Clara must help the Doctor find himself, as a half-faced man terrorises Victorian London…
Let’s get this out of the way straightaway: Peter Capaldi looks as if he’s going to be one of the best Doctors we’ve had. From the pre-credits sequence, which felt a bit as if he was channelling Sylvester McCoy’s initial performance in Time and the Rani, to the moment when he almost begged Clara to see him for who he was, he owned every scene he was in and while there were elements about the episode which could have been foreshortened, we could definitely have done with more of him.
Deep Breath was a very different sort of story to The Eleventh Hour, which was rebooting the show almost from scratch. This had a feel of Tom Baker’s debut to it – many of the situations from the previous Doctor’s regime were still present and correct, but the man at the heart of it wasn’t the same… not just as before, but even from minute to minute. The shock as he left Clara to fend for herself in the villains’ lair was palpable in the audience with whom I watched it – hissed comments of “the Doctor wouldn’t do that” were audible – and there was enough of a query over his behaviour that you weren’t one hundred percent sure that when she reached her hand back for his that it would definitely be there.
It was good to see the Paternoster Gang back in action (and for those who saw it in the cinema, there was a very different take on the Doctor’s regenerative cycle provided by Strax as a lead-up to the story) but hopefully we won’t have too many such tales – they’re becoming just a little too one-note. While having Clara stay with them to help would have been interesting (not least for the opportunity for problems caused by those involved with The Snowmen seeing someone they were sure was dead), give them a spin-off, or give them a rest!
Jenna Coleman was one of the episode’s major strengths, from her scenes with Madam Vastra and Jenny to her interaction with Capaldi. The final phone call from Matt’s Doctor was unexpected (yes, I have kept clear of spoilers, although I gather this was pretty common knowledge) and the alteration in her attitude was credible. In an episode all about seeing beneath the veil (or even beyond it, if the description of Michelle Gomez’s character Missy is accurate), Coleman was given much of the heavy lifting in terms of putting that across.
And as for Capaldi, we have a Doctor who’s unpredictable, who admits he’s made mistakes (and one of them clearly was leading Clara on, at least in his own eyes), and who can be selfish. His Scottishness made for some good gags but, as with Chris Eccleston’s northernness, hopefully that will just be part of the personality, rather than something that has to be pointed out regularly. He was more comic than perhaps the trailers had led us to believe he would be – the scene between Clara and the Doctor in the restaurant was the sort of level I hope remains – but a Doctor who needs a drink to calm himself before dealing with the villain? That’s a different sort of Time Lord altogether.
Inevitably, some things weren’t as strong: it did feel from time to time as if we were lurching from plot point to plot point, although the deus (dea?) ex machina of the advertisement is obviously going to be one of the threads of the season. The scene with the tramp was great (and lovely to see Brian Miller return to the show), but perhaps could have been trimmed. Kudos to Ben Wheatley for some stunning shots, and providing the cinematic scope that the episode required – the CG shots looked terrific on the big screen, while some of the close-ups, particularly during the eponymous Deep Breaths, were disquieting in the extreme.
The new title sequence was a great change – and all credit to Billy Hanshaw for the original version – although I’m not at all sure about the latest version of the theme music. Hopefully it’ll grow on me!
Verdict: A strong start, with much more about Capaldi’s incarnation clearly still left to be discovered. 8/10