Deep Breath

Posted in Episode by - February 11, 2016
Deep Breath

Aired 23 August 2014

In the allotted amount of time that Peter Capaldi graces the screen in ‘Deep Breath,’ it’s apparent that he is a very different Doctor than his immediate predecessors, still just as willing to take charge and confront danger (now aided by attack eyebrows) but in a seemingly more deliberate and terse manner.

As it is, though, ‘Deep Breath’ is a story about Clara rediscovering the Doctor just as much as the Doctor rediscovering himself, and both Capaldi and Jenna Coleman wonderfully deliver a sense of vulnerability and apprehension at the start. But as the Doctor is off confronting the mystery at hand, ‘Deep Breath’ becomes much more of a contemplative character piece for Clara as she tries to reconcile the transformation with the help of Madame Vastra. It is in these conversations that the heart of the episode resides, adding previously unexplored and resonating depth to the characters of Vastra and Jenny.

Despite the astuteness and reason present throughout these talks, it takes a surprise cameo from Matt Smith’s pre-regeneration Eleventh Doctor to set her mind at ease in a lovingly delivered scene. Capaldi, in particular superbly sells the sense of heartache and loneliness he feels as he movingly explains his viewpoint to Clara that she looks at him but doesn’t see him. In a way, it makes perfect sense that it would be the Eleventh Doctor that convinces Clara to stay by the Twelfth’s side and to help him through this trying time, but it also seems that Clara- out of all of the companions in the long history of the programme- should be the most able to accept the change considering everything she had seen in Matt Smith’s final stories. It’s a minor quibble, especially since any such monumental change would be difficult to accept, but it just seems like a surprising move for the otherwise strong Clara.

‘Deep Breath’ very much brings its core characters to the foreground, meaning that the plot and enemies are quite relegated to the background. As it stands, the return of- or at least a very similar set of creatures in the vein of- the Clockwork robots from ‘Girl in the Fireplace’ is underplayed, offering them a few standout scenes but not a persistently threatening presence. The ‘hold your breath’ theme is a nice take on the ‘don’t blink’ conceit of the fantastic ‘Blink,’ but the tension never manages to rise to substantial enough levels to invoke a true feeling of imminent danger. Still, the robots’ designs and movements are brought to life exceedingly well, and it’s refreshing to see a robot trying to become more human rather than the much more common opposite. In a bold choice, not actually showing the resolution and so not knowing just how far this version of the Doctor is willing to go to end a threat pays off remarkably well.

Perhaps in order to mirror the new lead or perhaps because this story doesn’t have to start out completely from scratch like Moffatt’s previous premiere episode ‘The Eleventh Hour,’ the pacing is much more deliberate and less frenzied here, taking full advantage of its extended running time by giving people time to reflectively talk and react. Each of the characters is superbly well written, and Moffatt’s penchant for soulful and physical comedy comes across perfectly in Strax. It’s already abundantly clear that Capaldi will take the role and make it his own without losing sight of the actors who have come before him, at the same time creating a slight but intriguing tonal shift in the programme. The actual villains’ story is unfortunately the weakest part of this story- including a visually stunning but ultimately unnecessary dinosaur- but it still offers some great visual moments even if not always attaining the level of tension for which it aimed. Yet with a mysterious ending that sets up the equally enigmatic Missy as a presumed story arc, all of the key pieces are in place for another successful Doctor Who transition.

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