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Doctor Who: Deep Breath

Doctor: 'You can't see me, can you? You look at me and you can't see me. You have any idea what that's like?'

It seems like centuries since we had our last full season of Doctor Who. With the last couple of episodes being so momentous in terms of the show's history, it feels nice to be back to normality again. Assuming you find a combustible dinosaur, a sword-fighting lizard, an organ-stealing cyborg, and a genital-bashing sonic screwdriver normal.

My biggest pre-season worry was whether Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman would have any on-screen chemistry whatsoever. During their promotional interviews, despite looking friendly, they didn't appear to share the same kind of easy-flowing, madcap camaraderie that Matt had with Karen and Arthur, or Tennant had with Piper and Tate. And, character-wise, the Doctor and Clara have grown close these past two years. How would their relationship be affected by a sudden change in both age and face?

I shouldn't have worried: I loved this episode! It fizzed with snappy dialogue, and had an energy, intelligence and focus that only a newly regenerated Doctor story could provide. A few times I found myself imagining Smith, Tennant and Eccleston delivering the same lines, and none delivered them so well. A few months ago, I really struggled to see Capaldi in this role. When an actor arrives with such a weighty résumé, it's hard to detach them from their previous roles, but Capaldi totally delivered. The synergy of script and performance had me spellbound for the full 80 minutes.

The pre-season trailers—as well as being downright awful at preparing us for tonight's episode with their 'Am I a good man?' and 'We're going into darkness' waffle—seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on the Doctor, when this was in fact a distinctly Clara-centric affair. I thought Jenna rose to the challenge of having her character scrutinised admirably. I loved seeing her sticking it to Madame Vastra. It was never about her chasing someone younger, it was about losing a friend, and her inability to understand exactly where he'd gone.

Obviously Clara's memories as The Impossible Girl are fragmentary now. She really needed that phone call from Eleven. She needed to be told that it was okay to like the new Doctor. She needed to understand that her Doctor was still there and had been all along. After a season of wondering who Clara is, Moffat really needed to establish her as a viable present-day companion, and I think he succeeded. It's just a shame she'll be leaving at the end of the year. (If the rumours are true.) Still, it wouldn't be Christmas without us all sobbing into our tins of Quality Street. (Other chocolates are available... but the tins aren't quite as useful.)

I loved when Clara accused the Doctor of eavesdropping, and he responded with 'I'm not on the phone, I'm right here. Standing right in front of you. Please, just see me'. It illustrated perfectly the Doctor's inner turmoil. We haven't had a decent traipse through regeneration-from-the-Doctor's-perspective-territory in a while now, so I like that Moffat took the time to show things from a different angle. He acknowledged the Doctor's fear of transformation—the pain of looking a loved one in the eye and seeing no recognition, no familiarity, no love.

Despite the numerous security leaks which have plagued the show this year (stolen scripts/incomplete episodes becoming available online, etc.), I'm pleased that I managed to remain unspoiled. Matt turning up at the end was as much a surprise to me as it was to Clara. It's touches like this which make an episode. Some have complained that it felt like unnecessary closure, but for me it was the handing over of the baton. Not only has Matt Smith been gushing with praise for Capaldi in recent interviews, I love that he was able to give him an in-character recommendation, too.

Having the Paternoster Gang there to greet the new Doctor felt like the perfect way of easing us into the new series, of mixing the familiar with the unfamiliar. Jenny and Madame Vastra were a soothing presence amidst the Doctor's post-regeneration madness, and Strax appears to have lost none of his irreverent charm. I don't think I've laughed at an episode so much since season four. I'm also getting strong Ten/Donna vibes from Clara and the new Doctor. If their verbal interactions reach anywhere near the comedy heights of their predecessors, I'll be happy.

What are we to make of the numerous questions the episode left hanging? Who put that advert in the newspaper? Who gave Clara the Doctor's number? (We're going back over a year and a half with that one.) Why did the TARDIS miss Clara's home and end up in Glasgow? Presumably we were meant to make the connection between the Half-Face man and the clockwork creatures in 'The Girl in the Fireplace'—they did mention the SS Madame de Pompadour after all (sister ship to the SS Marie Antoinette)—but who is Missy and what was that heavenly coda all about?

More importantly, was the Half-Faced Man pushed or did he jump? If the former—and the Doctor's face immediately after his death did look somewhat akin to a puppy sat next to a pile of poo—then what does this mean for the Doctor? Did he break his programming? Is this the darkness they've been promising? Or is there something far deeper going on that we're not yet privy to?

Other Thoughts:

—When I first saw the dinosaur I thought 'Oh crap, not another 'Dinosaurs on a Spaceship'.' Thankfully, it was so much more.

