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TV Episode Review: “Doctor Who” “Deep Breath” (08.01, 2014)

Written by Steven Moffat

Directed by Ben Wheatley

The Eleventh Doctor was introduced hurtling over London in an uncontrolled TARDIS, trying to recover control but unable to do so and being thrown around its interior and even to hanging off of the door. When he finally hit the ground, he climbed out to talk to a little Scottish girl and went about discovering who he was through food. The uncontrolled zaniness and tomfoolery that defined Matt Smith’s turn in the role was clear from the outset.

The Twelfth Doctor arrives very differently, belched out of a dinosaur that is mysteriously present in 19th-century London. He and Clara exit the TARDIS to discover the Paternoster Gang waiting, having seen the TARDIS and helped to place a perimeter around the dinosaur. He is confusedly panicking about the dinosaur, Clara, his relationships thereto, and everyone’s accents.

Typically, the companion is the audience’s stand-in. The Doctor is alien not just in his actual extraterrestrial origin but in how different from us he is. We get to know him through the eyes of the companion, whether it’s Rose Tyler or Amy Pond. While we do see the companions grow over time and the Doctor remains relatively static, we get to know him again every time through them.

However, we have an unusual situation right now where we’ve already met this companion, the crazed control freak Clara Oswald, the Impossible Girl, but the Doctor is new to us. The same thing happened back in season two, when Rose Tyler survived the transition from Christopher Eccleston to David Tennant, but it was treated almost as a non-event–the Doctor and Rose were immediately comfortable with one another and it seemed that the history of Rose and the Ninth Doctor stayed in place. This time, Clara, control freak that she is, cannot accept the Doctor changing against her wishes. The odd thing is that it’s not just the changing to which she objects, it’s his age that really seems to offend her. He, for his part, seems to think that she thought of the Eleventh Doctor as her boyfriend and he wants it to be clear that he will never be such a thing.

The new Doctor seems to have little idea of himself to this point, and his attempts to turn to Clara for definition come to naught, so we watch him gaze at himself in confused wonder for a double-length episode.

Unfortunately, there just isn’t much else here. Some of it is funny and it’s an interesting-sounding concept how the Doctor comes to know himself in a new regeneration, but this episode doesn’t really have anything to say about it–it just says, “This is a weird process.” It’s not an actively terrible episode like “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship,” but it just doesn’t have much to it.


  • Peter Capaldi has a really good confused look.
  • The references to “The Girl in the Fireplace” made me laugh. I had just posted the entry for that episode in my countdown of the best Doctor Who episodes, so it was extra funny.
  • I like Strax, but I’m glad they keep him to a relatively small number of appearances.
  • I’m sad there’s no Neil Gaiman episode this season, though he Tweeted that he’s very excited to write for Capaldi, so we should see some in the future.
  • Jenna Coleman is often teetering between fun and annoying. Scene-to-scene she can switch from one to the other. I don’t know how much of it is Clara and how much of it is her, but it’s an issue.

More Notes (After theatrical showing)

  • They keep making a big deal about a Scottish Doctor. David Tennant is Scottish. Is this yet another thinly-veiled shot at David Tennant from Steven Moffat, like his comment about hating young, handsome Doctors?
  • Incidentally, Karen Gillan is also of course Scottish.
  • The Vastra/Jenny kiss was obviously there for other reasons, but I’m still annoyed by Vastra saying she can help because her lungs hold more oxygen. Hold your breath and then pay attention to what happens when you can’t do it anymore. You don’t suck air in, you blow it out. That’s because we need to expel carbon dioxide faster than we need to take in oxygen. So her reasoning betrays a misunderstanding of human biology, something that I would find very unlikely in Vastra.
  • “Just because my pretty face has turned your head.” Um, her wife is better looking than you, Clara. Not that Clara isn’t attractive, but it’s not like she’s Karen Gillan.
  • “It’s times like this when I really miss Amy.” Oh, we all miss Amy. And we definitely know that the directors of Doctor Who most miss Amy’s legs. I looked it up out of curiosity: Karen Gillan is nine inches taller than Jenna Coleman.
  • Murray Gold is an absolute genius. His theme for the new Doctor isn’t as incredible as “I Am the Doctor” (because what is?) but it is fantastic. And the new arrangement of the theme plays much better with the extra depth of sound you get from a theatrical sound setup.
  • Was Missy a somehow different version of Madame Kovarian? Obviously, Michelle Gomez is not Frances Barber and indeed has not appeared on the show ever before, but it doesn’t seem like Moffat’s style for her not to be a character who has already been in his Whovian universe.
  • With the blue eyes, the red hair, and the eyebrows, I just kept thinking that “Missy” looked just enough like Amanda Palmer that it made me laugh, considering her husband’s work on this series.
  • Now that I’ve watched it multiple times, I really feel like Capaldi’s performance is great. He hasn’t had a chance yet to show that he can do what Christopher Eccleston could do, but he seems to be at least as capable as David Tennant. Matt Smith’s cameo, doing the one thing he always had difficulty doing (being earnest and sad) in the part, really made for a strong contrast.






One response to “TV Episode Review: “Doctor Who” “Deep Breath” (08.01, 2014)”

  1. […] from Moffat’s clockwork robots in “The Girl in the Fireplace” and “Deep Breath.” The use of the golden arrow to get the ship out of orbit and Hood’s use of the Doctor’s […]

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