After bidding farewell to Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor in last year’s Christmas special ‘Time of the Doctor,’ the world was introduced to Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor in his very first adventure on ‘Doctor Who’ this weekend. With his whole kidney situation worked out, the latest regeneration of the Time Lord found himself and his companion Clara Oswald in Victorian London with a rampaging dinosaur in the Thames. But when the prehistoric beast spontaneously combusts, Team TARDIS is joined by allies Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint, and Strax to solve the mysterious circumstances that involve some very familiar clockwork droids while becoming reacquainted with the Doctor and his new self.
To begin bluntly, I really enjoyed the eighth season premiere of the long-running British sci-fi series. Though there were a few things that I found to be out of place, I definitely liked more things than I disliked. For starters, I love the new opening for the show. It has a very retro Classic Who feel while still maintaining a very sleek modern look. And it’s even cooler that showrunner Steven Moffat found it on YouTube. That just goes to show how incredibly creative this fandom is that something like this comes out of it.
As for the episode itself, the theme of change and questioning who you are really resonated with me. Not only were the villains of the story facing these problems as their mission was to become more human despite being machines, but the Doctor was dealing with the same thing as he has just regenerated. He even realizes that things about this episode seem familiar like his foes from ‘The Girl In The Fireplace’ and his new face, but he can’t quite place how he knows these things. There were a lot of great moments to come out of this theme such as the scene in the alley and the final confrontation between the Doctor and the clockwork droid in the skin balloon where he mentions original parts and talks about the broom. I’ll even go so far as to say that these were some of the moments that made me fall in love with the Twelfth Doctor because they showed us so much about him and how relatable he can be, even though he has those quite cross eyebrows.
Another particular aspect that stood out was Clara. Not only was she built up in this episode to be stronger and more clever than she has been in the past, but she was also given more depth as a character, especially when she stood up for herself against Vastra and the main android. And that was interesting on another level too because she was definitely taking the Doctor’s change quite hard, which reflects how a lot of fans in the audience felt as well. Since ‘Doctor Who’ became a worldwide phenomenon, Whovians from far and wide were sad to see Smith depart from the show. But the writers really played with the idea that the companion is the stand-in for the fans in the show and we got a lot of moments that really cushioned the blow of a new regeneration with a degree of familiarity while still offering new twists on these things that we’ve come to love about the series. We even got the stamp of approval from the previous Doctor at the end of the episode as sort of a way to tell both Clara and the audience not to be afraid and that everything will be fine with Peter Capaldi. This sort of thing happens every time the Doctor changes faces, but ‘Deep Breath’ did a particularly good job with the transition since we were given plenty of opportunities to accept this excellent new actor in the role of his dreams.
Even though I could keep going about things that I enjoyed about this episode such as the unpredictability of this new Doctor or the exquisite banter in the restaurant scene, I would be remiss if I didn’t address a few problematic things. First, Vastra seemed to step out of character very often. In the past, when we would see her deal with a case, she was all business and very focused. Now, there were times where she was relegated to more of a flirty role, especially when Clara got angry and Jenny had to remind her wife that they’re married. I’ll admit, the swerve when Jenny thought that Vastra was painting her was cute, but that was more in line with what was going on with the plot. Other instances just didn’t fit quite as well.
Speaking of things that didn’t fit, the slapstick comedy between Clara and Strax was really out of place and didn’t match the tone of the episode. Sure, the Doctor can be a little silly from time to time, but the wacky sound effects and the newspaper gag were unnecessary. The bit with Strax asking for Clara’s coat would fall into that category as well if I didn’t like Jenna Coleman’s delivery so much, but the only comedic interaction between the two that really fit was the physical he was giving her because he thought that the Doctor might have been leaving Clara behind. That scene had a purpose whereas the others were for cheap laughs.
But with those two things being said, this was a solid season premiere for ‘Doctor Who’. It accomplished its most important function by easing their audience into the new era of the Twelfth Doctor. After watching it three times, I realized that there was some great complexity in such a simple story that there were multiple layers to enjoy upon further viewings. There were a ton of great throwbacks to the show’s past, a few borderline heartbreaking scenes, and a strong emotional connection to the latest addition to the fifty-year old legacy of ‘Doctor Who.’ Overall, I look forward to seeing more from the Capaldification of one of the most beloved sci-fi shows in history.