With “Deep Breath”, the Series 8 premiere of Doctor Who, the Twelfth Doctor’s tenure officially begins. Peter Capaldi steps up as the show’s new leading man, who previously portrayed a one-off character named Cacelius in “The Fires Of Pompeii“. This isn’t the first time Doctor Who has decided to reuse an actor who was previously hired for a minor role, making them a series regular (this was also the case for Freema Agyeman and Karen Gillan). And notably, the show decides to acknowledge this casting decision in-universe, which sets up a Chekov’s gun that won’t be fired for a season and a half until “The Girl Who Died”. Unlike the Ninth Doctor’s introductory story, “Rose“, or the Eleventh Doctor’s debut, “The Eleventh Hour“, “Deep Breath” isn’t a fresh start for the show with a slate that’s been wiped clean. It’s more like the Moffat era equivalent of “The Christmas Invasion“: a direct continuation of the story that came before it.
“Deep Breath” sets up a bold new direction for Doctor Who to travel in for the rest of Series 8 (namely the Doctor’s significant change in personality, and his previous dynamic with his best friend Clara Oswald being flipped on its head), but this episode also serves as an epilogue to Series 7B – a fairly short but very important period in the show, where a lot of big status quo changes happened. “Deep Breath” is the last time the Paternoster gang makes an appearance, it’s the last time Clara is called the Impossible Girl (which is a shame really, because it’s such a cool nickname), and it’s the last time we’ll ever see Matt Smith’s Doctor. All in all, “Deep Breath” is a pretty solid introductory story for the Twelfth Doctor, but it does have one major flaw: the pacing. Like “Voyage Of The Damned” and “The Day Of The Doctor“, “Deep Breath” is nearly eighty minutes long, and unlike those other two stories, the plot of this episode is not quite meaty enough or complex enough to warrant having a runtime that long – so the first half can definitely drag in places from all the comedic scenes between Clara and the Paternoster gang.
Fresh out of the siege of Trenzalore, where he spent the last nine-hundred years fighting a never-ending war against many of his enemies, the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is a complete and total wreck in “Deep Breath” (and to be honest, Clara’s not doing so hot herself either). When we rejoin him again in this episode, the Doctor’s high off his backside on regeneration energy (with all his internal organs still cooking), so he barely knows where he is and he has no idea what he’s doing half the time. At one point, he runs loose in London, terrorizing some homeless guy who’s forced to have a one-sided conversation with him about how familiar his face is. Some of his erratic behavior can be chalked up to the fact that we’re seeing leftover flashes of the Eleventh Doctor’s personality surfacing from time to time, as Twelve’s new brain cells slowly start to settle (this was also the case for Eleven occasionally mimicking his predecessor in his debut episode). It’s not until the second half of this story that Twelve’s personality starts to settle into what he’ll normally be like.
To put it simply, the Twelfth Doctor is a mad Scotsman who doesn’t suffer fools lightly. He likes to cut right to the chase during a conversation with people, so he doesn’t waste valuable time, which means he can be brusque, rude, and impatient. While the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors were both very extroverted and outgoing guys, the Twelfth Doctor is a more of an antisocial introvert, like Nine. He’s not really interested in making new friends, since he’s already content with Clara: he just wants to get in, solve a good mystery, beat the bad guys, and move right along week after week. He can be very cynical and world-weary a lot of the time, which becomes increasingly clear the longer we know him, but he does have a more thoughtful side. The Twelfth Doctor can be quite the philosopher, who can offer up some beautiful insight about all the things he’s seen in the world, and all the things he hasn’t seen, when he feels like sharing it with his friends (which is an aspect of his personality that will be highlighted a lot more in Series 9 and 10).
Twelve has a very pragmatic personality, and he will not pass up a good advantage over his enemies when it presents itself, even if he has to gain it through underhanded means. Like Eleven, Twelve can be very sneaky and ruthless, and he usually tends to be even more upfront about that part of himself than his immediate predecessor. During the climax, the Doctor decides to betray Clara’s trust by locking her inside a room with a monster, because he decided it would be a good way to get some information out of the villain of the week, letting her think she had been abandoned for several minutes. He stays with her in secret the whole time of course, to back her up (in addition to the back-up she already brought with her), but the fact remains that he did not get her onboard with this little plan of his before he sprung it on her – which was a major dick move on his part. This won’t be the last time Twelve does something like this in Series 8: he’s a massive troll, and he has habit of pushing Clara past her personal boundaries, until she finally gets fed up with it in “Kill The Moon”.
