Doctor Who Review: Season 8 – Episode 1 – “Deep Breath”

Doctor Who, Season 8, Episode 1

Deep Breath

Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Ben Wheatley

Cast

Peter Capaldi – The Doctor
Jenna Coleman – Clara Oswald
Neve McIntosh – Madame Vastra
Catrin Stewart – Jenny Flint
Dan Starkey – Strax
Peter Ferdinando – Cyborg
Michelle Gomez – Missy

Summary (CONTAINS SPOILERS):

Deep Breath starts with a T-Rex stomping around Victorian England. Vastra, Jenny, and Strax arrive to investigate. They are pretty certain it must have time traveled. This is confirmed when it spits out the TARDIS. Vastra sets up an “electric fence” to keep the T-Ren confined to the Thames River.

They approach the TARDIS and encounter the newly regenerated Doctor. The Doctor seems confused by the effects of the regeneration. He thinks Strax is one of the seven dwarves, and refers to his traveling companion Clara as “the not-me one…the one who asks a lot of questions.” He finally collapses in this agitated state and they bring him back to Vastra’s home. They try to get him to rest, but he refused until Vastra’s manages to use her psychic powers to get him to fall asleep.

Meanwhile, a cyborg is stalking the streets of London, stealing people’s body parts.

Clara talks to Vastra about this new Doctor. She wants to “turn him back” which is impossible. Vastra challenges Clara’s feelings about the Doctor. She says “he’s no longer your cute boyfriend.” Vastra also points out that the Doctor’s young face was his attempt to be more accepted…but that has changed. The Doctor needs Clara more than ever now. This conversation gets pretty heated, but Clara seems to understand where Vastra is coming from in the end.

The Doctor has woken up at this point, and hearing the dinosaur roaring, he decides to escape out the window to investigate. The dinosaur spontaneously combusts, so the Doctor steals a horse to get to the scene.

He arrives at the T-Rex’s burning body about the same time as Vastra and company. The Doctor blames himself for the T-Rex’s death. He then asks Vastra if there have been similar murders. She confirms there have been. The Doctor spots the cyborg and leaps into the Thames in pursuit. He ends up wandering in the alleys looking for clues, and has a conversation with a homeless man that helps establish some of what this new version of the Doctor is all about. He is very curious about why his body choose this new older face, and what it’s trying to tell him.

Vastra continues to investigate, and realizes that the spontaneous combustions are because someone is trying to conceal the fact that they are stealing organs from the bodies. Clara spots an ad in the newspaper inviting the Impossible Girl to meet for lunch at a place called Mancini’s Family Restaurant. She heads there and finds the Doctor, but he didn’t leave the ad. He thought she did. They immediately realize this is a trap. The place is full of disguised clockwork robots who are determined not to let the Doctor and Clara leave. They end up being strapped into their chairs and taken to a ship below ground.

They escape their bonds with the sonic screwdriver, and they find the cyborg there in hibernation while it recharges. They find a bunch more dormant clockwork robots down here as well. The Doctor believes they are harvesting body parts to repair the ship and themselves.

The cyborg starts to wake up, so Clara and the Doctor decide to get out of there. The Doctor is momentarily distracted and realizes he has seen something similar to all this before, but he can’t figure out when. They become separated, and it seems like the Doctor has abandoned Clara to save himself.

Clara tries to trick the robots into thinking she is one of them by holding her breath, but she can’t hold it long enough to get out of there. She is recaptured and brought before the cyborg. The cyborg threatens to kill her if she doesn’t tell him what happened to the Doctor. She calls his bluff and demands they he kill her now, which definitely puts the cyborg off of his game. Clara realizes that the robots have been on Earth since at least the dinosaurs, and they seem determined to reach what they call The Promised Land.

She admits to being scared, but knows that the Doctor has her back. She reaches back blindly, and the Doctor is standing there, disguised as one of the clockwork robots. The Doctor immediately realizes that the cyborg didn’t leave the message in the newspaper either, so there is a third party at work here.

Clara calls for backup, and Vastra, Jenny, and Strax arrive. They had already taken out all the robots in the restaurant upstairs and called the police. Realizing his plan is fubar’d, the cyborg orders the other robots to kill them and runs off to an escape pod, with the Doctor in hot pursuit. The escape capsule turns out to be a hot air balloon made of human skin.

The Doctor and cyborg have a lengthy discussion realizing that only one of them will survive this. The Doctor realizes this ship is called the SS Marie Antoinette and is the sister ship to the SS Madame de Pompadour (from the episode “The Girl in the Fireplace”, which also had clockwork robots looking to rebuild their ship using human body parts), but he’s not sure why that is relevant (at the end of that episode, the Doctor and company had never found out the ship’s name). The Doctor also believes that the cyborg’s idea of the Promised Land came from all the human parts he has mixed up inside him over millions of years.

In the end, the Doctor says it is against his programming to kill…and against the cyborg’s programming to end his own life…so one of them is about to betray their programming.  We next see the cyborg plunging to his death, it is left to the viewer to decide he he jumped or was pushed. When he dies, the other robots all shut down.

Jenny. Vastra, Strax, and Clara return home to find the TARDIS has already left. A little while later, Clara says that she is uncertain that the Doctor will come back for her, but Vastra points out that Clara is wearing her modern day clothes again, so her subconscious must be telling her otherwise. Sure enough, the Doctor arrives, showing off his new outfit and redesigned TARDIS.

