It is always with a sense of trepidation that I await the arrival of a new series of Doctor Who. I cannot say I’m the biggest supporter of Steven Moffat’s vision of Who, and I tire of his apparent lack of direction as producer. But this time I was feeling a little more hopeful since a new Doctor was on the horizon, a Doctor played by an older gentleman once more. Not to say anything against either David Tennant or Matt Smith, since I have liked both of them in various different ways, but after last year’s output and eight years of young men in the role, it’s about time we had someone older play the part to shift the dynamics of the show and broaden the canvas once more.
Peter Capaldi does this in spades. There is much to like in Deep Breath, and there is a much to dislike. Unfortunately, for me, the dislike outweighs the like. Peter Capaldi is in the former category – he is like a (deep) breath of fresh air. From the moment he steps out of the TARDIS his presence dominates every scene, be it talking to a tramp or talking to a dinosaur, Capaldi excels. He brings a darker edge to the character, an anger that is mixed with a unique brand of charm. I can see him fast becoming one of my favourite Doctors.
Alas, that’s pretty much the best I can say about Deep Breath. The story itself was obvious, hampered by an over reliance on familiar elements in a misguided attempt to put viewers who came to the show since 2005 at ease. Capaldi, like Smith and Tennant, deserved an introductory story that was not bogged down in continuity, but one that simply relied on wiping the slate clean and setting up the new Doctor. Moffat proved he could do that with The Eleventh Hour, so why he decided to play it so safe with Capaldi is beyond me. Let the audience be unsure for a while, let them have their doubts, and let Capaldi win them over on his own merits. There was also too much attention drawn on the Doctor now looking old, even though Capaldi is no older than William Hartnell when he originated the role in 1963. It’s almost insulting the amount of references made to the Doctor’s (and by extension Capaldi) physical age. Certainly fifty-one years ago it may have seemed old, but this is 2014 and fifty-six is not that old at all. Beyond the age, there are the usual examples of Moffat contradicting previous episodes, something he’s done for the previous three episodes (all of which were written by Moffat himself), not least in the characterisation of Clara, a companion who seems to have no consistency in the way she is written. We are also once more treated to another appearance by the Paternoster Gang, who were fun as a one-off, but with each appearance their credibility is being stretched. Are we honestly supposed to accept that both Strax and Vastra are merely regarded as people with disfigurations in the 19th Century? Even in contemporary times that would be a stretch, since they are quite obviously not human, but over a hundred years ago? Fortunately, Strax continues to be a brilliantly comic character and lifts every scene he is in, it’s just such a shame that they continue to make a joke of the inter-species relationship between Jenny and Vastra (the latter of whom eats people!).
One other thing I did love, and that’s the new title sequence and theme tune. I love the departure from the time tunnel effect in the title sequence, love the clock motif, and the new arrangement of the theme perfectly fits it. Top marks there.
Having watched this episode in the cinema, I at least have a positive experience to remember. It’s always fun to watch Doctor Who with over a hundred other fans (not that I do so regularly, of course), as there is a lot of laughs to be had by all the in-jokes within the script. And there were plenty of those in Deep Breath. Alas, jokes and spectacle are not enough to hide what is at best a very mediocre script full of the most absurd instances of ‘suspension of belief’ ever witnessed in Who.
Still. Peter Capaldi is pretty damn good, and will become an amazing Doctor once he finds his hook.