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Impressions of Deep Breath

“Eleven’s hour is over now-The clock is striking twelve’s”  I couldn’t  help but think of this line from “The Time of the Doctor” when watching “Deep Breath.”  One of the first images you see in “Deep Breath” is that of Big Ben, and one of the first sounds is a clock striking the hour.  Just as “The Eleventh Hour” was the start of the eleventh Doctor’s era, “Deep Breath” is the start of the twelfth’s. The title is another of Moffat’s double meanings again, with the title having a meaning in the story, but also referring to the idea of taking a deep breath and diving into the new era.  While it is not without flaws, it is a solid first story.  It does a good job of introducing us to the new Doctor and establishing his relationship with his companion.

Honestly, Peter Capaldi's Doctor had me with this look.

Honestly, Peter Capaldi’s Doctor had me with this look.

If you’re reading this, I’m assuming that you have just watched the episode, so I’ll keep my recap down to the basics (and, of course, there will be spoilers in this post).  The Doctor, having just regenerated, somehow ends up traveling to Victorian London in the throat of a dinosaur.  Before long, the dinosaur seems to spontaneously combust, leading the Doctor to investigate a series of such combustions.

It seems to me that Steven Moffat structured this episode to help viewers adjust to the change as easily as possible.  He brought back as many familiar faces as possible.  Along with Clara, Moffat chose to bring back Vastra, Jenny, and Strax.  Strax, as usual, was there to provide a bit of comic relief.  I would like to see Strax developed a bit more, to keep him from staying a one-note character, but I still enjoy his appearances.  Vastra and Jenny, are, of course, there to help with the fighting, but Vastra also serves another purpose early in the story.  She helps Clara deal with the confusion she feels after the Doctor regenerates, and reminds Clara (and the audience) that the Doctor is still the same man.  She also makes explicit once again the idea that the Doctor’s young face served as a way to hide his true self (which he definitely didn’t want to come to terms with until the events of “The Time of the Doctor”), much the way she uses her veil to hide her true face.

A second bit of familiarity was the return of the clockwork droids from “The Girl in the Fireplace.”  While the Doctor is never able to remember where he’s seen them before (remember, he never knew the name of the ship), their connection to the droids in that story is abundantly clear to the audience.  Their reappearance was a surprise to me, but I thought they were used fairly effectively in the episode, even if I wasn’t completely clear on how they got there (but that’s opening my Pandora’s box of questions, so I won’t explore that now).

You have to admit the cyborg clockwork droid looked cool.

You have to admit the cyborg clockwork droid looked cool.

What made their appearance worthwhile was the clever twist that Moffat added this time around.  Previously, they used human body parts to patch up the ship, but now they use them to patch up themselves.  This makes them almost the opposite of the Cybermen.  Cybermen were humans who chose to upgrade themselves so much that they lost their humanity; the clockwork droids, on the other hand, have used so many human parts to patch themselves up that they are losing their mechanical nature and picking up some humanity.  I thought that was an interesting reversal that justified their out of the blue return.

As is typical for a Steven Moffat story, “Deep Breath” is satisfying on an emotional level, even when the plot doesn’t exactly make sense.  Really, the plot is almost an afterthought.  I could write another post filled with just my questions, but, oddly enough, that didn’t ruin the story for me;  I was more focused on the characters and the new relationship developing between the Doctor and Clara. There are many memorable moments that span a range of emotions.  There were touching moments like when the Doctor, asleep in bed, translates the dinosaur’s cries about not being seen, and that then mirrors the dinosaur’s cries in his own speech to Clara as he pleads with her to really see him.  There were creepy moments like the scene with the droids in the restaurant, and Clara’s attempt to escape from them down in the ship.  There were thrilling moments such as Clara outwitting the droid and realizing that the Doctor does have her back.  And, of course, there were humorous moments, like Clara and the Doctor discussing her egomanicism and just about anything involving Strax.

The one scene that I have a hard time with was when Clara gets the phone call from the eleventh Doctor.  I have no problem with the idea of that Doctor phoning  Clara to tell her how much he needs her help now, and it works emotionally to have the eleventh Doctor help Clara accept the man that he’s become.  My problem with it lay in some of the things he said to her.  Shouldn’t he have said I need you, rather than he needs you, since the point is that he is still the same person? And how can he miss her, when he’s still with her? Okay, I’m starting to open the Pandora’s box of questions again, but that scene was the only part where my questions took away from the emotion of the scene.

