It’s been over a year since we found out that Peter Capaldi was going to be the new Doctor. A WHOLE BLOODY YEAR. Of course, he’s been in the show in the meantime – his eyebrows make a cameo in the fantastic The Day of the Doctor, and the entirety of his personage (new kidneys and all) turn up in the not-so fantastic The Time of the Doctor. But still, the announcement show happened in this very month in 2013. I know this because the Doctor Who Facebook page has been very vocal about it. Still, promotions aside, Deep Breath hasn’t quite filled me with the anticipation I’ve known in previous years. I wasn’t a fan of series seven, and I actively disliked the Christmas special. The Day of the Doctor was a glimmer of hope for a show I had once obsessed with, but the memory of that hasn’t been enough to make me jump for joy at the idea of a new series. Still, I was happy about the casting of Peter Capaldi, and there is still a part of me that believes the show has something more to give.
On discovering that the episode and the Q and A from London were going to be streaming into our nearest World of Cine – although actually the slightly fancier branch of this world next door to the mega multiplex – we immediately committed to going. Seeing The Day of the Doctor there back in November had been a nerdy treat, and as I’m not one to pass up this particular cinema’s spring rolls lightly (seriously, if you’re ever in Cheltenham and want a stupidly classy cinema trip, The Screening Rooms is the place to be), it seemed like a good opportunity.
Seeing Doctor Who in the cinema still seems a little odd. The Day of the Doctor was pretty cinematic as episodes go anyway, with the Gallifreyan art plot point working well with the 3D glasses (there’s a sentence I don’t often say). Deep Breath seems to have been another episode on this larger scale – well, it opens with a dinosaur rampaging across London (and not a small dinosaur either, as is pointed out). While this CG doesn’t necessarily hold up quite so well on a larger screen, the episode itself suited the medium wonderfully. Its grimy, horror-tinged Victorian London looked fantastic on the big screen, and the creepy monstrosity of the half-faced man was particularly effective in the darkened screening room. In fact I was so affected by this man that the only time I looked at my watch because I was so scared by him, and I wanted to know if the scene was likely to end soon. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like that about Doctor Who.
Another welcome shift in tone came from the changing role of the female protagonists. I know this is something I bring up a lot (I’m a young woman, and these issues of representation really are important to me), but Doctor Who hasn’t recently been hugely supportive of interesting, independent, female characters. However, the relationship between Jenny and Vastra, always present before but usually addressed rather coyly before, became addressed far more openly than previously. But the real point I have to make is about Clara. I know the imbalance between the Doctor and Clara is partly due to the show’s set up – no-one, of whatever gender, will really compare to the Doctor – but one of the major problems with series seven was that Clara didn’t appear to be her own character, and was instead ‘born to save the Doctor’. Deep Breath, however, gave Jenna Coleman the opportunity to demonstrate some wonderful acting skills – the early argument with Vastra and the tense, terrifying close-up of her eyes being a joy to see. This episode was heralded as a huge entrance for Peter Capaldi, but this episode is as much Jenna Coleman’s as it is his.
Capaldi, perhaps unsurprisingly, was a delight. From his entrance (“Shhh!”) to his final scene of the episode, he held my attention throughout and I was entirely invested in his portrayal. Although previous Doctors from NuWho (the only Who with which I’m really familiar) have had a slightly darker, angrier tinge to them on occasion, Twelve – and I’ll stick with that numbering system – has an edge to him that seems new. The scene between him and the tramp had a more cruel, darker tone than I remember from previous Doctors, and was all the more interesting for that. Then again, I’m overjoyed that this scene also involved a monologue about his eyebrows (which incidentally are spectacular). I’m especially happy with one of the later exchanges between him and Clara, in which he tells her that he’s “not [her] boyfriend” – but isn’t reminding her for her sake. It’s a nice moment that tells the audience about the changing dynamic but in a way that seems totally like the character.
My only concern – if it can be called a concern at this early stage – is that going forward won’t necessarily continue some of the themes that the episode addressed. Personally, I feel as if the references to previous episodes (both in terms of action and characters) were too brazenly played-upon to not become relevant later. I’ve had a lot of concerns about unresolved story arcs in the past, but I’m glad that some of them seem to be coming back into play. The reference to Clara and the Doctor’s first encounter in The Bells of Saint John, for example, irritated me at the time but thankfully it’s being referenced again! I just hope something’s made of all of this. Of course, an argument could be made for the merits of it all hanging in the air – but that’s just not something I as a viewer enjoy.
Overall, Deep Breath really surprised me. Its darkness has left me in fear of nightmares. Its levity has left me fondly remembering previous episodes I’ve loved. Its characters have left me hopeful for a story going forward. All in all, I feel as if I’m back to a level of enthusiasm I wasn’t really anticipating when I went into the screening – and I’m really happy about that.
Just to finish this off, though, here’s a picture of the Doctor Who cupcakes I made the day before in celebration/boredom/hunger. Their only connection to the show being their branded casing (I was a sucker for that Lakeland merchandising opportunity).