Dinosaurs and the Doctor: A Review of Doctor Who’s “Deep Breath”

By Amanda Bertsch

The premiere of the eighth season of Doctor Who aired on August 23rd with the episode “Deep Breath.” This episode introduced the newest incarnation of the show’s iconic title character, the Doctor, now played by Peter Capaldi.

In the Doctor Who universe, the Doctor is a Time Lord, the last of his kind. He travels the universe in his TARDIS, a blue police box/time machine that “can travel anywhere in space in time,” according to the show. The Doctor can regenerate into a new body, a convention that kept the show alive for its run from 1963 to 1989 and has seen it through three actors since its reboot in 2005. Peter Capaldi is the twelfth canonical Doctor, although the ordering is not a precise science.

Producer Steven Moffat’s decision last year to cast Capaldi as the new Doctor shocked many American fans. Capaldi was 55 at the time (he’s since turned 56), much older than any of the other actors cast since 2005. Matt Smith, the previous Doctor, was only 26 when he took the job. Capaldi’s casting broke the oft-noted trend in recent years toward younger, attractive actors. However, many were excited about his past experience, and Capaldi did not disappoint.

“Deep Breath” is based on the premise that a dinosaur swallowed the TARDIS, being transported to Victorian London in the process. This means the Paternoster Gang, including intelligent lizard Vastra, her human wife Jenny, and the Sontaran Strax, are also involved. When the dinosaur suddenly went up in flames, the Doctor had to determine the source of a series of similar murders. Along the way, Capaldi’s character experienced the confusion that is typical of the Time Lord after a regeneration. This continued for longer than usual, making it harder for both the characters and the viewers to adjust to the new Doctor. 

The episode had an unrealistic premise, more so even than the typical storyline of the adventures of a time-traveling alien with two hearts. The dinosaur created a glaring disconnect from reality that made it difficult to pay attention to the characterization of the new Doctor. This is, of course, assuming there was any characterization. This episode really felt like it was more about Clara, the Doctor’s companion, than him. If it wasn’t Capalidi’s first episode, he almost wouldn’t have needed to be in it at all.

However, the episode had its moments. Moffat, the producer, has hinted that Doctor Who is heading in a darker direction, but this was definitely a light episode. From Capaldi’s relentless bashing of his own appearance (“don’t look in that mirror, it’s absolutely furious!”) to his Scottish accent, he revealed a fun side to the character that many worried was gone with Smith. However, by the end of the episode, Capaldi’s Doctor is revealed to be a much darker character than the light-hearted Eleventh regeneration.

I found the best part of the episode to undoubtedly be the ending scene when the new Doctor confronts Clara about her wariness of him. Without spoiling certain events for those who have never seen the episode, the reference to the past ties this Doctor to those who came before him. It also highlights his companion’s struggle to accept an older Doctor. This scene introduces a desperation to the Doctor, a need for companionship that is not often visible. “You can’t see me, can you?” he asks. “You look at me, and you can’t see me. Have you any idea what that’s like?”

It is nearly impossible to judge the new Doctor until he has a few more episodes under his belt, but his debut promises to take the show in an interesting new direction. Although this was not the best-orchestrated new-Doctor episode (certainly no patch on the Eleventh’s “The Eleventh Hour”), it was not terrible. And when the post-Matt Smith mourning ceases, Doctor Who fans just might find themselves with an excellent new Doctor to obsess over once more.

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