|Production Code||Series 8, Episode 1|
|Dates||August 23, 2014|
With Peter Capaldi,
Written by Steven Moffat Directed by Ben Wheatley
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Brian Minchin.
|Synopsis: The new Doctor has arrived in Victorian London along with a dinosaur and something that's causing spontaneous combustion.|
"Just see me" by Hugh Sturgess 24/3/15
With Deep Breath, Steven Moffat joins John Nathan-Turner as the only producers obliged to radically overhaul the series twice. Like JNT, Moffat came to the series at the height of its popularity and made a clear decision to change as much of it as possible. Part of that was forced on him - unlike Nathan-Turner, he wanted the current Doctor, David Tennant, to remain but was turned down - but The Eleventh Hour removed or radically altered the iconography of the past four or five years in the space of an hour. Not a single member of the cast survived, and most of the production crew departed. The TARDIS, both inside and out, was revamped and the sonic screwdriver replaced. The title sequence that had remained with only minor changes since 2005 was gone. In short, TV shows aren't supposed to have new episodes after they have lost their cast, credits, setting and creative team. With the special case of Rose and partial exception of Spearhead from Space (which still features the Brigadier as a familiar character), there is no comparable wholesale junking of the show's past. The decision made aesthetic sense and was, to a degree, forced on Moffat, given the closing off of the Davies era's characters and plotlines in The End of Time, but that didn't make The Eleventh Hour any less bold.
And now Moffat has to do it all over again. Nathan-Turner reinvented Doctor Who for Season Eighteen, and the departure of Tom Baker obliged a second radical shake-up come Season Nineteen. By the time the first Doctor he cast came to leave, he decided to throw the lever in the opposite direction with a less reliable, more alien Doctor for a darker series of episodes. Moffat's decision to do exactly the same thing (even down to replacing the new "youngest ever" Doctor) looks like tempting fate. In both cases, the reinvention was less extreme than the first - Clara remains the companion, the Smith-era TARDIS and sonic screwdriver are conspicuously retained and the episode's cast is composed of establish characters - and had earlier roots, in Moffat's case the decision to junk two-parters and adopt the hyper-accelerated movie-of-the-week model that has obtained since 2012. There the similarities between JNT and Moffat end, of course.
The Davison years, during which the original series was at its post-Tom peak of popularity, seem confused, as though they aren't sure what they want to be. The effect of three conflicting creative forces - the populism of JNT, the violence of Eric Saward and the humanism of Peter Davison - results in something that is passable but never hits a sustained stretch of quality. Already, Moffat (and Davies before him) has achieved a series in which its lowest lights far exceed the average for the Davison years, with a clear central direction and conception about what the series is meant to provide to viewers. Now, instead of taking an abrupt nosedive in quality a la Season 22, Moffat takes the opportunity of his second reinvention to soar. The listless Series 7 seemed to suggest the same lack of direction that plagued Doctor Who in the '80s, but such a thought would never be plausible about the first series of Capaldi. Moffat is not enervated, he seems inspired.
What's most striking about Deep Breath is how little effort it puts into establishing the new Doctor. The Eleventh Hour and Rose needed to establish the Doctor as a vibrant, vital hero; that was what they had to get right more than anything else. They did it in very different ways, with Rose keeping the Doctor as a distant presence flitting in and out of the narrative, while The Eleventh Hour pinned its every hope on Matt Smith being fun to watch in his own right, putting him in almost every scene. Deep Breath seems comparatively relaxed. The closest comparison is The Christmas Invasiona, which puts the new Doctor out of action for most of the story, but even then that episode is following a series in which Rose is the central character and the Doctor more often than not inspires others to save the day. Deep Breath follows a run in which the Doctor is unambiguously the most important character, with a companion who was widely criticised for being underdeveloped. Bizarrely, Deep Breath takes the occasion of introducing a new title character as the opportunity to leave him underdeveloped and make Clara the centre of attention.
