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Review: ‘Doctor Who’ Season 8 Episode 1, ‘Deep Breath,’ Doesn’t Let Peter Capaldi Exhale

Review: 'Doctor Who' Season 8 Episode 1, 'Deep Breath,' Doesn't Let Peter Capaldi Exhale

Peter Capaldi makes his eagerly-awaited debut as the Twelfth Doctor in an episode about… Um… Organ harvesting robots? Spontaneous combustion? The importance of being able to hold your breath for a long time? The dinosaur was a MacGuffin, of course, but aside from an Italian restaurant full of automata and some genuinely unnerving scenes involving body parts, "Deep Breath" felt a bit cobbled together.

The whole thing felt like a tacit acknowledgement that we’re not watching for the plot, we’re just waiting to find out what kind of man this new Doctor is. Sadly, we’re not given a chance to find out. Compared to the gleeful mania of Matt Smith in "The Eleventh Hour," or David Tennant’s self-examination in "The Christmas Invasion," this introduction was a damp squib. He’s Scottish, he’s grumpy and he doesn’t like karaoke or mimes. It’s hardly fish fingers and custard.

Capaldi’s Doctor is supposed to be dark and menacing, and his first episode should play to his strengths.  Instead his introduction is high-octane, full of robots and explosions and quips. He should bestride the screen like a Colossus, not dash about trying desperately to prove he’s still an action hero.  It’s one of the few shows where casting a middle-aged white man opposite a twenty-something woman is seen as a rash decision, and Moffat’s script spends most of the episode alternately apologizing and lambasting the audience for liking the geeky-hot pretty boys who have come before.

READ MORE: What To Do When Your Best Friend Becomes a New Man: A ‘Doctor Who’ Advice Column for Clara

While Capaldi stumbles around performing his best King Lear audition, Clara is struggling to come to terms with the fact that her best friend is a) suddenly old and b) rambling like a lunatic. Jenna Louise Coleman has suffered from inconsistent writing since taking over for Karen Gillan’s Amy Pond, but she brings a spiky warmth to the part that keeps the audience rooting for someone who is essentially more of a plot device than a character.

"Deep Breath" allows her to shine — she is brave, wise-cracking, resourceful and loyal even in the face of serious doubt, and delivers a stirring speech about people underestimating her.  But she really should have been giving it to Stephen Moffat, whose misogyny is at its worst here. The Doctor sees Clara as a control freak and Strax the Sontaran butler examines her subconscious to find that it’s full of "deflective narcissism, traces of passive-aggression and a lot of muscular young men doing sport." Given that this is an episode where Clara really shows her mettle, it’s a staggeringly unfair criticism even if it is coming from a psychopathically violent alien butler shaped like a lumpy potato.

However, it was really Madame Vastra’s episode — and the Paternoster Gang’s appearances are starting to feel more and more like a backdoor pilot for a spin-off. Neve Mcintosh has a wonderfully mobile face, even beneath several inches of scaly green prosthetics, but her upstaging Capaldi, a fellow Scot, doesn’t bode well for the rest of the season.

The final nail in the coffin is an unexpected Matt Smith cameo – just as Clara is about to walk out of the TARDIS for good, the Eleventh Doctor calls her, mid-regeneration, to make sure she takes care of his future self. It’s clearly supposed to be a sweet moment, but it undermines the whole premise of the episode. The wonderful thing about a new Doctor is that moment when you realize you’ve put your doubt aside and you’re ready to follow him into space and time. If he can’t convince you that he’s the real deal, then why should we care? Capaldi is an excellent actor, but despite Moffat’s fanboy-ish excitement over the casting, the script doesn’t quite have the same confidence.

Also disappointingly underwhelming is Michelle Gomez, who pops up at the end as the Big Bad of the season. These two giants of Scottish acting were so grossly underused that if Scotland were to vote on independence tomorrow, it would be divorced from England by tea-time. References to the Doctor as her "boyfriend" suggests she’s either being set up as another River Song or is simply delusional and obsessed with him, neither of which are particularly appealing motivations for a villain (unless you’re the Master).

