In the new episode, many things that are familiar to viewers – from a dinosaur in London to Vashtra, Jenny, and Strax – are the first things we see. There seems to be a definite desire to emphasize continuity. This is common in first episodes after regeneration – whether it be the Doctor's interaction with earlier wardrobe choices, to the appearance of familiar enemies. The show's writers seem to know that having a new actor play the leading role introduces about as much discontinuity as one could possibly imagine, and so having familiar sights, characters, and backgrounds can help ease the transition.
But given that the Doctor has been relatively young looking for quite a number of recent seasons, the writers felt the need to do more than that. Hence the phone call from the previous Doctor towards the end, addressing Clara but through her fans whose hesitations are being voiced by her character throughout the episode. “That's me” he says, and also, “he needs you.”
The introduction of connections with the David Tennant era episode “The Girl in the Fireplace” also emphasizes that the show continues across changes in the actor playing the Doctor. And the reference to the mysterious woman who gave Clara the Doctor's number aims to keep fans who watch the show as a mystery tuning in hoping for answers.
The newly-regenerated Doctor addresses directly two aspects of Peter Capaldi taking on the role. One is that the Doctor has well and truly “gone Scottish” – which means not only that his eyebrows look like a separate northern part of his face threatening to secede, but also that he can complain about things. The other is that the face is familiar, even though it is new – the Doctor has some choice in his face, at least subconsciously (as we have guessed since the time of Romana, when she decided to regenerate and took on the face of someone that she and the Doctor had recently met). The Doctor suggests that his new, yet old, face is his way of sending a message to himself. But what does it mean, that he chose a face from Pompeii?
That episode saw the Doctor take on the status of a patron deity of that family. Religious imagery abounds in “Deep Breath,” as the android from the crashed SS Marie Antoinette says repeatedly that it is trying to get to the “Promised Land.” The Doctor insists that he's been trying to reach paradise too, but it's impossible, a superstition. Yet at the end of the episode, the android apparently finds itself in the promised land, in heaven, with a woman who refers to the Doctor as her boyfriend. The theme of the Doctor as boyfriend is also clearly very much to the fore in the episode, as the notion of the Doctor as Clara's possible boyfriend is dismissed by Vashtra, and yet here we have an enigmatic figure referring to the Doctor as boyfriend. What a puzzle!
There is a lot at the core of the episode that is of interest for those of us who reflect on the show's treatment of religion. But there are also less central details that are no less interesting – such as Madame Vashtra's use of the phrase “by the goddess,” and the moment when she appears to be praying.
I found the episode to having everything one would expect from the show as written by Steven Moffatt, but with Peter Capaldi taking over the role of the Doctor. It has me looking forward to the rest of the season.
What did you think of the episode?