Peter Capaldi is Brilliant as The Doctor in Doctor Who: Deep Breath
Last night was the season 8 premiere of Doctor Who, and the premiere of Peter Capaldi as The Doctor. What a premiere it was, while I would love to say it was perfect, I cannot. Don’t let that fool you, I thought Capaldi was magnificent, the tone was appropriately foreboding and unsure, and the Doctor’s companions were steadfast and entertaining. At the end of the feature length episode I am left with a single thought dominating my mind, this is going to be a very good season.
In this pulse-racing adventure, directed by Ben Wheatley and written by lead writer and executive producer Steven Moffat, the beginning of the Twelfth Doctor’s era stars Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, Jenna Coleman as his companion Clara Oswald, and sees the return of The Paternoster Gang with Neve McIntosh as Madame Vastra, Catrin Stewart as Jenny Flint and Dan Starkey as Strax.
When the Doctor lands in Victorian London he finds a dinosaur rampant in the Thames and a spate of deadly spontaneous combustions. Who is the new Doctor and will he and Clara’s friendship survive as they embark on a terrifying mission into the heart of an alien conspiracy? The Doctor has changed. It’s time you knew him.
Before I delve into everything I really want to talk about, I will dispense with those elements with which I was less pleased. While I love Strax I thought he was a little over the top with his near incompetence. While he has always been a buffoon, and entirely confused about humans, this time around the only function he served was comic relief. The character is more dynamic than that, and he was poorly used in this case, it didn’t harm the episode but was rather disappointing. I also had a hard time connecting with the villain this time, they did not feel threatening or even to prose that much of a threat to humanity. Granted immediately after regeneration, The Doctor is usually not up to much of a challenge, and not every threat to humanity needs to threaten the entire planet. Never the less I was left unmoved, even slightly bored with the baddies. It always feels wrong to criticize, even in the mildest terms, a show I love so dearly, but mine is a difficult job and I bear this burden gladly.
Those bitter pills aside, let us turn our attention to The Doctor, Peter Capaldi. We have not seen this Doctor for a while. There are similar tones to the War Doctor (Hurt) and the 9th (Eccleston), or for those whose memories run deeper, the 7th, 6th, 3rd and 1st (McCoy, (Colin) Baker, Pertwee, Hartnell). Capaldi, being a lifelong fan of the series, would be intimately familiar with each Doctor, and just might have a better grasp of the character than any other actor stepping into the TARDIS might. He played The Doctor with an earnest conviction and a clever resolve that revived the towering, and intimidating presence The Doctor is capable of wielding. Capaldi’s often deadpan delivery of some of the more ridiculous dialogue revealed the underlying humor of the show, and the serious and somber tones of a 2000-year-old guardian of the universe. In other words, even I was impressed and surprised with what Peter Capaldi is doing with this character.
Capaldi aside, which is no easy thing to do as he dominates the episode spectacularly, we have the pleasure of Madame Vastra, her wife Jenny, Strax, and Clara. The interaction between these four is delicious at worst and utterly delightful at best. Honestly, when will we get the series spin-off I expect everyone desires. In an episode where The Doctor is either incapacitated, or simply confused and partially incapable of answering the immediate threat it is critical to have strong characters to carry the episode. There are few companions more capable than these four. In Deep Breath we see these characters in greater depth than we have previously, perhaps allowing a weakness in Strax’s character to show, but the strength of Vastra and Jenny shone brightly.
Deep Breath is, at this moment, one of the episodes I will find myself returning to time and time again. The rabbit holes of future adventures and plots are scattered throughout the episode, they are often hidden with Easter eggs for veteran viewers. I will reiterate what I said before, this is going to be a great season.