Season 8, Episode 1 —”Deep Breath”
More so than any other introductory episode of new Who, “Deep Breath” had a lot of expectations to live up to. Showrunner Steven Moffat had to not only establish the tone of the series and the type of Doctor Peter Capaldi would play, but also cleanse the taste of failure that Season 7 left in viewers’ mouths.
Seemingly helmed by Tommy the Doctor Who crafts service dude instead of creative professionals, the majority of Season 7 was a huge disappointment to fans. Plagued by nonsensical storytelling (remember that leaf bullshit from “Rights of Akhaten”?), and convenient “timey-wimey” solutions, last year’s increasingly invincible Doctor became a bore. Not helping the situation was the fact that companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) was given little to nothing to do in the series except swoon over the Doctor and be mysterious. While the premise of Clara (pronounced CLAWra) being an enigma was interesting in theory, that very quality made her difficult to connect with. It’s true that the Doctor himself is still a shadowy figure; however, it’s the human companions who are ultimately the viewer’s surrogates. When compared to the richly explored Amy Pond, story-less Clara offered little for viewers to attach themselves to. The poor character couldn’t even catch a break at the end of the series, when instead of being fleshed out, she was used as a convenient plot device, saving the day and sacrificing herself for a man with no clue as to who she was.
So with all of these issues to tackle, how successful was “Deep Breath” as an introductory episode to a new chapter of Who?
To the recap!
The episode starts off in wonderfully anachronistic fashion, featuring a dinosaur roaming London amongst Big Ben and other notable British structures. There to see the spectacle are fan favourite inter-species lesbians Vastra and Jenny, along with Strax, the charming potato (coincidentally the nickname I use to describe Channing Tatum). While I love the well-acted and quippy trio, I was a bit disappointed to see them pop up yet again after being relied on so heavily last season. Season 5’s “The Eleventh Hour” was successful as an introduction precisely because it started off with a clean slate; we were heralded into the Matt Smith era with no companion, no untied plot points and an infinite amount of possibilities. Featuring the Victorian trio once more only served to tether the audience to the previous season and draw precious time away from developing the new Doctor. My advice? Just give the beloved characters their own show fighting Victorian baddies and keep them away from Season 8 for a while.
After the dino throws up the TARDIS, we’re introduced to Capaldi’s Doctor as a man who enjoys silence (with a small S). Although the Doctor is 100% sure Strax should be quiet, he’s only about 5% sure as to who anyone is. The situation is distressing not only for our hero, but also for the audience, who had grown accustomed to a Doctor who annoyingly knew everything. Within the first few minutes, Who is already refreshingly different.
Next up we cut to the new opening theme, and god is it lame. Where are the pounding drums and the exciting bass line? Don’t they know Capaldi’s glorious eyebrows can only compensate for so much? Sigh. The upside is that I’ll now save precious minutes of my life by fast-forwarding after the cold open.
Post-title sequence, the Doctor continues to be confused as he wonders why his accent is different from that of his companions. While “Capaldi is Scottish” is a good reason for the Doctor to have a Scottish accent, the romantic storyteller in me would like to believe he’s Scottish because he thought of Amy before he regenerated (head canon; deal with it).
After some quick thinking by our resident lizard queen, the Doctor is put into nap mode to recuperate, and the girls have a pow wow in the tea room. Props to Twelve for being able to translate t-rex in his sleep. The only thing I can do in my sleep is kick the covers off and drool on my pillow (orderly queue gents).
The episode’s “shitting on CLAWra” theme starts once Vastra accuses the companion of abandoning a Doctor who is no longer the youthful-looking man she had gotten accustomed to. This whole argument made me furrow my eyebrows in Capaldi-like fashion. Vastra is right to be a bit taken aback by Clara’s shock at the regeneration, but her admonishing felt much too brusque. While it’s true that Clara has seen and interacted with every version of the Doctor, let’s face it: Eleven was her principal friend. Eleven was the one she had a relationship with and for whom she sacrificed herself, not Twelve. As well, Clara has never been with a Doctor during his regeneration. Can we really fault her for being jarred by the change and for not keeping the same cool as Rose Tyler?
Just as we start getting accustomed to the monster of the week being the dino, a creepy ass half-man/half-machine creature pops up and starts pulling some Jeepers Creepers shit on Londoners, scooping up their eyeballs left and right. The Half-Man is cemented as the baddie once the dino bursts into flames and he is seen skulking around in a suspicious manner. While I didn’t appreciate the red herring, I liked the fact that Twelve starts off his story having already failed to save a creature whose predicament he caused. After a long respite of being invincible, it’s refreshing to see the Doctor be once again prone to failure, loss, and anger. Also bonus points to Capaldi for uttering “pudding brains” while wearing a nightgown and still sounding badass.
Overtaken by his need to avenge his prehistoric pal, the Doctor plunges into the river to go chase after the Half-Man, leaving poor Clara abandoned. On his quest, the Doctor gets distracted by his accent again, harassing a poor vagrant into a discussion about the multitudes of being Scottish and having angry eyebrows. Somewhere, Matt Smith is heard shouting “at least you HAVE eyebrows!”
While the Doctor keeps mentioning that his face looks familiar (we saw Capaldi play a character in “The Fires of Pompeii” back in season 4), we’re given no indication of the significance of this callback. Similarly, the Doctor tries to remember why the Half-Man looks so familiar (the Clockwork Droids were last seen in 2006’s “The Girl in the Fireplace”), but once again the callback hangs in the air rather than being used in any significant fashion.
Back at the space detectives’ pad, Vastra figures out that there have been nine recent incidents of spontaneous combustion similar to dinosaur’s. Apparently burning someone to a crisp is clever, because tampering with a body goes unnoticed. Hey, you know what else goes unnoticed? NOT having a story about one of your victims end up in the paper. Ugh, this plot went south so fast.