The plot is patchy, the new credits are horrible and the lead actor seems to get less screen time than everyone else. As a mid-season filler, "Deep Breath" could have been an enjoyable romp – as an introduction to a new Doctor, it fails horribly. At least it showcases the talents of one of Scotland’s best-kept secrets, giving a wry, witty performance in what should be a break-out role — even if she is buried under several layers of lizard make-up.

Grade: C+

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Comments

Frank

Sorry, but the new who doctors previous to this one were not pretty boys. They were gangly and odd. But your other points are on the money. This whole episode was self indulgent "now the Doctor is an older guy" drivel.

Stephen

This was a very disappointing intro, an opportunity missed. Capaldi was supercilious, the plot was poor, and the writing weak. I hope things improve for episode 2.

Justin

Anyone who wants to know what "Heaven" is, it is the Shill Governor’s Mansion from Shallana (check out "The Girl Who Waited" from Season 6. Seriously, it is EXACTLY the same garden.

tsopmocful

I hope that Capaldi as The Doctor improves. I was looking forward to his interpretation. But the first episode seemed to display the same problems all of the recent series show. The science fiction and historical elements are now just peripheral, or superficial props. It now seems that Dr Who is now a fantasy for young adolescent girls. Part soap opera, part the movie ‘Labyrinth’, the mentality seems firmly lodged in some overly arty ‘cirque de soleil’ aesthetic, with the focus on romantic entanglements between the Doctor and human women, despite being different species. Add this to silly clockwork dolls and lesbian dinosaur women, it makes you wonder what happened to the Doctor who used good basic science to solve problems, and how the hell did he change into an emotionally confused Harry Potter character?

jaylee

I like many joined the fan base with the introduction of David Tennant,with young children at time who enjoyed watching him,we grew to like matt and were sad at his departure. These characters were fun,quirky and there youth held an appeal for a younger audience who became hooked onto the Dr who phenomenon. I watch capaldi performance with a heavy heart and won’t be watching any more…. grumpy and dark isn’t what I watch Dr who for…..Mr moffat you will lose many young viewers and their parents due to this.

Leonard Clark

I am a big fan, I started watching when Baker became the Doctor, the first episode with this new Doctor is more than just disappointing, it was way too busy, the Doctor, wandered around the episode like a man with mental health issues, other Doctors sometimes need to adjust after their regeneration, this was to the extreme, hopefully the next episode will be better, but since they lowered the bar so much it shouldn’t be hard.

Ed

I’m an Old Who and New Who fan, but that doesn’t mean I should suspend my critical thinking just because I’m one. The episode had its moments, but it was overall a poorly written and edited episode that the actors, good as they are, could not save. As "brilliant" as a J.J. Abrams lens flare, and just as annoying. I agree that it’s time for Moffat to take permanent vacations from writing and Put Nick Briggs in charge of New Who.

Ed

This "horrible" article happens to be factual, and I thank the writer for his candor. Moffat was definitely off his meds in this one. I hope this is just a fluke, and not a sign of more disjointed things to come.

jeb

Did we watch the same show? I loved it. Capaldi was great. Clara got some needed depth. The little gang in London made me laugh. And I can’t wait for next Saturday.

Tam

I thought it was brilliant. Although I love 10 and 11’s first episodes it is so refreshing to see a first episode that isn’t "we have to do this before the world ends" and instead they trusted Peter enough to have an actual story. I thought Peter was brilliant as well as the episode. It was a well crafted story that showed the Doctor will no longer be acting like a boy and choosing to ignore the past. Instead he will finally be the Doctor again. Moffat delivered, plain and simple.

Emily

I rate this article F-

Will

I agree with everything that was said here. I am actually depressed.

Sarah

Finally, a review that mirrors my own reaction precisely. I was charmed by Eleven in spite of my series mourning for Ten. But in this episode I could barely understand what was happening and I felt that the badly written scene between Vastra and Clara should have been cut.

mike

Tennent spend his first episode finding himself? …..he spend 75% of the episode passed out in a bed….Your review just seems like complaining for the sake of complaint.

Chris

I strongly disagree. Capaldi gave a powerful performance, different from all the others – in a good way.

Emma

I personally thought that it was an excellent season opener, especially if you’re going to try and hook up some NuWho fans which are clearly biased with young and good-looking Doctors, Tenth and Eleventh.

