Guest Post: REVIEW: Dr Who “Deep Breath”

August 26th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

REVIEW: Dr Who “Deep Breath By John Stringer

BBC Season 8: Episode 1 (Peter Capaldi, new Doctor).

Global simulcast and cinema screenings 23/24 August 2014.

I was tempted to take a rubber toilet plunger with me to DR WHO 8:1 (the 12th Doctor, well sorta the 13th or maybe the 15th) that opened worldwide yesterday as Season 8, Episode 1 (ok, both the numbering of the Doctors and episodes is as confusing as the time continuum).  In New Zealand it was featured at Hoyts cinemas. I attended the sunday 10am session (both sessions completely sold out) with Sky Goddess and Off Spring 2.  Here’s the official trailer as an appetizer before we get in to it…

Dr Who, Romance and Same-Sex Marriage

This outing is written by Who master Steven Moffat, responsible for much of the genius of the revived franchise and was directed by Ben Wheatley.

It returns several old favourites: Strax the Sontaran (who opens this meal), the Silurian Madame Vastra (in a same-sex marriage) and companion Clara (whose ‘romance’ with 11Dr Matt Smith is well and truly ‘put to bed’ [pun intend].  Capaldi 12Dr: “I’ve made some mistakes, but I intend to do something about that…I am NOT your boyfriend!”  “I miss Amy…”  “WHAT?” “Nothing.”).

Well, I’m glad we got that sorted out: no more ambiguous metro-sexual shenanigans in the Tardis, thank you, we’re British! And being an older man (“who worried these wrinkles on to my new face?”) it’s nice to re-establish the Hartnell plutonic-ness of an older Doctor hanging about in Police Boxes with young attractive women in public places. Rolf Harris and all that.

And as if to reiterate the point, Capaldi 12Dr wears a… but we’re getting ahead of ourselves (how very Time Lord of me).

The Opening (Strax)

Episode 8: 1 opens with a humorous video report to camera by Strax recapping the respective reincarnations of the Doctor, which is very useful for new entrants.  Lots of tongue-in-cheek references to chins, ears, scarves and Strax continually mistaking Dr Who’s gender.  Hilarious.  I’ve never really liked Strax, he’s kind of like Pumba from Lion KIng, and as a military race(“Kill them and melt them with Acid!”), Sontarans should have deeper more menacing voices, like the Zygons. They’re like happy Mr Potato Heads in armour.

And Strax is rendered permanently cartoonish when 12Dr’s opening lines are to confuse him with “Grumpy?” “Sleepy?” “Dopey?” of the Seven Dwarves.

This ability to laugh (and Strax roars with laughter) at the previous actors has always been an ease of the Dr Who writers and an accepted playfulness.

The Previous Doctors

Previous doctors have been nicknamed by other Doctors, as:

  • 11Dr. Chinny -Matt Smith
  • 10 Dr. Sandshoes -David Tennant (married to 3Dr’s daughter in real life).
  • 8.5D.r Granddad -John Hurt, to which we might add:
  • 3Dr. Dandy –Jon Pertwee
  • 4Dr Scarfie –Tom Baker
  • 5Dr Cricket -Colin Baker.
  • 12Dr Capldi will perhaps win the moniker “Eyebrows.”  “Look at these eyebrows. These are attack eyebrows! They could take off bottle caps!”

Capaldi as 12Dr

Peter Capaldi is brilliant: quirky, sexless, eccentric, old(er), darker, all hands and legs and YES a Scottish accent that wafts in and out. 12Dr: “You all sound… English! You’ve developed a fault!” He is a conscious move away from the younger Dr Whos of the past decades This is reinforced by the new costume, a throw back to the coat tails of the 1Dr (Hartnell) and 2Dr (Troughton) but with contemporary accessories (Dr Martin type shoes and a red inner lining). Capaldi pulls this off.  I would place him as a combination of Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee.

Capaldi has been in Who before, as a Roman character, but is perhaps best known to us as the scientist at the back end of World War Z with Brad Pitt.

This 12th Doctor is confused and ‘lost’ in the ruin of his latest transformation, and dashes about like a concussion patient, rambling manically, but eventually gets to the crusade.  That helps to establish this character as a bit darker a bit more unpredictable (doesn’t Dr Who always reflect his age, as in era)?  The girlies are left abandoned and gasping, only to be saved and reunited “just as friends” in time to hold the female audience (who after all, like older men?).

The wrinkles and gravitas coupled with the Matt Smith and David Tennant acting physicality is a perfect blend.

The Tardis and its Arrival.

The Tardis arrives creatively, caught within the throat of a ginormous roaring female T-Rex godzilla-ing herself around Edwardian London and threatening to knock over Big Ben.  “Sorry, I brought you over accidentally…I’m not flirting…but you are a big sexy female…”  Momma T.Rex eventually gets roasted from within by the bad guys.

