In Review: Doctor Who: Deep Breath proves a Curate’s Egg

Doctor Who Magazine Issue 477

 

(First posted  in a shorter form on the downthetubes tumblr, minor spoilers): I’m glad to see that the Twelfth Doctor seems to have been well received in most quarters and was more than impressed by the opening episode of his first comic strip appearance in the bumper, 100-page Doctor Who Magazine last week, “Eye of Torment”, a 12 page, decidedly creepy story from Scott Gray, with art from Martin Geraghty and David Roach. (The Magazine’s coverage of the first episodes to feature Peter Capaldi, and interview, are equally well worth the price of admission, and Lew Stringer has taken over as the cartoonist for the title’s letters page. It’s on sale now in all good newsagents).

The BBC has also pulled out all the stops to announce this new Doctor’s debut – an incarnation I’m personally convinced is even now being groomed for a full on Doctor Who feature film appearance at some point, given the huge promotional efforts in the run up to his TV and limited cinema debut that included a World Tour for the new lead and ongoing companion.

 

12th Doctor Promotional Image
A promotional image for the new Doctor © BBC

 

For the most part, “Deep Breath” certainly lived up to its much heralded promise of action adventure, confirmed Peter Capaldi’s acting prowess and offered some warmth from companion Clara (ably performed, as ever, by Jenna Coleman). It had a new title sequence fans adored from its first appearance when it was created by Billy Hanshaw for a YouTube demo a while back that producer Steven Moffat also liked (I didn’t like the new version of the theme); a dinosaur, a nasty robotic menace, Madame Vastra and co., great effects. It had some jokes (mostly at the expense of Sontaran medic, Strax) and some intriguing reflections on the character of the Doctor and what it means to become anew, which, as New Scientist points out, indicate some impressive research by writer and show runner Moffat. (New Scientist also notes there was some actual science in the episode, which is more than can be said for many other modern era stories, to be honest.

So why has Capaldi’s debut left me so unenthralled and disappointed?

Like many other Doctor Who fans, I’ve been looking forward to the return of the series and this marketing massaged arrival of a new Doctor. I’ve no quibble at all with the ability of the new lead, whose solo moments and insights into the errant Time Lord as he adapted to his new body were handled with aplomb. He showed depth, sympathy for non humans (particularly, Mrs Dinosaur, dumped by accident in Victorian London and a victim like others of living tissue-hunting robots seeking the means to find Paradise, presumably a planet location embedded for millennia embedded in their programming).

But so much of this opening story seemed a series of set pieces, writer’s ideas (like the dinosaur in the Thames itself, which was a great visual) thrown into a bizarre mix, the Doctor’s own confusion reflected in a number of disorienting, nonsensical plot leaps, where you felt things happened off screen for the sake of a ‘miini episode’ that may well have been made, for all I know, but which should not, I fear, have wrecked the coherence of the television episode we saw.

Throwbacks to earlier Doctors in their first episodes, characters repeating lines of dialogue from earlier shows, the link with one of Moffat’s finest stories ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ were nice touches and the use of the Vastra gang to help bring the new Doctor to life were nice touches to the story. But as with some other Doctor’s debuts I have to admit to having been left underwhelmed by this debut episode, an arrival not helped, as far as I’m concerned, by an unnecessary ‘arc’ background to the tale as a mystery woman seeks to manipulate the new Doctor in some yet to be revealed fashion.

I’m in a minority I expect – and after all Tom Baker’s first story, ‘Robot’, was something of a similar anticlimax but he soon went on to become one of my favourite Doctors. It’s clear many people thoroughly enjoyed the episode, so please feel free to ignore my iracisble review (although I see The Guardian‘s Phil Hogan, for one, has voiced similar concerns.

Despite my opinion, I have every hope that the episodes that follow this uneven, disappointing debut will reaffirm my expectations, especially after this new Doctor arrived so dramatically in other media, particularly Scott Gray’s comic strip incarnation in the latest Doctor Who Magazine.

Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman are more than capable of delivering a dream team as Doctor and Companion, battling darkness across the universe given a good story. For me, the curate’s egg that was ’Deep Breath’ was not it.

PS Oh, and swearing? In Doctor Who? Not big, not clever. No more, please.

Jenna Coleman as Clara and Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor on location for one of the final scenes in "Deep Breath"
Jenna Coleman as Clara and Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor on location for one of the final scenes in “Deep Breath” Image: BBC

Other Reviews

Digital Spy
“By the end of ‘Deep Breath’, you’re still not certain who Capaldi’s Doctor really is or how you feel about him – it’s unsettling, yes, but I suspect entirely intentional on Moffat’s part.”

Huffington Post: ‘Deep Breath’ Peter Capaldi’s Debut Episode Finds TARDIS In Safe Hands
From the freshly stripped-down titles, courtesy of a fan’s efforts gratefully received by Moffat and Co, and the first glimpse of industrial gothic city riverscape, it was business as usual for the new Doctor…. A dinosaur wandering up and down the Thames of Victorian London. A playful Lizard Lady who seemed to be the only ‘person’ with half a clue what was going on. And a restaurant full of diners whose wine glasses never quite reached their mouths.”

Scottish Herald
“Some kind of plot began to emerge about 40 minutes in…”

SciFi Bulletin (Review by Paul Simpson)
“Peter Capaldi looks as if he’s going to be one of the best Doctors we’ve had. From the pre-credits sequence, which felt a bit as if he was channelling Sylvester McCoy’s initial performance in Time and the Rani, to the moment when he almost begged Clara to see him for who he was, he owned every scene he was in and while there were elements about the episode which could have been foreshortened, we could definitely have done with more of him.”

SciFi Pulse (Review by Ian Cullen)
“After what seems like a really long wait. The Doctor is back and in ‘Deep Breath’ we have the perfect introduction to Peter Capaldi’s take on the Doctor, which sees him channeling a little Tom Baker and perhaps even a bit of the manipulative 7th Doctor as portrayed by Sylvester McCoy.”

WIRED
“Honestly, it’s a mixed bag, but the episode proves to have more good than bad. Those watching in cinemas were treated to a short lead in, with Sontaran soldier-turned-butler Strax (Dan Starkey) recounting the Doctor’s prior incarnations before being summoned by Silurian detective Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh) and her wife Jenny (Catlin Stewart) to investigate something running amok in the Thames. It’s a nice intro, filled with light-hearted jokes at the expense of the previous actors to play the Doctor… The biggest problem with ‘Deep Breath’ is that, despite having a movie’s worth of time to introduce the new Doctor and establish a new status quo, we still have no real feel for Capaldi in the role by the end. Altogether too much time is spent on having the newly regenerated Time Lord stumbling around in a daze, rambling to himself and struggling to regain his sanity.”

Bishop: "I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr Jones"; Curate: "Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!" "True Humility" by George du Maurier, originally published in Punch, 9 November 1895.
Bishop: “I’m afraid you’ve got a bad egg, Mr Jones”; Curate: “Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!”
“True Humility” by George du Maurier, originally published in Punch, 9 November 1895.

John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John describes himself as is a "freelance comics operative", currently working as a freelance editor for TITAN COMICS, as Creative Consultant on the new DAN DARE audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the LAKES INTERNATIONAL COMIC ART FESTIVAL and LANCASTER COMICS DAY. John has worked in British comics publishing for over 30 years, starting out at Marvel UK, where he edited a number of the Genesis 1992 books with Paul Neary. His numerous credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel and Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine at Titan Magazines, where he was Managing Editor. He also edited STRIP Magazine and worked as an editor on several audio comics for ROK Comics, including TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E. and THE BEATLES STORY. Most recently he is writing CRUCIBLE as a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and DEATH DUTY and SKOW DOGS with Dave Hailwood for the digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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