REVIEW: Doctor Who 8×1 “Deep Breath”

I’ll be honest here; Matt Smith is not my Doctor. Most of the time, Christopher Eccleston is my Doctor, but other times it’s David Tennant. Either way, it wasn’t Matt. Not that he was a bad Doctor by any means, but he played the role with too much puppy-eyed, child-friendly bounce. Imagine my relief and joy then when last night, the Doctor finally started acting like his age.

The dust is still settling from last night’s premier of series 8 opener “Deep Breath”, but there were a lot of odd points which I’d like to raise. For an episode which was heavily promoted as a fresh start, it was fairly heavy on the continuity. The trio of Vastra, Jenny and Strax appear in a large capacity in this episode and gave it some lovely humour, which was probably needed when the Doctor is now a Scotsman.

“Deep Breath” itself concerns both the Doctor recovering from his regeneration and coming a cropper with a fairly old robotic enemy as they devour the people of Victorian London for their body parts. The enemy itself is another point of continuity, although for those who haven’t seen it I shan’t spoil it for you. Even the unknown woman who originally brought the Doctor and Clara together pops up again, all adding up to an oddly continuity-heavy adventure for what purported to be a new beginning.

But that’s not to say the episode isn’t enjoyable for new fans at all. I myself actually gave up on the series (temporarily from the looks of things as they are now!) after Matt came along, but any new or old fan returning to the series will find much to enjoy in this episode.

Like all good Doctor Who episodes, we’re thrown straight into the action, with a T.Rex roaming the streets of London before coughing up the TARDIS and a half-mentally deranged Doctor collapses out of it. The story itself slowly unravels itself in a well-told yet unoriginal fashion. We’ve had many an episode that have followed this pattern, and its almost as if Deep Breath doesn’t offer anything new in terms of story-telling – even with the eerie scene in the restaurant where the Doctor and Clara notice its inhabitants aren’t what they seem…

However, the episode’s plot is perhaps secondary here, and instead acts as a platform for the new Doctor to spit out his newfound personality. The 80-minute adventure drew out the typical post-traumatic stress the Doctor seems to have after every regeneration very well, allowing the viewer to sample what comes across as a platter of miniature outbursts that seem to embody what the Twelfth Doctor will bring to the series in terms of personality.

This new Doctor appears to be the most ruthless of the show since its 2005 revival, particularly in the scene where the Doctor demands a poor beggar for his coat, as well as deliberately leaving Clara in the hands of the enemy. Of course, those little incidents can be taken as post-regeneration-oddness, but if it’s any indication as to what this new Doctor will be like then it’s a welcome change from the past.

Peter Capaldi plays the Doctor with an equal level of quirkiness as his predecessors have, with the bedroom scene being a rather amusing highlight. But, as Clara notices, for all the ‘lines on his face’, he bears an apparent vulnerability about him. Maybe this is me getting it wrong and noticing things that shouldn’t be noticed, but the Doctor’s stammering near the episode’s conclusion when the arrive in modern Glasgow appears to point to an uncertain yet malevolent side of the Doctor that is as new to us as the grey hair is to the Doctor.

Ultimately, “Deep Breath” plays down its plot in favour of its characters. The newly-regenerated Doctor and the tensions between Clara and Vastra provide some truly gripping drama. But is this the future we can expect to see? Doctor Who is a series that it applauded for its far-reaching storylines after all; we can only hope that the plot will definitely thicken as this new series continues.

But if, in the end, “Deep Breath” turns out to be a tantalizing introduction to a new saga that gives way to some brilliant sci-fi adventure drama, then more fool me for ever doubting Stephen Moffat.

What did you think of “Deep Breath”? Let us know in the comments section below!

About the author

Fred McNamara