For everyone who has been eagerly counting down the days to the season premiere, the wait is over and first episode of the new series, “Deep Breath”, is now history. So how did it stack up? Was it everything we hoped for? And, most importantly, are we going to love the Twelfth Doctor as much as we loved Nine, Ten, and Eleven?
First things first, I’m a realist (sorry, couldn’t resist) and wasn’t expecting to have my doors blown off; a new Doctor’s first episode can be a bit tricky, and doesn’t always set the tone for what’s to come. For instance, I was particularly underwhelmed by “The Christmas Invasion”, which introduced the world to David Tennant’s Ten, who ended up becoming my favorite Doctor of the rebooted series. I mean, murderous Christmas trees? It was one of those episodes that leads true fans to apologize to non-fans who might happen to be watching at their behest; “I swear, dude, it’s not always like this, I promise you.” (Other offenders: “Love and Monsters”, anything featuring the Slitheen.) As a Regeneration episode, “Deep Breath” is miles better than that, and we get a better sense of who Twelve is than we got from Ten in his debut. The problem, though, is that Twelve doesn’t seem to have a firm grip on who he is himself, which isn’t helped by Clara’s doubts about him.
Peter Capaldi’s portrayal of Twelve is something Whovians have become unaccustomed to during the tenures of Tennant and Matt Smith, capturing less of the Doctor’s humanity and embracing a dark otherness we haven’t really seen since Christopher Eccleston’s embittered (and underrated) Nine, and he encapsulates that perfectly in one line to Clara: “I’m not your boyfriend.” While Ten and Eleven may have been Doctors you could take home to Mom, eminently earnest and crush-worthy (with great hair), Twelve is more akin to Nine: dangerous, perhaps a bit feral, not at home in his own skin, and sternly alien. In taking the Doctor back in this direction, Capaldi is the ideal embodiment of the role– weathered, fierce, strange. From his “independently cross” eyebrows to his steely demeanor, this Doctor is decidedly uncuddly, and that is at the root of Clara’s unease with his new incarnation. She isn’t ready to cut ties from Eleven, and she and Twelve both suffer some horror at the apparent aging his body has undergone in the regeneration process. It’s beautifully played, with restraint on the part of Jenna Coleman as Clara and delightful bombast from Capaldi; it comes across as the antithesis of Ten’s regeneration, in which Rose suddenly found herself almost in the role of fairy-tale princess, having been kissed by a Doctor who defined himself as a “monster” and watching him regenerate into a handsome prince with whom she has oodles of electric chemistry. Clara, on the other hand, has observed her handsome prince’s sea-change into a wild, defiant, inscrutable stranger with an unfamiliar face and harsh manner to match. We can understand her diffidence, if not sympathize with it– he’s still the Doctor, after all, and it actually takes a cameo phone call from Eleven to convince her to stay on with Twelve. Would you or I need that much persuasion? Probably not, because, you know, the Doctor, (Time Lord, hello?) but at least we get her squeamishness to an extent.
The setup for the episode is amusing– a dinosaur appears in the middle of the Thames in Victorian London, and it hacks up the TARDIS, Twelve, Clara and all. All in a day’s work for Vastra, Jenny and Strax (why don’t the Paternoster Gang have their own show by now?), who take in Clara and the confused Doctor. While Vastra tries to talk Clara out of her angst, the Doctor wanders out in search of the dinosaur, for which he feels responsible, only to see it immolated before his eyes. It seems spontaneous combustion is on the rise in London, and after the Doctor and Clara reunite due to a puzzling newspaper ad that neither of them placed, they discover that the restaurant in which they find themselves is just a front for the same clockwork automatons we saw in “The Girl in the Fireplace”, who are reaping spare parts from the population to keep themselves running and burning the bits they don’t need. Clara forgets herself and resumes bickering with the Doctor like old times, only to find herself abandoned when they make their escape and recaptured when she can no longer keep up a pretense of being an unbreathing droid (ergo, “Deep Breath”). Is this new Doctor really cold enough to leave his companion to her fate? Of course not– this is still the Doctor we’re talking about. Some truly harrowing action sequences ensue as Vastra, Jenny and Strax arrive on the scene to kick butt and, in the case of Strax, provide some comic relief, and the Doctor finds himself embattled with the head automaton in a hot air balloon. The Doctor destroys the automaton by impaling it on the spire of Big Ben, which results in the other robots abruptly losing power and crumpling to the floor as they close in on Clara and the Paternosters. The Doctor once again disappears, but resurfaces to take Clara home if that’s what she really wants. After taking a call from Eleven, who tells her that Twelve needs her, Clara decides to remain with the Doctor and help him as he discovers more about the man he has become. She hugs him, which he now finds awkward in his new incarnation, and they leave together for coffee. But that’s not the end. We cut to a beautiful garden where the droid that the Doctor presumably killed meets a woman who introduces herself only as Missy and informs it that it has reached Heaven, and that the Doctor is her “boyfriend”. O-Kay.
That last bit foreshadows what may be a major story arc. Showrunner Stephen Moffatt doesn’t deal in red herrings– everything in his Whoniverse ties in to everything else, and since he penned this episode himself, surely this Missy is going to be a major player, but whether for good or ill– and whether or not she is in any way connected to River Song– is a mystery. Something to ponder for the ensuing Series Eight, and it’s definitely got me hooked.
As a whole, it was one of the better regenerations in terms of how it was handled and the performances involved (seriously, who doesn’t love the Paternosters?), and while I’ve seen other critics decrying the need for a Matt Smith cameo, I felt it tied the episode together– it felt good to have a farewell moment, and it detracted nothing from our new Doctor, who may not know his true heart(s) yet, but who is obviously his own epic win of a man.