Clara had more depth here than any episode she appeared in. Madame Vastra and the gang gave humour for the darkness of the episode, as the Doctor itself struggled with post-regeneration symptoms. I don’t know about the rest, but Capaldi’s Doctor is such a breather. I do say, plot-wise it was terrible, but I think it wanted to focus more on introducing an old, gray-haired man as the Doctor and I’m more than fine with that.

paul

Sadly my response was the same as Alan’s – I just had to leave. The plot was bizarre and the humour embarrassing. I really wanted to love the new season and was looking forward to the new Doctor I suppose being a long time fan (watching as a kid in the 1960’s)I may be over critical. I wish this show well and if others don’t feel the same that’s great because I’d hate a universe with no Dr Who.

Alex

This reviewer is clearly unaware of the staggering responsibilities now placed on the writing team to sustain a fan-base of over 50 years. The negativity evidenced here is misplaced, unconstructive, and seems designed to illicit responses such as this. Don’t lambast like an irascible malcontent; look to the emerging strengths of a stunning opening episode.

David Castell

This is a general post to silence the naysayers. Lotza people are complaining about why Clara is struggling with the new Doctor despite having met them all. ​Well, to answer that, Clara has died onscreen before twice. Once as a Dalek and once in The Snowmen.

The Clara who’s traveling with the Doctor right now cannot recall being a Dalek or being a nanny in The Snowmen.

Each version of Clara is an individual. That’s what I’ve noticed from the series. Cuz the current Clara has no recollection of her former lives.

It is fair to conclude, then that the current Clara would have no recollection of meeting all the previous Doctors.

This is scifi, more importantly, this is Doctor Who. I’ve watched it since the day I was born. Even when I was 10, I always felt the companions were just there to ask questions. Be thankful that the underrated Steven Moffat is actually giving the companions depth and scope.

People just want everything, don’t they?

And Peter Capaldi was mesmerizing.

Everyone keeps complaining about the mediocrity of the general story for this episode. That’s just silly. Is it any worse than The Eleventh Hour, The Christmas Invasion or any other introductory new Doctor episode? The overarching story has never been the focus and quite right, too. The focus is on getting the audience familiar with the new Doctor. And in this episode, perhaps more than ever, this is extremely important. Why? We’ve spend nearly a decade with David Tennant and Matt Smith. Both of these actors were very young, dashing versions of The Doctor. Now, all of a sudden, the new Doctor is older than any other actor to take the role including William Hartnell. (Do your research, people. He is indeed slightly older than Hartnell was when he took the role).

So: Cut the Moff some slack. He has excelled at bringing controversial darkness of almost Valeyard proportions to the new Doctor.

What a risk!? And he pulled it off splendidly.

Stop criticizing without proper research. Capaldi has been a whovian for perhaps 10 years longer than I’ve been one.

Focus on the intention of this episode. Steven Moffat took a tremendous risk in casting such an old actor.

Can you honestly fault the way it was handled?

Moreover, please stop criticizing the Matt Smith cameo. That was inserted into this episode for us!

To make us accept that The Doctor is extremely old and that Capaldi should not be chastised on account of his age.

Steven Moffat realizes that Doctor Who has become a worldwide phenomenon in recent years.

I mean, answer this: what other television show has ever had a cinematic broadcast of an episode?

Please think about that. Moffat accomplished this with resounding success for the fiftieth and he’s done it again for Capaldi’s debut.

This is a television landmark.

So… Stop complaining. Right? Yes Moffat has had a few missteps along the way. But in all honesty? If he’s got episodes he personally penned hitting cinemas across the globe? I think it’s time to give him some well deserved credit.

Comment if you agree or disagree.

Alan

I got thru 20 mins then got up to go and do something – anything. DW has tested me in the past, but never a full foot walkout.
Think we’re done.

Al

I really wish people would buy a dictionary and actually look up what "misogyny" means.

Doctor Freedom

I am well known for what I think of Steven Moffat and this episode was BRILLIANT!