The Tardis is re-decorated for this new Doctor, evoking the eternal script line, “You’ve re-decorated! I don’t like it.”  “Yes, I miss the roundy things, I need more roundy things.”


Is awesome.  There is a very moving phone call between Clara and 11Dr Who (Matt Smith) through time and space that helps embed the transition to Capaldi…but no spoiler on that.

Let’s get to the baddies.

Rubbish Robots from the Dawn of Time

A new alien beastie.  A half man half robot restaurateur, not a cyborg exactly, who makes a ghastly Edwardian air balloon out of human skin.  He’s all ‘borrowed’ eyeballs and clanking clock wheels, oh, and a blow torch on his Hellboy fist stump.  None of them breathe, thus the episode’s title “Deep Breath.” His minions evoke the scary Weeping Angels but with slashers. BothOff Spring 2 and I thought we were witnessing the origins of the Cybermen.

Like the Snowmen, and the Weeping Angels before them, these clockwork cyborgs tap the rich Dr Who vein of childhood fairy tale creepiness (Victorian clockwork dolls).

Oh and head Rubbish Robot looks like Liam Neeson. More of that Scottish theme again, to go with Clara’s tartan mini skirt.

Brick Bats

I did not like the new theme version, it was a bit ‘soft.’  Bring back the grimy mechanical earlier versions.

I’m a bit tired of the London period pieces, and Matt Smith’s Western episodes were a bit kitsch. I’d like some more alien planet stuff (cue some obligatory BBC CO2 smoke).  But 8:1 I guess sets off from where it began, London, and British Victorian and Edwardian stables. British Empire and all that hurrah!  Dr Who is re-colonising the world, including the USA.

Extra Features

There were some extra features, and we got to view Who and Clara (Jenna Coleman) at the first script reading of Episode 8:1 with the other actors.  You see here just how brilliant these actors are and how much talent is required to pull this stuff off.

The real hero for me was the writing.  The dialogue is quick, witty and fun.  The show is able to be hilarious, almost cartoonish, yet sinister and moving. Not many shows can achieve that (and over 50 years?): Dr Who does this in Zygorian spades.

Here are some of my favourite quotes from the first episode.

•12Dr and Silurian Vastra: “I never bother with sleeping. I just do standing-up cat naps.”
”And when do you do that?” 
”Generally, when everyone else is talking. I like to skip ahead to my bits [of the script].”

• “I could use it to blow this whole room if I see one thing I don’t like, and that includes karaoke and mimes.”

• “He’s seen stars fall to dust. You might as well flirt with a mountain range.”

• “I need clothes. Yes, clothes and a big, long scarf. No… never mind that. That’ll look stupid.”

• “Have you ever looked in a mirror and thought, ‘I’ve seen that face before’?”

• Re the same sex marriage between Vastra and Jenny…”I don’t like her, ma’am, I love her. And as to different, well, she’s a lizard.”

Great relaunch and reincarnation.  Full of change and re-setting, with lots of back to the Future and framing the future with the Past.  Dr Who just keeps us guessing. We-oo-o-ooo.

~ John Stringer.

11 Responses to “Guest Post: REVIEW: Dr Who “Deep Breath””

  1. Fletch (9,000 comments) says:

    I’m not going to read this until I watch the episode here.
    It plays on Prime TV August 31st (this Sunday) 7.30pm – 9.25pm

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  2. Fentex (3,299 comments) says:

    I basically liked it, the confused Capaldi and much of the dialogue was entertaining.

    But in sum I am uneasy. The cheap thrill of a giant dinosaur followed by a fairly callow story and mysterious character at the end all smells like stories about the Doctor’s relationships draped with flimsy drama that never really threatens and which will fade on cue by the application of the magic sonic screwdriver, Doctors forceful personality or whatever other deux ex machina cop out is needed because the pretend drama is never the story.

    Doctor as Messiah and his never ending angst are no longer interesting stories.

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  3. SHG (429 comments) says:

    This episode existed for one reason – to reassure younger fans of New Who that it’s OK for the Doctor to be old. Clara gets upgraded from being a piece of the set to being an audience surrogate. Still not a character though.

    The dinosaur out of its time, lost, all alone. “The world is grey, everything I knew is gone.” We get it.

    The robot out of its time, repairing itself for millennia, all alone. Come on Moffat, we get it.

    The broom speech. “There’s nothing of you left”. The face in the tray bit showing 12 his own face. Fuck Moff, give it a rest.

    Vastra’s veil speech. “He’s old. The young face was just an act. If you can’t accept that he’s older, you are a shallow person.” Jenny to Clara. “I don’t just like her, I love her, even though she’s different.” If you are just “liking” him for his looks, you don’t really love him. MOFFAAATTTTTT

    Clara: fucking everything in the whole episode. Oh, she’s only 27? Gee, thanks for that Strax, that line didn’t half stand out like dog’s bollocks. “Hey Doc, that’s not the only grey hair”, and just in case you haven’t been slapped in the face with it enough, here comes a call from Clara’s boyfriend so that Matt Smith can explain to the audience – I mean, Clara – that it’s OK for the Doctor to be old and grey.

