Tuesday 26 August 2014

Reviews in Time & Space: Deep Breath

Doctor Who Season 8, Episode 1: Deep Breath

After a long and agonising wait, the much-hyped new series of Doctor Who is finally upon us. However season eight of the show brings along some big changes, placing an older actor in the title role for the first time since it returned to television screens back in 2005. Our new 12th Doctor comes in the form of 56 year-old Peter Capaldi, famous for his role as the foul-mouthed Malcolm Tucker in   The Thick of It and guest character on both Doctor Who and Torchwood (appearing in The Fires of Pompeii and Children of Earth respectively). After some brief teasing in both The Day of the Doctor and The Time of the Doctor, Capaldi's first time in the spotlight is in this 75 minute season premiere that goes by the name of Deep Breath.

Following straight on from last year's Christmas Special, the beginning of Deep Breath sees the Doctor in his traditional post regeneration madness. After accidentally transporting a dinosaur to Victorian London along with his TARDIS, he and Clara meet up with the now semi-regular Paternoster Gang - Madam Vastra, Jenny and Strax. As Clara tries to come to terms with the fact the Doctor she knew is gone, the dinosaur mysteriously bursts into flames in the distance. Never shying away from a murder, the Doctor leaps into investigation mode and separates from his concerned companions. What he eventually finds is an undercover operation from a familiar foe.

Meanwhile Clara must not only reunite herself with the Doctor, but learn more about the man he has become. The 11th Doctor may be gone, but does that really mean that she doesn't know him anymore?

Getting to know the 12th Doctor
Am I a good man?

Before we begin looking at the story itself, the episode debuted a rather snazzy new title sequence - heavily inspired by this fan made opening. The clock vortex motif is a great addition to the iconic sequence, finally doing something REALLY different and original with it. I am glad howeverthat the pocket watch and Gallifreyan symbols were dropped for the official version. Kudos to creator Billy Hanshaw though, and the opening goes great with the new theme arrangement. This new version feels a lot more 80s Who inspired and I can't wait to hear a full version of it.

So what do we know about the 12th Doctor other than that he has a Scottish accent and "attack eyebrows"? Deep Breath doesn't get the whole of his new personality quite out thanks to the circumstances, but the presence of an older man in the role is certainly felt. Capaldi's Doctor gives off a much darker aura than his new-series predecessors, with a much shorter temper and tolerance for human ignorance. He'd feel right at home with some of the classic Doctors in terms of attitude, but still very much gives off the childish glee of Tennant's, Smith's and (to a lesser extent) Eccleston's Doctors. Its just about the right balance to appease younger members of the audience and those wanting the Doctor to get out of the flirtatious Doctor/companion dynamic the series has had going for years now.

Clara catches up with the new Doctor
Killer restaurant, but they do apparently have a children's menu!

Speaking of which, destroying this dynamic was at the top of the bill for Deep Breath. Personally I've enjoyed Clara as a companion, but as a character she falls victim to Moffat's "infallible woman" writing and many are right to complain about that. But this episode sets about humanising Clara a bit more, calling her out on her flaws and making her a much more relatable character. This is set about early with a conversation between her and Vastra, where the Silurian calls her out for judging the Doctor for suddenly becoming an older man, and no longer being her "dashing boyfriend". But of course this isn't just for the benefit of Clara, but also to send a clear message out to the people who judged Capaldi's casting solely on age and looks. Of course the flirting worked both ways, which was addressed in a great little moment later when the Doctor tells Clara that he isn't her boyfriend, to which she replies that she never thought he was. His response? "I didn't say it was your mistake."

With the Paternoster Gang once making a return, one has to wonder what is stopping them from getting their own spin-off series at this stage. Setting the whole of the action in their Victorian London home, Deep Breath furthers the notion that their adventures were the ones that inspired Arthur Conan Doyle to create Sherlock Holmes, as well as giving a much more expansive role to Vastra and Jenny. Strax's very distinct brand of slapstick is still very much around (and perhaps more childish than ever), but the key scenes very much belong to the other two members of the group. The constant reminders of them being married every 30 seconds weren't exactly necessary, but this unique little bunch are quickly filling up the quota of non-female/non-human companions and that is never a bad thing.

Madam Vastra and Co return once again
Guess who's back

As mentioned earlier Deep Breath sees the return of an older Stephen Moffat creation - the clockwork robots, who previously appeared in the season two episode The Girl in the Fireplace. While certainly nightmare inducing in their 2006 debut, this episode gives them a very different and arguably scarier feel. Gone is their intricate elegance, replaced with a gritty steampunk vibe with a much stronger focus on their human organ harvesting (see the repeat closeups of the lead cyborg's exposed eyeball). This new outlook goes rather well with a darker Doctor, and certainly wouldn't feel out of place in the Phillip Hinchcliffe era of Doctor Who either. It was also very bold to give them a tagline so similar to that of the Weeping Angel's "Don't Blink", but somehow managed to be pulled off to similar effect. Sure the realism factor isn't there like it with the angels, but thanks to Ben Wheatley's superb directing that scene of Clara trying to escape certainly provided the right level of chills.

The half-faced man, leader of the clockwork robots
Not quite the crew of the S.S. Madam de Pompadour

Then of course the episode ended with a surprise cameo from the Eleventh Doctor himself, calling all the way from Trenzalore to give Clara one final message. It's a bit of a blow to have the former Doctor "save the day" of sorts when this is the new Doctor's time to shine, but much like the earlier exchange between Clara and Vastra its certainly there to help ease the more obstinate of fans into the new Doctor. It's also very nice to see Eleven give a proper goodbye to his then-current companion, instead of having his long goodbye build up a rather pandering cameo from Amy Pond. Modern Doctor Who is frequently a show I have issues with living in the past when it should be living in the now (see: Ten pining after Rose for two whole seasons after she left) so I'm hoping this will be where it ends, but it still remained a rather touching moment between two very different Doctors and their companion.

And those final moments - place your bets now! My crackpot theories have gone everywhere from something to with Clara (similar Victorian outfits, one insisting he isn't her boyfriend while the other is) to someone just obsessed with a man who should be dead (i.e. in heaven) now. Another popular theory seems to be the Master, but right now who knows where this is going!

Deep Breath kicks off with a T-Rex in London
This was less of a thing then you'd think

The first episode of a brand new regeneration is always a difficult one, especially for the modern Doctor Who audience. It has to ease apprehensive viewers in with clear throwbacks to the previous Doctor and get across the tone and personality of the new one - all while the Doctor is a bit crazier than usual and often running around in an odd set of clothes. It's a tall order, but one Deep Breath manages to pull off incredibly. The episode isn't completely flawless, but it's an incredible debut for Peter Capaldi that will hopefully have also helped to quell any doubts viewers might have had about Clara too. It's the right combination of both old and new, setting up a brand new set of adventures with a very different Doctor to what the relaunched series has seen before.

To quote the Sixth Doctor: "Change, my dear. And it seems not a moment too soon."

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