The reason, I think, is Peter Capaldi. All the angst over the need to cast a female or non-white actor as the Doctor, whatever the merits of that position, was silenced by the announcement of Capaldi's casting. There aren't many other current British actors who could be put in comparison with Peter Capaldi and be clearly the better choice. Mike Morris, in his review of The Fires of Pompeii, says that his ideal Doctor Who episode is "the Doctor goes somewhere and meets Peter Capaldi"; well, now every Doctor Who episode is "the Doctor goes somewhere and is Peter Capaldi". Of course Capaldi is excellent as the Doctor. Did anyone seriously think that was unlikely from the moment he was cast? No actor has come to the role with the kind of praise Capaldi received from his predecessors (McGann, Baker, McCoy and, stretching things, Sean Pertwee). The show is so confident that Capaldi will not screw up his debut that it does little more than give him some generic Doctorish things to do - the post-regenerative trauma in the cold open, the comic inability to understand bedrooms, mucking about at night, the scary confrontation - that are almost Moffat's characterisation on autopilot, so it can devote all its attention to reinventing Clara.
Clara is regenerated here almost as much as the Doctor. Clara was, in my opinion correctly, criticised for being a generic distillation of pluck and curiosity in 2013, almost a statistical average of a twenty-first century Doctor Who companion. This was part of the central conceit of Series 7: she was such a perfect companion that the Doctor, and the audience, spent the season convinced that she was part of some sinister trap - but it resulted in things that undermined her character, like casually recasting her father (I think that was meant to be him?) in Time of the Doctor and the unexplained disappearance of her nannying job. Rather than undermining the narrative logic of story arcs, as he was trying to do, Moffat instead reinforced it by treating the central character so cavalierly.
(Well, there is an explanation for what happened to Angie and Artie. In Deep Breath, Strax unambiguously identifies Clara's age as 27. In The Bells of Saint John, it is strongly implied that Clara is 24 (the last age written in her 101 Places to See book). The series is clearly trying to tell us that Clara has, by this point, been travelling with the Doctor for three years. Indeed, there must be a large, possibly years-long gap between Name and Day of the Doctor. So who knows in what year the "contemporary" episodes are set...)
Clara gets three key scenes that reboot her character: with Vastra, with the Doctor in the restaurant and with the half-faced man. Taking the Doctor out of the narrative for so long allows Clara to clearly seize control of her role in the story for the first time. Jenna Coleman in this episode leaps from what I had previously reckoned her - a deeply charismatic but nevertheless at best unutilised performer - to a truly sensational actress, more than capable of sharing the screen with Peter Capaldi. In Series 7, she struggled to do that even opposite Matt-Smith-increasingly-on-autopilot. Yes, the script is working to make her a much stronger character, but so much of it is Coleman. Her confrontation with the half-faced man, in which she is simultaneously crying with terror and ruthlessly extracting information, finds entirely new ways to play a standard Doctor Who companion. She comes out of this story a genuine co-lead. By the time Mummy on the Orient Express comes along, the Capaldi/Coleman team has become as much a classic as Baker/Sladen. She's a lot like Sarah, actually. She's not a romantic interest or a tourist, as earlier new-series companions have been, but simply his best friend.
The centrepiece of the episode, for me, is the long two-hander between Capaldi and Coleman in the restaurant. This is a scene that manages to be both incredibly funny and startlingly creepy. This is witty banter juxtaposed over genuinely revolting horror (the waiter-droid's statement that they have "a children's menu" is the most disturbing moment, given that the Doctor has just quipped that the diners are the ones on the menu). Almost every moment of this scene is memorable, but if I had to pick a single thing it would be the perfect deadpan with which Capaldi delivers the line "I don't like liver". Coleman and Capaldi are on fire here, managing that feeling Tom Baker at his height could evoke, that they are legitimately frightened and/or concerned beneath the humour. It's a difficult balance to strike, since the humour has a tendency to make the characters look glib or contrived (the standby criticism of Moffat's "sitcom" writing applies here).
