or not the new actor is suited to the role (and we didn’t doubt for a moment that Calpadi would be anything but perfect) they need to sell us on the new direction for the show. Whatever happens it must link to the old material while striking forth on a new path. It’s like having all the pitfalls of a reboot with none of the benefits. This is made all the more daunting by the dramatic shift from the young and goofy Matt Smith to the old and cantankerous Peter Calpadi. So…how did it go?
Pretty bloody well. We begin with Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax in Victorian London and a T-Rex on the lose in the Thames. Just as they process this information the dinosaur coughs up an out-of-control TARDIS, which deposits Clara and a newly regenerated Doctor on the shore. Clara is struggling to come to terms with the Doctor’s sudden change, unable to see him for who he is, and the Doctor is suffering bouts of dementia. At the same time a clockwork cyborg is stealing organs from the locals and leaving the burned remains, which catches the attention of the time travelling investigators.
There are a number of different elements at work in the episode and it could have been a real clusterfuck if they tried to jam in to much. Instead all different elements get tied to the one central concept of identity for the Doctor. Clara has trouble accepting this new person as the Doctor (which is somewhat odd as she has literally travelled down his entire timestream) and the Doctor himself begins questioning himself and his choice of new face, if it is a choice at all (although previous companion Romana demonstrated that Time Lords could in fact choose their new appearance, even taking on that of other people – a possibility considering Calpadi has appeared in the show before). Quite often in the brief time following the regenerations the Doctor has bouts of amnesia but they don’t usually extend past some cringe-worthy shouts of “who am I?” at the ceiling, but this is the first time the Doctor has been shown to have a genuine crisis of identity.
This comes to a head with the final confrontation with the monster-of-the-week, the clockwork cyborg. When the Doctor meets the organ scavenging machines he questions how much of them are their original selves, a concept that resonates with our hero as he questions his own identity. The end note is a positive one, with the Doctor looking to make amends for past mistakes, and striking a balance between the classic cantankerous old coot and the quirky eccentric.
We get a good mystery and a good set-up for a new era, and as an added bonus we get quite a few nods to the past seasons. Madame Vastra repeats a line ‘here we go again’, originally said by the Brig when Pertwee regenerated into Baker, Clara commented that she ‘doesn’t like’ the redecorated TARDIS, a line started by the Troughton and carried through to Smith, and the Doctor considered a big scarf. Fans will feel well catered to.
The concluding scene sets up an interesting new plot for the season (referenced in the title of the season 8 finale) but we can only wait to see what they have in store. Madame Vastra, Strax and Jenny play a key role in bridging the old season and the new, but the trio feel like they’ve out-lived their appeal and the characters could be retired (Jenny can stay on as a companion, she’s the most interesting). Now that Clara has concluded her ‘Impossible Girl’ story arc it’s hard to see what her role in the series will be, but they may yet have something in mind.
Ultimately this was a cracking good start to the new series and a new Doctor. Capaldi, a long, long, long time Doctor Who fanatic, is fantastic in the role and we can’t wait to see how he handles the Daleks next week.