Doctor Who Reviews - Deep Breath (S8E01)
He’s finally here! I had believed in Capaldi the moment he was cast. So coming in to this episode I was incredibly optimistic. Cautiously however given the episode we left off with last christmas. Series 7 while entertaining in some ways, felt lacking in some ways because of the way it was formatted (split season with long wait, mid season christmas special, no two parters). The 50th anniversary made up for this somewhat but I still wish we had a little more substance.
This episode shows great promise for the future of the series and is a strong debut for the Twelfth Doctor and easily the best standalone episode we’ve had in a long while (Because while the 50th was insanely entertaining and fun, it is very flawed and controversial for obvious reasons.)
Let’s go over some key points that makes this episode stand out:
Pacing - This was probably the most important thing that makes this story work. Had this story been done during Series 7, it would have gone by at breakneck speed without being able to deal with a lot of what the episode throws at you. But thanks to the pacing (the extended running time helps a lot as well) the story is allowed some breathing room. We get to slow down and actually soak in what’s happening. Therefore, while the physical stakes may not be as high as other episodes, the emotional stakes feel real. The character moments come through much better, something that was gravely missing in a lot of Series 6 and 7. The plot also benefits from this as well. Things mostly make sense and flow at a good pace so the audience doesn’t feel lost.
Clara - THANK GOD FOR CLARA IN THIS EPISODE. I can say without any doubt that Clara Oswald had more character development in this episode alone than all of her previous episodes combined! This partially comes thanks to the pacing. We get to see how Clara reacts to a given situation. She stands up to Vastra when she berates her. She learns as she’s put into a situation that takes her out of her comfort zone. Clara feels really consistent as we see her fear, frustration, and doubtfulness as she learns to trust this new Doctor. And more importantly, she does it on her own…mostly (but I’ll get to that). For once she finally feels like a true character, rather than a plot device.
Capaldi - Capaldi is perfectly cast. I knew this back when it was announced and now my optimism has been validated. He shows the darkness and alien-ness that we were promised and were expecting. But he has a surprising amount of humour as well. Given to another actor or previous Doctor, some of these jokes might have been eye-roll worthy. But Peter finds a way to deliver them in a way that made me laugh and everyone else in the room with me. People worried that an older Doctor would make the show less energetic should be proved wrong because Peter brings a lot of physicality to the role. Not quite as much as Matt Smith but he still manages to be incredibly active while also keeping reserved when it’s required.
The Writing - Steven Moffat is not at his top game here. He hasn’t been since the Eleventh Hour. But he’s certainly improved since his last ordeal in Time of the Doctor. Where that was a cluttered mess that tried to do so many things that it collapsed under it’s own weight, Deep Breath keeps it’s elements in check and holds them up high.. Of course it’s not perfect. Occassionally, jokes are a little obvious and groan-inducing. But overall it manages to handle it all very well. The plot and the characters are in full focus while side stories and long arcs are only hinted at rather than given full focus. We’ve been told that Peters previous Who appearances as Caecilius and John Frobisher would be addressed and it’s softly hinted at here but not given too much focus right now, as it should be. The episode also connects to The Girl in the Fireplace as we identify our monsters as the Clockwork Droids. However that is also slightly hinted at rather than shoved in our faces. And as for the season arc, beyond the ending scene, it doesn’t seem to be taking full force. Obviously we’ll have to wait till it pays off (or doesn’t) in the finale so I can’t judge this element just yet.
The Cameo - Near the end of the episode, Clara gets a phone call from none other than the Eleventh Doctor, just before his regeneration on Trenzalore. He tells Clara to help his future incarnation reassuring her (and the audience) that he’s ok. While this scene is well intentioned, I don’t really think it belonged in the episode for two main reasons. First, this is Capaldi’s big debut. The focus should be entirely on him. Having Matt Smith show up after we already said our goodbyes takes the focus off of Capaldi which is not what we want. Second, it should have been Twelve that did something to convince Clara to fully trust him so that Clara can come to the conclusion on her own. Instead we have Eleven, a Doctor she already liked, tell her trust him. This takes away a bit from Clara’s journey to accept this Doctor. However,the scene after the phone call makes up for it a bit (with some obvious Nine/Rose parallels) so I’m not complaining too much.
Overall this is a significant improvement from the last series and shows great promise for the rest of Series 8 and the Twelfth Doctor. I’m happy!
Rating: Must See
Required Viewing?: The beginning of any series is required, let alone the beginning of a new Doctor. Yes