That there is so much humour, and so integral to the script, so early in the "dark, adult" Capaldi era can only be read as a statement of intent. In fact, of all the previous Doctors, Capaldi's performance reminds me of Tom Baker's the most. There is the same alien cluelessness when it comes to social niceties and his "abandonment" of Clara in the droid's ship is something one can imagine the fourth Doctor of all Doctors doing. At the same time, he maintains the air of a fundamentally silly man who can become righteous and terrifying, rather than a terrifying alien who occasionally makes bad puns.
Indeed, there are lots of parallels between the early Tom Baker era and Series 8, beyond the superficial parallels of an existing companion who comes into her own with the new Doctor, a male sort-of-companion with a military background and beginning with a story featuring the semi-regular cast of the previous Doctor's era. Steven Moffat encouraged Peter Harness, author of Kill the Moon, to "Hinchcliffe the shit out of it" and appears to have taken that advice to heart himself all season. To say that the tone has become darker is not quite right; more accurately there is a touch of grand guignol. The body horror of the clockwork droids would have appealed to Robert Holmes, particularly the attendant black comedy. "Sweeney Todd without the pies" sounds like something Hinchcliffe and Holmes would have liked. That element is certainly pushed a lot further than it has been before in the new series. The fellow diners in the restaurant are chilling, pale with putrescent lips and eye-sockets like corpses (which they are) and their repeated, mechanical movements as they "eat" are grotesque. It's a real jump-inducing scare when they stand up and face the Doctor and Clara in unison when they attempt to leave. The clockwork mechanics inside the half-faced man are truly superb, as well.
Making the "regeneration" of Clara so central to the story shifts the emphasis of the series away from the Doctor as the protagonist to the exclusion of everyone else to a double act. Putting Clara centre stage is an unambiguous statement that she is going to be just as important as the Doctor to Series 8. This takes the pressure off the potentially risky casting of a much older man to follow Matt Smith. Capaldi can afford to be distant, opaque and unloved at the end of Deep Breath, because we are supposed to fall completely in love with Clara. Matt Smith's appearance at the end essentially says to the viewers, "stick with it".
The twelfth Doctor is still clearly the Doctor, and the moment that his abandonment of Clara is revealed as a ruse is when the idea that he is in any sense less heroic than Doctors past is debunked. However, his sheer physical difference to Matt Smith and the remove at which the narrative puts him make him a distant, unknowable presence. Whereas Smith was always the centre of attention, Capaldi is kept on the periphery. He's much stiller, allowing the action to happen around him rather than be the action. Where Smith filled the frame, Capaldi traverses it. The episode's discussion of regeneration ("I never know where the faces come from") and the metaphor of his face as a veil fit well with the Doctor's decision to literally wear a mask and disguise himself even to Clara. "The young man disappeared, the veil lifted," Vastra says.
This is the clever trick that Moffat pulls regarding the twelfth Doctor. Without compromising the Doctor's inherent heroism, curiosity, wanderlust and compassion, he leaves us struggling to reconcile this opaque figure with the more straightforward eleventh Doctor. With Smith (and Tennant and Eccleston before him), one could venture a good guess to what the Doctor was thinking at any given moment. Capaldi's Doctor, on the other hand, is a deeply mysterious figure. While the character's veil may have lifted, to the audience a veil has been lowered between us and his thoughts. What's going on in his head? Why does he save the day, when he gets along with so few people, and only displays warmth and affection for Clara? Capaldi establishes the Doctor's alienness in a wholly different way than Smith's, which was a more physical performance. The regeneration of the third Doctor into the fourth is the only real historical example of a similar shift from the knowable to the unknowable in the Doctor's character.
