[Review] - Doctor Who, Series 8 Episode 1, "Deep Breath"

Here we go again, as Madame Vastra so ably put it. A new series, a new title card, a slightly new TARDIS interior, an absolutely new Doctor exterior, and all the potential in space and time. Any new Doctor's first time out, just kicking the tires and all that, is rarely an opportunity for the show itself to be remarkable, and Peter Capaldi has the unenviable task of following Matt Smith's introductory episode, probably the best the series has ever done (or, if not, top three). At 77 minutes, it certainly had the leg room to do some calisthenics should it be so inclined. And the results?

Well, it's not all sunshine and roses. To belabor the metaphor, it was more like a lovely field full of dandelions, occasionally falling into shadow by a cloud passing twixt it and the sun. Which is the long way round of saying that it wasn't bad, but it wasn't spectacular either. It was occasionally brilliant, and occasionally not at all that. It did what it had to, in a way that wasn't entirely necessary, but I wouldn't kick it out of bed for doing aggressive calisthenics. But you know what? It could have been 60 minutes even, and I bet we would have been the better for it.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that have an enviable spleen.

So what did the episode do well? The characters, and you won't get a bad bit of disagreement from me on that. This episode did a very good job of introducing the new Doctor, even if it was during his period of mad-inducing adjustment. But more than that, this episode treated it's core cast very kindly, with Steven Moffat finding every opportunity for Vastra, Jenny, Strax and Clara to shine. Everyone got some lovely development, and because we got to spend some down time with the Paternoster Gang, we literally got to know who they are at home. Vastra and Jenny's relationship runs on pure, unfiltered flirtation, while Strax is resourceful and caring, in his own pudding brained way. And Clara actually showed signs of being an interesting character, with dimensions and depths and reasons for being that are independent of a poorly thought out plot device. Better late than never I suppose.

And the new Doctor was quick to establish himself, though there will now forever linger the memory of the time he attempted to rough up a Victorian hobo, which isn't as endearing a scene as it may have seemed on paper. But Capaldi has certainly set himself apart from the more recent incarnations. He is brash and arrogant, and more than a little rude. He is also more than willing to seem to cross the line that past Doctors have all claimed to hold so dear (but then crossed it anyway). His apparent abandonment of Clara is probably the most telling scene, if only because it was around about that time that the madness wore down and the man he will be came bubbling up. He never left her, never for a moment put her in a situation where she was in any risk of harm. But he let her think that he did. This will prove, I think, to be a manipulative Doctor, a Doctor willing to do exactly what he must, plus a tiny bit more, if it means putting things right.

The restaurant scene stood out above the rest, if only because it seemed like the first time the Doctor and Clara have had a conversation. and I don't just mean this Doctor, I mean since Clara joined the show. Part of the frustrating nature of last series was how much could have been avoided if these two just talked to each other, rather than being suspicious and secretive about it. Here, the Doctor and Clara come to an understanding of each other, really see each other for what the other really is, and how that relates to them. They were honest, and it felt nice. "It's times like this, I miss Amy," claimed the Doctor, and maybe that's because Amy and the Doctor had sit down talks from time to time. They actually seemed to want to spend time with one another, rather than just doing so because they are meant to. Clara has been one of the least effective and least interesting companions the series has had in a good long while, and it's nice to see Moffat giving her a reason for being here.

And that's a good thing, because Jenna Coleman is wonderful when she is given the opportunity. There were times this episode felt like an episode of Coupling, and Coleman was more than open to the task. She's got get comedic timing, when up against Capaldi or Dan Starkey, who nearly steals the episode with Strax's befundery. It is a very funny episode, sometimes over relying on the humour too much, but it's sharp genuinely funny stuff, which is really where Moffat operates at his best, so I'm not complaining.

What this episode wasn't was subtle. It was in fact completely obtusely anvilously unsubtle. Jenny and Vastra, you will be reminded, are married and love each other. Clara has a bit of an ego. The Doctor takes issue with the current state of his face. He's also Scottish, you might have missed that... were you not watching the programme, perhaps because you were on fire. Perhaps as a result of fans complaining about how the past few seasons have gotten bogged down in so much arc building, with veiled references to things unknown all over the place, that this script was padded out by endless repetition of the obvious. There is a balance that needs to be struck between being purposefully ignorant and being willfully bombastic, and it hasn't been struck just yet.

The biggest complaint I had about this episode was that there just seemed to be too much of it. And the padding showed. I understand the dinosaur was meant to be a big impressive entrance for the new man about town, but it all added up to very little. Cut the dinosaur stuff, and nothing much changes plot-wise, and you'd cut down on the run time. When it was dealing with the characters directly, and at the end when it shifted hard right into the robot stuff, the episode moved briskly. The rest seemed like a far too obvious way of trying to be a big deal.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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