It’s been an unusually long wait, but the Doctor is back! With the eighth season of “New Who” now in tow, I thought it appropriate to reflect on “Deep Breath,” the premiere episode showcasing Peter Capaldi’s first true run as the ancient Time Lord. Naturally, this brought forth a few revelations, all of which are bound to play an important role in 2014’s version of Doctor Who.
Here’s the thing–I have attempted to write episodic recaps of television shows prior to this, but I’m terrible at it, and frankly, I hate doing them. So moving forward, I’ll simply throw up some thoughts on here without any of that “recapping” nonsense. I won’t be doing it for every single episode of Doctor Who–only the big ones and episodes that matter. I know, I know! They all matter. But you catch my drift. Recaps suck. Lists (along with bowties) are cool! So here are four big things we learned from “Deep Breath.”
Spoilers abound for anyone who hasn’t caught up with Doctor Who at this point. You’ve been warned!
1. Capaldi is going to be a much darker Doctor
Stephen Moffat and his band of writers have been alluding this notion for quite some time now, but if “Deep Breath” is of any indication, it looks like Capaldi will be exhibiting a darker side of the Doctor. Again, not totally surprising. All three of the Doctors prior to Capaldi–Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, and Matt Smith–have had their grim, bitter moments. And John Hurt’s brief portrayal as the “War Doctor” was so left-field that his particular incarnation was nary hinted at before the 50th Anniversary Special episode (“Day of the Doctor”).
But Capaldi, well, his Twelfth Doctor is a little different, maybe even a little sinister. Some clues are obvious: he goes on about having consistently “cross” eyebrows, and theres a point near the end of “Deep Breath” where he practically begs his current companion for good-guy validation, going on to suggest that he plans to fix much of the wrong done during his 2000 year lifespan. These notions were largely repressed in his previous forms, as it seems like this Doctor is now ready to stop hiding away from his perceived fears. Two millennia can have that effect on a guy.
The corker, though, is the fate of the Cyborg. During a face-off in the sky, the Doctor gives the morbid robot a choice: to either kill itself or be killed, and that one of them is lying about what their perceived “programming” allows. The cyborg is eventually impaled after falling out of the spaceship, though it’s left ambiguous as to which one of them took action. But this doesn’t matter either way. Even if the Doctor didn’t physically push the cyborg out of the ship, the lose-lose ultimatum itself is out his “let’s fix everything” character. It’s not the first time this has happened, but to allow such complications so early in the season is surprising.
Oh, not to mention the fact that the Doctor straight up stole a coat from a homeless man. Sure, he was probably still loopy from the whole regeneration thing, but man–that’s cold.
2. Perceived age of the Doctor is now a big deal
Here’s the deal–the Doctor is 2000 years old. He has never shied away from this fact. It’s actually been used several times in the past to justify many of his 0ft-putting decisions. And while his preceding re-generations have been in “youthful” bodies, it’s not like he’s looked like a youngster throughout the majority of his life. If anything, the Doctor’s Tennant/Smith phases were the anomalous ones.A decent majority of “Deep Breath” was dedicated to how old the Doctor looks in his twelfth form, with the character himself complaining about grey hair and wrinkles. Capaldi is indeed one of the oldest actors to portray the
titular Time Lord, but he looks pretty great for 55. The first actor to take on the role in 1963, William Hartnell, was a pinch younger at 54, but he looked much, much older than that. It’s been mainly middle-aged thespians since then–even Eccleston, who wasn’t exactly a spring chicken when he took on the role at 41.
Some of this is comprehensible, especially if you factor in the companion element. Clara Oswald only knew the Doctor during his eleventh phase, so the jarring age difference between Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi is understandably jolting for the character. Still, this doesn’t explain as to why the Doctor himself is so taken aback by the perceived age gap.
It’s tempting to call this a continuity error, but Moffat has been pretty careful with this since he took over as showrunner. If anything, the age dilemma is a response to nonsensical fanboy outrage. “Deep Breath” takes it all a step further, though, and brings Capaldi’s “wiser” presence to the forefront by making his the Doctor’s latest form a plot element. Yeah, this is a notion that won’t be going away.
3. The Doctor’s friends are here to stay
While “Deep Breath” marks the Doctor’s triumphant return to television, he didn’t show up alone. Bringing Clara along for the ride isn’t the biggest deal, though it’s only the second time “New Who” has featured an overlapping companion–the Doctor usually starts totally fresh with every regeneration cycle. Despite rumors of Jenna Coleman’s departure from the series come Christmastime, it’s nice that she’s been brought along for another season, even if it may very well be the last one.
Even more refreshing than Clara, though, is the return of the Paternoster Gang, Moffat’s equivalent to the Torchwood bunch.. Captain Jack was cool and all, but he doesn’t hold a candle to Vastra, Jenny, and Strax. They may lack a little “oophm” as individual characters, but as an ensemble, they’re the best. The relationship between Vastra and Jenny is intriguing, to say the least–privately they’re equals, socially they’re divided, and universally they aren’t even the same species! Strax the Sontaran, in particular, is the greatest comic relief character since, well, Matt Smith’s goofy fez-wearing antics as the Doctor. The Paternoster team is heroic, hilarious, and complicated, all in equal measure.
Having old friends tag along is great and all, but what does their inclusion in “Deep Breath” say about the future of Doctor Who? Quite a lot, actually. Having an overlapping companion and a returning set of supporting characters shows us that Moffatt isn’t abandoning the “revelations” story arc he started in the Matt Smith sessions, and that we’ll probably be getting a deeper look into Doctor Who mythos. Which brings us to the fourth and final big thing from “Deep Breath…”
4. Past episodes are still important
This shouldn’t be totally surprising–Doctor Who doesn’t exactly hit refresh every time a new actor takes on the role. Though “New Who” is a very different beast in comparison to the Doctor’s earlier runs on BBC, the events from episodes past are still canon. 2005 didn’t bring us a reboot, it brought us a continuation.
With that said, the Russell T. Davies era and the current Stephen Moffat run have been effectively separate takes on the show, featuring different storytelling formats and a different (sometimes conflicting) set of rules. Given that several key moments in “Deep Breath” are directly related to happenings during the Davies days, it looks as if the hypothetical barrier between the two showrunners has been officially lifted.
First, the obvious stuff: the main antagonists from “Deep Breath” are directly related to the robots from Tennant-era episode “The Girl and the Fireplace.” Not a biggie–baddies in Doctor Who are almost always fluid, despite showrunners and/or actors featured. The “oh yeah” moment came when the twelfth Doctor went on and on about where his face came from. He doesn’t figure it out during “Deep Breath,” but the audience should: prior to taking on the Doctor role, Peter Capaldi portrayed Caecilius, a man the tenth Doctor encountered in “The Fires of Pompeii.” Instead of simply allowing this to be a casting coincidence (which it is), Moffatt went ahead and made it part of the story. It’s up in the air as to whether or not they’ll be making a bigger deal about the later (I hope not, it’s really not that big of a deal), but the notion of reaching so far back into episodes prior is what we should really consider from all of this hullabaloo. It shows that Moffat is keen on tying all of the Doctors together, which means that big things are undoubtedly on the horizon.