—I'm so pleased they allowed Capaldi to keep his Scottish accent. It provided the ideal opportunity for Neve McIntosh to speak in her native tongue, too.

—The Doctor finding his new face familiar appears to be the beginning of an attempt to explain why he bears such a striking resemblance to Lucius Caecilius from 'The Fires of Pompeii.' Is that why some of the cyborg's inner workings looked Roman?

—I love that they're carrying on the time-honoured tradition of taking the piss out of the Doctor's facial characteristics. Capaldi has some magnificent brows. I'm sure ears, chinny, gravelly voice and Dick Van Dyke would approve.

—I'm not sure I like the new titles. Maybe they'll grow on me.

—A same-sex multi-species kiss disguised as a life-saving procedure and the gratuitous exploitation of the female form by a lizard? I think I just heard tumblr explode.

—The tramp was played by the late Elizabeth Sladen's husband, Brian Miller.


Doctor: 'Don't look in that mirror, it's absolutely furious.'

Strax: 'Military tactics. The Doctor is still missing, but he will always come looking for his box. By bringing it here, he will be lured from the dangers of London to this place of safety, and we will melt him with acid.'
Clara: 'Okay. That last part?'
Strax: 'And we will not melt him with acid. Old habits.'

Doctor: 'I need clothes, that's what I need. And a big long scarf. No, I moved on from that. It looked stupid.'

Doctor: 'It's at times like this when I miss Amy.'
Clara: 'Who?'
Doctor: 'Nothing.'

Clara: 'Sorry, did I hit something.'
Doctor: 'Oh, the symbolism.'

Doctor: 'Hello, hello, rubbish robots from the dawn of time.'

Doctor: 'This is your power source, and feeble though it is, I can use it to blow this whole room if I see one thing that I don't like. And that includes karaoke and mime, so take no chances.'

Clara: 'You've redecorated.'
Doctor: 'Yes.'
Clara: 'I don't like it.'
Doctor: 'I'm not entirely convinced myself. I think there should be more round things on the walls. I used to have a lot of round things. I wonder where I put them.'

Doctor: 'Will you help me?'
Clara: 'You shouldn't have been listening.'
Doctor: 'I wasn't, I didn't need to, that was me talking. You can't see me can you? You look at me and you can't see me. Have you any idea what that's like? I'm not on the phone, I'm right here. Standing right in front of you. Please, just see me.'
Also posted at The Time Meddler.


  1. Excellent, excellent review, Paul.

    Despite the obvious quality of the episode and the crackling dialogue, plus my love for the Paternoster Gang and admiration for Peter Capaldi, I wasn't sure I liked it. It just seemed too long and too serious, and the new Doctor too dark. Maybe this new incarnation will improve upon acquaintance, so please everyone, feel free to tell me I'm wrong.

  2. I would have enjoyed more if it had been any companion other than Clara - not because there's anything wrong with Clara, who I really like, but because she's met all thirteen incarnations and spent considerable time with 10 and 8.5, so why on earth would she be so freaked out by regeneration? It just felt like a story for a companion who'd only met one Doctor, like Rose when 9 regenerated.

  3. I'm just happy that Clara is at last being given some character development, which she has been sadly lacking despite Jenna's best efforts. Maybe she can finally be a person instead of a plot device with a person occasionally trying to break through.

  4. Juliette, I think that knowing about regeneration and experience it first hard are two very different things. She met other Doctors but none of them were going through post-regeneration trauma at the time and so their behaviour wasn't as erratic. I don't blame her for maybe being a bit selfishly attached to his previous incarnation, who she was very close to, and wanting him back. I've felt that way more than once when a new Doctor has arrived.

    Not in this case, though. I absolutely adore Capaldi as the Doctor. He is very different from the last few Doctors we've had, but not once did I find myself questioning that this man is the Doctor. I love that new dynamic between him and Clara. There's a level of tension to their relationship that wasn't there before making that interactions more charged. This Doctor is more willing to leave his companions on their own to see how they handle themselves. And it has to be said that she handled herself beautiful y. The Doctor is right, Clara is brilliant on adrenaline.

    I didn't mind how long the episode was, it allowed us to spend more time with Vastra, Jenny and Strax, which is always a bonus.

  5. Love this episode to pieces. Regeneration episodes can be so tough. The toughest one for me has got to be the 6th doctor -- it put me off of the doctor for a long while. I love the new dynamic between Clara and the new Doctor, not flirty, lighthearted, and fun, but argumentative and witty. I love the test Vestra gave Clara, and the final confrontation between the Doctor and the Half Face Cyborg. So many of what was said could be applied to the Doctor as well. I find it interesting that the Cyborg is looking for heaven while the Doctor has no expectation of reaching The Promised Land. One might argue he simply regard that concept as superstition, but is he still feeling guilt over his actions in the last 2000 years? Capaldi last played Caeciius in "Fire of Pompeii," is he now regretting his actions all those years ago and therefore ended up with that face? After Clara reunited with the Dcotor in the Tardis, the Doctor did mention doing something for his many mistakes over his 2000 year life. Just fun things for a geek like me to muse about.

