Doctor Who: Deep Breath

Clara and the new Doctor go out to a restaurant on the eighth season premiere of Doctor Who.
Doctor Who (Photo: BBC)

The Twelfth Doctor is here!  How was Peter Capaldi’s debut episode as everyone’s favorite Time Lord?

Welcome to the Eighth series of Doctor Who!  As WEIO’s resident Doctor Who expert1, I’m excited to dive into this new season and react to the newly-regenerated 12th Doctor.

First though, let’s talk about the interesting place the show is in, culturally.  It’s possible that right now, Doctor Who is more popular than it ever has been, which is really weird to someone who considers themselves a long-time fan2.  I love when something I really like becomes popular, but there’s a really conflicting feeling when a show you love seemingly gets reduced to a series of tie-in toys and catchphrases3.  David Tennant and Matt Smith’s portrayal of the 10th and 11th Doctors certainly increased the number of suits and bow ties running around convention hall floors, but I’ve been interested to see how the choice of an incontestably older-looking doctor will affect more aesthetically-focused fans.  Pop Culture Happy Hour recently had an episode where they talked about taking a step back as a fan when something you like explodes with popularity, and that really rang true with how I had been feeling about Doctor Who these last few months.

All of that last paragraph is a long way to lead up to me saying that I didn’t really get the 15-minute LIVE pre-show before BBC America showed us the first episode.  I like Chris Hardwick on @Midnight 4, but he has a tendency outside of that show to make things about him when they shouldn’t be, and even Wil Wheaton (the “guest” of the pre-show) seemed to just want BBC America to get on with the actual program.  I could have understood if a more ad-heavy pre-show meant that we’d get a mostly-uncut version of the episode, but that wasn’t the case – BBC America seems to have a knack for finding the most momentum-killing place to place an ad break, and this was no exception.

Enough of me working out my issues with modern fandom, let’s get to the episode.  As a debut for a new Doctor, this could have been better.  As a season opener, this could have been better.  That said, this was a wonderfully dense episode in terms of content covered.  There was an almost cinematic scope (and certainly a cinematic length) to this episode, which seemed to try and do a little too much.  The first half-hour dragged for me, and as much as I loved Peter Capaldi running around Victorian London in a nightshirt, things really didn’t pick up until after he realized he was Scottish and had angry eyebrows.  I liked seeing the Paternoster gang again, particularly Strax (who knocked every one of his scenes out of the park), but Stephen Moffat seemed to hit the “lesbian lizard and her wife” nail a few too many times with Vastra and Jenny’s scenes alone.

Once we got through the regeneration troubles and onto the actual baddies terrorizing London, things picked up considerably.  I liked Clara last season, but she always felt a little underdeveloped until they made her the Impossible Girl.  Now that she’s with the 12 Doctor, they seem to be ret-conning her to be more feisty and angry, but I didn’t really mind that since she had crazy levels of crazy with Peter Capaldi in their scenes together.  That scene in the restaurant?  Perfect5.  Her confusion over his new older face is a little confusing – didn’t she see all his previous incarnations? – but I’ll take any character development I can get for her.  The return of the clockwork robots with a creepier twist was nice as well – lots of creepy body part dealings, a balloon made of skin, all made clear that Stephen Moffat wasn’t kidding when he said this series of the show would be a little darker.

Finally, as nice as it was to see Matt Smith cameo at the end as the 11th Doctor making a final call to Clara, the moment felt a little cheap to me and undercut what had happened in the rest of the episode before it.  The show should let go of its past and fully move towards the future – this felt like an unnecessary spoonful of sugar to help the medicine of a new, gruffer Doctor go down for Matt Smith fans who weren’t on board with the choice of Capaldi, but it felt a little too meta for my taste6.

All these quibbles aside, I’m excited to see where this continues to go – it took longer this episode than I’d have liked, but we’re starting to see where this Doctor is going, and I like what I see.

Stray Thoughts:

  • I’m really digging the moments when Peter Capaldi’s full Scottish accent comes out.  The Doctor’s realization that as a Scotsman he can now complain more frequently was a nice touch.
  • I’m also digging the re-designed TARDIS.  It suits the older, more mature Doctor.
  • I didn’t dig the updated credits sequence at all, and I appeared to be the only person in my Twitter feed that felt this way.  The opening clock parts felt a little too on-the-nose “TIME INCLUDES CLOCKS YOU GUYS”, but we’ll see if my feelings on that change over the course of the series.
  • There’s also a wonderful disconnect between the more physical nature of this Doctor and his older body, and the little moments where the Doctor seems to recognize this were great
  • I ended up not watching the post-show that Chris Hardwick hosted after practically having an allergic reaction to the pre-show, but it was nice to see Natalie Morales as a guest.  If you haven’t checked out The Middleman (a one-season wonder that ran on ABC Family), DO.  It’s the closest I’ve seen a series come to being an American version of Doctor Who and more people need to see it.
  1. I’ve gone as multiple versions of The Doctor to various Halloween parties over the years.  If this doesn’t qualify me as our resident expert, I’d like to know what does.  
  2. In my day, we not only made do with watching a cut-down version of a months-old episode on the Sci-Fi channel, we loved it!  We also walked uphill to school in the snow both ways.  
  3. although had 10-year-old me been into Doctor Who, he would be going ape over the Transformers/GI Joe-style toy ads that aired during the episode  
  4. Although I love that he seems to have taken up the mantle of America’s Top Nerd, I also would have liked a vote in the matter  
  5. especially Capaldi’s confusion at where the terrible smell that’s followed him around is coming from  
  6. the only way it could have been more so was if Matt Smith stared directly into the camera at those of us on the other side of the TV screen  

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About Ben Smith 228 Articles
Ben has been writing about TV, music, and pop culture in some form or another since 2009, including stints at Mental Floss and Temporary Obsession. When not solving puzzles of some sort or consuming pop culture at a frightening pace, he can be found collecting shiny pieces of the internet at GoodAtInter.net. E-mail: ben@whatelseison.tv