And of course, the highlight of “Deep Breath” is the Doctor’s personal, one-on-one talk with the Half-Face Man. The Doctor sees a bit of himself in the Half-Face Man – a creature who’s been renewing himself again and again for millions of years, until there’s very little of his original self left – and that seems to unsettle him, but he still uses the link between them to appeal to the villain’s pessimism. After the siege of Trenzalore, the Doctor is now almost twice as old as he was before, and he’s really starting to feel his advanced age (which is implied to be part of the reason why he regenerated into an older body this time around). Twelve has a lot of mixed feelings about his exceptionally long life: there are times when he wishes he could just stop and find peace, like every other living thing does eventually, but his life can never stop, because there will be always be more people who need him. Those feelings will gradually be explored over the next three seasons and eventually come to a head in his regeneration story, “Twice Upon A Time”. In the meantime, the way his showdown with the Half-Face Man ends is deliciously dark and left ambiguous to the audience. The Doctor either killed him to save his friends, or he convinced him to kill himself – and neither one of those outcomes are very pretty.
Clara Oswald’s (Jenna Coleman) personal journey in “Deep Breath” primarily deals with the emotional fallout of the previous episode, “The Time Of The Doctor“. Unlike Rose Tyler when she was in her shoes in Series 2, Clara already knew a lot about regeneration ahead of time, and she’s been given a lot of preparation for something like this happening. She dove into the Doctor’s timestream and saw all of his previous faces in “The Name Of The Doctor“; and she even met Ten and War and had an adventure with them in “The Day Of The Doctor”. But despite that, she still has a difficult time dealing with the change, because she got very attached to the Doctor’s previous self. Clara serves as an audience surrogate in this episode (like the companions often do), and she’s basically traveling down the same path as the viewers at home: she has to see if she can accept that the new Doctor is still the same man she loved.
After the incredibly traumatic experience Clara had in the last episode, she’s basically shut down and gone into denial about what’s happening by the start of “Deep Breath”. She’s only just started to accept that she likes the Doctor as more than just a friend, and now his personality has been given a major overhaul, which would throw anyone off. But on a more unpleasant note, it’s also suggested that part of the reason why Clara’s feathers are so ruffled is because the Doctor no longer looks young and pretty on the outside, even though he was already a thousand years old when she met him. Clara was a pretty nice character in Series 7, and while she’s still very heroic in Series 8, this season emphasizes her personality flaws more often, because it has a lot more room to do so compared to Series 7B (where she was only with the Doctor for half a season). Which means we’ll see her make mistakes more often, and she won’t always be shown in the most flattering light. Clara feels very insulted when Vastra accuses her of being shallow, but even after this scene, she keeps harping on about how old and grey the Doctor looks now – so if you ask me, Vastra was a bit more on the money than Clara would like to admit.
Despite her attempts to keep an open mind and accept the new Doctor, Clara steadily loses faith in him, especially when he seems to betray her in the villain’s lair. During the climax, she has to hold her breath for several minutes, to try to evade some killer robots, until she passes out. Afterwards, when she’s held captive by the droids and threatened with death, Clara decides to use what she’s learned from the Doctor, and what she’s learned as a teacher from dealing with bratty, unruly kids, to try to outwit her interrogator. For a few moments, she manages to turn the tables on the Half-Face Man, even though she’s scared out of her mind the whole time. This harrowing experience of thinking like the Doctor, while also digging deep into her own grit, sets the stage for Clara’s new storyline in Series 8. She was already a pretty competent and capable companion in Series 7, even if she was a bit green, and she usually came through when the Doctor needed her. In Series 8 however, Clara is given a character arc that’s a lot like Martha’s, where she’ll start to become more independent and learn to stand on her own two feet more without the Doctor’s help.
After the Half-Face Man and his clockwork droids have been defeated, Clara still has her reservations about Twelve, and she’s not sure if she really wants to keep traveling with him for the foreseeable future. Until she receives a phone call from the Eleventh Doctor on Trenzalore, who urges her to accept his next incarnation and gives her that extra bit of closure that she needs, since she’s been grieving the loss of her Doctor for this entire episode. Once she sees how much Twelve craves her acceptance, how much he cares about their bond, and how much he feels the sting of her rejection, she decides he is indeed her Doctor at his core and she accepts him wholeheartedly. In the wake of the last episode, the Doctor and Clara also acknowledge the ship-tease moments that had been building between them throughout the latter half of Series 7, and they mutually agree that they’re better off as friends. Things have changed irrevocably between them after the siege of Trenzalore, and whether or not that change is for the better of for the worse remains to be seen. For now though, they’re officially putting an end to all the flirting – though their ship isn’t quite dead yet, as we’ll see in later episodes, when a good old-fashioned love triangle starts to form between Clara, the Doctor and Mr. Pink.
