Eight is the magic number today as Doctor Who ended its eight-month hiatus and began its eighth season with its eight hundred and first episode, “Deep Breath.” A fitting title, as it was precisely what fans were doing as they witnessed the debut of the Doctor’s latest regeneration, played by Scotsman Peter Capaldi.
As hinted at in previews and interviews over the past few months, this new era of the massively popular scifi series seems to be taking a darker and more serious turn, which is certainly a departure from the quirky Raggedyman, but not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it might be just the revival the show needs, which has been bogged down in convoluted storylines for the past season or so. “Deep Breath” packs plenty of intellect and action into its hour-plus runtime, but stays focused on the task of delivering a creative and coherent season premiere.
Following the turmoil of Trenzalore and the madness that was the Eleventh Doctor’s regeneration during the Christmas special last year, the Doctor and Clara somehow find themselves in a sticky situation (literally) that involves a dinosaur being transported to 19th century London by means of partially ingested TARDIS. We find Clara distraught not over the fact that London is being attacked by a tyrannosaurus, nor that patrons of a local restaurant are having their organs harvested to power cyborgs, but over the Doctor’s new—and older—appearance. Even though the plot of the episode is strong, it focuses greatly on the Doctor’s youthful companion coming to terms with the fact that her Doctor is the same man, who is perhaps not the man she thought he was to begin with. Regardless of your feelings about Clara as a character (I’ve never completely warmed up to her myself), Jenna Coleman delivered a shining performance in this episode and really came into her own.
Though I honestly don’t know what Clara’s beef is, because as attractive as Tennant and Smith are, Capaldi is a silver fox if there ever was one. His Scottish accent and claimed David Bowie influence (which, take it from a diehard Bowie fan, is apparent) may have something to do with this of course, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Twelfth Doctor is a force to be reckoned with, and manages to pull it off in style. But moving on.
Capaldi’s performance as the Doctor is as intense and manic as you’d expect it to be. Gone are the days of puppy-eyed, flirtatious Matt Smith—make way for a world-weary, slightly grumpy Doctor who doesn’t mess around. During his first scene I was immediately reminded of Doc Brown from the Back to the Future trilogy, with his scientific ramblings and a gleam of crazed excitement in his eyes. I also see a bit of Sherlock Holmes in his character (which may have partially been due to the 19th century setting), with his calmer, more calculating approach to mysteries, keeping the mindless running around to a minimum. He’s enigmatic, innovative, and more alien than we’ve seen the Doctor in a long time. And it’s brilliant.
Only time will tell if Capaldi will continue to distinguish himself from previous Doctors and form a unique persona worthy of fans’ support. But if “Deep Breath” is any indication, it would seem that we have a lot to look forward to. This new Doctor might be just the breath of fresh air (no pun intended) that the series needed.
Apart from the superb acting, there were a few bells and whistles that made the episode special as well. The new opening sequence, for example, steps away from its more space-inspired predecessors and instead features literal clocks and cogs. The TARDIS has received a makeover too, and has been redecorated with round clock-like (or Dalek-like?) designs. It’s refreshing to see that the whole show is getting a much-needed polish, and it’s a good sign for the future. Fans were even gifted a cameo by Matt Smith in a tearjerking scene in which the Eleventh Doctor assists Clara (and by extension the viewers) in letting go—a definite highlight of the episode.
As a tip, American fans might want to consider watching with subtitles, as some of Capaldi’s more passionate moments are a bit hard to catch for those of us who aren’t accustomed to Scottish accents. Series 8’s second episode, “Into the Dalek,” premieres on Saturday, August 30 on BBC America and BBC One.
What do you think of the new Doctor? Is Capaldi the force Doctor Who needs, or do you find a younger Doctor more appealing? Leave a comment below and tell us what you think!