Doctor Who: Deep Breath (Wired UK)

Deep Breath – Doctor Who: Series 8 Episode 1 Preview – BBC OneBBC

New instalments of Doctor Who seem to be turning into
events of national importance. First we had the 50th anniversary
special, The Time of the Doctor, released in cinemas to
great acclaim, and now Deep Breath, the feature
length debut of Peter
Capaldi
as the Twelfth Doctor, gets the theatrical treatment
too. Frankly, it’s going to seem odd watching the show on regular
television again next week.

It’s understandable why so much pomp and ceremony surrounds this
particular reincarnation of the beloved time traveller though. Not
only is Capaldi arguably the most prestigious and established actor
ever to take the role, but the circumstances surrounding the
character’s latest regeneration mean that this isn’t merely the
latest face to head the show. With the Doctor having gained an
entirely new cycle of regenerations in The Time of the
Doctor
, this is the dawning of a new era for the franchise.
But does Deep Breath live up to its potential?

Honestly, it’s a mixed bag, but the episode proves to have more
good than bad. Those watching in cinemas were treated to a short
lead in, with Sontaran soldier-turned-butler Strax (Dan Starkey)
recounting the Doctor’s prior incarnations before being summoned by
Silurian detective Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh) and
her wife Jenny (Catlin Stewart) to
investigate something running amok in the Thames. It’s a nice
intro, filled with light-hearted jokes at the expense of the
previous actors to play the Doctor.

It neatly ties in with the opening of the episode proper, with a
Tyrannosaurus rampaging through Victorian London. For the first
five minutes or so, it feels as though we’re watching the
Madame Vastra Investigates‘ spin-off that the BBC so
desperately needs to make, until the dino spits up a familiar blue
police box. Our first shot of Capaldi as the Doctor isn’t one of
strength or imposing presence, but comedy, with some rapid-fire
open/closed TARDIS door arguing between him and Strax,
investigating its appearance. It’s one of many laugh out loud
moments that pepper showrunner Steven Moffat’s script for the
episode, which continues with the seductive chatter between the
Doctor and the T-rex (because of course the Doctor speaks
dinosaur), and the banter that results from the restructured
relationship with companion Clara (Jenna
Coleman
).  A later scene with the Doctor and a tramp,
played by the late Elisabeth Sladen’s husband Brian Miller, stands
out as the comedy highlight of the episode, largely thanks to
Capaldi’s self-aware commentary on his furious eyebrows.

Coleman has more to work with here than we’ve seen since her
character’s introduction as the mysterious Impossible Girl,
appearing in numerous times and places during Matt Smith’s run as
the Doctor. The biggest change in her personality is that she seems
more vulnerable, shocked by the change her best friend has
undergone and worrying whether part of that friendship was based on
attraction in the first place — an attraction she no longer feels.
It’s a nuanced layer of characterisation for Coleman to tap into,
while retaining the familiar bossy, upbeat Clara from the last
season.

Ultimately, a dinosaur in old-time London is a distraction –
the real threat of the episode is the Half-Face Man (Peter Ferdinando in
a brilliantly inhuman performance), an ancient robot whose crew has
been time-lost under the city for millions of years, slowly
rebuilding their clockwork bodies with parts culled from unwilling
organic donors and hiding their murders by making the victims
spontaneously combust. It’s a sharp idea, and a chilling inversion
of the basic concept of the Cybermen (robots turning themselves
human, rather than humans being turned into Cybermen). Moffat also
neatly ties this crew of robots in with those seen in The
Girl in the Fireplace
, and gives them a disturbingly
theological goal — to find their “promised land”. They’re also
fantastically grisly new monsters for Who lore, with
exposed gears whirring away and mismatched flesh parts badly joined
together.

However, it’s during the investigation of these organ-farming
cyborgs that Deep Breath’s flaws begin to show. Some
sloppy editing (the Doctor diving off a bridge, then cutting to a
scene days later with Clara working with Vastra et al, is
especially jarring) and failed attempts at scares really hurt the
episode. After the Doctor and Clara reunite in a fake restaurant
populated by the robots, the horror gimmick is introduced — don’t
breathe, or they’ll know you’re human. It would work very well, if
it weren’t a redux of not blinking when around the Weeping
Angels
, another Moffat creation. Director Ben Wheatley even
repeats some of the visual tricks, with the villains moving closer
between breaths.

