Doctor Who: Deep Breath

Doctor Who: Deep Breath August 23, 2014

Doctor Who is back, and I'm going to be discussing the details of the first episode of the new season, “Deep Breath,” with Peter Capaldi taking over as the Doctor. Spoilers ahead!

Jenna-Louise-Coleman-Peter-Capaldi-Doctor-Who-Deep-Breath-570x422In 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?

Deep Breath androidThat 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?


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  • Enjoyed it very much, and am looking forward to the new adventures with the new Doctor!

  • Kris Rhodes

    //which means not only that his eyebrows look like a separate northern part of his face threatening to secede,//


  • Just Sayin’

    I thought Capaldi was good, and the script terrible. Sadly, some of the worst of the “timey-wimey” era has been retained, including the adolescent obsession with sexual innuendo, the frantic running around like a headless chicken, and the tedious felt need for some overarching meta-narrative whereby this supposed Timelord is forever a puppet being manipulated by somebody else.

    • Jonathan Bernier

      I think that they might be trying to get away from some of that. There was that whole thing where the Doctor is clear with Clara that he’s not her boyfriend. And with hints that this Doctor will be darker than his predecessors he might not be as easily manipulated…

  • smijer

    Mysterious woman in promised land ?= Doctor’s boyfriend ?= Tardis personified (The Doctor’s Wife episode) ?= mysterious woman who arranged for Clara & doctor to re-unite (twice).

  • Jonathan Bernier

    I loved it! I really reminds me of how Hartnell played the Doctor, as this sort of cantankerous old trickster whom you might or might not be able to trust. High hopes, although I do kinda think that Stephen Moffett’s storytelling might be getting a bit tired. Might be time for him to pass the torch, like Russell Davies did when Matt Smith talk over. I can’t but wonder what Mark Gatiss might do if he was to take over as showrunner. Still, high hopes.

  • On a scale of 1-10 Tom Bakers, Peter Capaldi, in the first episode, ranks about a 6. He can improve, of course.

  • Tony

    Quite liked it. Color me intrigued. Capaldi was great, and Coleman got a chance to shine, too. Also, I enjoyed how it brought along elements of Smith’s tenure — the Paternoster Gang, the “timey-wimey,” the innuendos — only to end the episode with, “Yeah, enough of that; and now for something completely different.” So, I definitely have faith in this season. (And if I’m wrong, even bad Doctor Who is better than no Doctor Who.)

  • Peter Capaldi brings gravitas to the role that I thought Matt Smith lacked.

  • Markp

    For us old Who fans, it’s
    interesting how the specter of Colin Baker hangs in the air over the
    introduction of a “darker” Doctor. I thought Moffat carried it off quite well.

    I give him credit for being willing to take risks, especially around the issue of age, and especially his decision to bring Matt Smith back for a cameo. Ever since Capaldi was announced, I’ve thought of him as as being remarkably young and “hot” looking for his age, but after the phone call bit I suddenly found myself looking at his face and thinking, “hey, this guy really does look a lot older” (I speak as someone who is a few years his senior).

    Here’s what’s most amazing about this whole thing: imagine the show runner of an American hit tv show like Doctor Who going into the network and telling them he was bringing in a 55 year old to replace his 20 something male lead, given all the sexual tension between the last two Doctors and their companions. Completely unthinkable. However history judges this, hooray for the creative risk taking of the BBC!

  • Charlie R

    Thought it was excellent. loved the styling & it was genuinely creepy combined with some very funny lines. Clara really got the chance to shine, and I think Capaldi brings a new edge to the Doctor. What I love about DW so much is how it keeps changing, yet is the same, Ive enjoyed all the Doctors of the new series, each of them bringing their own angle to the show, & I think Capaldi’s is going to be great 😀