When Peter Capaldi was announced as the new Doctor – the 12th Doctor (not counting, of course, John Hurt’s brilliant turn as the War Doctor last year) – it was met with much fanfare and excitement. Not to mention YouTube clips and meems anticipating the newest Doctor to echo Capaldi’s much lauded character of Malcolm Tucker from The Thick of It. Grumpy, foulmouthed and hotheaded. Not to mention a little older. Though no one really expected the new Doctor to be uttering the “f bomb” every sentence, the humorous response did hold some truth.
First and foremost, he’s older. In fact, Capaldi debuts as the oldest Doctor since the first, William Hartnell, where as Matt Smith had been the youngest. As far as the first episode went, there’s no “grandpa” vibe like Hartnell gave off, but we’re definitely taking the series back to its roots in many ways. With that in mind, this limits our expectations of romance (or, at the very least, flirtation) that we enjoyed between Smith’s Doctor and Clara – and indeed, some early moments between our new Doctor and Clara insist they won’t be going down that road. A more “fatherly” figure? Perhaps. But with an air of mystery to go along with it. We’re not going to really know the new Doctor for a few episodes yet…
Along with the mysteries, those aged eyes bring with them a little more wisdom, and like the original doctor himself, a little more crankiness too. And like Tucker before him, he remains Scottish, and funny. Very funny. The series premiere easily has some of the funniest moments of the series recent history, setting the foundations for a very entertaining series.
In many ways, when watching Capaldi embody the new role, it’s exactly as it should be, and everything you expected it to be. And the exciting thing is, that like Smith before him as the youngest Doctor, this opens up the character to a whole new world of thematic opportunities. But then again, the Whoniverse (particularly in the Moffat era) has always existed to defy expectation and convention. Our 12th Doctor looks to be, unsurprisingly, of little exception.
And in that sense, they hit the ground running. Directed by Ben Wheatley and written by Stephen Moffat, the series eight premiere entitled “Deep Breath”, which aired around the world this morning, immediately threw the beloved character into a typically grand situation. We’re taken to old London, where we catch up with some familiar faces – Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint and the always hilarious Strax – and a not so familiar dinosaur, who he seemed to have accidentally brought with him, having gotten the TARDIS stuck in his throat following the regeneration.
Like many Doctors before him, the regeneration creates a myriad of confusion, and the first scenes are littered with it. And not just for the Doctor himself, who at first seems to be relating more to the dinosaur than the rest, but also to those unfamiliar with the regenerated Doctor. This is most notably – and perhaps understandably – tue for his companion Clara, who insists throughout the episode that she doesn’t know the man. Though this “discovery” of the new Doctor felt a bit overdone as the episode continued, it did influence some great scenes between Oswald and Vastra, and sets the foundations for a surprise, albeit brief, return from our last Doctor, which gave us a very touching end to the episode, even if it felt like we we reliving the emotions from the Christmas special.
In what may have been an homage to the debut of the Tenth Doctor in “The Christmas Invasion”, where Tennant spent much of the episode unconscious, Capaldi, put in a similar position, showed that he wasn’t willing to lay down on the job. But it’s a while before we see the new Doctor come to terms with his new self. Channeling Chaplin’s Tramp, the Doctor runs through the streets of London, confused and seemingly homeless, trying to discover what to do next and how to find out how to save – and then avenge – his unwitting time travelling dinosaur.
Stumbling across a mirror, we get the Doctor’s first thoughts on himself, impressed by his own eyebrows in a hilarious moment, and asking in some version of a Shakespearean soliloquy, “Have you seen this face before? No? Are you sure? It’s funny, because I’m sure that I have…”, no doubt referencing the fact that Capaldi did appear as another character in an earlier episode.
Meanwhile, as Clara runs around in circles, trying to get her head around the new Doctor, they eventually find each other and we are sent on a fairly standard Who escapade. Doctor stumbles across bad guys, works out what they’re up to and saves the day, with the help of his companion, of course. The bad guys themselves – “clockwork droids” who desire the promised land, as previously seen in “The Girl in the Fireplace” – were interesting, if not exciting, and the interplay between their leader and Capaldi made for a very interesting moment at the end. You’ll no doubt be intrigued by the resulting tag of the episode, too. That said, when it comes to storylines, there isn’t much new here, and with a bit of repetition, by the end it felt that the feature length duration may not have been as well utilized as in Day of the Doctor, but it’s far from the point of a Doctor debut.
We meet a Doctor who has once again lost himself and has to put himself back together again. And Capaldi does this brilliantly, in a way I don’t think we’ve seen a Doctor do before. It’s at once comic, at another heartbreaking, always entertaining and reminds us why this show is so compelling and fun to consume: there are few characters as layered or as versatile as the Doctor, and nothing on TV has ever really matched it. Who fans aren’t likely to be disappointed by the episode, our reintroduction into its oh-so-addictive world.
“Deep Breath” serves as a fantastic debut of our new Doctor, ensuring that Capaldi proves himself worthy of the role, but runs over enough familiar territory to keep it from being among the series most shining moments. And like Clara and her unfamiliar friend, we have a bit of getting used to the new Doctor as well. It took a while for Smith to get in his stride after Tennant’s phenomenal run, and no doubt Capaldi will require the same grace period. But he’s off to a flying start, and no doubt the best is yet to come.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Doctor Who airs Sundays on ABC TV in Australia, and streams on iView. The Episode will be released as a standalone edition on blu-ray and DVD on September 10th. The complete eighth season will follow on November 19th.
Stay tuned to The Iris for weekly reviews of the new series and our podcast “The Doctor Is In” which will return later this week for its first edition of 2014.
Fun Fact: with a running time of close to 80 minutes, this feature length premiere episode (which also is screening today in cinemas, following the huge success of The Day Of The Doctor last year), is the longest series opener since the first in 2005.