While the story is deliberately thin, as regeneration stories tend to be - the emphasis is not on "how will the Doctor solve this?" but "what will the new Doctor solving this look like?" - Moffat is hardly playing it safe with the subject matter and the tone. The task is to make viewers, particularly younger ones, like the new, older, spiky Doctor. Putting him in a story directed by Ben Wheatley in which a gaggle of serial killers kidnap and dissect hapless diners and wear their skins like masks is, on the face of it, a risky way of doing it.
Being asked to reinvent the series for a second time, and react against your first reinvention to boot, would be an acceptable reason to fall over dead. If your second reinvention is so good, why didn't you put it in the first one, the one you put the most effort into? I'm not surprised JNT flubbed it. Moffat has not. The new Doctor has given him a new lease of life. Deep Breath is not the most fantastic Doctor Who episode ever, but it is an absolutely solid, beautifully produced opening to one of the most consistently strong seasons of the show.
The Doctor Is In! by Donna Bratley 30/5/17
I have a confession. During the Eleventh Doctor's era, I lost interest in a show I've loved since my 1970s childhood. Series 5 featured some bold storytelling, but nothing could overcome one monumental problem.
I didn't like the Doctor. Worse, I struggled to even recognise him.
Over time, I realised this was no reflection on Matt Smith. I've subsequently discovered that he's an excellent actor. It's just a shame he was dragged ever deeper down into a broad, overly-knowing performance of gimmick and catchphrase; style over substance. Fur coat and no knickers, as my grandmother would have said.
For me, the blame lies with the people writing for him. Character development went onto the back-burner: what was irritating during The Eleventh Hour became an infuriating pattern over succeeding stories. Something random is "cool". The Doctor clatters, yatters and is generally a bit embarrassing - that bloke you don't want to be stuck with at the bus stop. At the denouement, he delivers a grand handwringing declamation to conquer an otherwise implacable foe. The wit, the mischief, the problem-solving intellectual brilliance all disappeared.
So, off and on, did this member of the audience.
I'm a big Second Doctor fan: I love a bit of bumbling. The difference is that, while Troughton retained an air of menace behind his clowning, Smith, for me, never did.
I don't think it was any lack of imagination; more a lack of effort, a readiness to take the easy way out, win a cheap laugh. It left me admiring some stories without ever becoming engaged. If you don't care about the characters, why care about the plot?
I returned for the 50 anniversary and fell in love with the War Doctor. I looked at the casting of the Twelfth Doctor and thought, yes, okay: I can see that. This is promising. So I came back.
And so did my Doctor.
He's a proper alien. He doesn't get the small niceties of human interaction. He says what he thinks, and if it doesn't always add up, if it seems random or disjointed to his audience, that's because the Time Lord mind works differently. Some people might take umbrage at the "Planet of the pudding brains!" complaint, but I loved it. Ditto the willingness to tell anyone - Strax, the unfortunate tramp, that passing coachman - to shut up. Right from "Shush!" Peter Capaldi was my Doctor in a way none of his modern-era predecessors fully managed. By the time the opening titles rolled, I was happy.
Jenna Coleman is another actor poorly served by writers in her early episodes (I came back for her arrival hoping a new dynamic might encourage more character development - disappointment again!). I liked Clara in spite of myself - a tribute to Jenna, because she wasn't actually given a character to play with. She screamed "plot device" right into The Day of the Doctor, and not until Deep Breath does she begin to show the outlines of an honest, flawed, believable woman.
The plot is secondary here, but it holds: it's good to see the out-of-control droids up to their tricks; there are genuine moments of body-horror (the eyeballs are particularly gruesome), and even the supporting cast are well used. Perhaps I'd have liked the Paternoster gang better in another era?
Oooh, a lesbian kiss! Oooh, interspecies marriage! Oooh, a comedy Sontaran!
Actually, no. Vastra's crew are acceptable as a diversion, and they serve a purpose in allowing Clara to vent the preconceptions of one particular section of the audience, but I wouldn't want them back.
