With the return of Doctor Who we are finally properly introduced to the Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi incarnation. In comparison to his predecessor Matt Smith’s explosive opening in The Eleventh Hour, Deep Breath is clearly trying to introduce a new slow unfolding style consistent with Capaldi’s approach.
The two hour long episode’s developments, dialogue and even the title seem to all be trying to tell us something about the new doctor: he takes his time. Discovery is one of the premiere’s frequently surfacing themes.
The plot itself parallels the Doctor’s new journey. A giant dinosaur is rampaging through London, the dino spits out the TARDIS, and we soon find out that the creature was accidentally time traveled as a result of swallowing the TARDIS whole. The Doctor emerges, confused by his surroundings having just regenerated. Vastra, Jenny and Strax are the ones to greet him and they, along with companion Clara Oswald, attempt to coax him into resting. Clara finds it difficult to cope with the fact that the Doctor has an entirely new face especially an older one. While Vastra meets with Clara, the Doctor runs off to communicate with and help the time traveled dinosaur. He’s too late however as, in quite a heart wrenching moment, the dinosaur goes up in flames. From there the mystery begins.
Stemming from the dinosaur’s “spontaneous combustion” the Doctor (with little help from the unobservant Clara) discovers that there are ancient droids occupying a restaurant in town and using human parts to disguise and rebuild themselves. The droid leader reveals that he’s trying to power his ship to at last arrive at what he calls “the promised land”.
Clara, who had not previously fully come into her own as a companion, begins to develop as a character. While she is still not fully realized, I enjoy watching her deal with the fact that she doesn’t know (or possibly like) the new Doctor. Many times in the episode I felt that Clara served as an audience surrogate. They are introducing the Twelfth Doctor to us and telling us he’s very different from the endeared Matt Smith and David Tennant. He’s older, more serious and we might feel like we don’t recognize him but ‘give him a chance!’
For wibbly-wobbly timey -wimey reasons, Clara even speaks to Eleven (Matt Smith) on the phone and he encourages her to stick with Twelve just as she’s about to return home. I don’t mind the idea except that it still robs Clara of some much needed better defined characterization and as much as I loved the Matt Smith cameo I would have appreciated it more if Clara was allowed to come to her conclusion to follow the new Doctor on her own. She does have a chance to shine however as she is the center of probably the most intense scene in the episode where she attempts to escape the droids by holding her breath for an extended period of time.
Vastra, Jenny, and Strax are characters we’ve seen often throughout the Matt Smith run and they are unfortunately more incidental than integral to the plot of Deep Breath.
As for the Twelfth Doctor himself, he certainly is changed. His charm is dialed down and the accompanying darkness in him is very apparent. If any comparison can be made, Twelve is closest to the original of the new series, Chris Eccleston. He’s fiercer with his “attack eyebrows” and he’s much more matured than the previous two incarnations. He has an entirely different pace and it’s still unclear what unique quirks he’ll bring to the table or if it is the lack of quirk they are aiming for. As established, he’s taking his time and still trying to figure it out himself. Hopefully it won’t take too long. One thing I will say I missed (and am still hoping for) is another grand ‘I am the Doctor’ speech.
Clara and the Doctor attempt to understand each other as the episode progresses. The Doctor has completely lost some of his basic faculties. He cannot remember Clara or any of his friends’ names. He’s woozy and overtired (reminiscent of Ten on his regeneration). Though he still of course manages to get embroiled in a mystery in his current state. There are traces of the old whimsical Doctor when he speaks dinosaur and addresses a horse rather than the carriage driver. He ventures off on his own to solve the case and it’s clear he needs to learn to trust and depend on Clara and vice versa. Despite her own uncertainty, Clara must face the droids alone and place her faith in the fact that the Doctor hasn’t changed so much that he won’t be there when she needs him. And he is.
Near the end of the episode, the reflection from a strategically placed silver tray shows us just how much the Doctor has in common with the droid he battles. He’s been alive so many years and changed faces so many times, he’s lost track of who he originally was. So the lingering question remains did the droid jump or did the Doctor push him? That ambiguity sets the tone for what we will probably explore throughout the season. The pace for this season might be considerably slower from the looks of this premiere. I hope in future episodes we will see the build up start to pay off in inspired ways.