Thu
Aug 14 2014 10:30am

Peter Capaldi is the Doctor and You Should Be Worried. Doctor Who: “Deep Breath”

Doctor Who Deep Breath Peter Capaldi

By the end of “Deep Breath,” Peter Capaldi’s debut episode as the Doctor, you’re not going to know how to feel about the Doctor anymore. But that’s alright. Sort of. Because neither does he.

Capaldi’s casting as the Doctor made waves when it was announced in August 2013. The actor is a known quantity, utterly unafraid of depicting the rough edges of humanity, and a simultaneously inspired and insane choice for such a beloved character as the Doctor. As viewers we have become accustomed to the frivolity of Matt Smith and David Tennant, and the emergence of Capaldi in the role hinted at a dramatic shift away from Doctor Who’s lighter tone. Perhaps too much of a dramatic shift?

A housekeeping note: This is a non-spoiler review of the episode. Although it has debuted on the Doctor Who World Tour this past week the episode won’t screen at large until August 23. There will be few, if any, plot or twist details below.

Really, the big question that “Deep Breath” has to tackle, like any post-regeneration debut, is determining who this new Doctor is and whether that Doctor is interesting or appealing enough to follow.

Steven Moffat does post-regeneration stories well. “The Eleventh Hour” was a charming madcap introduction to Matt Smith that paid homage to Tennant’s reign while shifting the tone, and “Deep Breath” accomplishes a similar shift from the charm of Matt Smith to the, well, alarm of Peter Capaldi. “Deep Breath” does more than portray a shift in Doctors, however. The debut episode presides over a shift in tone and speed for the entire show. Doctor Who is changing, has changed, and by the end of “Deep Breath” is not a show you’ll recognize as Doctor Who.

This is deliberate. The episode puts the entirety of its effort into making this transition work and takes its time exploring the various ways that Capaldi’s Doctor will and will not appeal to us, his companions, and his enemies. Comparisons to the Doctor’s previous lives begin to show up everywhere as Capaldi’s Doctor begins to pull himself together, and the more they do the greater the contrast becomes between what came before and what we’ve gotten into now.

This culminates in a heart-aching moment near the end of the episode, where it becomes clear just how far away Matt Smith’s Doctor is now. Capaldi’s Doctor is, perhaps more than any other regeneration before him, a new Doctor. Throughout the entire episode you keep waiting for Capaldi to remember who he was, or to stop resisting the urge to be charming and Matt Smith-esque. And that never happens. The Doctor is a new man, and you have to accept who he is now.

Perhaps for the first time in her tenure as companion, Clara is our representative through this struggle. Jenna Coleman gets more to play with in “Deep Breath” than she has in all the rest of her episodes combined, and it’s honestly a relief to have someone to experience Capaldi’s Doctor with. You’re not going crazy, this is all really weird and kind of upsetting, and Clara’s there to confront it with you.

And there’s a lot to confront, really. This regeneration has severely rattled the Doctor and he is more alien and distant than ever before. So much so that even by the end of the episode you are not convinced that he knows who he is, what he’s doing, or even what he wants to do. The assurance that has defined the Doctor for years now is gone. He can still make the hard decisions, he even sort of dares you to let him make the hard decisions, but he doesn’t let on why he’s making them, not even to himself.

Capaldi plays this marvelously. He’s present and vibrant in every single one of his scenes but somehow still distant, as if he’s been shattered into a thousand pieces and he has to check every single dark corner just in case there’s a piece of him there... He’s not someone you want to cross. He’s not really someone you want to pay attention to you, even. (Unless you’re a dinosaur. He’s got an enormous soft spot for dinosaurs.) Capaldi’s Doctor is interesting, and not because he loves scribbling weird things in chalk, or hates doors and his eyebrows, but because he’s still as charismatic as ever. And that’s the one thing that remains the same about the Doctor. That’s what’s going to keep you hooked into watching this Doctor slip and stomp across time and space. He’s completely different, dangerous, and fascinating.

And he’s not done. By the end of the episode it becomes clear that this season of Doctor Who is going to be about both Clara and the Doctor finding their way back to...the Doctor. There are bound to be some infuriating and dramatic stumbles towards that along the way, and in that sense we may be in for the most interesting season of the show yet. This is a Doctor that you can put into a familiar situation and not know what the outcome will be. And that’s very exciting.

