Please note that the following review contains spoilers. So do not read the below if you haven’t already seen the show. There are some really nice bits that you honestly don’t want spoiled. Still with me? OK, deep breath…
THE EPISODE WHERE: A brand new Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is spat out of a dinosaur with an older face and a terrified companion (Jenna Coleman). But who is making those people burst into flames?
THE VERDICT: Unless you’ve been living under a rock, ON MARS, you can’t have avoided the Doctor Who publicity machine. Like an oncoming army of trundling Cybermen, it has hunted down everyone and screamed directly into our faces that Doctor Who is coming back, it’s different and Peter Capaldi is a fearsome Doctor.
Would we get a Malcolm Tucker-style Doctor telling Daleks to “fly the f*ck off” while head butting a Sontarian? Well, obviously not. But after the Dyke van Doctor exploits of David Tennant and bow-tie blubbering man-child Matt Smith, the show needed to move away from its default setting! It needed to regenerate!
Peter Capaldi answers that call emphatically in a masterful debut that already feels like a Who classic. It has action, heart, fear, laugher and the kind of mad sci-fi that could only be Doctor Who. The second Capaldi tells the returning Paternoster Gang to “Shhhh”, you can relax, because you know you’re in very safe hands.
When the newly regenerated Doctor is spat out of a T-Rex in the middle of Victorian London (and what a sentence that was to write), he discovers that there has been a sudden spate of people bursting into flames. But the real mystery he must unearth first is why should such a new face be just so old?
Fortunately writer Steven Moffat doesn’t play The Old Card so easily. Yes, there are old jokes – “Who frowned me this face” – but the idea argued by Madame Vastra that The Doctor had simply been hiding behind youth in his previous incarnations is a neat one. And he’s now dropped the mask, his veil – and most definitely his manners!
After all, the last time a new Doctor arrived, it was a baby – well, a 26-year-old – piloting the TARDIS. But it worked so well, that speculation on this Doctor’s identity focused purely on men with more hair product in their bathroom cabinet than lines of their acting CV… or indeed their faces. But Capaldi was clearly born to play this part.
His Doctor has been described as less “user-friendly”, which makes him sound like a malfunctioning washing machine, or a BT helpline. But it’s true. He’s rude, angry, unfeeling, manipulative and, once again, just so angry. He’s brilliant. Those eyebrows alone could send you running behind the sofa.
HE'S AN INDEPENDENT DOCTOR
And yes, he’s very Scottish, and some of the best gags, in an episode filled with hilarity as much as heart, centers on his new accent. The fact the Sonic Screwdriver no longer recognises his voice commands was genius, especially when that idea was dropped in a perilous moment. Hopefully his TARDIS doesn't work using Siri!
But for all the talk of Capaldi’s meanness, it is in those final moments when Jenna Coleman’s Clara gets a call from Matt Smith’s Doctor, a big tear-jerking finale for a Saturday teatime, where Capaldi finally shows his vulnerability. He appears almost childlike, a lost and terrified infant desperate to be recognised.
That moment just floors you, and perhaps reveals more of this Doctor’s soul that we had expected so soon. While Matt Smith was the old Doctor with the young face, perhaps Capaldi will play it the other way around. Indeed, while for Matt’s Doctor youth was his mask, Capaldi’s will hide behind his mean bravado.
Yet for the all praise that will inevitably – and quite rightly – fall at Capaldi’s feet, this is Coleman’s episode. Unlocked from the slightly aimless and miserable ‘Impossible Girl’ storyline, and with a Doctor who she can’t so easily control, she feels like a real person again, instead of a walking, talking plot-propeller.
You feel Clara’s loss in Deep Breath, because it’s our loss as well. We have also lost a great Doctor in Matt Smith, and we are equally skeptical about this Doctor. Why should we like him? Why shouldn’t we just watch Tumble on iPlayer instead? Actually, that last one is obvious. But Clara’s final acceptance of Capaldi's Doctor is equally ours.
The only real downside to this rip-roaring episode is the forgettable monster. While it’s nice for fans that these body part-snatching cyborgs hark back to the Tennant-era Girl In The Fireplace, they serve merely as a plot device to question The Doctor’s humanity. And I suppose, on that respect, they work. But you won’t remember them tomorrow.
But then, regeneration stories are always about The Doctor. And on that count, it succeeds tremendously. A fantastic opening story for Capaldi’s Doctor, a brilliant performance from Coleman, confident direction from Ben “Kill List” Wheatley and a welcome return for the Paternoster Gang who MUST get a spin-off soon!
Now Who can possibly wait to see Capaldi take on the Daleks next week?
FLIRTY FLIRTY: Capaldi said he wouldn’t be flirting with Clara in this series, but that didn’t stop him flirting with a dinosaur. Maybe he's not so into humans?
CAMEO #1: Matt Smith returning was a brilliant and well kept surprise (unless you read a certain spoiler-happy tabloid). Steven Moffat begged everyone at the press screening to keep that a secret, and everyone did. Two multi-Doctor stories in a year (kinda). We ARE being spoiled.
CAMEO #2: Brian Millier who is the husband of Eliabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith) has a minor role as the tramp The Doctor meets in an alleyway.
TRIVIA: The new opening credits that were introduced in this episode were based on a fan-made YouTube video by Billy Hanshaw. Steven Moffat was so impressed by the video, he got in touch with Hanshaw to get it recreated.
WHO’S THAT GIRL: Michelle Gomez showed up at the end as the Gatekeeper of the Nethersphere, welcoming our cyborg friend into “heaven”. This looks like this year’s season arc. The plot thickens…
By Simon Ward (@simonjward)