On Thursday I was lucky enough to have a ticket to the World Premiere screening of Deep Breath, the first episode of Doctor Who starring the new Doctor – Peter Capaldi. After a difficult few weeks for the Doctor Who team after various leaks, it was lovely to see so many people turn out in Cardiff City Centre to celebrate what is still such a treasured part of national television and welcome a new actor in to the role. On the announcement of Peter Capaldi as The Doctor last year I was thrilled with the choice (although, as when David Tennant left, I’d hoped for Chiwetel Ejiofor, but his recent critical success probably means this will never happen now).
The screening was great fun, with St. David’s Hall a huge venue to screen the episode for the first time and the appearance of Peter and Jenna on stage before the start was greeted with applause and cheers. After the screening there was a Q&A with them and Steven Moffat, which had some interesting and some ridiculous questions. Peter Capaldi thinks his Doctor has been influenced by all the previous ones (he is a lifelong fan after all) and both the actors talked about how much fun they had had filming the series. Peter Capaldi was asked about his audition and he mentioned how he had no idea that he was the only person Steven was planning to audition! Jenna was asked about her favourite costume and she said the one from Asylum of the Daleks as she got to wear an egg whisk! Steven also joked about when Peter was picking his costume and he’d receive photos of him in various clothes and you could tell when he didn’t like an outfit from his face. It was clear when the right one had been found as the photo he received was Peter in full Doctor pose mode! Steven was also asked if there were any plans for a 10th Anniversary celebration for modern Who next year (which seems nuts after a 50th really doesn’t it?!). He said there were no plans, but who knows what the truth is with Mr Moffatt!
So what did I think of episode one “Deep Breath”? It isn’t a straightforward answer as there are positives and negatives. Starting with the positives – first and foremost, Peter Capaldi is a fantastic Doctor and I have no doubt he will only get better as the series develops. His Doctor is funny, with some very witty lines in this episode, but he is also darker. As when Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor rebooted the show in 2005, you are conscious that with this Doctor there is a distinctly darker man within and this will be even more evident with the 12th Doctor. Some say this is a brave choice and perhaps it is, but I think it’s absolutely right for the show now, almost ten years after its return. I’ve enjoyed all three of the modern Doctors, but it’s time for something different and a darker Doctor is an exciting prospect.
The opening episode also sees Clara dealing with a new Doctor and their relationship is re-established for a new era. I was a little irritated by her initial reaction to him – she has after all seen every Doctor and understands what regeneration means, so her attitude felt a bit odd in some respects. Although, I suppose despite meeting 13 Doctors, Matt’s was “her” Doctor so perhaps this reaction is fair enough. There is some lovely development over this feature length opener of their relationship, right through to the end (which was probably my favourite bit of the whole episode).
There is a new version of the theme tune and opening credits sequence, which I loved. It’s a variant on the time vortex but focuses on the cogs of time and looks lovely on screen (and interestingly people tell me it’s based on a fan’s You Tube idea)! Murray Gold’s music is great, although the Doctor’s theme didn’t leap out at me here the way Matt’s did in The Eleventh Hour.
As for the story itself, this is where my negatives kick in. I won’t give much away, but for me the plot of Deep Breath is just average. First episodes of a new series aren’t easy, but I thought the plot was a bit boring and not very original. Beginning with a dinosaur in the heart of London, we see the Doctor, Clara and the Paternoster Gang encounter an eerie half-faced villain, who is using those around him for his own disturbing purpose. The most frustrating aspect for me is the episode’s use of elements from an earlier stand-alone story, which will be obvious to fans. There is even a couple of references to this other story by the Doctor. For me, this didn’t alter the fact it’s partly an old idea and referencing that, although amusing, didn’t make it less annoying. I want new ideas for this Doctor, not variants on old ones.
I’m also not a fan of the Paternoster Gang of Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax. They still feel more CBBC than Doctor Who to me and their inclusion results in repetitive dialogue and plot points. We are reminded about ten times that Vastra and Jenny are married. We get it – one reminder is enough and the constant mixing genders, war-like talk of Strax feels a bit dull at this point. I know lots of people like them but I’m not one of them. There are some fun moments and lines with them here (Vastra being Scottish gets a good scene for example), but overall I hope they pop up less this year.
There are also some odd choices – the dinosaur has a purpose but it’s a bit needless. I also didn’t like how villain’s story was resolved and I couldn’t help wondering what the point of it all had been. It seemed a bit too easy to me. Although, this does include a great sequence, which is quite different for the show and will no doubt have people debating for weeks to come and I’ll be interested to see what sides people take on that debate.
The episode does have an emotional base and that’s the Doctor and Clara’s relationship – what it was, what it is and where it’s going. I’ve always liked Doctor Who when it cares about character relationships (something I still think RTD was more skilled at than Mr Moffatt) and it was lovely to see some truly emotional moments between them. They are after all the heart of the show and the last few scenes are genuinely lovely to watch.
So there’s my attempt to write a review without giving too much away. For me, the episode’s plot is average, building too much on ideas already used to better effect in an stronger earlier episode. There is also some weak dialogue, particularly from Jenny (“It’s the TARDIS, do you think it’s the Doctor?” – well who else would it be was my response). The episode also did not need to be as long as it is and could be better if some bits were cut down.
However, as expected, Peter Capaldi is superb – he may be older, but that only adds to the image of a Doctor who makes you feel a little uneasy and who you sense you do not want to make angry. A mix of humour and darkness is an enticing prospect and I’m looking forward to seeing what awaits in the rest of this series and beyond (first up appears to be Daleks in episode two). Welcome aboard Mr Capaldi – all of time and space awaits!
Doctor Who begins with Deep Breath on Saturday 23rd August 2014 on BBC One. Follow this link for the trailer: Series 8 Official Trailer