Saturday we met the Twelfth Doctor for the first time. As I’ve declared this official Doctor Who week on if all else fails… in honour of the new Doctor, I can hardly let the actual episode pass without comment, now can I?
I must point out there will be spoilers in this post, so if you haven’t yet watched Deep Breath you might want to bookmark this post for now and come back later after you’ve seen the episode.
Madam Vastra, Jenny and Strax, the Victorian-era investigative trio, are summoned when a dinosaur mysteriously appears walking around in the middle of the Thames. They arrive just in time to see it vomit up the TARDIS. Clara and the Doctor exits, though the Doctor apparently has no idea who he is and appears to be under the impression the dinosaur is in love with him. Oh, and there’s a cyborg harvesting body parts from living people.
Very first impressions
I don’t like the new title sequence. For nine years we’ve seen the TARDIS flying through the time vortex and to now see it flying through animated clock-faces seems downright weird and more than a little tacky. They also did something to the title music. It didn’t sound right. For now, I’m putting that down to that knee-jerk reaction we all have to change.
The opening visuals of the episode itself also felt off. As Victorian London no longer exists one would expect some computer graphics, but good CG never looks like CG, and this did. And it happened more than once.
The Story and Characters
There were some scenes that did not quite fit. I don’t know what was the point of the scene where Strax gave Clara a medical scan. It was funny, sure, but completely irrelevant to the plot. And there was this weird confrontation between Clara and Madam Vastra that felt more like an attempt at social commentary than storytelling.
What is more, these scenes broke the pacing of what could have been a successful thriller. As it were, the climax fell flat as there wasn’t a sufficient build-up of tension throughout the episode. And don’t get me started on the shoddy choreography (that is, there wasn’t any) of the action scenes.
On the other hand, we got to know Clara, Madam Vastra and Jenny a bit better (Strax is just Strax), and it was an interesting experience to see the detective and her maid/wife provide comic relief – as Matt Smith was more than ample comic relief on his own they tended to play a much more serious role when cast opposite him. Not with this Doctor.
Capaldi’s Doctor was an interesting experience. For one, he’s Scottish (the actor and the character). Very Scottish. I found this rather interesting, as David Tennant, also a Scotsman, used an English accent for the role. I don’t mind – I rather like a Scottish accent – I just though it a noteworthy change.
But this Doctor is also remarkably different in other respects. We never saw the ninth immediately after regeneration, so we don’t know how he dealt with the change, but both ten and eleven, after going through a brief physical re-adjustment, were immediately fighting-fit and ready to go. Number Twelve (or Thirteen or Fourteen depending on how you choose to think of him) was completely disoriented, and not until almost the end of the episode did he start identifying himself as the Doctor. Even then it was tentative, as if he wasn’t completely sure about that.
This Doctor has to discover himself, and this makes him a bit of a dark horse. He still expresses his fondness of humanity and his desire to protect us, but more than once he does something completely unexpected and out of character (if we consider the universal attributes of the last three Doctors), almost making one wonder if he is finally growing senile in his old age (he is two millennia old, after all).
I think this is positive after the cocky self-assurance of the previous three.This Doctor isn’t our friend. As he tells Clara at one point, he’s not her (our) boyfriend. In this episode, at least, he gets the job done, and other people come after that.
And right at the end Clara receives a phone call from the Doctor from moments before he regenerated on Trenzalore, reminding her that he’s the Doctor, and then the new Doctor asks Clara to stick with him and help him because he can’t do it without her. This, along with very definite references to the tenth and eleventh Doctors scattered through the episode, felt like nothing more than a heavy-handed attempt to manipulate fans to accept the new Doctor, probably born out of the realisation that his extreme differentness might lose some. If the story is good enough, this shouldn’t be necessary.
I can’t say that I liked the episode very much. It felt forced, the pacing was off and the focus was clearly on other stuff more than on telling the story. But I like the new Doctor. He is not as predictably unpredictable as the previous two and has the potential to truly surprise us. His uncertainty also invites us along on a brand new journey of discovery. But I’m starting to wonder if I’m not letting myself have false hope again…
Some excellent reviews and analyses of Deep Breath (most of which appear to disagree with me). I guess that’s the difference between doing this for a living and doing this for fun 😉