The main focus of this episode, however, is on Clara and the newly regenerated twelfth Doctor.  First, I have to say that this episode really developed the character of Clara.  I never felt like I got a good handle on her character last season.  Since she was a puzzle that needed solving, I never felt that the stories developed her as much as they should.  After “The Name of the Doctor” answered the question of the impossible girl, Clara has been able to just be Clara, and I like the direction the character has gone.  This episode in particular shows how clever, brave, and resourceful she is.

Clara and the Doctor are both summoned to the  droid's restaurant.  This scene was one of the highlights of the episode.

Clara and the Doctor are both summoned to the droid’s restaurant. This scene was one of the highlights of the episode.

I will admit that I was a bit confused by her reaction to the newly regenerated Doctor at first.  It seemed like if any companion should have been able to take a regeneration in stride, it would be Clara, who has met all of the Doctor’s previous incarnations (although did she still enter the Doctor’s time stream, since he didn’t die on Trenzalore, meaning that his tomb would not be there…?).  I saw her reaction as occurring because Clara was the audience surrogate.  I felt that Moffat worried that a lot of Matt Smith fans might have a hard time adjusting to the new Doctor, so he decided to make Clara have a hard time adjusting.  This way he could hopefully use Clara’s gradual acceptance of the new Doctor help the fans though the change as well.

While I still think this is true, when I reflected on it a bit more, I could see some of the reason for Clara’s reaction.  She had lost her Doctor, the Doctor that was her friend, and was grieving his loss.  To complicate matters, he had quite a drastic change and went from being her contemporary to almost the age of her father.  I could see how with Matt Smith’s Doctor it might have been easy for her to forget that he was not really a young man (or, that he wasn’t a man at all, for that matter).  She had to learn to see the Doctor for who he truly was in this episode, and Clara might be the only companion truly capable of doing that, given all that she’s seen.

I also enjoyed the relationship she had with the new Doctor.  Part of my problem with Clara had been that I just didn’t feel that she had particularly good chemistry with Matt Smith’s Doctor.  When I thought about my reaction to her character, I realized that I felt that she had a bit too much control over the Doctor.  Plus, their relationship had some strange romantic dimensions to it, that I just didn’t really see as developing naturally out of their interactions.  However, I love her relationship with Capaldi’s Doctor so far.  It feels a bit more evenly matched.  He can call her out on her need to be in control, but she will continue to do what she wants.  It feels like she is exactly the kind of strong companion that this Doctor will need.

The twelfth Doctor isn't a hugger.

The twelfth Doctor isn’t a hugger.

All this brings me to the new Doctor.  As a first impression, I have to say that I already like him.  Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is a bit darker, and, in this episode at least,  is mysterious again.  There were moments when you had to wonder about how trustworthy this Doctor is.  Did he kill the droid or did he jump?  With what we’ve seen of this Doctor, we can’t really be sure yet.

However, the Doctor also does just enough Doctor-y things to remind us that he is, in fact, still the same man that we’ve been watching all these years.  Capaldi does a good job of balancing the silliness and the darkness.  He also seems like a very active Doctor: jumping out of windows, riding horses, hanging on to lifts as they are going up… All of this is what I hoped to see and is a bit Pertwee-esque.  I worried that they would make this Doctor less physical because he is older.  This would bother me because the Doctor himself is only a few days older than he was when we saw him as the eleventh Doctor; he only looks like he has aged a great deal.

This, of course, brings me to the issue of the Doctor’s rapid aging.  We went from the youngest Doctor to the oldest (well, if you don’t count John Hurt, but that’s just too complicated). The story mentions it a great deal, with that being one of the hardest things for Clara to deal with. The Doctor didn’t seem to have a problem with having an older face before, but I can see how it would be a bit of a shock, even for the Doctor, to have aged about 25 years in appearance.  The Doctor also mentions having seen his face somewhere before, so I assume that we will eventually get an explanation for why he looks like Caecilius from “The Fires of Pompeii.”  I’m thinking they might not want to touch John Frobisher from Torchwood, since that storyline was much darker than Doctor Who likes to go.

And, apparently, much like the eleventh Doctor had his chin, the twelfth Doctor’s defining feature will be his eyebrows.  As he tells Barney (played by Brian Miller, Elisabeth Sladen’s widower),that  they’re attack eyebrows, much crosser than the rest of his face.  Somehow, I don’t think this is the last we’ll be hearing about them.

