Slight spoilers ahead for those who have yet to see the premiere episode:
The long-awaited first episode of Doctor Who‘s eighth series finally aired, with Doctor Peter Capaldi making his highly anticipated debut as the 12th titular Time Lord. Penned as usual by showrunner Stephen Moffat (Sherlock), the feature-length episode entitled ‘Deep Breath’ featured the usually smattering of monsters, robots, London and chips.
The new series kicked off in Victorian London, where a rather bewildered dinosaur has found itself wandering the Thames. However, Don’t get too excited by the dinosaur, its screen-time was limited and its purpose even more so. Coughed up (literally, by the lonesome dino) is the TARDIS, and enter, the new Doctor.
At 56-years-old, skinny Scotsman Capaldi is the oldest actor to step into the famous role, and this seemed to be a running joke throughout ‘Deep Breath’. He looks every bit the time-traveller, all lean and mean, and it’s a refreshing additive to have the Doctor speaking in his native accent for a change. His Malcolm Tucker-esque sharp wit appears to be a new staple for The Doctor, with his hilariously self-described “attack eyebrows” a delicious example of some of the great lines Capaldi delivered.
Adventuring (rather begrudgingly) alongside The Doctor is Jenna (minus the ‘Louise’) Coleman, reprising her role as the indestructible ‘Impossible Girl’ Clara Oswald. She’s the dimpled companion with almost as many reincarnations as The Doctor himself, with this real 21st century-Clara thankfully being the most likeable. Clara knows very little about the man’s regenerations and spends much of the episode struggling to connect to this new, seemingly unimproved, Doctor. Why, if you had the chance to regenerate, would you choose an older face? This, I’m sure, will be one of many questions developed over the series arc.
The episode’s villain evokes an essence of Jack The Ripper and Frankenstein in theory, but fails to deliver on fright factor. There’s a familiarity to the latest foe, and a blatant reference to Madame de Pompadour further enhances the clockwork-man feel these cyborgs are reminiscent of. This is perhaps why they never truly seem threatening. Their Two-Face-like leader is attempting to transform himself and his minions into flesh and blood in reckless pursuit of an elusive “promised land”, stealing bodies in the night to make their facades.
The episode certainly explores some of the promised darker themes of the new series, from assisted suicide to body harvesting, but the overall family-friendly tone and banter was buoyant enough to camouflage much of it for younger audiences.
There are many similarities to be drawn between ‘Deep Breath’ and other episodes, from having The Doctor temporarily in pyjamas (like Tennant in his debut), horse riding and of course, expectedly, the redecoration of the TARDIS interior. This rehash of previous Doctor Who outings is both comforting and annoying, but more the latter when you consider how unoriginal Capaldi’s debut ended up being.
In one particularly memorable scene, sharp-tongued nanny Clara unleashes a feminist tirade on Silurian Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh) to vent her frustration at being abandoned by both her Doctor, and the new one. This speech, however impressive, smacked of ulterior motives, and felt more like an apology from writer Stephen Moffat to all the female fans that have been disappointed over the years by his weak and often stereotyped characterisations of women in Doctor Who.
A phone conversation with Clara’s previous Doctor, Matt Smith, helped contextualise the plot, giving Clara a gentle push towards accepting her new friend, who, behind the new face, is the same extraordinary man she knows and loves. I also relished The Doctor’s warning to Clara: “I’m not your boyfriend!” – a hint of a welcome flirt-free relationship where previous frisky dynamics so often dogged past seasons.
Capaldi is fantastic as the famous Time Lord, and is undoubtedly the best thing about ‘Deep Breath’. It’s a little disappointing that his first episode had to be so lacking in creativity and suspense, but at the same time, giving the plot less importance enabled him to ease into the role and create his Doctor. I look forward to watching this new era in Doctor Who history unfold over the coming weeks.
REEL SCORE: 7/10