The biggest problem with Deep Breath is that, despite
having a movie’s worth of time to introduce the new Doctor and
establish a new status quo, we still have no real feel for Capaldi
in the role by the end. Altogether too much time is spent on having
the newly regenerated Time Lord stumbling around in a daze,
rambling to himself and struggling to regain his sanity. While
that’s great for serving up laughs, it’s a problem when trying
to establish the lead for a new era of Who. Yes, the
Doctor frequently struggles post-regen but in this case, it goes on
far too long.

If anything, Moffat and co. seem more interested in reminding
the audience that it doesn’t matter that this Doctor is older, than
they are in allowing Capaldi room to put his stamp on the
character. Part of this plays into Clara’s character arc, but
mostly it serves as fodder to bring up Capaldi’s age repeatedly.
The reminders that he’s still intrinsically The Doctor
despite the lines on his face and the grey hair become
heavy-handed, up to and including a cameo from the departed Matt
Smith to reassure Clara — and the audience — that it’s OK to like
the new guy. To be fair, that cameo is a sheer delight and a
brilliantly well-kept secret on the part of all involved, but
really feels as though the producers are desperately covering
themselves.

You can perhaps understand the showrunners’ caution on the age
front — Christopher Eccleston was 41 when he relaunched the show
as the Ninth Doctor, but after having David Tennant (34 when he
took the role) and Matt Smith (a spritely 27) become sex symbols,
returning to an older Doctor is something of a risk. Whether the
fanbase will accept Capaldi in the role will be determined over the
course of the season, but it’s a real shame we don’t have a firmer
impression of him by the end of his premiere.

What is clear about Doctor number twelve is that he has a darker
edge. As well as the mystery of whether he himself dispatches the
Half-Face Man or it committed robo-suicide, there’s a troubling
moment where he abandons Clara. Again, poor editing comes into
play, with the resolution unclear as to whether it was part of a
plan to reveal the villain’s plot, or just to show the Doctor
coming around and showing empathy again. Whatever the intent, it
falls through. As a result, the relationship between Doctor and
Companion is fundamentally changed by episode’s end. Despite Clara
eventually realising it is the same man she grew to care for,
there’s an air of friction, of tension, that lingers. A very
different chemistry will flavour the show going forward.

With Moffat being enamoured with the long-form storyarc, it’s
little surprise that Deep Breath also seeds the season to
come. The appearance of Michelle Gomez as
the peculiar Missy, who is seen in an epilogue to have somehow
captured the Half-Face Man and alludes to plans for the Doctor,
sets up the greater threat of the season. Her true identity is
likely to be someone key to the franchise’s history — our money’s
on either The
Rani
, a new version of Romana, or a
gender-swapped Master (Missy =
Mistress, perhaps?). Unfortunately, Moffat does have her being a
bit lovey-dovey towards the Doctor — having her be any kind of
jilted ex would be a disappointing outcome.

What’s more intriguing is the hint that someone has been
engineering Clara’s meetings with the Doctor all along. When the
pair realise that neither of them left a clue in the newspaper to
lead them to the aforementioned restaurant, it ties back into “a
woman” giving Clara the Doctor’s phone number way back in The
Bells of Saint John
, the episode that saw Clara officially join
enter the TARDIS. Whether that woman and Missy are one and the same
remains to be seen, but it’s a cracking pair of mysteries to kick
off the new season. A last-minute solo jaunt through time on the
Doctor’s part, before he fully ‘stabilises’ and returns for Clara,
also leaves a nice window for future storyline exploration.

Hopefully, with the show returning to regular length and regular
broadcast methods next week, Capaldi will really make his mark as
The Doctor. Deep Breath shows promise for the new status
quo, but could have benefitted from better editing and a less
repetitive hook for otherwise compelling new enemies. It definitely
feels like a refreshed series, and one with drive thanks to the
Doctor’s newly-stated intention to make up for past mistakes. A
more proactive Doctor could be fantastic, and if both that and the
long game involving Missy pay off, season eight could be a high
point for the series

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24 August 2014 | 7:03 pm – Source: wired.co.uk

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