The Doctor realizes that the woman who gave Clara his numbers in the first place must be whoever placed the ad. He also talks to her about his new mission statement:

Doctor: I’m the Doctor. I’ve lived for over 2000 years and not all of them were good. I’ve made many mistakes and it’s about time that I did something about that.

He also points out:

Doctor: Clara, I’m not your boyfriend.
Clara: I never thought you were.
Doctor: I never said it was your mistake.

Clara seems inclined to leave the Doctor. They arrive back on Earth and her phone rings. It is the Eleventh Doctor calling from just before he regenerated. He asks Clara to stay and help the new Doctor find his bearings. He knows that she is scared, but the new Doctor is scared too. Clara appreciates the call, and decides to stay to help the new Doctor.

Meanwhile, the cyborg wakes up to find himself in the Promised Land. A woman named Missy has brought him to a beautiful garden, and seems to have plans to go after the Doctor, who she refers to as her boyfriend.

Review: First off, before I say anything about the episode was that Peter Capaldi was perfect in the role. My two favorite scenes were the Doctor’s conversation in the alley with the homeless man and his final confrontation with the cyborg. I thought it was really cool how they dealt with the Doctor’s questions about this new form, especially in regards to why did he choose an older face, with “attack eyebrows”, and why he is now Scottish.

Capaldi brought a great depth to the performance, and definitely helped get everything moving in a new direction. I don’t quite want to use the word stale, because it’s not quite right, but the show did need a nice kick in the ass, and this new Doctor is a huge step in the right direction.  Actually, it reminded me a bit of some of the older, more classic incarnations of the Doctor, which is a good thing.

I also liked that they connected this to “The Girl in the Fireplace”, which is one of the best episodes of Doctor Who (also written by Steven Moffat, so no coincidence there). Actually, quite a few of the “call backs” were great. Vastra’s “Here we go again” had to be a call back to Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart saying the same thing when he met the Fourth Doctor. And when the Doctor shows Clara the new TARDIS, she responds “I don’t like it” which was what the Ninth Doctor told the Tenth Doctor about his TARDIS too.

I am always happy to see more Vastra, Jenny, and Strax. I am sure I would get sick of them in bigger doses, but they always brighten up an episode for me. Definitely some of my favorite reoccurring characters, especially Strax. I don’t care that he is so different from what you expect from a Sontaran, Dan Starkey puts so much enthusiasm into the character that I can’t help but love him.

I also liked that this episode left us with some real big questions. First up: did the Doctor kill the cyborg or not? A lot of people are quick to say the Doctor never kills, which isn’t really true. The Doctor has killed many times when it seemed like the only answer. I feel inclined to say that the Doctor DID push the cyborg. After watching it twice, my wife was pretty certain that the cyborg realized that it was more human than machine at this point, and jumped. The episode is intentionally ambiguous, and I am real curious what people think.

Also, we are left with a lot of questions about “Missy.” Like when any mysterious female character shows up, a lot of fans quickly say “IT’S THE RANI!” It is also possible that she’s a new incarnation of the Master (with Missy being short for The Mistress).

While I did think there was a lot to like about this episode (especially Peter Capaldi), I did think it had some major flaws:

1) What was with the whacky sound effects when Vastra knocked out the Doctor and when Strax threw the newspaper and hit Clara in the head? I don’t mind a little slapstick in Doctor Who, but these were jolting moments that took me out of the story.

2) The story didn’t quite make sense. If the cyborg has a restaurant to lore in victims for spare parts, why was he out stalking the city where he could be discovered? And the whole T-rex thing, while a cool visual, seemed to be a bit of a distraction. Also, it was suggested that nine people were taken this month alone. If this had been going on for millions of years, at that rate, it just doesn’t quite add up right.

3) Clara’s behavior seemed off. She has seen the Doctor’s entire life…and personally spent time with three doctors. She was also at the gathering of all 13 incarnations to save Gallifrey. She should understand regeneration pretty well. I get that she is a control freak. But still seemed off that she was so dismayed by the Doctor’s changes.

Actually, it really felt like Moffat was talking back to the audience a little too much. Clara is used as a stand in for audience members who might be dismayed about the Doctor now being older. The Eleventh Doctor even shows up to try and comfort her (and the audience), which I thought was a real unnecessary scene that sort of took away from the new Doctor.

Also, earlier in the episode, there is a character saying the dinosaur clearly wasn’t real because of some detail that was off with the neck joint. It really just felt like a shot at people who talk about how cheap the effects look on Doctor Who.

Moffat’s main strength as a writer is that he is clever, BUT his main weakness is that he knows it, and he wants the viewer to know it too, even if that means making characters act slightly out of character or creating plots that don’t quite feel right.


Final Score: 7.5/10 All in all, I thought this would have been a pretty average episode, if not for the terrific performance from Peter Capaldi. To be honest, I don’t really like a lot of the “transition” episodes of Doctor Who where the new version of the Doctor is trying to find his footing. Even going back to the classic series, the only great one (to me) is Matt Smith’s first episode. That said, I really like Capaldi in this role and a lot of the questions set up to be answered this season, so it’s still a worthwhile episode.

And of course, I am just really happy to have Doctor Who back on my television!

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