Ground It In The Familiar
One of the tricks Moffat pull out of his bag here is to surround Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor with lots of familiar faces and places. So we get the Paternoster Gang, Jenna Coleman’s Clara and another visit to Victorian London. I’ve lost count of the number of times the Doctor has landed there now. Even the villains are familiar with the clockwork robots from a previous Moffat episode (The excellent The Girl In The Fireplace) showing up.
That’s a smart play. It reassures the more conservative portion of the audience who don’t handle a change in the actor well. I’m not sure what percentage that is (not the kids I’m certain) but they are quite vocal so it’s a measurable number of the adult viewers.
Post Regeneration Trauma
It’s also become a tradition in Doctor Who for the Doctor to undergo some level of confusion after regeneration. Over the years this seems to have become a bigger part of the plot for the opening stories. If you’ve been watching for a long time that’s an element that does get a bit repetitive.
Here Capaldi initially plays it for laughs but then morphs it almost seamlessly into pathos. This is why Peter Capaldi is going to be awesome in this role. Certainly Steven Moffat’s script gave him the beats and the lines, but it’s Capaldi who can sell it. And that switch from funny to serious and then to dangerous (more on that later) is not an easy one to pull off.
One of the negatives that cannot be avoided is that Doctor Who is a science fiction show produced on a BBC budget. While some stories work around that limitation Moffat has a tendency to just go for broke with grandiose scenarios. The advances in modern CGI help a lot here. But the opening sequence with the dinosaur in London just screamed green screen to me.
For my tastes this is not a deal breaker, but it may stop some people from fully getting into the story.
The Darker Doctor
Much has been made in the press and online of the idea that Peter Capaldi would play a darker version of the Doctor. And oh boy does he.
Our first sign of this change is his casual dismissal of everyone else as idiots. Planet of the Pudding Brains as he puts it. His sense of superiority and his lack of concern for the feelings of others is not something we would have seen in recent incarnations of the character.
But then it gets really interesting. This isn’t just an arrogant Doctor, this is a dangerous Doctor. He leaves Clara. Sure, he has a plan and he’s not just completely abandoning her. But he walks away.
And just what did happen in his final confrontation with the clockwork android? That there would even be a doubt in our minds shows how effectively Capaldi has cemented the notion that this Doctor is dangerous.
I hope that’s something we see throughout the season because it adds a great bit of tension back into the show. The verbal sparring between Clara and the Doctor is one of the highlights of the episode
Knowing… Oh So Knowing
Much is made about the way that social media allows fans to connect with their shows more closely. But that’s not entirely a good thing. It could certainly be argued that the Doctor Who audience is too aware of the behind the scenes elements by this point.
Whether it’s overly personalizing their relationship with show runner or worrying far too much about when certain actors are going to leave the show, fans are focussing more attention on the making of the show rather than what’s actually on screen. This isn’t a new phenomenon, but the level of access and speed of information is exacerbating the problem. And now it seems to be happening from the other side of the camera too.
When I watched this episode the things that stuck out and annoyed me were not spoilers, but rather stuff that screamed to me of being put there in response to fan commentary. Whether it was the multiple references to Capaldi being Scottish, endless talk of flirting, this is stuff that did not feel organic to me. It felt like the writer talking to the fans through the characters.
It’s unreasonable to expect a show to be made in a bubble in this day and age… but I sort of wish it was.
People tuning in to this episode of Doctor Who hoping to see a radically different show are destined for disappointment. This is not Classic Doctor Who, it’s nuWho, and that isn’t going to change in the foreseeable future. Partly because television has simply changed since Doctor Who’s original run and partly because… this format is highly successful.
What we did get is a clever tweaking of the existing formula. Something that I think and hope they will build on as the episodes progress in this season. Peter Capaldi is as promised a different Doctor to any of the preceding ones and over time that difference should bleed into the stories and characters that surround him.
But this is still at its heart a fast paced romp where action is more important than sophisticated plotting and where the science takes third place at best.
Overall I’d say that Deep Breath is a workmanlike episode. It achieved its aim and it’s laid foundations that can be built on. But judged purely on its own, it’s okay but unexceptional episode.
Capaldi, on the other hand, is brilliant.