It should be noted that the difference in Capaldi’s Doctor is reflected in the show itself. “Deep Breath” is an apt title for his debut episode, as it takes its time to let scenes play out, to let characters interact outside of panicked plot situations. The show is slower as a result, but gains far more depth than it has ever demonstrated. An excellent balance is struck and I found myself wishing we had gotten this pace from Matt Smith’s episodes, really. His Doctor always zipped through a room, Capaldi’s stays put and forces all eyes onto him. The show is more substantial now.

While Doctor Who has largely nailed the shift in tone between Smith and Capaldi, and made Clara a real character, there are still some false moments. Everything you dislike about Moffat’s writing is in “Deep Breath,” unfortunately. Repetition of ideas, repetition of phrases to instill horror, stupid jokes about gender, needless insults about gender, etc. But we can get into those once the episode is officially here.

So. Peter Capaldi is the Doctor now and you should be worried. And fascinated. And hooked into the show in a way you possibly haven’t been in a long time. I’m really glad this season is going to air unbroken. It’s going to be an interesting ride.


Chris Lough is the programming manager at Tor.com and writes about things occasionally and occasionally a lot.

16 comments
Walker White
1. Walker
Capaldi’s Doctor is, perhaps more than any other regeneration before him, a newDoctor.
Really? More than the difference between 5 and 6? Is that even possible?
Chris Lough
2. TorChris
It's VERY reminscent of the regeneration between 5 and 6, but it's hard to take 6's first episode seriously since he doesn't even feel like the Doctor for some of it. Deep Breath doesn't go for shock value, it invests its time making sure there's a continuity between him and Matt Smith, so it feels, I thought, more real than the switch between 5 and 6. (But others might see it differently, hence the perhaps!)
Todzzgod
4. Todzzgod
Aint watching it no matter what anyone says. This was a bad choice. He will ride on the coat tails of the past 3 Docs for awhile but in the end he will end up being a "one year wonder" and they will have to find someone who actually has some charisma.
Todzzgod
5. Bookwench41
What's going to be interesting to me is separating Peter Capaldi's Dr Who persona from his devious Cardinal Richelieu character on "Musketeers".
Todzzgod
6. Max Gardner
As someone who started out as a die-hard Moffat fan and has recently grown increasingly dissatisfied with his run on the series, I'm cautiously optimistic about Capaldi's arrival. I'm hoping for a slower, more deliberate, more grounded show now that there's an older, less manic actor in the lead. I'll believe it after a few episodes, though -- Moffat said he was going to change things before, but over the course of the last half-season the show basically did a 180 on all of those changes after a brief but good run of classic-style filler.

I'm particularly looking forward to the first couple of episodes with Ben Wheatley directing. I'm going to just make a wild guess that they won't be quite as insane as A Field In England.
Rob Munnelly
7. RobMRobM
I don't watch Dr. Who at all (sorry) but am loving Capaldi's three dimensional villain (more or less) in Musketeers so I hope all turns out well.
Chris Lough
8. TorChris
RobM, I'm really curious what someone new to the show would think about Capaldi's first episode. I'm too steeped in the lore to tell if it would make a good jumping-on point but I suspect it might...
Deana Whitney
9. Braid_Tug
Well, The Doctor did have several centuries sitting in the TARDIS protecting Christmas to go thought a personality shift. We just didn't get to see most of that time.

So it makes since that his new re-generation is going to be different.
Todzzgod
10. Dr. Cox
@5, I remember him as the female impersonator Vera in an early episode of Prime Suspect :). And from a couple of episodes of Vicar of Dibley, as well as an earlier Who episode.
One thing fun about British tv is spotting actors from show to show to show . . . first pic of Matt Smith I saw after he was cast as Eleven, I thought "Oh, the guy from The Ruby in the Smoke" and, remembering the bowtie-wearing physical science teacher from my undergrad days, "A young Dr. Joe!" (Dr. Joe is what everybody called him, instead of using his last name with his title :p).
Mike R
11. Redlander
#8

Hello, Non-Whovian here (but would like to be).

