Before I begin, allow me to go ahead and get a couple of things out of the way. Firstly, I am a relative newcomer to Doctor Who and I make no apologies for this. I started watching the show on Netflix right around the time Series 7 was getting started however, I had attempted to watch the show about a year previous to this but couldn’t get into the Christopher Eccleston iteration. I already had preconceived notions about him, correct or not, due to the G.I. Joe movie. The farting aliens of the first series didn’t help the cause either, so I watched the first four episodes and then put Doctor Who in the long list of shows I might eventually get back to. When I finally began watching them in earnest, I skipped right to Series 2 and the coming of David Tennant and boy am I glad I did. I love the Tennant years and the majority of the Matt Smith years about equally, and when I finally went back and watched the Eccleston episodes I enjoyed them as well. Still not exactly a fan of the farting aliens but Captain Jack and Bad Wolf make them pretty easy to forget, and Eccleston’s performance as the Doctor almost makes me forget about Destro. Almost.
Secondly, and this pertains specifically to my reaction to this episode, I don’t particularly like Victorian England as a setting in the more recent series of Doctor Who. It has become such a fallback trope of the show that I groan when it comes up. This is a personal preference but I want that to be made clear up front. There was pretty much no way I would enjoy this episode as much as some people due to this, but my review of the content of the show will have nothing to do with this fact. I do however feel that it is possible for an opinion to be tainted by things unknowingly, so I feel it is necessary that you, the reader, knows this at the outset.
If Deep Breath, written by show runner Steven Moffat, resembles any modern day Doctor Who episodes more than the rest then it is definitely 2005’s The Christmas Invasion, written by then show runner Russell T. Davies. The Christmas Invasion was David Tennant’s first full episode as the Doctor and he spent a large portion of the episode in pajamas resting after his regeneration into a new body while his companion Rose (played by Billie Piper), tried to wrap her head around why the Doctor looked like a different person. In Deep Breath, the twelfth Doctor as played by Peter Capaldi, spends a large portion of the episode in a dressing gown resting/acting crazy while his current companion Clara (as played by Jenna Louise Coleman), tries to wrap her head around why the Doctor looks like a different person. Do you see where I’m going with this?
Deep Breath is more like a greatest hits version of a Doctor Who episode than it is an original entity. I know that fans, myself included, expected certain things from the first outing of the new Doctor and I for one don’t think that a simple retread is what most people wanted, but that’s what it feels like we got. Peter Capaldi seems tailor made for the role and deserved a first episode befitting this, yet it feels like he got scraps instead.
One of the big problems, without getting into too many spoilers (as I write this it has been less than 24 hours since the show aired), is the character of Clara. Jenna Louise Coleman is a fine actress and does great with what she’s given, but Clara’s character seems to be built on a series of mysteries that aren’t mysteries at all, just a series of half-baked ideas. Since the exit of Amy and Rory the show has felt lost and Deep Breath doesn’t really do anything to change this.
Because of the way Clara has been presented there is really no connection to the audience so when she freaks out that the Doctor is a different person, it doesn’t carry the same weight as when it happened to Rose. Rose, as written by Russell T. Davies was a living breathing 21st century girl. Clara, as written by Steven Moffat, is a plot device masquerading as a real girl.
The rest of Deep Breath is relatively entertaining in a stand-alone Doctor Who kind of way. It starts with the TARDIS being spit out of a dinosaur (which is pretty cool), has a neat clockwork robotic adversary, and actually ends in a pretty decent way with an unexpected cameo. It also seems to set up the new Doctor to be darker, which in and of itself is not a bad thing, but I question how Steven Moffat will handle this. It might be time for Moffat to hand the reigns to someone else.
Let me be clear; I am not a Moffat hater. I really like the episodes he wrote in the Davies era, I really like most of the stuff he did with Matt Smith, and I liked Coupling long before I ever watched an episode of Doctor Who. Since the latter half of Series 7 though, things seem to be running out of steam. The 50th Anniversary was pretty neat but it was meant to be a stand-alone spectacle more than anything else, and now that it’s back to the small screen, the cracks are still there.
Last I heard Jenna Louise Coleman is leaving after this series which may or may not help things. Maybe the show will get its footing back before then and make the Clara character more than just a plot device, or maybe the writing staff will lift the series up from where it currently is. Either way, Capaldi already seems to be a good choice for the twelfth Doctor. Let’s just hope that the episodes are worthy and that he hangs around long enough to make his mark.
Until next time…