When introducing any new Doctor, it’s important that their first story is a blend of the old and the new, making it transitional for the common viewer, as well as honouring the past for the Whovian watching. In my opinion Deep Breath does just that.
“When the Doctor arrives in Victorian London he finds a dinosaur rampant in the Thames and a spate of deadly spontaneous combustions. Who is the new Doctor and will Clara’s friendship with him survive as they embark on a terrifying mission into the heart of an alien conspiracy?
The Doctor has changed. It’s time you knew him.”
As first episodes go, Deep Breath was extremely hyped, not only had Doctor Who just come out of the fiftieth anniversary year, but to promote Series 8 there was a Doctor Who World Tour and a nationwide cinema release due to the popularity of the cinematic release of The Day of The Doctor in November the previous year. This meant that a standard 45 minute episode would not suffice. Deep Breath had to be something big, something bold, something fresh yet familiar, and by jove did it do just that.
The episode itself has a feature length 76 minute running time, meaning it’s about one and a half normal episodes. Due to this there’s a lot more time to focus on The Doctor as he’s dealing with the side effects of regeneration.
One thing I love from the get go is Ben Wheatley’s direction, especially in the pre-title sequence; the way it appears that time is distorted, especially when focussing on the Doctor is a stroke of genius, it’s extremely subtle but indicates that something’s not quite right, using a subtle blend of slow motion expertly mixed with ‘real time’ to give a very interesting illusion.
Similarly, the direction of the scenes in Mancini’s Restaurant which are used later as flashbacks are particularly appealing to myself.
The storyline is fairly basic for Doctor Who and is loosely tied with the Tenth Doctor story The Girl In The Fireplace, featuring the same villain, albeit in a different setting. The use of Victorian London is feeling a bit tired for me now, as it seems an easy way to make a story historical, I do feel like the TARDIS should go elsewhere in Earth’s history. Visually, the idea of a dinosaur in the Thames is great, especially compared to previous attempts to create dinosaurs in the show (I’m looking at you Invasion of The Dinosaurs). The use of the Half-Face Man to run as a parallel to the Twelfth Doctor’s questioning of “Am I A Good Man?” is really well used too, especially during the climactic scene when they’re forced to battle.
One thing I do like about returning to Victorian London is the fact we get to see the Paternoster Gang again, a trio who well deserve their own spin off show, whether it be on CBBC or produced by Big Finish. Personally I feel that in this instance the Paternoster Gang where mainly in the episode to reassure younger fans, most of whom had Matt Smith as their first Doctor, to show them that it is the same show that they’ve grown up watching and grown to love. Another way that Moffat decided to reassure younger fans come in the latter part of the episode, with the phone call from the Eleventh Doctor to Clara. Whilst the conversation is rather emotional and heartfelt, I did feel like it undermined Capaldi’s debut episode, as if giving the impression that a lot of the audience would rather still have Matt Smith instead of this new persona.
The part of the episode that piqued my curiosity was the introduction of Missy, a psycho Mary Poppins like figure who was introducing the newly deceased into Heaven. The character for me was impeccably played by Michelle Gomez, her performance oozing just the right amount of crazy mixed with a unsettling amount of over the top showmanship. I won’t divulge too much about Missy’s character in this review, as at the point of first watching it, her identity hadn’t been fully revealed, but expect to see a lot more about her in other Twelfth Doctor reviews. Although ‘Heaven’ seemed like a fairly utopian place in the show, the fact that it was rather clear that one of the main themes in this series would be the afterlife really excited me, as it was an area of everyone’s lives (or lack of) that is filled with total uncertainty, meaning that the show could do almost anything with the concept. What interested me most about seeing Heaven in Deep Breath was the fact that the character who was introduced as the villain, the Half Faced Man, was granted access to Heaven, meaning that this interpretation of Heaven wouldn’t exclusively be available for the ‘good guys’. To me, it seemed like Heaven wasn’t going to be such a good place after all.
My main bugbear about this episode is Clara’s reaction to the Twelfth Doctor. Especially during the first half of this episode, it seems to me like Clara straight out refuses to accept the newly regenerated Doctor, just because he isn’t as handsome as his predecessor. The fact that all of Clara’s storyline in Series 7 revolved around the fact she was born to save every incarnation of the Doctor, meaning she’d dealt with every one of his previous regenerations on multiple occasions, makes it very difficult for me to understand why she shows such hostility to this new incarnation of the Time Lord, I understand that the Twelfth Doctor is spiky and occasionally hard to agree with, but she’s met the likes of the First and Sixth Doctor’s, both of whom can be equally as ‘unlikeable’, and I would argue, even more so than the Twelfth Doctor in this episode.
Overall, I really enjoyed Deep Breath, and the fact my first experience with this episode, and with the Twelfth Doctor, was in a cinema, seeing the action on a big screen surrounded by Whovians made it even more memorable for me. For me Deep Breath needed to be feature length to give time for both the story and the character development of the Twelfth Doctor to be successfully conveyed. The story was snappy and never felt like it lulled, the performances of all the actors was exemplary, and, apart from Clara’s hostility toward the Twelfth Doctor for the majority of the episode, I thought it was a great series opener.
The rating system on the Gallifrey Archive is achieved with on a scale of 1-10.
For Deep Breath, I will give a rating of: