The Who team has gone all out with Deep Breath, with world tour, cinema release (in Scope aka 2.35:1 ratio no less) and dedicated DVD/BluRay release. But is Peter Capaldi’s first episode worth a gasp or a sigh?
Deep Breath certainly hits the ground at a good clip, opening with the Paternoster gang encountering a big problem that’s more than a little out of place in Victorian London (no, not another Cyber King). Before you can say “The Asylum’s Sherlock Holmes with Gareth David-Lloyd”, Clara and a shaky post-regenerative Doctor are on the scene, but clearly something is very different to normal… sometimes things come back different, and not everything is going to be as you remember it!
After an excellent new intro, which some may recognise the visual style and musically reminded me in turns of both the Day of the Doctor mix and also the 80s themes (less choral, more electronic and with less focus on the more recent “rise” at the start), its time to see what the new Doctor brings proper.
The story has a lot of focus on how the transformation affects both Clara and the Doctor himself, and the knock on effects on other relationships like Madam Vastra. There have been a few mentions of scenes being longer this series, and they allow the characters to come to the fore – a head-to-head between Vastra and Clara, and Clara and the Doctor meeting in a restaurant are both excellent examples that show great chemistry. Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi seem to have clicked straight away and play off each other excellently; the implications for the direction of the pairing for the rest of this year are very promising.
Ben Wheatley brings an excellent atmosphere to the streets of London, and he brings aspects of the style used in the likes of Kill List to bring tension and dread; some underground scenes in particular would not be out of place in any horror movie! As expected Strax brings comic relief but it isn’t distracting and there is plenty of wit in the dialogue for everyone. That can be a bit Coupling-esque at times but it’s also clear that this Doctor isn’t going to be one who flirts with every female in sight – at least not the regular-sized humanoids!
So this Doctor then, what of him? Well, alot is as expected, with a fierceness under those eyebrows ready to bite, but also a bubbling enthusiasm and sense of danger. There are echoes of Hartnell and Pertwee, but also the others too with a flash of the more recent self-conscious vanity raising a smirk. There’s a distinct feeling that there is more to come, and moral ambiguity and identity as a whole are likely to be developing themes through the episodes to come.
It’s not a perfect episode, however; there’s a slight kitchen-sink aspect with many elements being touched on from the choosing of the new Doctor’s face to his Scottishness to his memory to picking up loose threads from previous series to setting up what looks to be this year’s Big Bad, so there’s a possible danger that with so much being set up and juggled that they may not all get done justice. There’s also a couple of moments where Clara seems to have been retconned into having more eyes on Matt Smith than was evident during his tenure, or forgetting what she saw of other incarnations when in the Doctor’s timeline, but the scenarios get resolved and Clara’s character is progressed in other ways too. Ultimately it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, being much more evolution than revolution, so those hoping for a giant leap may be disappointed.
All said and done, Deep Breath has a lot to do – a post-regeneration story has to introduce a new Doctor and give a sense of continuity while being a jumping on point too. The extra running time helps it breathe without outstaying its welcome, and the character focus is welcome without feeling outbalanced next to the adventure elements of the story. This year a phrase that is likely to get repeated is “the same but different” and it’s very apt here. New Doctor, new rules – and new things to enjoy!