Doctor Who Series 8 Episode 1 review : Deep Breath

Posted: 6 September 2014 in entertainment, television
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Peter Capaldi’s arrival as the more alien Twelfth Doctor heralds a darker, more violent, and potentially controversial, new direction for Doctor Who.

Well, here we go again.

As the eighth series of 21st century Doctor Who (hereafter known as “Nu-Who”, rhyming with “yoohoo”) drew closer and closer Steven Moffat harkened on to anyone and everyone who’d listen about the more alien and adult nature of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. Combined with the promise of a more horror-orientated tone to proceedings, this evoked in longterm fans memories of the early Tom Baker “gothic horror” years – widely regarded as the series’ Golden Age.

Doctor Who - S8 E1 Deep Breath

Once upon a time the template for 21st century Doctor Who was the fast-paced, lavishly produced, Douglas Adams-penned romp City of Death. Now it seemed that the Doctor’s adventures would owe their heritage to the darkly humoured, violent and dramatic tales orchestrated by the popular and acclaimed Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes. Delivering classics such as Pyramids of Mars, The Robots of Death and The Talons of Weng-Chiang, this period of Doctor Who was also its most controversial, as the production team frequently crossed swords with moral watchdogs.

In recent years Moffat’s hype had been built upon rocky foundations. Little substance delivered from a multitude of promises. As his stewardship of Doctor Who continued Moffat’s deservedly award-wining early successes, such as Blink, faded away to be replaced by painful tripe like The Day of the Doctor and The Time of the Doctor. Despite the questionable quality of recent stories, the series’ popularity was at an all-time high in its 50th anniversary year and the more youthful and romantic Tenth and Eleventh Doctors were fan favourites. Would Moffat really go down a potentially dangerous path and alter so much of the format virtually overnight?

Incredibly the answer has been yes. A resounding fantastic yes. For once Moffat delivered on a promise. And how! The difference between The Time of the Doctor and Deep Breath is astounding. Whereas Matt Smith’s finale was a bloated incoherent leviathan, Capaldi’s debut delivered a gritty character-based drama.

Why this one? Why did I choose…this face? It’s like I’m trying to tell myself something, like I’m trying to make a point. But what is so important that I just can’t tell myself what I’m thinking?

The beating heart of darkness inhabiting the centre of Deep Breath is Peter Capaldi. The casting of Capaldi, the oldest actor to play the role since William Hartnell (the very first Doctor) appears to mark a genuine attempt to shake up the format of Nu-Who. Everyone knew Capaldi was a magnificent actor but as the Twelfth Doctor he’s intense, compelling, and, at times, plain bloody frightening. From demented post-regeneration ramblings, through to the fury-ridden and near-murderous confrontation with the Half-Face Man (Peter Ferdinando), Capaldi is nothing short of astonishing, unpredictable and revelatory.

No longer is the Doctor attempting to conform to social norms by adopting a youthful countenance. His new appearance reflects his 2000 year old soul and his battles against evil throughout space and time. The Doctor’s conviction that he’s seen this new visage is to become a plot device to reconcile Capaldi’s previous appearances within the Doctor Who universe (The Fires of Pompeii and Torchwood: Children of Earth), courtesy of an idea from Russell T Davies.

Whether this explanation can be applied to explain why Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor looks remarkably similar to Commander Maxil from Arc of Infinity remains to be seen…

Doctor Who - S8 E1 Deep Breath - The Doctor and Clara

Droids harvesting spare parts. That rings a bell.

The Twelfth Doctor is genuinely more surprising and alien than any incarnation since Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor. Possibly ever. He’s so at odds with the previously established nature of the Doctor it truly genuinely seemed that Clara (Jenna Coleman) had been abandoned to her fate in the bowels of the android spaceship in a moment of total callousness from the Time Lord.

Ah… Jenna Coleman…

Prior to Deep Breath the reviews here have been justifiably critical (in my opinion) of Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald. The actor simply couldn’t deliver a performance of any nuance or depth. Though, in her defence, being saddled with a character that was a shallow plot gimmick didn’t help. With Capaldi’s arrival there seemed every chance that she’d be blown off the screen by the abilities of the more experienced actor. Instead the dynamic between the new Doctor and Clara resulted in a remarkable occurrence: Jenna Coleman was good, she was really really good. Whatever was thrown at her, from pure terror to righteous anger, she rose to the challenge and delivered brilliantly.

In the same way that Sarah Jane Smith came into her own when the Fourth Doctor arrived (let’s face it she was fairly ineffectual in that year she spent with the Third Doctor), the Twelfth Doctor/Clara TARDIS team now has the potential to become one of the classic pairings.

Hello, hello, rubbish robots from the dawn of time, thank you for all the gratuitous information.

Elements such as face masks and hot air balloons rendered from human skin, and rough metallic technology harnessed to human organs, pushed the boundaries of gruesomeness permitted in pre-watershed television in the 21st century. For the first time in decades a concerted attempt is underway to “put the little buggers behind the sofa”, as script editor Robert Holmes once termed his mission to scare the nation’s children.

Marshalled by the skilled hand of inventive director Ben Wheatley (Sightseers, A Field in England) Deep Breath, proved to be a grittier and scarier affair than anything previously delivered by Nu-Who. In 2009 much was made of The Waters of Mars supposedly being the most frightening Doctor Who adventure ever screened but that pales in comparison to Deep Breath. Wheatley delivered the most unique directorial vision for the series since Graeme Harper helmed The Caves of Androzani and Revelation of the Daleks.

You realise, of course, that one of us is lying about our basic programming.

However, after all the adulation let’s look at faults with Deep Breath that bring down its quality to the level of “very good” rather than “classic”…

Whilst Murray Gold has learnt to do atmospheric again after too many years of bombastic and overblown, his latest interpretation of the theme tune is awful beyond measure. It’s the worst since the Dominic Glynn monstrosity foisted upon The Trial of a Time Lord. Based upon the ever-decreasing quality of each successive version by Gold, a campaign must be launched for the reinstatement for all time of the 1970s version of the iconic Ron Grainer/Delia Derbyshire original.

And do we really need another enigmatic female claiming a relationship with the Doctor? He’s already got a “wife” in the shape of Alex Kingston’s River Song, so who the hell is this “Missy” (Michelle Gomez) laying claim to the Doctor as her “boyfriend”? Oh, Steven Moffat, you fool. You so very nearly made it through an entire episode without doing something exceptionally daft. Though the absence of the near-poisonous and astoundingly misguided misogyny of the latter Eleventh Doctor adventures is an welcome deep breath of fresh air.

I’m the Doctor. I’ve lived for over 2000 years. I’ve made many mistakes. And it’s about time I did something about that…

As the TARDIS departs Earth, the Doctor (an elderly looking unpredictable alien) and his companion (a teacher from Coal Hill School) are destined to meet the Daleks. As it was in the first year so it is again as Doctor Who begins its sixth decade of adventures in space and time…


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