  6. Juliette, that's because Moffat likes to make up a story and then mold the characters around it, not the other way around. That's basically the main reason I don't like him as a showrunner that much.

    That being said, I liked this episode more than I like the standard Moffat-era shenanigans. Maybe it was because it had less plot and more characters. I'm glad that Clara is getting some character development at long last. Capaldi's Doctor, however, feels a little over the top to me - I just hope it's just the post-regeneration stress disorder and not a permanent feature!
    Jenny and Vastra were wonderful, of course. And Strax, too :)

  7. Juliette, Mark, it's not just that this is the first Doctor that Clara has met who's going through post-Regeneration trauma, it's that Matt's Doctor was the only one she actually *knew*. Sure, she met Ten and the War Doctor, but Eleven was her Doctor. Her only Doctor, really. Those other two blokes were a part of his past already by the time she met him. Eleven was the only Doctor she really had to say good-bye to.

    While a part of me is glad that they're clearly moving away from the quasi(and sometimes not so quasi)-romantic tension between the Doctor and his companion, I'm not sure how I feel about Capaldi's Doctor just yet. I think part of it is just me not being over Matt Smith's departure yet. He will forever be "my" Doctor. What he brought to the role was just magical. And I think another part is me being bummed about Jenna's rumored departure at the end of this season. It was bad enough that we didn't get much time with Matt & Jenna together, they were an incredible team, even more fun than Matt & Karen(and that's saying something). But it's hard to invest in this new team if we know it's not going to last very long. This has been the one downside to Dr. Who for me, the speed at which the cast has rotated. Are we just totally spoiled over here in the States, with the number of years some of our shows' stars stick around?

  8. I had a similar issue with Clara's reaction to regeneration: after all, she's met all the incarnations of the Doctor during her stint as the Impossible Girl. Then I remembered a line from the 50th anniversary where she refers to the War Doctor as a warrior and Ten as a hero, only calling Eleven the Doctor.

    Maybe she didn't/couldn't see the previous incarnations as the Doctor and so couldn't see Twelve as one either. Perhaps not the strongest of explanations but it's my one and I'm sticking to it :-D

    I was quite struck by how intense and even vicious some of the characters interactions with Clara were: Vash's speech on her veil being a judgement on bigots, paired with hers and Jenny's relationship being kept hidden was searing. I can't help but think Moffat was releasing some major stress in writing that.

    I need to watch it again: I think I liked it but I'm not entirely sure. The individual elements were generally great: the Paternoster Gang, Capaldi, JLC and the return of the clockwork robots (Girl in the Fireplace is one of my favourite Who episodes so harking back to it was always going to be a winner in my book), I'm just not sure it all came together that well.

    Interesting bit of trivia: the new titles were commissioned by Moffat after he saw a fan video on Youtube. The guy who made the video comes from my hometown of Leeds.

  9. I liked it but I didn't love it, I thought the plot was a bit of a mess to be honest. It was too frenetic as well. However, I thought Capaldi was great, in turn funny and dark, so I will wait and see.

    I'm not sure if it helped or not that I saw this in a packed cinema with a few hundred Doctor Who fans. Biggest laugh from the (Scottish) audience - "I'm Scottish! I can complain about things!".

    I think I will go and watch it again just to pick up on anything I missed.

  10. Just to add my penny's worth:

    In the Doctor Who novel 'Into the Void' it mentions that after escaping the Doctor's time-line her memory of her echo lives became fragmented, and that some memories became more like dreams.

    But I agree with the general consensus, Clara although familiar with the regeneration process, hadn't experienced it herself, and her expectations initially appeared counter to the reality. She expected some remnant of Eleven to be there at the new Doctor's core. Yet, when the new Doctor appeared, he was a babbling idiot who couldn't even tell people apart. Where was the continuity? It was as if everything about him was different.

    So it took most of the episode, and a gentle coaxing from Vastra, for Clara to realise that the new Doctor wasn't a total stranger. She started to tentatively put her trust in him towards the end of the episode, but it was the phone call from Eleven which sealed the deal. It also didn't hurt that by that time Twelve was starting to come to his senses.

    And as already mentioned above, Clara didn't have too much to do with the Doctor's other incarnations. She made the comment in 'The Name of the Doctor' that his other selves hardly ever noticed her. It wasn't her brief to hang out with them, she just had to save them. However, Eleven saw her, befriended her, and took her on adventures with him. She knew him intimately.

    In fact, when the regeneration came, it was probably just as traumatic for her as for someone with no knowledge of regeneration whatsoever. She had unmet expectations, and spend most of the episode working through those.

  11. Jenna, I think you've just put your finger on exactly why I don't always connect with Moffat's stories, thank you. Obviously, it's possible to explain Clara's reaction and it felt natural to others - and I take the point that Eleven is the Doctor she was close to - but it felt a bit off to me, and although I hadn't thought of it like that, that makes perfect sense and also explains some problems I had with the Amy/Rory/River story back in season whatever-it-was (7.1?).

  12. Am I the only one who still hasn't warmed up to Clara? She's my least favourite of all the modern-era companions. She's always felt somehow fake, as if the character was playing a character ("sassy modern girl") and failing miserably at it, and I've found her mannerisms irritating to the extreme. Can't help but feel that the series will be better once she's gone.

    That said, what a pleasant episode and what a promising doctor. Now if only we'd get a season-long story like the phenomenal sixth series, I couldn't be happier. Capaldi was the perfect choice for the role.

  13. Even if I don't think much of Clara in general, I found her reaction to Twelve perfectly understandable. She must have thought her Doctor was dead - and essentially the person he used to be *is* dead. How on earth could that not be a shock?

    To use a poor analogy, we all know that people die. Some of us might already have lost loved ones, but it doesn't make subsequent losses any less harrowing or emotionally painful. In my mind, briefly meeting the previous regenerations didn't really prepare Clara emotionally for the actual event. For one thing, she had no reason to think her Doctor was going to regenerate any time soon (he looked young, after all). And as Paul said above, she's in shock because he's so very different.

  14. Adding my two pennies, just because I just watched it and I have lots of thoughts.

    To begin with, I have to confess that I've actually hated the past two seasons, and I've been very vocal about it. While I've really liked Matt Smith in the role, and while there have been some bits and pieces that I've found brilliant, I've mostly disliked what Moffat has brought to the table as a showrunner. For the past seasons I've felt that all we had was overly complicated plots where the characters could barely hang from, lots of funny quips with no depth, a lot of telling but not showing (seriously, where did the River Song full story go? Were we just supposed to believe that it happened somewhere between episodes?), too many emotional moments that weren't actually earned, and a lot of pushing big red buttons to undo stuff, basically eliminating every bit of emotional impact.

    That said, I just don't know how to stay away from this show, and I do have faith in it.

    So, there are things in this episode I didn't like plot-wise. It was too frenetic at points, and a bit of a mess, honestly, but I think it did what it really needed to do: give us our first glimpse of the new doctor, and actually give Clara a bit of character development rather than just a lot of funny lines. I do agree that perhaps her being so weirded out by the regeneration was a bit of a stretch, but at least it helped her character and it can be explained, the way most of you have brilliantly done already.

    I actually disliked Eleven showing up at the end. I love me some Matt Smith, but it just felt to me like typical Moffat trying to tug at the heart strings unnecesarily. It felt a bit over the top, and only there to surprise the audience.

    I adored Capaldi in the role, but then again, I guess I've always liked the darkness of the Doctor. My favorite part was his rambling argument with the homeless man. He was really scary, and yet perfectly recognizable, and I thought it was brilliant. It makes sense to me, too, that after Tennant's almost teenage-like anger and Smith's old man like weariness, that what Capaldi has to offer is a sort of controled anger, almost as if he's done throwing fits and is actually acting his age (what's 2000 for a Time Lord? Middle-age?).

    So, high hopes for the season. Let's just hope the mystery of it doesn't need overly complicated plotting or the creation of seven hundred new timelines.

  15. I find it strange that people think Clara is just now being developed as a character. Maybe I saw a different edit of Series 7 than everyone else, but Hide, Cold War, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, Nightmare in Silver, Name of the Doctor and even the Clara and the TARDIS minisode, not to mention Time of the Doctor let her take tremendous strides. And it continued with Deep Breath. Nothing new here, really (but it was still good). The only difference is we saw her get angry for once; that's not character development, that's added variety. Anyway, great episode regardless.

  16. And the first episode for my 2nd favorite modern Doctor! He's 5th overall (For me it's Tom Baker number 1 by a large margin, then Jon Pertwee, then Patrick Troughton, then Matt Smith, and then Peter Capaldi), and while I was fairly ambivalent to this story, he's quite enjoyable here for me although a lot of my friends that are more modern Who focused than I stopped watching during his tenure.

    Some fun moments, Clara is still a companion that I find a mixed bag (Jenna's acting is not the issue at all, she's great, it's how she fits into the overall arc of the Doctor), but a decent regeneration story. I never have done a personal rating of the regeneration stories but with Spearhead from Space as number 1 and Time and the Rani at the very bottom, this one is closer to the former than the latter!


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