I have a love hate relationship with Doctor Who. As a child it scared me so I could never watch it. As an adult I loved the David Tennant years but after Billie Piper left I started to lose interest. I really did like Matt Smith as the Doctor and I kept watching because of him but I felt the stories lost their depth and the companions never quite worked for me. When Peter Capaldi was revealed as the next Doctor I was disappointed. I wanted someone completely different. I wanted a more diverse Doctor. I like Peter Capaldi and I think he is nothing short of exceptional in The Thick of it but he wasn’t my Doctor Who. Regardless of all that last night I eagerly sat down to watch ‘Deep Breath’ his first outing as the Doctor, at this point I am pretty used to walking away at the end feeling a little disappointed but to my surprise this time I didn’t.
Part of the reason I liked this episode of Doctor Who was the story. Yes there was a giant dinosaur and yes there were a lot of cyborgs but I felt it was scaled back a lot and I liked it. This was about feelings, about trust and in its own way love. Not a romantic love but a friendship love. It did it’s best to tug on the heartstrings; it wanted you to remember what you had lost whilst introducing you to something new. What worked the most for me was that it didn’t expect you to love the new Doctor straight away but you were expected to understand that this isn’t going to be like the previous modern Doctor Who’s, and I think this show will be all the better for it. There was also a lot of humour which really surprised me. I don’t normally laugh all that much when watching Doctor Who but the humour in here was fun and silly which was exactly my kind of thing. Unsurprisingly most of the humour came from Strax who I think should probably get his own show because he is hilarious.
All that being said there was a lot of hanging about in parts especially at the beginning and it needed a little more purpose in those opening minutes to really draw the audience in. The first ten minutes left me cold and I thought I was going to hate it. I felt that Capaldi was a little too Matt Smith like in that period too, making no sense and being all wobbly limbed. Luckily it passed, and in its own way worked as one Doctor faded into another but it was touch and go there for a little while. The cameo, which I won’t go into in massive detail because I don’t want to spoil it for others was a sweet touch but I am not 100% it was needed. I felt the message conveyed in that moment would have been better coming from Capaldi.
I think part of the reason I enjoyed Deep Breath so much was Ben Wheatley’s direction. At this point in his career I think pretty much everything he touches turns to gold. There is not a more exciting or promising director working in this country at the moment. He is a master of subtle darkness and always manages to give me the hibby jibbies with seemingly very little effort. A great example of this came right in the middle of this episode when Clara had to hold her breath and try to escape from the badies without them realising she was human. It was dark and it creeped me out and I loved it. It will be interesting to see where the rest of this series goes without Wheatley behind the camera I hope it manages to keep the darker tone that he has already established.
At the end of the day Deep Breath was always going to hinge on one thing, Peter Capaldi. If he didn’t quite fit then this was never going to work. I already mentioned the shaky start but once that had passed Capaldi really came into his own. His Doctor although confused turns out to be a completely different creature from his predecessors. Older, wiser and darker Capaldi plays his part with an air of madness that I really quite enjoyed. He is an unpredictable borderline unstable Doctor, who you can’t be sure will always do the right thing. He bullies a tramp out of his coat! Not very Doctor like at all. This unpredictability is what really sets Peter Capaldi’s Doctor apart from the others, and at this point it feels like anything could happen.
Jenna Coleman managed to impress as well. I have not always been a fan of Clara but felt that she was given a little more depth here. To be honest I think this episode was more about her than anything else. Emotionally she was given a lot to do she was grieving for the man she lost and trying to come to terms with the person he had become. A man so different from the one she knew. She has moments of sadness, fear, rage and selfishness and it was all delivered brilliantly from Coleman. I loved the scenes between her and Capaldi, there is some great chemistry there (not of the sexual sort) and a lot of bickering. For me this episode was about the trust between them and if it could still exist after the regeneration. It was touch and go for a while and wasn’t easy at all which was a great decision from the makers. I think I am going to like them together now that the dust has settled.
The supporting characters could have been given a little more to do. Strax was great but Madame Vastra and Jenny could have used a little more purpose. I thought Peter Ferdinando was superb as the big bad of the episode. He could have gone overboard with the menace but didn’t, I think he was great. A lot has been said about how the threat wasn’t big enough in this episode but I am going to have to disagree. The threat needed to be big enough to challenge the bond between The Doctor and Clara and it managed that. Any bigger and it would have overshadowed their relationship which would have been a shame.
This morning when I checked my twitter I saw quite a bit of negativity about Deep Breath but I am afraid I cannot join in. I really liked it and thought it was the best Doctor Who episode I have seen in a good long while. It ticked a lot of my boxes and I really cannot wait to see where it heads off to next.
Review by Kate Phillips