Finally the wait is over. Several months after the end of the Matt Smith era back in “The Time of the Doctor,” the new era with Peter Capaldi as The Doctor begins. What kind of Doctor will he be? What kind of adventures will he have? It all begins with a great Jurassic roar over the streets of Victorian London, as we enter an exciting new chapter in the history of “Doctor Who.” Meet me after the jump for the first episode of Series Eight, “Deep Breath.”
We’ve all seen the previews with the T-Rex, and that’s where start, with a fairly large Tyrannosaurus Rex on the march through Victorian London. First on the scene ironically are the Silurian Lady Vastra, her wife and companion Jenny Flint, and her valet and former Sontaran commander and nurse Strax. These semi-recurring characters met way back in the Battle of Demons Run and have not only stayed together, but as the Paternoster Gang become fan favorites. Seriously, BBC, if we can’t have “Torchwood” (or Sarah Jane, or K-9) back, why give us a show with these folks?
Vastra makes the comment that ‘she was there’ when fossils are brought up. Are Silurians that long-lived? They did evolve from dinosaurs and existed side by side with them, but is Vastra herself that old, even with the Silurian hibernation? Vastra quickly takes action to confine her ‘cousin’ and to look for The Doctor, as she believes time travel is at work, what with a dinosaur in 1893 and all. Her suspicions are proved correct when the T-Rex coughs up the TARDIS.
The thing about Time Lords is that they don’t die, they regenerate. They turn into completely different people with different bodies, different personalities, but with the same memories. This is how “Doctor Who” has remained on the air for roughly fifty years and had so many actors in the title role. The actual process of regeneration however, has over the years gotten more and more difficult. Like Ras Al Ghul rising from the Lazarus Pit, typically The Doctor is confused and not quite himself (or any of his other selves) when first transformed.
When the Peter Capaldi first emerges from the dinosaur saliva-covered TARDIS, he recognizes Vastra and company, as well as Clara in tow, who he mistakes for Handles, but none of them by name. He is also noticeably Scottish, and wearing the Matt Smith Doctor’s clothes, sans ‘cool’ bow tie. He’s not without humor, and a couple moments in, I like him. He thinks the dinosaur is Clara, yeah, I like him even more. And I love the new steampunk title sequence.
The New Doctor
Much like the Peter Davison and David Tennant regenerations, it seems that this particular Doctor will need quite a bit of sleep before he’s done, ripe, or right – take your pick. The Paternoster Gang put him to bed, and Lady Vastra tries to explain the process of Gallifreyan Time Lord regeneration to Clara, who’s a bit in the dark about it. Vastra sees through her, confronts Clara about her affection for and flirtations with the Matt Smith Doctor. Bingo, it’s the age thing that really has Clara freaked out. A quick and emotional game of angry wits make Clara and Vastra equals. I like them both a bit more now, but dislike the attraction. Vastra is not Captain Jack, sorry.
The Doctor, speaking of wits, seems to be beginning to get his together. I gotta be honest, he seems a bit mad. This may be a change of pace for the new school viewers of the 21st century, but I see the influences of earlier Doctors in Capaldi. There’s a bit of Patrick Troughton here, as well as Sylvester McCoy and Tom Baker. He’s also a bit of an action man like Jon Pertwee. This could be fun. I like the Capaldi Doctor’s implications. He doesn’t quite say things as much as he implies them. I love the line about meeting girls when he’s talking to the dinosaur.
Meanwhile there’s a mad cyborg cutting out people’s eyes in the streets of London, not that anyone’s noticing much with the giant dinosaur to look at. And spectacle and looking seem to be what it’s all about. The dinosaur is murdered by spontaneous combustion, and everyone watches – the human race being a ‘planet of the pudding heads’ and all – except for one man. The Doctor, in just his nightshirt, dives into the Thames in pursuit. To assure reunion, the Paternoster Gang and Clara take on the dinosaur murder case as well.
There is a lot of the Paternoster Gang in this episode, so much so that it has the American feel of a back door pilot, and that just feels wrong (even though I want such a show so much). This is the first episode of Series Eight, and the debut of a new Doctor, why would they do such a thing? Is it because The Doctor is incapacitated? Or because they want to give the viewers more of a taste of these characters to test the waters? Either way, I like the spotlight. I can never get enough Strax.
