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Review: ‘Deep Breath’ (Doctor Who Series 8 Episode 1)

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August 28, 2014

'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first episode of Doctor Who since the Doctor regenerated in the 2013 Christmas Special. Photo courtesy of BBC AMERICA.

'Deep Breath' is a refreshing episode from start to finish, and proves that it can be enjoyed by newcomers and longtime fans alike.



Where do I start with this one? I could talk about the clever use of misdirection throughout the episode, or even the weirdly broken relationship between the Doctor and his companion, Clara, but the best place to start would probably be the first encounter with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. That is, after all, the first taste of how much the Doctor has changed since we last saw him.

Like past regenerations, our first experience with the new Doctor is quite confusing. It’s not very often that the main character turns into a new actor, and it’s even a stranger circumstance for the Doctor to age so drastically. Rather than ignoring the obvious age gap between Matt Smith and Capaldi, Steven Moffat and company use the change to leave the impression that the Doctor is some crazed elderly man.

While this idea is played with later on in the episode, Capaldi proves that he’s not all that different and his age has a refreshing impact on his performance, as his character quickly abandons his companion – along with any ideas of romanticism.

While other iterations of the Doctor character have spent time in the first episode flirting with the companion, Capaldi’s Doctor shows that his main focus is on the events occurring around him. His abandonment of Clara is also the first glimpse of a trend of darkness throughout the episode, and a sign that Capaldi has been serious in his promise that he’s the right man for the job.

Fans have been asking for a ‘darker’ storyline for a while now, and Capaldi’s focus with the press has supported that idea. Capaldi’s first episode proves that he is a man of his word, and at one point the Doctor convinces an enemy to end his own life and stop the destruction.

The sequence proves that the Doctor is going through some intense changes, but not enough to completely change his character. The Doctor is still focused on his established values of never ending a life, but also interested in exploring new ways to hold others accountable for their actions.

Capaldi’s performance slightly resembles the performance of John Hurt’s War Doctor from the 50th anniversary, as he combines the seriousness of the surroundings with a hint of humor. The Doctor proves this early into the episode, as he decides the window is a better way to exit a multi-story building instead of the front door.

What stands out the most about the episode and what I find the most interesting is how focused Deep Breath is on Capaldi as the Doctor. When comparing this episode to the Eleventh Hour, Matt Smith’s introduction to the role of the Doctor appears to have been overshadowed by Amy’s introduction as the companion.

Because this episode uses an existing companion, it feels reminiscent of David Tennant’s introduction as the Tenth Doctor. This makes the episode feel a lot less overwhelming, because the audience isn’t torn between two new faces.

Capaldi isn’t the only focus of the episode and Deep Breath introduces a new face that has a unique, and incredibly strange, fixation with the Doctor. After the unnamed villain jumps to his death, he awakens in “heaven” and is introduced to a black dressed woman who claims to be the Doctor’s ‘girlfriend.’

We know this is impossible, as Smith’s Eleventh Doctor was romantically involved with Alex Kingston’s character, River Song. But the woman believes she is a perfect match for the Doctor and insinuates that she plays an important role in his future.

The TARDIS also gains a makeover in series eight, and the Doctor uses this as an attempt to separate himself from his past, while also questioning the person he has become. This is true to the point that the Doctor even mentions that he feels the TARDIS is missing the “round things” on the walls.

Aside from the physical changes in the episode, I also noticed the new musical themes that Murray Gold has embedded into the series. For quite some time, Doctor Who’s storylines have been emphasized by emotional themes, and the addition of several new melodies is refreshing, and I am hopeful that it means the audience will be taken to a range of new scenarios in upcoming episodes.

Overall, the episode is certainly a lot to take in. New villains, a more mature Doctor, remixed opening credits and a darker approach to Doctor Who are just some of the things that you’ll find in the new episode. I look forward to new adventures as a passenger through time and space with Peter Capaldi.


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