Last night Deep Breath, the first episode of Doctor Who featuring the Twelfth Doctor as played by Peter Capaldi, aired on BBC1. Here are my first thoughts on the episode. While I am not going to give a summary of the events of the action be warned that significant spoilers follow.
The entirety of the episode took place in Victorian London with the new Doctor going through the after affects of regenerating. Madame Vastra’s gang turns up to lend support while Clara wonders what to make of the change to the Doctor. Is he even the same man anymore?
The episode is in the region of 80 minutes long so it is significantly longer than the standard 45 minutes. This means the story had time to breathe (if you excuse the pun on the episode title).
The biggest surprise was how less frenetically paced the episode was. In fact I would even describe the story as having a quite somber tone.
This slower pace allowed some nice character stuff that would probably be excised from a 45 minute episode. For example there’s an early scene where Vastra is trying to get to the bottom of Clara’s reluctance to accept the “new” doctor. Also there is a nice bit of business between a very confused Doctor and a man he encounters in an alley.
The episode’s villain is a clockwork man, a man who was once human and has had bits replaced with clockwork pieces and human spare parts. Or perhaps it was the other way around. Either way it produced the episode’s most important scene where Capaldi’s Doctor exchanges dialog with the clockwork man on the subject of a broom: If you replace the brush and then the handle do you still have the same broom asks the Doctor, telling the clockwork man that there’s nothing left of the original. And the obvious irony is that this applies to the Doctor equally as well as he has been “renewed” a dozen times.
And you know what, the episode was a bit dark. The main plot features the harvesting of people for their body parts, a balloon made of human skin, and some ambiguity about whether or not the Doctor pushed the clockwork man out of the door at the end.
A strong sequence had the Doctor and Clara getting trapped in the villain’s lair. There was a great scene where the Doctor and Clara realise that the other diners in a restaurant are not what they seem. It was a very well executed reveal. Later Clara got separated from the Doctor and had to fend for herself. Going unnoticed involved her holding her breath while the clockwork man was examining her for signs of life. It was a lovely tense little moment.
On the subject of Clara it has taken me a while to warm to her. For most of season 7 I honestly wasn’t a fan but she grew on me in The Day of the Doctor and The Time of the Doctor. Now, just between you and me, I’m actually becoming quite fond of her.
I suspect next week with the return of the 45 minute length there will be a return to the frenetic running around with less chance for subtly. But you never know.
At the end of the episode there was a surprise cameo from Matt Smith, on the verge of regenerating. He phoned Clara to basically ask her to stay with the “new” doctor to help him. This was was very nicely done and I’m fairly sure this scene was directed at the audience to say “give the new guy a chance.” I also thought Capladi was surprisingly vulnerable in those scenes, desperate for Clara to accept him as the Doctor.
I loved the little bit where Vastra spoke in a Scottish accent because the actress Neve Macintosh is of course Scottish. I remember her playing nurse Donna Rix in the BBC’s Bodies with her own accent.
Also worth mentioning is Sontaran Strax who continues to be the source of the funniest moments. There’s a great slapstick gag with a newspaper that put a smile on my face.
I think the new opening titles featuring clock face iconography and spinning cogs will take me a little while to get used to because the show has always done something with the time vortex since the early episodes but I am sure it will grow on me. Also the music was very different and that threw me a little bit, ironically since it’s probably the closest the new show has got to the old show’s theme since it returned in 2005.
In summary Deep Breath was a very enjoyable episode. The slower pace was very welcome and I hope they can do something like it again.