Unrealistically large Tyrannosaurus Rex stalking London? Must be time for Doctor Who Season 8. But before we meet the 12th Doctor in his premier episode, the Paternoster gang is already dealing with the dinosaur situation. The situation just happens to be the T-Rex coughing up the TARDIS!
An awkward tension falls over the Twelfth Doctor’s appearance. Reeling from his regeneration, confused and unsure, we get the first glimpse of his new personality. “Don’t look in that mirror. It’s absolutely furious!” A line delivered so differently than his predecessors, but one that somehow cements Capaldi as the Doctor. Quickly it becomes apparent that a darker, more alien Doctor has taken over. Thankfully, it seems as the hopes of many Whovians have been fulfilled.
When T-Rex’s aren’t enough, eyeball thieving robots arrive to thicken the plot. While this episode is very much about the Doctor’s regeneration and how it impacts himself and those around him, it never feels overly reliant on the regeneration to tell the story. It has a mystery all its own. But some of the most beautiful moments deal directly with the regeneration. Madam Vastra’s conversation with Clara on dealing with the Doctor’s change indicates the show’s turn towards more dark moral and philosophical matters. Another change many Whovians hoped for.
As for the Doctor himself, madness seems to bubble close to the surface at all times A scene of him balled-up on the ground, using chalk to scribble ‘equations’ on the walls and floorboards probably won’t be the last asylum-esque behavior from this new Time Lord. If it is even possible, this man might be more eccentric than even Matt Smith!
And yet his compassion for the T-Rex after it was mysterious burned alive let’s us know that no matter how alien and harsh the Doctor is, he is still the same compassionate being we know and love. The episode comes together at this point, as the new Doctor starts to assert himself, his personality, and the direction of the show, as he angrily declares his intentions to find the dinosaur’s murderer.
One of the most interesting scenes is when the Doctor sees himself for the firs time. A ubiquitous scene in premier episodes, this one takes the phenomenon to a whole new level. He sees himself in a mirror and explains to some vagrant how he never knows which face he’ll have, or where they come from. It’s the first time in Doctor Who that this issue has ever been referenced ‘in show’, and it adds to the overall uncomfortable tension throughout. The scene shows the Doctor being rather antagonistic and rough with the hapless vagrant, perhaps further emphasizing a new dominant trait of his.
While the Doctor is off finding himself the mystery of the immolated dinosaur is actually investigated by the paternoster gang, giving Madam Vastra a chance to display her prowess in the role of inspector. These scenes further prove that the Gang deserve a chance at a spinoff of their own. Clara spends most of the time with her new friends, continually working through her difficulty dealing with the Doctor’s regeneration. She’s no longer sure if the Doctor even cares about her, and if she even knows who he is. This is the central theme of the episode, and it gives a solid weight to the story.
The Doctor and Clara’s ‘reunion’ happens over yet another awkward conversation. I thought I’d be bothered by the continual issue of Clara dealing with the Doctor’s change, but I actually found it some of the most compelling parts of the show. A relationship that was once so lighthearted, sarcastic, and friendly is now distant, distrustful, and standoffish. It serves to develop Clara further, something rather lacking to this point. But it also helps to establish the tone of their new relationship, which is much less familiar than many of the Doctor-Companion relationships in a long while.
The duo do come together, however strained their relationship, and begin to notice a larger mystery surrounding them. Robots are stealing human body parts to make themselves more human. Even this part of the show is far more sinister and dark than most of the dilemmas facing the TARDIS team in recent memory. The tone and language throughout is more directly violent, threatening, and dangerous. If this is indicative of how Doctor Who is going to proceed than I am exceedingly pleased. It’s been a very long while since I’ve been genuinely intrigued by a mystery in the show, and unsure of what is going to happen, not to mention being nervous and worried for the characters. It’s a refreshing and hopeful sensation that lifts the episode to a much higher level than I thought possible.
Another fantastic scene was Clara having to get herself out of a horrible situation the Doctor lefter her in. Another example of this new Doctor’s way, and of Clara coming to terms with him not being who she has come to expect him to be. The whole scene continues to drive home the point that this Doctor, as well as the show itself, is going to be very different from anything we’ve seen before. Clara really gets to shine while negotiating for her life against the robots. It’s a scene that is the darkest Doctor Who there may have ever been, and it’s beautiful!
The Paternoster Gang returns to help stave off the robot ranks while the Doctor offers the Robot Leader a whiskey and discusses how he’s going to kill him. The conversation mirrors the Doctor’s own struggles with regeneration by asking who anyone is once so many pieces have been replaced. The whole scene is a striking departure from previous Doctor Who, something we’ve not seen or felt since the Ninth Doctor’s time. But this is so much more bleak and menacing, and puts the nail in the coffin of the Who we’ve known. Yet even in that death, the life of a new Doctor begins to shine brightly.
A new Doctor’s premier episode is always a very special moment in Doctor Who. In many ways, even if it is unfairly early, it defines the new Doctor, as well as the overall feel of the show. Due to this responsibility premier episodes are always a nervous affair. Expectations are never higher, fears never more wild. Luckily Deep Breath handles the pressure and exceeds expectations, giving us one hell of an introduction to the Twelfth Doctor. I liked this premier episode better than that of any other Doctor. It reshaped the show so much, and showcased the strangeness and uniqueness of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. It’s clear that we are in for a very special ride, one that will see Doctor Who truly become the show it was always capable of becoming!