Introductions can be incredibly difficult. This is probably because they are arguably the most important aspect to any sort of work containing one, more important than the actual content that follows. This is because the amount of things an introduction has to do, create a first impression, establish and tease the content which is to follow, and grab the attention of your audience to persuade them to stay with you for the rest of the journey. Good introductions are vital. Have a bad introduction, and you lose the attention of your audience, and everything which follows suddenly lacks value.
Introductions in Doctor Who are especially difficult. Most TV shows will only introduce their lead cast to the audience once, meaning when you get past the difficult introduction stage, it’s done, you probably won’t have to think about it again. Doctor Who, which is a show about change, you’re not only introducing these characters, but you’re having to persuade the audience that these characters that these characters are just as good and interesting as the previous ones. This is something I feel Deep Breath addresses both directly and indirectly.
In a lot of ways, Deep Breath is a transition piece between the Matt Smith era and the Capaldi one. This is through explicit references, such as the use of the Paternoster Gang, and even an appearance from Smith himself, but also in the way Twelve acts and is written. Is it a smooth transition? I’d say no myself, I do think it’s clear where the Matt Smith reflection ends, and the Capaldi era truly starts.
For example, while not constant, there are a couple of moments, the scene on the roof especially, where I was almost watching a Matt Smith caricature. The use of language like “sexy”, the flapping the arms about, it’s almost like an imitation. In my opinion, it doesn’t really work. Capaldi and Smith are both very good comic actors, but, they’re both very different comic actors. The slapstick stuff is Matt’s strength, and while Capaldi doesn’t give a bad performance, I don’t think he’s at his best here either.
Capaldi really comes into his own when he starts to be his own character, somewhere between a third and halfway through to the episode. I do personally think the episode shifts here, both in tone and in quality. Gone are the silly gags, comedy sound effects, and even the Paternoster Gang disappear for a while after a bit. The introduction to the Capaldi era, for myself believe, begins at Mancini’s restaurant. And it’s there where the episode stops being, in my opinion, an imitation of the era that came before it and becomes the Capaldi era.
The scene in the restaurant, and everything pretty much after it, is absolutely fantastic. It basically contains everything which I love about the Capaldi era, in 30 minutes of television. The superb relationship between 12 and Clara is introduced, and within one scene shows itself as one of the most enjoyable and interesting, but also quite complex,Doctor/Companion relationships already, which is impressive. Peter and Jenna both tease as well that they will become the two best actors to ever play these roles, and both have an excellent screen presence and are thoroughly enjoyable to watch.
I’d like to talk about Clara here. I have seen on the internet a couple of criticisms of Clara’s characterization in this one. The main one being how unnatural her reaction is to the changing face of the Doctor, despite all she’s seen before. Personally, I disagree, in fact I think that was the exact point Moffat was trying to make. That just because you know why something happens doesn’t mean you have to accept it. A theme also touched upon in the finale. Clara also gets teased here as the Doctor’s equal, something she starts to become throughout S8 and 9. While not explicit yet, if you were to add it up, she probably has a very similar amount of screen time to Peter Capaldi, and the story is equally about her reaction to the new Doctor to the new Doctor himself.
Speaking of which, he’s brilliant already. When he gets into his stride, and stops being a Matt Smith caricature, he really becomes interesting, and is unsurprising, that he is the best thing about this episode. Even without mentioning Capaldi’s phenomenal performance, which is excellent, particularly towards the end, the character is very interesting to watch and introduces some of the traits that do make this incarnation very interesting. The things he’s capable of when he’s angry, but also his bewilderment about himself and how others see him, are all touched upon marvelously.
One thing which is very prominent in this story is humour. I find it very hit and miss myself, which is a shame, as we have 5 very good and very different comic actors here, but oh well. When it works, it does work marvelously, the restaurant scene being noticeable and having me in stitches. Some of the stuff with the Paternoster Gang is pretty good, Strax hitting Clara in the face is something which does admittedly make me crack a smile, but some of the innuendo and sillier gags don’t work for me personally.
I also find the pacing of the first third quite slow, though this does improve as the story gets along and becomes a good old “classic Moffat” adventure. It’s something which does remind me of the stuff he did in the RTD era at times, even without the reference to The Girl In The Fireplace.
The direction is also excellent, with Ben Wheatley using some really interesting shots, and the cinematography is excellent. I’ve never been able to gather why they aired this one on the big screen, and now I do, because it looks frankly incredible. Gold’s music is really good too, and the last scene is really sweet.
Overall: I think Deep Breath, while not perfect, is a good hint at the things to follow in the Capaldi era. It does take a while to start, but when it gets going, it more or less sums up why I love the show in the first place.
Previous Score: 6
New Score: 8. Probably one of the lower 8s, but I do think that the excellence of the latter part of the story is so good that i can forgive it for the former, and it’s unfair to mark down the latter because of this.