I wasn’t going to do regular reviews, and perhaps I still won’t, but I thought I’d chuck up a few random, ill-thought out, poorly expressed thoughts on ‘Deep Breath’, the first episode of the Capaldi era.
WARNING: This isn’t a proper review, it’s a stream of blather. As I write this, I’ve only seen the thing once, so don’t come here looking for a deep, nuanced reading of the text. You are welcome.
There have been many complaints, some of it certainly justified, that Clara as a character was a bit thin. She was a character defined by her mystery, the whole Impossible Girl jazz. The focus on that perhaps got in the way of exploring her fully as a character, as to some degree to really be a mystery, she had to remain as such. Well now that’s done and dusted and the fully formed Clara can step into the spotlight and we can really get to know her. Not that, despite what some people might insist, there weren’t unique character traits there already. Much is made of her being a control freak in this episode, an ego maniac, but this is no character retcon, it’s always been there. Clara is the character that refused to take up with Eleven full-time; she remained at home and made him come to her, on days of her choosing. She was in control. All they’ve done here is tease that out more, made it more explicit.
I have seen some chatter about the fact it’s absurd for her to have a problem with regeneration. Has she forgotten she’s met ALL of the Doctors?!? It makes NO SENSE! Well, no. If that’s how you read this episode, then you’re reading it wrong. It’s not regeneration as such that she has a problem with, or that she suddenly doesn’t even know regeneration is a ‘thing’. She knows the Doctor changes, her problem is that she’s lost HER Doctor. Those other Doctor’s being out there is fine, but Eleven was her friend, not those other ones. Her silly, goofy, boyish, brave, sad friend. It’s like she said in ‘The Day of The Doctor’, she knew the Doctor pressed the button, destroyed Gallifrey, but she never saw HER Doctor doing it. This is what she is having trouble with, the Doctor is still there, but her friend, as far as she’s concerned, has gone. It takes a call from Eleven himself, a plea from her best friend, for her to decide to give him a chance.
ANYHOO. Clara was bloody marvelous in this, I’m so glad it looks like they’re now going to dig into her character more deeply, and massive ‘YAYS’ for when she gives Vastra and the Half-Face Man hell..! She may be scared, but she ain’t gonna take your shit, buster.
Length & Tone
I like my Who fast paced, a pre-credits sequence like we had for ‘The Pandorica Opens’, a dizzying thrill ride, really gets me going, but how nice it was to have a bit of room for once! We could actually stop and have people chat for a bit. This lead to some of the episodes very best scenes; the Doctor & Clara scene in the restaurant, Clara out-foxing the Half-Faced Man as he tried to threaten her, Vastra attempting to judge Clara. We stayed with it, we had time to dig deep. It’s a shame really that we now have to squeeze everything back into the straight-jacket of 45 mins again. Even an hour would do the job! But I understand, despite the shorter run times, that this willingness to stop and breath every now and again is something that we will be seeing more of throughout series eight, which I think is a really good call.
The return of the clockwork droids from ‘The Girl in The Fireplace’! Not that the Doctor remembered them. In many ways the monster threat was the B story to Capaldi rebuilding himself, but it did enough for me to grab my interest. All the scenes from the restaurant on were very effective. And it was a nice choice to feature a Robot that constantly rebuilds itself in a post-regeneration story, a mirror for the Doctor himself. It looked bloody good too, didn’t it? All those close-ups on the see-through head. Clara trying to hold her breath as she made her slow escape was incredibly tense. How many of you held your breath too..?
Poor Mr Half-Face only wants to get to the ‘promised land’ *ARC KLAXON ALERT..!*
We’ve heard a lot of publicity about how Capaldi will be ‘dark’ and ‘fierce’ and ‘unfriendly’, and whilst he certainly does exhibit those things, they ignored something very important: he’s really funny. Oh sure he’s unpredictable (When he leaves Clara trapped and seems to have saved himself, Lordy!) and he’s less friendly, but it was all delivered with a humorous edge. That was only really dropped when he had his final confrontation with the Half-Faced Man. There was no one there to hear his jokes. He dropped the facade and played it straight. And yes, it really was quite chilling to watch. Wonderfully so. I was always quite sad they never really followed through on Tennant’s ‘No second chances, that’s the kind of man I am’ line, it seems they’re going to explore this vein a bit more with Capaldi.
I don’t think we know or feel as comfortable with this Doctor at this point as we did with Smith, or Tennant. In one way this means I don’t see him as fully formed yet, but that’s not exactly a criticism. We’re not meant to quite know this Doctor yet, he’s supposed to be a little bit more of a closed book, we need to travel with him to learn more. But thumbs up, I like what I’ve seen. That scene with the tramp, superb stuff.
-When Clara reached back her hand in her scene with the Half-Faced Man, hoping the Doctor would have her back, and they waited…. and waited…. and then a hand finally grabbed hers, but it was one of the robots! Well, only then it wasn’t, but boy, that had me worried!
-For me, there were some directing, or editing issues. I wasn’t always sure where the characters were specially. When the Doctor abandons Clara, I initially though it was HE who was trapped with the robots. I may well just have been dumb, have looked away, but there were one or two moments like that.
-The Doctor, asleep, translating the dinosaur, lovely.
-Doesn’t Capaldi have a very ‘Doctor-ish’ way of moving? All weird run and awkward arms.
-When Eleven makes a call. OH BOY….. Lovely.
-‘I don’t like her, I love her.’
-This is the first time since Pertwee that we’ve not seen the Doctor choose his clothes post-regeneration (Nine doesn’t count, we didn’t see his post-regen scenes!)
-I wonder what the Doctor got up to between abandoning Clara at the end and coming back for her..? It feels like time may have passed, the TARDIS looks different, he has his new clothes; will it be in any way significant..?
-Michelle Gomez. Her performance was certainly… arch..? Is she a full on baddie? It appears so. In which case I’d like a straighter seam of nasty, not just a riff on her very funny Green Wing character. Make me SCARED God damn it!
-Have I mentioned how ace Clara was???
The Bottom Line:
I liked it. I liked it A LOT. I’m not sure if on first watch I loved it, not to same degree as the perfectly perfect and wonderfully magical ‘The Eleventh Hour’, but it was a blooming good start to a new Doctor’s reign and continues modern Who’s unbroken run of good-to-great debut Doctor stories.
I recently posted a Top 3 Debut Stories for a Doctor article, would ‘Deep Breath’ make it onto that list now? I’m not sure that at this point it would. It’s still too fresh, I’d need to give it another few watches. But! BUT BUT BUT, it was definitely an enjoyable first step for Capaldi’s Doctor.
Okay. ‘Into The Dalek’. COME AT ME.