Of course, I couldn’t wrap this up without mentioning the end of the episode, which introduced us to Missy, played by Michelle Gomez. It’s way too early for me to have a solid opinion about her, but for now I’m still on the fence about her.  I had no idea what was happening in that scene, which was the point, I guess.  What was she doing with the dead droid?  Does the “promised land” have more significance than we know?  Why does she call the Doctor her boyfriend? Clearly, she will be a reoccurring figure this season, so I’m hoping it will all make sense later on.

The Doctor is called to action when the dinosaur mysteriously goes up in flames.

The Doctor watches helplessly as the dinosaur mysteriously goes up in flames.

While I still feel “The Eleventh Hour” is a better debut story, “Deep Breath” is a solid debut for a Doctor who I think I’m going to enjoy watching.  So far, it feels like he has a bit of the third Doctor’s personality mixed with the sixth Doctor, but with plenty of his own unique touches.  Overall, I felt like this story pulled off what the writers were trying to do in Colin Baker’s debut story.   This Doctor can be a bit abrasive and has an aura of mystery around him again, but he never pushes it too far.  As long as he doesn’t start trying to strangle Clara, I think we’ll be alright.

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5 responses to “Impressions of Deep Breath

  1. Aidan ⋅

    Awesome review – I think you did a great job of covering the episode and I was interested to read that your feelings about some elements of this story have been changing and evolving over the last few days. I’ve had a similar experience as I let things sink in.

    I had a similar chain of reactions to Clara’s inability to cope with the Doctor’s regeneration. The more I have thought about it, the more I feel that she’s grieving and also not understanding why this particular regeneration is playing out so differently. After all, almost every time the Doctor has either become younger or at least been in the same phase of life but his suddenly older appearance coupled with the inability to fly the TARDIS, his incoherence and sudden lack of recognition of who Clara is could seem like he hadn’t regenerated correctly. I think at one point she does say that she thinks something has gone wrong with his regeneration. Something she actually will have seen if she has memories of her time in the Doctor’s time stream (the Valeyard, Borusa’s corruption, etc).

    The other thing that struck me is that it’s very different to see a previous Doctor regenerate knowing that they survive and thrive in future incarnations to living in the moment and not knowing what will happen next.

    I’m sure my thinking will continue to evolve over the next few viewings. One thing is for sure though – I’m really excited to see what happens and like you I’m already liking Peter Capaldi in the role. 🙂

    • I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one whose opinions on the episode keep shifting. When I read you review, I was relieved to see that I was not the only one who enjoyed the story, not just the Doctor. The story has many unanswered questions, but I enjoyed the ride anyway.

      Like you, I’m excited to see what Capaldi will do in with the role, and I too couldn’t help but think of Colin Baker’s idea to make him like Mr. Darcy. I think that this Doctor has many layers that we haven’t seen yet, and I can’t wait to see how Capaldi shows them.

      • Aidan ⋅

        It has been interesting reading all of the responses to this episode because they do range quite widely. It seems like we are mostly on the same page on this one, both in terms of the new Doctor and the story in this episode.

        I can’t wait to see what is coming up this weekend. Doctor Who has been away too long!

  2. Glad to see you’re back posting! I really didn’t like “Deep Breath” the first time I saw it. There was too much Moff excess, staged scenes featuring blindingly obvious emotional expression: Vastra’s interrogation of Clara, the 11th Doctor’s phoning it in. It’s one thing to make the Doctor darker and morally ambigious, but it’s quite another to telegraph it by having him flat-out ask if he’s a good man. Still, this could serve as a “Robot”-type story — borrowing the format of the previous era just for starters, before transitioning off in a fresh new direction. Meanwhile, I enjoyed the underlying plot, and Capaldi’s take on the character, and Clara and Strax, the 2nd time around. And what’s been made availble of the next few episodes (where Capaldi is reportedly a lot more early Tom Baker than Pertwee) makes “Deep Breath”, as enjoyable as it was on repeat viewing, the weakest part of the early season so far. A good position to be in!

    • It’s good to see you back as well! I agree with most if your criticisms of the episode, and I wonder how I’ll feel about the episode once we get a bit further into the season. A big part of my enjoyment of the episode was Capaldi’s interpretation of the Doctor. I enjoyed his Doctor more than the flaws in the episode distracted me. And, I really liked the way the character of Clara was developed in this episode. Also, being a teacher, I apparently enjoyed more than most the fact that she was able to apply classroom management techniques to her confrontation with the droid. I’m hoping that the rest of the season is better, but I didn’t think it was a bad start.

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