The Paternoster Gang make their final appearance to date in “Deep Breath”: Madam Vastra, the veiled detective, Jenny Flint, her human partner, and Commander Strax, their Sontaran footman / weapons expert. Since this episode basically acts as a bridge between the Matt Smith era and the Peter Capaldi era of the show, it makes sense to bring back fan-favorite characters like these three (who are already familiar with the process of regeneration) to help ease the transition for the audience. And if “Deep Breath” really is the last time we’re ever going to see them, this story is a good showcase for their skills and personalities. Vastra’s knowledge of prehistoric times, her sharp deductive-reasoning skills, and her lethal efficiency as a warrior all come in handy throughout the hour. In particular, it’s very satisfying to see her call out Clara for being superficial, because Vastra knows better than anyone – as a lizard woman living in a world full of humans – how quick people are to judge and shun things they don’t understand.
Jenny’s loyalty towards her wife and her friends, her accepting, open-minded nature, and her fiery, outspoken personality are all allowed to shine as well, whenever she gets to offer her perspective on things. Since this is their last appearance, I’m glad Vastra and Jenny (our mixed species power couple) were given a kissing scene onscreen, like every other straight couple we’ve seen on Doctor Who over years. And as for the violent-minded third member of their party, Strax’s in-depth medical knowledge, his straightforward attitude where he’s always bluntly honest about everything, and his innate bloodlust are all on display, as usual. Clara and Strax actually share some of the funniest scenes in this episode, including one where she tells him to send her the morning newspaper and he throws it right in her face. During the climax, when Clara and the trio are fighting off the Half-Face Man’s minions, we also see that Strax’s loyalty towards his friends runs deep. When he realizes he can’t hold his breath for much longer, and his body is going to betray him, Strax is fully prepared to shoot himself, to stop himself from putting the others at risk.
After the end of the last episode, the TARDIS crash-landed in the Jurassic era, and when it jumped ahead to Victorian London, it brought a dinosaur back with it by accident. Before the Doctor can do anything about that problem, the dinosaur is killed by the villain of this episode, the Half-Face Man, which quickly puts the Doctor on his trail. The Paternoster Gang aren’t the only returning figures in this episode: for “Deep Breath”, Moffat decides to bring back more of the clockwork droids from “The Girl In The Fireplace” – robots from the future who kill humans and incorporate their body parts into their technology, because they’re coldly logical creatures who lack any real sort of empathy to realize how obscene and contradictory their actions are. There’s a running gag throughout the episode that the Doctor almost but never quite manages to remember where he’s seen their modus operandi before – it’s been over a thousand years since “The Girl In The Fireplace” for him, and he’s starting to forget the details of things that happened during the RTD era (which is actually quite sad when you think about it).
The Half-Face Man, the leader of the droids, serves as a villainous foil to the Twelfth Doctor. He crash-landed on earth during the age of the dinosaurs, and he’s been laying low ever since – constantly repairing himself, constantly changing himself inside and out until there’s very little of his old self left. He’s millions of years old now and he’s tired of his existence, but he can’t bring himself to put an end to it all, because that would go against his programming. So he’s in search of the promised land: a mythical perfect place where he can finally find some rest. The Doctor, of course, doesn’t believe in such a thing, he thinks it’s just a fairy tale, a human superstition that he managed to pick up over the years. The question of whether there’s life after death is probably humanity’s oldest and greatest mystery, and it will play a vital role in Series 8’s story arc. After the Half-Face Man is killed, he meets a strange woman who claims to be in charge of running the afterlife. Back in “The Bells Of Saint John“, a mysterious woman gave Clara the Doctor’s phone number so they would meet. In this episode, that same woman puts them on the Half-Face Man’s trail, so they would stay together after the Doctor’s regeneration. That woman is Missy (Michelle Gomez), our main villainess for Series 8, and we’ll be seeing a lot more of her as the Capaldi era progresses.