I'm planning on trying to jump into the show with the new Doctor. I've tried before in the past, but oddly enough, the Doctor character has been my least favorite aspect of the show. I welcome the change.
Alan Brown
12. AlanBrown
Alan Brown
13. AlanBrown
I am liking what I am hearing. Things got just a bit too manic, and a bit too plot drive (as opposed to character driven) during the last season, and I thought the Christmas special was probably the weakest one in years. So a new direction is welcome.
And the episode has dinosaurs, which is always a good sign.
Chris Nash
14. CNash
I first saw Capaldi in Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere", playing the Angel, Islington. Superb performance.
jen howell
15. jencat
I feel like the voice of doom and gloom, but this is honestly the first time I've been utterly unmoved by a post-regeneration episode. I had my doubts about Matt Smith, and Eleventh Hour totally won me over. David Tennant got a freaking Lion King quote while wearing pajamas in his intro episode.

Peter Capaldi... doesn't.

This time I kind of just sat there fidgeting most of the way through the screening, because Peter Capaldi is playing the Doctor as.. Peter Capaldi. Literally, he said that about four times in the Q&A afterwards. Had I wanted to watch a show about Peter Capaldi, then yep, that would have been *awesome*. As it is, he's already in loads of other things on British TV and does absolutely nothing for me, so.. guess I'll just switch off until the next regeneration then?

I didn't really find it more substantial either - more Moffatt trying to inject meaning where there isn't the background to support it. It's painfully daft at points, deliberately repetitive and really, truly needs to stop strip-mining bits from past successful episodes to try and lend heft to new ideas that are not up to carrying an entire episode themselves (the last series was one long retcon, and things haven't improved).

Two weeks after seeing it, all I remember that Strax has some nice one-liners, and there's one really unusual monologue involving the dinosaur where the writing takes off, but that's literally a minute out of an 80 minute episode.

Meh. I loved the 50th anniversary special; hated the last Christmas episode. The quality control is all over the place as per usual, I'm just not sure I really want to watch Peter Capaldi be daft on a weekly basis for the next couple of months (and make no mistake, this show is still as unrelentingly silly as it has ever been. You saw that dinosaur, right?)
Todzzgod
16. Will Willows
Been Who-ing around since 1968 and am sorry to see a reversion to the Old Doctor. Truly enjoyed the younger Doctors. Always a Tom Baker fan and the new Doctors were more Bakerish than this current version who is more Pertwee, which I think is what they were going for. Capaldi is a capable actor, but better as a villain, as in Musketeers.
Todzzgod
17. Here Lies the Doctor
I am truly saddened. I absolutely loved the chaos and constant unexpected turns of David Tennant as Doctor who. He brought heart, determination, anger and love to this character. His stories upheld the iconic "Legend of the Doctor." I had a difficult time adjusting to Matt Smith but once he found his story with Amy and Rory it took off to new fun and ridiculous places. The Pond stories were wonderful and hopeful and again brought a new version of bravery to one man taking on the universe for what he could only hope was the good of all living things. Then came Peter Capaldi. I can respect he is a good actor but it is an unwelcome shift for me. I loved the theme of when you are with the Doctor you are always running. With Eccelson, Tennant, and Smith it was always fast paced and ready for more that would keep you on the edge of your seat. Now this aged depressed doctor does not even like himself or the face chosen for him. How could we as fans possibly love this new doctor as well. The newest episode Deep Breath's only greatness came from cameos of returning cast. I deeply loved the story of a 700 - 900 year old young man saving everything good. Now we have a depressed older man ready to slow down the show and take a season or two for the fans of pure drama. I am sad to say I have watched the first episode of season 8 and I have zero desire to see any more episodes as long as this Capaldi story moves forward. I give respect to him as an actor, but he is not my doctor. I welcome his transformation for someone with more energy and ability to better connect with his companion. I want to see passion and fire in his eyes, not depression and hopelessness. For the love of god give us a woman doctor or at least a redhead if you want to mix it up but keep the aged drama in the original series where it belongs. There's a reason I have no desire to watch the original series. Farewell my old favorite show.

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