Clara interrupts Vastra and Jenny’s posing/detective session (booooo) with an interesting find: someone has taken out an ad in the paper asking the Impossible Girl to lunch “on the other side”. Thinking this is a message from the Doctor, Clara reasons that the Doctor’s uncomplicated meaning would be to go to the restaurant advertised directly behind the invitation.
Clara proves she does indeed know the Doctor when the estranged friends end up arriving at the restaurant just as the ad instructed. Once the two start swiping barbs about the ad being the work of an ego-maniacal, needy game-player, we realize that neither of them placed the ad (cue dramatic music). No longer amused by the puzzle he solved, the Doctor notices that the restaurant’s patrons are neither eating nor breathing, and are in fact, robots. When he and Clara get up to leave, the robotic figures inch menacingly closer, forcing our heroes into a trap that sends them deep into the depths of the building.
Downstairs, the Doctor determines they’ve been sent to an underground spaceship (oh super, another recycled plotline). When the two fumble to escape their restraints the Doctor remarks that “it’s times like this when I miss Amy.”
You know what, Moffat? So does the audience. But insulting Clara and throwing Jenna Coleman under the bus for portraying a shitty character YOU wrote is a cop out. While the barbs at the companion from Vastra, Strax and the Doctor were a bit funny at the beginning, by the end it just felt like a lame excuse to give up on the character rather than improve her.
Once the two are freed, the Doctor proceeds to promptly abandon Clara again for no apparent reason but to terrify her and make her a damsel in distress. It’s not as if the Doctor went off and solved a problem and came back for her—he literally left, changed outfits, and then saved Clara as she was about to die.
Oh, and have I mentioned that the one way to escape the robots undetected is to stop breathing? Apparently the robots are smart enough to construct a ruse restaurant, but dumb enough to confuse a human they were chasing with one of their own as soon as that human stops breathing. So they’re kind of like Weeping Angels… only dumb and pointless. Gotcha.
While CLAWra and the inter-species Victorian trio take on the slow as molasses Clockwork Droids, the Doctor chases after the Half-Man, who has run away in an escape pod… that’s a hot air balloon…made out of skin. I mean… I don’t even…
As if turns out, the baddies have been rebuilding themselves for centuries with human parts (what????) in order to live long enough to get to “The Promised Land”. The Doctor reasons that ‘The Promised Land” is a human superstition picked up by the creatures after millennia spent on earth; he then urges the Half-Man to destroy himself in order to end the his colony’s pointless and destructive life. The Half-Man reacts to the request by stating “yeah, thx but no thx, self-destruction is against my basic programming so…”; the Doctor counters that murder is against his code. When the two arrive at a standstill, The Doctor reveals that one of them is lying about their basic programming. The next time we check in to the duel, the Half-Man is mysteriously impaled on a building.
So who was lying? My personal bet is on the Doctor. While Matt Smith’s Doctor was whimsical and child-like at times, Capaldi’s Doctor has the darker tone taken on by fellow Scotsman David Tennant. Episodes such as “The Family of Blood” established that Ten wasn’t above issuing forms of eternal punishment (arguably worse than death) onto baddies when they crossed him. In addition, the Doctor seems to have no problem letting his accomplices do his dirty work for him; in “Deep Breath” alone, countless Clockwork Droids were killed without even the smallest hint of protest from our hero.
After the droids are taken care of, the Doctor pops back down and picks up Clara up for the next round of their adventure. If it wasn’t already established that old men have cooties, the Doctor reiterates that he is not Clara’s boyfriend. When his companion notes that she never viewed him that way, the Doctor responds: “I never said it was your mistake. It was Steven Moffat’s.” Okay, so that last sentence may have been made up; but if last season shenanigans were anyone’s mistake, they were certainly his.
Although down for time travel, Clara is reluctant to completely trust Twelve as deeply as she did Eleven. In a neat little moment, Eleven phones her from Trenzalore and explains that his newest incarnation is scared, vulnerable, and in desperate need of his friend. Basically, Twelve is Julia Roberts in this Notting Hill scenario. CLAWra, being the Hugh Grant substitute that she is, accepts the challenge and embraces Twelve in a hilarious and adorable moment.
The episode ends with an odd little epilogue: the Half-Man pops up in a dream-like environment named “Heaven” that’s been treated with Barbara Walters’ camera filter. There to greet him is a woman named Missy who claims the Doctor as her loving boyfriend.
We start the season with many unanswered questions such as: who is Missy? What is “Heaven”? Did the Doctor kill? Who put the ad in the paper for Clara and the Doctor to find? Are waistcoats the new bow ties?
As an introduction to Twelve, the episode was a success. Not only did it establish the darker tone that I so craved, it also allowed Capaldi to step into the role of a complicated, vulnerable Doctor. Despite the serious themes explored in “Deep Breath”, Moffat was able to infuse enough quips and physical comedy to not let the lengthy episode drag for too long.
What the episode did poorly was plotting. Not only did the Clockwork Droid tale make little sense, it also drew valuable time away from the much more fascinating interaction between Twelve and Clara. Also the shitting on Clara has got to stop, because Jenna Coleman is a charming actress who deserves better.
Here’s to hoping this season will bring smarter, tighter plot lines and more fabulous eyebrow furrowing!
Citizen: “[The dinosaur]’s just laid an egg!” / Vastra: “It dropped a blue box marked ‘Police’ out of its mouth. Your grasp of biology troubles me.”
Doctor: “I need some clothes, that’s what I need. And a big, long scarf. No. I’ve moved on from that. Looks stupid.”
Doctor: “I will burn this whole place down if I see anything I don’t like, and that includes karaoke and mime.”
Doctor: “I don’t think I’m a hugging person now…”