As ever with the BBC, the backdrop is gorgeously realised. I'm a sucker for a good historical piece, so you won't find me wailing about another trip to Victorian London, and the script is witty, self-referential and very neatly paced.
Highlights for me: the post-regeneration mania ("You've got a dinosaur too!" still makes me hoot); Vastra's lecture on the arrogance of youth; the Doctor's ferocious encounter with the tramp, and his independently cross eyebrows; Clara's fragile courage having been apparently abandoned; "I am not a control freak!" "Yes, ma'am!"; the Doctor's awful moment of realisation confronting the oft-replaced "broom", so perfectly framed in a shiny silver platter.
And the restaurant scene. Minutes of two people sitting talking that never allows your attention to slide. Comical, touching and revealing all at once, and played on both sides to absolute perfection.
I've been watching this show for far too long to ever believe that the Doctor had actually abandoned his friend to her fate, and did he really push the control node to its death? We're led toward thinking that, but - no. One of them lied about basic programming, and my money would be on the droid every time.
The only small off-note was struck by the widely-leaked cameo, but, given my earlier disclaimer, that's hardly surprising. Perhaps it helped some youngsters - those lucky souls without lines on their faces or grey hairs - to accept that the Doctor is different now. I can't fault the playing of it: Matt Smith played Matt Smith's Doctor, Capaldi and Coleman hit every subtle mood-change. Personally, I found it unnecessary, but for what it was, it didn't grate too horrendously.
And then there's Missy. Mad as a tree of snakes. Familiar with the Doctor, and what was it Clara said about a woman in a shop? There's one connection I made straight off. In context, I imagine I was supposed to.
In conclusion: I love Deep Breath. It marks my return to being a proper, full-time Doctor Who fan instead of one of those grumpy souls who watches only to mutter disgustedly that "it's not what it used to be". It gives me a Doctor I adore and a companion who (despite wanting to shake the shallow little madam at times) I can identify as a real, fallible, courageous human being. It has lots of Moffat's cleverness without his "fall-back" laziness.
And it's blooming good fun to boot.
The beginning of a great era by Marcelo Carvalho 18/4/18
I must say I'm not a big fan of Matt Smith's years in Doctor Who and have criticized Steven Moffat a lot. So it was a big surprise to realize how much I loved the Capaldi years. I don't know if it was because of Capaldi, who is a much better actor and Doctor than Smith, or the companions or Moffat, who stopped writing overcomplicated plots and reseting the universe over and over again. Capaldi's debut already shows how Doctor Who would get better during the next three series.
Introducing a new Doctor is something very complicated. In most cases, these aren't great episodes, and the best thing about them is the new portrayal of the Time Lord, with two major exceptions: the amazing Spearhead from Space and the great The Eleventh Hour. Deep Breath certainly places closer to those two than to Time and the Rani and The Twin Dilemma. Even with some flaws, there is some great stuff here.
Its greatest strengh are in the two leads. Peter Capaldi starts off very well, and we can see how different from the previous incarnation he is going to be. The Twelfth Doctor is harsh and arrogant, and two moments stand out: the talk with the hobo about his face and the final confrontation with the Half-Face Man. Capaldi already displays his talents here. He is truly angry and sad when the dinosaur is killed, and I love his reaction when he realizes the Half-Face Man didn't send the message in the paper ("I hate being wrong in public"). He doesn't remember who he was and, in a way, feels like the Half-Face Man: is there something of his original self inside him? This Doctor is having a big moral crisis that is going to be one of the major themes this series. This may not be Capaldi's most memorable performance, and the Doctor in this episode is very different from the one in his last story, but he certainly made a very good impression on the me.
Unlike in the last series, Clara is great in this story. Her reaction to the regeneration is the one that feels more real among the companions who have been through this situation. She wants him to change back and is feeling confused towards the new Doctor. There is the brilliant and tense moment when she faces the robots and Jenna Coleman gives an amazing performance. Their final scene together, in a nice reference to The End of the World, is very sweet, and both of them show the loveble side of the characters.
