Re-watch: Doctor Who Deep Breath Review

Disclaimer: In 2013 I reviewed the second half of Series 7 for The Hairy Housewife and fully intended to do the same for Series 8 last year. Unfortunately, it proved impossible. Life and work and caring responsibilities called and at my lowest point, I was about five episodes behind everyone else. After speaking recently with Gemma, she thought it would be cool for me to do a re-tread of Series 8 to tide blog readers over until Series 9 airs. So that’s what’s happening. Every week I’ll re-watch and review an episode for this blog. Feel free to join me! Oh, and there will be spoilers.

Deep Breath served as Peter Capaldi’s debut episode (The Day of The Doctor and The Time of the Doctor don’t count) much as The Eleventh Hour was Matt’s. This time around the pressure was less intense. Moffat had to sell a new Doctor, companion and head writer team in The Eleventh Hour after essentially being sabotaged by RTD in The End of Time. Indeed, so great was the pressure on Moffat, last year he revealed in interviews that the BBC would have cancelled the show if Matt had not been a success after the enormous success of Tennant. Luckily, Moffat succeeded enormously and The Eleventh Hour is still one of the best debut episodes for a Doctor ever in my opinion, possibly even the very best. Deep Breath and by extension Capaldi at least had the advantage of a stable companion in Clara and a stable writing and production team. Still, selling a new Doctor is always a challenge (even if true fans end up loving each and every one anyway) and on top of that, Moffat was dealing with criticisms of his ‘impossible girl’ in the previous season which meant that he wanted to improve on characterization in the new series. He also still had to contend with a growing international and new to Who audience, not all of whom were familiar with regeneration.

To meet this challenge, Moffat settles for telling two stories in one on an extended run time. The story of the week follows The Doctor, Clara and Paternoster Row’s adventures as they try to understand why dinosaurs and humans alike are being disintegrated in London and why a restaurant is filled with clockwork people. At the same time, Clara tries to come to grips with her young looking Doctor wearing an ancient face and learns some lessons about appearance courtesy of Jenny and Vastra. Deep Breath also sets the series up to be a series about relationships, particularly the friendship between Clara and The Doctor (they describe each other this episode as ‘ego-maniac, needy, game-player’ types)

Perhaps because so much is going on, and because of the slightly extended run-time, the episode never quite hangs together. It also suffers from Moffat excess along the lines of Let’s Kill Hitler and The Wedding of River Song, especially initially with the first arrival of Twelve via a dinosaur’s mouth. The episode only really starts to work when Clara and The Doctor meet in the restaurant after each thinking the other has left a message in the paper for the other. However, thanks to the presence of Vastra, Jenny and Strax and Moffat’s talent for dialogue, there are some beautifully quiet dramatic moments which set the tone for the rest of the series. I especially liked Vastra’s assertion of, ‘Well then. Here we go again,’ as a manic Doctor exhausts them all and the scene where Clara speaks with Vastra in her private boudoir intercut with The Doctor linking with the dinosaur’s thoughts (I am alone – a statement true of both the dinosaur and The Doctor at this point).

I have always said that Moffat enjoys post modern literary conceits, and this is especially obvious in Deep Breath’s early scenes, where Moffat uses his characters (predominantly Vastra) to try and win the audience over to Twelve. When Vastra says, ‘he looked young for everyone, wore a face like I wear a veil…’ as a reminder to the audience that The Doctor’s face (or actor) changes, but the inner personality remains the same. Vastra reminds us here that though the audience accepted a younger Doctor, romance and play time is over. The Doctor has travelled for untold centuries. It is time he looked like it. This post modern conceit led to one of the best moment’s of the whole episode:

Vastra: I wear a veil as he wore a face, for the same reason. … I do not wear it as a courtesy to such people, but as a judgment on the quality of their hearts.

Vastra is saying this ostensibly to Clara, but also to the audience. That’s also the case with Eleven’s final message at the tail end of the episode. He tells Clara to accept The Doctor for his sake, but he is asking the audience to do the same. It is a conceit which is sweet, if slightly over done.

In contrast, when ‘the game is afoot’ and Mancinni’s restaurant enters the story, everything becomes much more interesting. It turns out the robots are stealing parts to keep on keeping on and are members of a sister ship to Madame de Pompadour’s from The Girl in the Fireplace. The return of these aliens allows us to see how Twelve works (by asking the right intellectual questions), fight scenes, Clara’s faith in The Doctor despite her fears (he’ll have my back), Clara’s personality (I particularly liked the way she remembered her first day teaching at school and applied her teaching experience to outsmarting the clockwork robot) even a kiss between Vastra and Jenny (I never get enough of these two!) and finally confirmation that this Doctor is made of morally tougher stuff. Eleven had dark and frightening edges that came out when he was mad. This Doctor is full of righteous rage and moral ambiguity. This time we can’t be sure that he is indeed a hero and a good man. Didn’t he push a robot man to his death after all?

Finally, the episode introduces us to ‘Paradise’ or ‘Heaven’ and Michelle Gomez’ deliciously sharp Mary Poppins turn as Missy. When I initially saw this episode, Twelve still wasn’t quite gelling for me and I’d never been sold on Clara as companion, but I was fascinated by Missy and I knew I’d be back for more solely out of curiosity. My end reaction was, ‘damn it Moffat. Why are you so good at pulling viewers in even when they aren’t particularly emotionally invested in your two main characters?’ On re-watches, I enjoy both Clara and The Doctor a whole lot more now that I know where the series goes. I especially enjoy their budding friendship. I still think the story is overcrowded though.

What did you think?

Deep Breath: 7/10 inky stars

About InkAshlings

Maureen, Australian, young aspiring writer.
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