    The “Clara doesn’t understand regeneration and wants her young Doctor back” plot was inexplicable shit. She has more understanding of Time Lord regen than anyone! She spent time with three different Doctors of different ages simultaneously in the 50th, and thanks to the crap Impossible Girl crap story arc crap she’s the only companion to have personally encountered every different incarnation of the Doctor across 2,000 years. Shit. Fuck you Moffat, lazy writing.

    Episode highpoints: Capaldi, “times like these I miss Amy”, eyebrows.
    Episode lowpoints: everything else.

    Hey, reviewer, S02E04 “The Girl In The Fireplace”, writer: Steven Moffatt. Watch it again. If there was one episode you absolutely needed to refer to, it was that one.

    At a higher level this episode represents something even scarier – Moffatt’s twin tendencies to regurgitate his own previous plots and storylines and to make the Doctor a timetraveling Sherlock Holmes. Moffatt is lead writer and showrunner of “Sherlock” and “Doctor Who” at the same time, and it shows.

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  4. pidge (68 comments) says:

    @SHG 12:12pm re:“The Girl In The Fireplace” – note the name of the ship in the console of the escape pod that the Dr picked out (SS Marie Antoinette), and the Dr said “sister ship to the SS Madame de Pompadour” (See

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  5. ross411 (1,744 comments) says:

    I can’t watch this any more. The plot lines are like a caricature of an interesting show, with silly nonsense and endings that are contrived at best. I’m sure I loved this cartoony stuff when I was a kid.

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  6. SHG (429 comments) says:

    @pidge: well yeah, obviously. But “The Girl In The Fireplace” is also:

    a) a story about clockwork robots in a broken time-traveling spaceship trying to harvest human bodyparts to perform repairs, and

    b) a story where the Doctor falls in love with a human and comes to regret it because of the cold hard reality that he’s ancient and immortal and living on a different timescale.

    It’s like Moffatt just went “OK, let’s re-do ‘Fireplace’ but change the script around a bit to make it more obvious that the Doctor is old. Oh, and add some Sherlock of course.”


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  7. Longknives (6,396 comments) says:

    Billie Piper or Karen Gillan?

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  8. Evadne (167 comments) says:

    Firstly, I enjoyed it. I loved Capaldi, and look forward to seeing more of him. The episode passed pleasantly – good on the big screen, some great scenes, many great lines, as well as the obligatory in-jokes and Whovian references. But I also left feeling it didn’t quite reach what it could have been. The alien threat / plot was a bit token (although I like the resolution, and the questions it raised) and too much time was spent on naval-gazing angst – as though it had to justify itself & Moffat’s choices. People will accept the Doctor because he does Doctor things, not because all the dialogue tells us it’s ok (too much breaking the fourth wall). And Clara’s angst did not sit well at all – she’d just met 3 doctors at once, one of whom was older – of all companions, she should understand it. And why did the Doctor keep going off?

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  9. ChardonnayGuy (1,604 comments) says:

    I see rent-a-bigot UK is whingeing about the fact that (gasp!!!) Madame Vastra and Jenny do same-sex kissage in this episode…despite the fact that uberslut Captain Jack smooched both Rose Tyler and the Ninth Doctor back in 2005. And despite the fact that the two women went uptime and got married. Why do I get the sinking feeling that somewhere uptime, the 22nd Century version of the Christian Right is raving that the real problem with this series was that it (gasp gasp) regularly demonstrated wanton human/alien relationships and implied sex…?

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  10. Fletch (9,000 comments) says:

    I just watched this tonight on Prime TV and I have to say I didn’t really like it. Those comedic lines that roll so effortlessly off the tongue of Tennant and Smith seem to fall flat when Capaldi utters them. I’m not sure why, but some of the atmosphere felt weird. Sometimes it felt like it was being acted on a set or a stage in the 1970s. It had that vibe.

    With Smith and Tennant gone, the fizz of a possible relationship with Clara is also gone. No more flirting. He is far too old. Perhaps that is why the actress who plays Clara is leaving the show after Christmas. It’s just not the same. The bit with the Matt Smith cameo was the only part I really enjoyed. I know the original doctors were older with younger companions, but we’ve gotten used to that romantic connection ever since the modern series and Rose (followed by the other companions).

    I think the producers have made a mistake with Capaldi that threatens to derail the show.

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  11. Fletch (9,000 comments) says:

    ps, when Vestra is chiding Clara about her seeming non-acceptance of the Doctor’s new appearance (and likewise Matt Smith in his cameo), they may as well be speaking to the viewer – “despite all appearances, it’s still the Doctor, even if he looks older; give him another chance”.

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