Marilyn Smiley

I also agree completely. This was not a good way to introduce a doctor. Seemed like they were trying to shove him down our throats instead of enticing us to like him. I was surprised to hear he was 56, he looks at least 76.

phantlers

"two giants of Scottish acting" hmm, apart from The Thick Of It, not sure what Capaldi has done of note. His role as Malcolm Tucker has been somewhat career defining and he is almost typecast by it. Peter Mullan, now there’s a giant of Scottish cinema and he would make a marvelously menacing Doctor, not that I am really a fan of the post Russel T Davies abomination of the series.

Joe

I don’t feel qualified to comment on this as I just became a Doctor Who fan earlier this year (I’m kicking myself for waiting so long to watch) anyways this review gets on my nerves. Why does this episode have to fit the way you think a doctor should be introduced. You obviously didn’t watch with an open mind. New doctor, new rules. Also I was thinking that maybe this will need to be rewatched after the season for all your disappointments to be answered.
And one other thing, this review sounds almost identical to one I read one another website.

George W

So tired of reading all of this harsh, nonsensical criticism from these awful, awful journalists. Between this and the shit smearing they’re doing over at the Daily Mail I’m reminded of WHY I don’t read reviews. They don’t reflect the opinions of the viewers, just one sad person charged with finding the faults in a piece of art written by someone else. In a television market like today’s, when 99% of what is available is abysmal reality television and murder-porn crime dramas I for one love Moffat’s writing. It focuses on the basic and most powerful human emotions by exploring themes that seem outlandish in a way that doesn’t. Yet whoever wrote this slander seems to have woken up on the wrong side of the bed, with a hard on for a green lizard that certainly didn’t perform any better than Capaldi. I’m a little weary for the shows future but to say it was a failure is a strong claim from someone who writes for "indiewire".

Rollo

I agree Kaite, More Money on Story , Less Money on Bullsh*te special effects, Such a Disappointing start for Capaldi, I’m done with Moffat time to Put Nick Briggs in charge of New Who.

MrPod

Like most first episodes with a new doctor – the script struggles but at least it was better than Tenants appalling over acting. But the Matt Smith arrival was brilliant at the start and fell to pieces with embarrassing cobbled ending. Series 8 has to start somewhere and this will do – as in all other series there will be the god awful and the brilliant let’s hope the script writers have given Peter C a chance

alex

I feel like this missed the mark. The first episode to introduce the doctor is hugely important. And yes, the audience is taken through it by proxy from the perspective of the companion. So the points about him not being young anymore were as much for us as for Clara. But all the other doctors have given you a sense of their character to come. 9 was a grown up being a kid, the first sense of fun while still being a proper adult. 10 was still that whimsy but with a capacity of feeling and darkness which was greatly highlighted. 11 was just a big kid who wanted to prove he was smarter, and just a little bit arrogant, but still dashing and playing the fairy tale prince. All of these character traits were well established in the first episodes for all of them. But 12 is still a bit of a wash out. We’ll have to see him in a proper epode to judge, but I think a lot of people are going to have a hard time adjusting especially if they keep bringing back the other doctors.

Rob

Chill out…. my kids loved it, they don’t give a crap about whos from Scotland and whos on screen the longest.

Gary

Clever introduction to the Master at the end of the episode. Maybe!

Scott

Agree completely except for the fish fingers and custard bit that scene was childish and silly and I’m worried Moffat will make this season childish and silly too capalis acting won’t be able to cover that :/

Gary

Capaldi,great actor but not the doctor.Big build up, massive disappointment. early days maybe.Hoping for better

Linda

What’s up? Lost your sense of humour? It’s possible that some of the Doctor’s lines were Scottish in-jokes but if our sense of humour is SO far apart, then maybe we do need independence. What about the lesbian/reptile/human kiss? Surely revolutionary? Certainly wouldn’t have happened in 70s. Isn’t also a metaphor for integration or whatever? Where we can all get on whatever our differences. Or is this just another Scottish quirk? Bottom line Kaite? It’s a kids and families’ programme, not a Doctoral thesis in philosophy, right?

John

I suspect it was the Rani at the end and they were on her tardis

Nicole

I could not finish reading this horrible article.

Cristian

Where I sign?
Doctor Who lost again a opportunity to do something great in television terms besides to just enjoy some fanbase.

heather

I agree completely. I felt the same thing throughout the entire episode. I even told my boyfriend this is not the way to introduce a new doctor. Although I am so happy to have Capaldi, I was disappointed with his introduction.

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