However, there are some flaws. The episode is just too long, and the first half seems like a series of sketches at Vastra's house. We all like to have some episodes longer than the usual 45-minutes, but there must be a good reason to do so, and here many of this minutes are lost just to show Strax throwing the newspaper at Clara's face. Strax, Vastra and Jenny continue to be dull characters, and their only good moment is the talk between Vastra and Clara. Actually, they simply aren't likeable enough for me to care about them.
Deep Breath isn't brilliant and alternates between some good and bad moments, especially in its first half. But when it gets going, some wonderful things happen. It is a good beginning for Capaldi and sets the tone this year of the show would have.
"Give him hell, he'll always need it" by Thomas Cookson 25/12/18
From the moment Capaldi was announced the next Doctor, many heralded him the great white hope. Right from his cameo in Day, he raised excitement. Amidst that garbled, flat mash-up of past Doctor clips having to convey the soaring urgency to save Gallifrey, the single shot of Capaldi's furious, determined eyes finally conveyed the scene's needed emotion.
In Christmas 2014, he finally appeared in the flesh, virtually sneezing himself into existence. There was no youthful, excitable joy de vie at being newly born. No charm offensive. Just an angry old man's vexation and confusion. Baffled at his surroundings and at Clara.
Resembling a Classic Doctor born into the new show, completely alienated and estranged from its tarty modern conventions. His casting suggested a bold move away from cynical teen girl demographic marketing. Moffat's interviews hinted Capaldi would recreate Tom Baker's more volatile, capricious Season 15 characterization.
Then the months until August dragged, and I felt a nasty aftertaste over Moffat again standing us up this long. Waiting for next season may sharpen the appetite and anticipation, but too much waiting breeds apathy. Split seasons and deferred revelations added up to exhausted viewer patience and a year's worth of Matt Smith's contract squandered.
So many postponed and/or split seasons had the effect of killing the show's excitement and momentum. Perhaps the BBC couldn't afford making Doctor Who yearly, hence these money-saving hiatuses, or Moffat struggles to juggle Who and Sherlock concurrently. I hoped this prolonged hiatus was being used to rethink and improve the show. With Capaldi's Doctor representing all-change, there seemed real imperative to do so.
Matt's era too often overused timey-wimey to resolve stories consequence-free, if at all. It became the default means of saving the day in ways it shouldn't have been allowed to. There was also Moffat's cumbersome, convoluted River and War Doctor retcons, throwing spanners in the works, making the show regress rather than move forward, and compromising the current Doctor and companions' development.
Hopefully we'd said goodbye to all that in Time of the Doctor's bonfire purge to Matt's era. Perhaps Moffat should've left there. But it seemed if he was staying on, it could only be because he genuinely had some fresh inspiration and plans for Capaldi up his sleeve. After the show's renewed anniversary popularity, perhaps a change at the top would've been disastrous. Perhaps Capaldi's debut needed a steady, experienced hand that knew how to make this work in ways few other candidates could.
Deep Breath held together solidly enough with a first-time wow factor. But that impact gives way to certain unavoidable glaring issues on reconsideration. Opening with a dinosaur rampaging in Victorian London's Thames Embankment. Vastra's gang arrive as it spits out the TARDIS, and out emerges a sour-looking Clara and amnesiac Doctor.
The dinosaur proves merely superficial trailer fodder to give the TARDIS a visually dramatic entrance. Barely featuring long before being exploded without consequence to the plot. It'd be one thing were it a prelude to more anachronistic time displacements bringing humans and animals from history in some villainous scheme. But alas no.
It epitomises Moffat's false advertising. When Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone was billed as Blink times ten, that's what Moffat delivered. But from Let's Kill Hitler onwards, Moffat's writing seemed to not merely fail to deliver but deliberately lose the delivery in the post, hoping the addressee forgot their order.
