What follows is a spoilery review of Doctor Who series 8, episode 1: 'Deep Breath'. If you haven't seen the episode yet, you probably want to avoid reading this until you have. So, if you haven't seen the episode yet, stop reading now:
Okay, first thing's first...Capaldi was brilliant. Still too early to get a proper read on his characterisation of the new Doctor, since he spent a lot of the time being bonkers from regeneration sickness. However, after the alley scene - which seemed to be the point where the Doctor 'figured out' his new persona - it looks like he's a bit more sombre, down-to-earth character than his last couple of incarnations. Not sure how happy I am about that prospect, to be honest. Hopefully he'll still retain some sense of fun but, like I said, it's too soon to judge.
The onscreen chemistry between Capaldi's Doctor and Jenna Coleman as Clara was good too. It looks like it's going to be an uneasy friendship between them, judging by the banter and bickering. But I'm glad the Doctor nipped any potential romance in the bud - much like Ten did with Donna - so it's definitely going to be a friendship rather than another budding romance/unrequited love/potential love triangle (once Danny shows up), like we've had with so many companions in the New Series. Seriously, just because they're a man and a woman doesn't mean they can't just be good friends (you hear me, Moffat?).
As for the story itself...well, it was okay. I wasn't too hot about how it opened. First we had the Statue of Liberty as a giant weeping Angel that moves across the city. Now we have a great big ruddy dinosaur stomping around the heart of London. Victorian London, no less. The Cyberking wasn't noted in history books because of the cracks in time, but how the frak does this dinosaur get omitted? Sigh. Probably something to do with Vastra and her lot, no doubt.
As for Vastra and the Paternoster Gang...don't get me wrong, I love 'em, I do...but they should not have been in this episode. This episode was supposed to be about introducing us (and Clara) to the new Doctor, but we see more of Vastra, Jenny and Strax in this episode than we do of Capaldi's Doctor. It can't even be justified by Moffat wanting someone familiar with regeneration around to explain things to Clara because she knows all about it from having been inside his timestream and met all of his previous incarnations already. Oh, and let's talk about Clara for a minute.
Clara was way too freaked out about the Doctor's transformation, given that she knows him and knows all about regeneration. Not to mention the fact that she comforted the dying Eleventh in the Christmas special by saying he could regenerate. The best explanation we get for Clara's reaction is Vastra's implication that she is upset over losing 'her' Doctor, and that he looks older now, which makes her seem shallow. I do like Clara's furious response to this accusation, but there are still moments in the episode where I can't help but feel there might be some truth to Vastra's words.
These issues aside, I did like the episode. Unlike others, I don't mind that it reused the clockwork robots from The Girl In The Fireplace. It's no bad thing to revisit old villains every now and then, as it adds a sense of continuity to the show. I thought they were creepier than the ones in the previous episode, as well. The scene in the restaurant when Clara and the Doctor try to leave, and they all get up and mirror their movement as they close around them? That gave me chills. Plus, the close ups on the half-face man's eyeball...well, anything to do with eyeballs tends to freak me out.
Plus, though it was somewhat unsubtle, I did like the symbolism of having a Doctor still recovering from regeneration face a villain who has been renewing their body for so long there's nothing left of the original. It silently raises a question: how much like the Doctors we know will this one be? And I Iove how we're not given a clear answer in the episode's climax, due to the ambiguity of how the half-face man met his demise: "Now, did he push you out of that thing or did you fall? Couldn't really tell."
Which brings us to the new series arc for series 8: Missy and her 'heaven'. I'm not really caring much about speculating on the series arc at this point, given Moffat's track record on that score (the 'Silence arc' was an incoherent mess by the time it was wrapped up, in my humble opinion). Whatever her identity and the nature of her 'heaven' turns out to be, I'm sure I'll be dissatisfied by the answer, so I'm not going to bother worrying about it. I'm just going to judge each episode on its individual merit.
So, how does this episode measure up as a standalone? I'd say for a regeneration episode it's not as strong as it ought to be, as it is it's barely above average. and doesn't focus on the Doctor himself nearly as much as it should under the circumstances. The story itself is fine, but it has a bit of a rocky start with a dinosaur stomping around Victorian London for no other reason than to be burned up as a hook to make the characters aware the story's true antagonist. Who they only find because they were led there - presumably by Missy, for reasons as yet unknown - which is not how we want to see our protagonists 'solve' a case. It's just a little on the lazy side, really.
Undecim Rating: +2