Ben Wheatley steps up to helm “Deep Breath”, and he does a fine job of directing this story with style and flair. Standout scenes include Clara’s failed attempt to hold her breath for several minutes, where the camera work grows increasingly blurry and disoriented to match her level of strength, and the action-filled climax, which frequently cuts back and forth between a fast scene and a slow scene without either of them losing their sense of momentum. The dinosaur that the Doctor and Clara bring with them to Victorian London has to be one of the most impressively detailed CGI creations that the show’s special effects team has pulled off far, alongside the monstrous Half-Face Man. His actor, Peter Ferdinando, wore a silicone prosthetic across the right side of his face during this episode’s production, while a robotic, full-body cast was also crafted by the show’s prop department. CGI artists combined the two physical elements in post-production, creating the unsettling illusion of a man with a hollowed-out skull.
A brand new Doctor means a lot of brand new material in Murray Gold’s score, as his musical style for the show is given another soft reset in “Deep Breath”. He composes a brand new arrangement of the Doctor Who theme song for Series 8 (this one is a lot more funky and techno than the other versions he’s written before), and threads a persistent ticking motif through tracks like “Concussed“, “Pudding Brains” and “Breath“. The Twelfth Doctor’s personal theme, “A Good Man?“, is a fusion between a traditional orchestra and an electronic synthesizer, like the kind you would often get in the RTD era. It’s initially slow, simmering and enigmatic, before it comes rumbling out of the gate with plenty of grit and determination, creating one of the most triumphant themes we’ve had for the Doctor so far in NuWho. “A Good Man?” makes it very apparent that even if the Doctor is played by an older actor now, he still has plenty of fire in his belly, and it’s expanded upon even further in tracks like “Hello Hello” and “A Drink First“. “Beginning Of The End” and “Snow Over Trenzalore” are brought back from the previous episode, for an extra bit of closure to the Trenzalore storyline in the quiet coda of this episode,
It takes “Deep Breath” a while to gain a lot of momentum, but as a whole, this episode was a pretty satisfying season opener that sets up a lot of good storylines that will pay off throughout Series 8, with our new lead duo of the Twelfth Doctor and Clara Oswald.
* “I remember you. You’re Handles. You used to be a little robot head, and now you’ve really let yourself go!”
* “So you’ve got a whole room for not being awake in. But what’s the point? You’re just missing the room!”
* “You sound the same. It’s spreading! You all sound all English! You’ve all developed a fault!”
* “The Doctor is still missing, but he will always come looking for his box. By bringing it here, he will be lured from the dangers of London to this place of safety, where we will melt him with acid“.
* “Ah, Ms. Clara. You look better now that you’re up” “Thank you, Strax” “Oh, sorry. Trick of the light. You still look terrible” Hot damn.
* “Deflected narcissism. Traces of passive aggressive. And a lot of muscular young men doing sport” “What are you looking at?” “Your subconscious. Is that sport? It could be sport”.
* “You must stop worrying about him, my boy. By now, he’s almost certainly had his throat cut by the violent poor”.
* “I don’t like it! Your face!” “Well, I don’t like it either. It’s alright until the eyebrows, then it just goes haywire! Look at the eyebrows. They’re attack eyebrows! You could take bottle tops off with these!”
* “Oh, that’s good! I’m Scottish! I can complain about things. I can really complain about things now!” Amy Pond approves.
* “What devilry is this, sir?” “I don’t know, but I probably blame the English”.
* “Clara, what is happening right now in this restaurant to you and me is more important than your egomania” “Nothing is more important than my egomania!“
* “You’ve got to admire their efficiency” “Is it okay if I don’t?”
* “Hello?! Hello, are you the manager?! I demand to speak to the manager!” The Doctor channeling his inner Karen.
* “Oh, it’s at times like these I miss Amy” “Who?” “Nothing”.
* “You’re not a murderer” “He’s not a what?! This is a slaughterhouse!” “And how does that make it different from any other restaurant? You weren’t vegetarian the last time I checked”.
* “I’ve got the horrible feeling I’m going to have to kill you. I thought you might appreciate a drink first. I know I would”.
* “Don’t worry, my boy, we shall die in glory!” “Okay. Good-o”.
* “Why won’t you stay dead, you coward?!“
* “It is beautiful” “No, it isn’t, it’s just far away. Everything looks too small. I prefer it down there. Everything is huge, everything is so important. Every detail, every moment, every life clung to”.
* “You realize, of course, one of us is lying about our basic programming” “…Yes” “And I think we both know who it is”.
* “I don’t think that I’m a hugging person now” “I’m not sure you get a vote”.