Months after Name of the Doctor's cliffhanger, we learn what John Hurt did 'without choice' actually never happened. Indicative of Moffat drumming up false publicity for something he ultimately proves disinterested in.
The main substance of Deep Breath is Clara struggling to accept Capaldi's new Doctor. Vastra dons the veil to lecture and scold Clara into accepting Capaldi in easily the dumbest scene. Many correctly identified how mean-spirited this felt in using Vastra to pre-emptively accuse fangirls of being shallow and narrow-minded if they don't accept Capaldi.
There's the troubling sense that Moffat's forgotten his audience and forgotten all about Clara diving through the Doctor's timestream, meeting his prior selves, tending compassionately to the elderly Hurt Doctor, seeing to the soul of him. It makes no sense Clara of all companions not accepting Capaldi, suggesting Moffat hasn't thought through this script and is just padding it out with implausibilities. Not just completely underestimating his audience, but profoundly losing connection with them.
Jenna Coleman fortunately plays against this, as someone more struggling with an older relative's senility. The first time Clara's dealt with the Doctor's mental illness. Coleman nails the alienation of finding it exhaustingly futile emotionally connecting with him. Anger at the rejection and mental separation. The frustrating workload of helping him re-understand the basics. Fearing he's forgotten her. She conveys the idea of Clara suffering a sudden new workload with him that's been leading only to futility and kicks to the teeth.
Unfortunately, this rather dates badly in repeat viewings and resembles the contrived padding it is. We instinctively know this padding rings untrue, because of how jarring Moffat's character misjudgment is. We're just unsure whether he's taking us for mugs or literally doesn't understand his own character anymore (a by-product of taking too many creative hiatuses).
Is the problem that it's wrong to do this difficult adjustment story with Clara because of what she's seen and experienced beforehand? Or is this actually a perfectly natural, traditional thing to do here and the mistake was Moffat actually doing a story like Name of the Doctor that makes Clara too powerful and omnipotent beforehand?
Vastra's sermon suggests the New Who Doctors' flirty, pop-culture referencing shtick was always an act to endear himself to us, and now the veil's lifted. Suggesting Moffat's frustration at nearly everything about New Who's prior conventions. So there was hope this meant a new clean slate where we can just get on with the show as it was originally intended to continue. Picking up where Talons left off.
It at least felt this false schism was resolved at the end, and we could trust things would now continue smoothly and happily. But not so. Sadly the runtime could've been better spent on deductions to hunt down the robot organ collector. Unfortunately, Moffat seems to think that mystery threading is beneath him, because his Doctor could solve it in an instant based off one clue.
So he pads it out instead and the answer falls squarely into Capaldi's lap by a tease arrangement by Missy. There's none of the satisfying investigation methods that tax our hero's intellect and show their growth like Manhunter or Silence of the Lambs did.
Clara's umbrage at being called an 'egomaniac needy gameplayer' was amusing. But I couldn't help wonder how little Moffat's understands Clara, given her many selfless moments the year prior. After fan complaints about Clara's apparently weak, one-dimensional characterisation in Series 7, Moffat promised Series 8's Clara would develop and flourish, like Sarah Jane did under Hinchcliffe. But Moffat needed a character to grasp with Clara. Matt's Doctor rather petulantly described her as 'bossy' in Nightmare in Silver, without recognising any nuance to her concerned nature. So Moffat decided to retro-engineer Clara's character entirely from Smith's manchild perception as a monstrous, unyielding bullying tyrant who'll go any extremes to control others to conform to her solipsistic self-righteous world-view.
Capaldi, reading Missy's message, perfectly deduces and describes this season's villainess. But both Clara and he thought he was describing the person opposite. Because that characterization matches nearly all Moffat's lead characters now. Which tells you everything about Moffat's narrow character vision. Naturally, fans excuse his female characters being smart-arsed, sassy carbon copies of each other, because it allows guessing whether those similarities mean Missy's plausibly another incarnation of River, Clara or the Rani.