The Doctor confronts a street bum and accosts him with monologue. He raises an interesting point that harkens back to two specific events, again by implication and not actually out loud. He has seen his own face before, and maintains that he chose it specifically to tell himself something. The fact is he has seen this face before. Peter Capaldi played Caecilius, whose family The Doctor (then played by David Tenant) saves in the Series Four episode “The Fires of Pompeii.”
The other callback, from the original classic series, is that Time Lords can choose how their regenerations look, as Romana regenerated into a woman she had met earlier in her travels with The Doctor. But what was The Doctor trying to tell himself by choosing this older, possibly less attractive form? Hmmm… Maybe after Rose, and Martha, and Amy, and Clara… it’s time to stop flirting with young girls and be the father figure again like he was in the old days. After all, The Doctor is now 2000 years old, it may be time to act like it. The mid-life crisis is over.
Each lured in by an anonymous personal ad, Clara and The Doctor meet for lunch. There is a rather long exchange between the two as they get reacquainted, ironically behaving toward each other like an old married couple. It’s an unusually long scene, of the type that Steven Moffat had talked about doing this season in various interviews. Until the tension is ramped by actual plot, this is noticeably long, not like “Doctor Who” at all. I think Moffat might want to rethink this longer scene tact, because it does not work here.
The Doctor and Clara, after calling each other needy game players and egomaniacs, they finally see everyone else in the restaurant. All the people are neither eating nor breathing, just pretending to, yeah, in the words of Admiral Ackbar, it’s a trap. They are all automatons (no, not Autons), and they’re collecting body parts. In trying to get out of the trap, the sonic screwdriver is used… but if The Doctor left in his nightshirt, then borrowed clothes from a bum, and never went back to the TARDIS – how did he get his sonic screwdriver? Was it in his nightshirt??
When Clara becomes trapped with the enemy, thanks to The Doctor (!), we find these creatures, robots who want to be human and scrounge body parts from living beings to make their own bodies, are the next in a line of new school “Doctor Who” monsters who have rules. You know like how you don’t want to blink around a Weeping Angel or how you can only remember The Silence while you’re looking directly at them. These creatures don’t breathe, so if you’re in a room full of them, trying to pretend you’re one of them – don’t breathe, or you’re caught! How long can you hold your breath?
Clara, alone without The Doctor to help, discovers dozens of these patchwork clockwork wannabe human robots, before she passes out. I guess her endurance is less than Time Lord. In short order, The Doctor proves he didn’t abandon Clara, saving her, soon followed by the Paternoster Gang. Vastra also does something all TV heroes should do – she calls the police. It doesn’t really work, but at least she’s thinking.
Familiarity and Morality
The Doctor has a drink with the main big bad, the Half-Face Man, while his minions battle the good guys. This is very casual and almost pedestrian like a doped up version of a James Bond confrontation with the villain, all talk. The Doctor remembers something I think, that these creatures are similar to those he faced in “The Girl in the Fireplace.” Clockwork robots who want to be human, and as far as Who robots go, no comparison to the Daleks or Cybermen.
The Half-Face Man, with his wannabe human robots and his human skin zeppelin, are not quite the world shattering threat we have become used to during regenerations. They’re kinda lame honestly, and the moral question posed by the Half-Face Man, the paradox in their logic, is never answered. We do not know the morality of this new Doctor, and apparently neither does he. As with all regenerations, despite the epilogue of this episode, we might have to wait until the second adventure to see what he’s really like.
As River Song was/is so fond of saying, “Spoilers,” but I have to say the Matt Smith cameo at the end was a nice surprise, and his request that Clara stay with the Peter Capaldi Doctor, to give him a chance, because he needs her – is a message not just for her, but for us as well. It is perhaps the hope of Steven Moffat, and my hope as well, that things will get better. At least Clara and The Doctor are going to get chips, that’s always a good sign.
The second epilogue was… interesting. The Half-Face Man, retrieved from impalement on the top of Big Ben wakes up in a place he’s told is ‘heaven,’ ‘paradise,’ and the ‘promised land’ by an older woman dressed era appropriate to the Victorian Age. The woman, Missy, doesn’t look familiar, but calls The Doctor her boyfriend and implies that she knows him well. My first thought… The Rani? Maybe, but probably not, I can always dream, can’t I?
What did you folks think of this episode? Of the new Doctor? Please let us know! In the meantime, I’ll see you next week… and so will the Daleks!