Well, here we go, the first time I review a Twelfth Doctor story in retrospect, rather than after it airs. Deep Breath not only introduces us to a great new Doctor (well, great for the rest of this series, anyway…) but also gives us a fun villain and a waves a goodbye to Vastra, Jenny and Strax by giving them one final adventure. It’s a damn fine story, with only a few minor quibbles, so let’s take a good look!
When the newly-regenerated Doctor arrives in Victorian London, where he finds a dinosaur rampant in the Thames and a spate of deadly spontaneous combustions… sounds about right.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Cast of Characters:
A different look for The Doctor this time round… Oh wait, no, never mind.
The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) – The Doctor has regenerated for a thirteenth time, something even his race wasn’t supposed to be able to do. Even while still suffering from a post-regeneration crisis, he can’t help but feel he’s seen his new face before…
Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) – Clara isn’t sure what to make of this much older-looking man who suddenly took the place of her Doctor, but she knows at the very least she has to help him as he crashes the TARDIS around the place…
Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh) – A lesbian Silurian sword-swinging crime fighter who lives in Victorian London… That’s about all you need to know.
Jenny Flint (Catrin Stewart) – Jenny is from Victorian London and is in love with Madame Vastra. She is also handy in a fight, and willing to go into combat with her love…
Strax (Dan Starkey) – Strax is a failed Sontaran who is now serving Madame Vastra as her butler. He finds it hard to break out of old, weapon-firing habits…
The Half-Face Man (Peter Ferdinando) – A clockwork droid from the future, its ship crashed in prehistoric times during time travel experiments and it has since lived by harvesting parts from other, mostly living, beings. It is now more flesh than machine, and has even gained a small semblance of emotion…
“Where have I seen that face before?” … The one in the reflection, not the robot… man… thing.
As with all these debut stories, the main thing to talk about here is the debuting Doctor. Peter Capaldi excels as both a humorously confused and erratic Doctor, and as the calmer Doctor with a harsh edge that I wish his Doctor was like for his whole run. When its revealed that the fake machines were wearing real human faces, the casual way The Doctor mentions it while it freaks Clara out still makes me laugh, and the final confrontation between The Doctor and the “Half-Face Man” is great, with the Time Lord having a bit of a drink and discussing the idea of outward appearances not meaning anything, and debating whether this new him would be the kind of person to kill the droid in order to save people. It’s left ambiguous for a while before being revealed he actually didn’t, but either way it’s a great scene. Series 8 is such a bitter-sweet thing to watch, as it reminds me of how great Capaldi’s Doctor was to begin with…
While I found Clara quite annoying with her disgust at the new Doctor, it lead to a nice lecture from Vastra about judging people by their appearances, given she’s a lizard woman and all. It was written to be a good lesson for children (and adults who need to stop acting like them) but was done in such a way that it made sense narratively. While I’m not the biggest fan of Vasta, Jenny and Strax (I find a lot of Strax’s jokes forced, though sometimes legitimately funny, to be fair) but they worked well here.
The central threat of a robot / android that was going around harvesting human parts for itself is a good one, and the mechanic men / women he surrounded himself with were creepy, especially when we found out they had legitimately human faces that had essentially been peeled off and put on them. It was searching for paradise, a literal heaven, but had come to the conclusion there was no such place, but kept killing to stay alive anyway without really knowing why. It’s an interesting concept and quite thought-provoking, really.
We also got the first glimpse of Missy, which is fun to see retrospectively. Not much to mention, but it’s still fun.
“A T-Rex in Victorian London!” Is what was bounced around as a joke, then it was written into the show somehow.
Clara acts rather poorly throughout the story, not just being unsure about the new Doctor, but being seemingly repelled by him. The fact that Mr. Moffat felt he had to write a scene with Matt Smith’s Doctor telling Clara to “stick with him because he’s still me” is also quite the disrespectful sign to Peter Capaldi, as no other Doctor needed to hold the audience’s hand when they changed.
While the T-Rex in the middle of Victorian London is an amusingly weird idea, there was some residual Matt Smith era silliness, with The Doctor claiming he “spoke Dinosaur” and translated what it was saying. Again, I don’t want the show super-serious by any means, but that (and being able to “speak baby”) is one “amusing” quirk too far for me.
“Wow, my face really has changed!” “I’m not a mirror, Doctor…” “Oh.”
As per usual, ignoring the fact it follows on directly from “The Time of the Doctor”, and ignoring the beginning to a series-long tease leading to the two-part finale “Dark Water / Death in Heaven” we have a few.
Obviously Vastra, Jenny and Strax are back, they debuted in the Eleventh Doctor TV story “A Good Man Goes to War”. The Half-Faced Man is from the SS Marie Antoinette, the sister ship of the SS Madame de Pompadour which appeared in the 10th Doctor TV Story “The Girl in the Fireplace”, a story that also featured clockwork robots harvesting human parts.
The Doctor realises his face is the same as Caecilius, a man he met in Pompeii in the 10th Doctor story “The Fires of Pompeii” (thanks to that character also being played by Peter Capaldi!)
Deep Breath is a really good introduction to the Twelfth Doctor, or at least how he’ll be for the rest of this Series. The villain has several layers to him/it, which is great alongside the core concept of robot organ harvester being good anyway. Clara being stupid takes it down a small peg, but not much, not enough to tarnish what is a really good, clever and in some ways quite dark and mature Doctor Who story. Highly recommended.