The time of the Doctor has come and gone, and now it’s time to look to the future with a new Doctor at the helm of the TARDIS. After a heartfelt goodbye to Matt Smith, and a wonderful introduction to Peter Capaldi, the eighth series premiere decided to pull out all the stops. Mixing together plenty of familiar aspects while also bringing in a ton of new things, “Deep Breath” deftly steers the series into a new realm while still feeling like Doctor Who.
The episode opens with a comically large dinosaur rampaging through Victorian London, dinosaurs are always a great way to open your show, and everyone’s favorite Who subordinates Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax are quick to react to this clear violation of temporal laws. It’s always fun to see these three in action, and getting to see them at work with some steampunk technology to quell the dinosaur was incredibly awesome.
Of course, the question on everybody’s mind is: how in the heck did a dinosaur pop into the middle of Victorian London?
Then the dinosaur coughs up the TARDIS.
Naturally, when The Doctor steps out he’s a bit out of sorts. Confusing Strax for Clara while flirting with a giant dinosaur is understandable when you just turned into Peter Capaldi. However, the shock is felt much more for The Doctor’s companions, Clara especially. Much of the episode is focused on Clara coming to terms with the fact that the handsome young face she knew as The Doctor has now been replaced with “eyebrows you could use to remove bottle caps.”
While Jenna Coleman really shines in this episode with some of the best acting I’ve seen from any companion, I couldn’t help but find Clara’s inability to accept this regeneration a bit annoying. The entire thing just felt too self referential, what with fan girls mourning the loss of Matt Smith’s Doctor, and one scene in particular between Vastra and Clara was just pedantic.
This, however, does change when we see the Twelfth Doctor at work. Capaldi immediately owns the role as if he had always been The Doctor and brings in plenty of charm mixed in with some snark and cynicism. This Doctor is still capable of being the wacky space adventurer who talks to dinosaurs while also bringing darker shades of the character to the surface. He’s abrasive, but not so much that he comes off like a total jerk, and it’s fun to see a Doctor who is willing to snap at people for being “pudding brains.”
Together, this Doctor and Clara are quite a pair, and it’s the scenes between them that really sell the episode. The best of which takes place in a restaurant where they banter back and forth all while The Doctor slowly figures out that they’re in terrible danger. Capaldi and Coleman are superb in this scene, I could watch an entire series with just them sitting at that table and bicker. It’s that great.
It’s Clara’s reactions to The Doctor’s new attitude that brings more impact to her dilemma, because this is a side of The Doctor she hasn’t seen before and it scares her. Rightfully so, because it hearkens back to what the Tenth Doctor said in “The End of Time” about his capacity for cruelty. By the end of the episode, you will wonder just how far this Doctor will go to get the job done.
As for the villains, it’s an interesting blend of old and new. Here, the main villains are a spin on an old favorite: the clockwork robots from “The Girl In The Fireplace.” Except now they’re having to repair themselves with human spare parts. It’s a surprisingly morbid idea and it really gets across the new, darker feel of this series. The makeup and special effects used to bring these creatures to life are also quite spectacular. Though the hot air balloon made from human skin was just down right disgusting.
All of this comes together into a fun, intriguing, and sometimes terrifying story. There are plenty of action beats sprinkled throughout, the best being one where we get to see Vastra, Jenny and Strax kicking some serious behind. However, this episode excels when it’s just characters talking. The writing is crisp and witty, and the acting is simply incredible (this episode reminded me very much of Sherlock in terms of writing and I really liked that). All the other action packed and fantastical elements are just icing on the cake.
This season of Doctor Who has taken its first steps into a wildly new direction, and I can’t wait to see where it takes us.
We give “Deep Breath” 4.5 nerds out of 5.