It seemed silly Moffat belatedly making a big deal about who gave Clara the Doctor's number in Bells, having neglected it prior. I'd assumed it was River or a random member of the public the future Doctor instructed to. It seemed whatever spurious big revelation Moffat planned, it wouldn't be one he'd thought through. That Missy only existed in response to leftover mystery fodder, as someone Moffat had to quickly contrive, rather than someone always at the arc's heart.
The robots' underground lair is genuinely frightening, with a haunting melancholy air and poignancy to these cadaver remnants of what were once people with souls. After the usual Paternoster gang runaround shtick, here the show felt it had gone somewhere different and new entirely, with no going back.
Coleman's performance is amazing as she holds her breath and dares the android's threats. Her flashbacks to classroom torment was beautiful. Merging real life and the show's fantasy, and trumping RTD's gratuitous, repetitious soap domestics. Showing even our worst, cruellest life experiences can be valuable and enlightening in ways we didn't then realize.
There's a sustained intensity where no outcome's certain, for first time since Flesh and Stone's forest scene. We see Clara believably scared, whilst at the same time inspiringly strong within the beast's belly. It's breathtaking and real.
Until (sigh!), the Paternoster gang break in by Clara's summoning. Undermining everything we'd already witnessed. If Clara could've called back-up all along, why bother holding her breath, enduring threats and tears that long? Demonstrating she wasn't in a hopeless predicament, rendering her courage at having nothing to lose ingenuine. Also Capaldi taunting Clara for proving herself a hysterical control freak during her ordeal was horribly tacky and sociopathic.
I initially came away satisfied at Capaldi living up to our hopes for a more angry, stern Doctor uninterested in jokes/flirting, marking a sharp break from the past. The humour strengthened by how intensely straight Capaldi plays it. The problem is, Capaldi's actually off to a bad start because he still has no definable, formed character here. Like Castrovalva, it bodes ill, suggesting a characterization built on sand. Having Capaldi question whether he's a good man, suggests even Moffat's become confused about who the character is after erasing his Time War backstory.
Yes there's Capaldi's manic existential treatise on whether he's the same broom anymore, jokes about his eyebrows declaring Scottish independence. But it's ultimately mumbo jumbo. I get what it's trying for. One idea I liked from The Twin Dilemma was Colin being a completely alien, different personality to his other selves, with drastic changes in his moral code. That we might have to change the way we see and judge his morality, and our own.
Deep Breath seems intended less to build a new character, as build suspect ambiguity. Particularly when Capaldi abandons Clara without even a screwdriver. The problem is this ultimately doesn't sustain the season. Colin's incarnation still retained the crusading Doctor's inner steel and force of will. Capaldi doesn't.
His only wilful act is threatening to throw the android to his death. Billed as a daring moment, suggesting his darker nature and willingness to cross lines his predecessors wouldn't. But really it does no such thing. He has every moral imperative to destroy the android. The term 'murder' doesn't apply when killing a robot in justifiable necessity to save his friends.
But it felt like Capaldi's successful transformation from desperate, amnesiac wreck, to a true inheritor of the Doctor's history and beliefs, whilst understanding himself differently and prepared to adopt more ruthless methods. Again this'll prove false advertising.
Clara's hug doesn't really clarify any of this, it just contradicts it. The whole episode's told us this Doctor's a completely different man, then finally tells us he's not after all. I could've done without Matt's goodbye call too. Capaldi should've been allowed to make an impression alone without being so soon undermined by his predecessor.
It made Smith's final moments feel less final. Overly asserting a time-travel predeterminism, removing any real spontaneity or sense that anything could happen, that the Doctor's actions might go wrong. Everything's seemingly resolved neatly in advance, pre-set to turn out right, taking away the danger. By going back and forth on events, Moffat's diminishing the inherent suspense of the here and now.