Sunday, 24 August 2014

Doctor Who: Deep Breath (Episode Review)

Given the send off Matt Smith was stuck with last time, concerns were rife with this story. Over the past series Steven Moffat was more miss than hit with his scripts, and this episode was to see a few major changes occur within the show and the character we know. Along with taking a darker path, it needed to set up a new dynamic, and alter the relationship between the Doctor and Clara. At the same time it still leave enough time for a great story and enough familiar elements to prevent the audience being thrown off. Thankfully this one was definitely a hit and, while not quite reaching the high watermark of past stories, it was none the less a solid first outing for the Twelfth Doctor.

Following on from his regeneration on Trenzalore, the Doctor and Clara manage to crash the TARDIS in Victorian London. Despite accidentally ending up inside a dinosaur, they manage to find assistance in the form of Madame Vastra, and yet more danger. Even as the Doctor behaves erratically following his regeneration into a new man, another repeatedly reborn individual walks the city's streets. Determined to find his way to the promised land, he will allow nothing to stand in his way of his ambitions...

Unlike the clumped mess which was Time and the Doctor, this episode is visibly more focused, with many far better decisions made in the creative department. While containing many plot threads, its extended length means it has the time to address them all in turn and gradually allow each one to flourish. Furthermore there's been a definite focus upon dealing with criticisms of past series. Rather than allowing the pointless humour run rampant over the entire story, it's far more toned down than before. There's certainly a great deal of zaniness left in the story but it's far more controlled, remaining an element to compliment the story when needed rather than hijacking the entire tale. So, while this might mean you see the Doctor's new accent being made fun of in one scene, there's no sudden nudity and nothing like the bits with Clara's family from last time.

One thing which is definitely worth complimenting the most is how the story eases the audience into a new theme. While it starts off very much like a Matt Smith style story, there's a definite evolution towards what will become the status quo for Peter Capaldi's era in terms of themes. By the end, the humour has a much darker element and the questions behind the Doctor's new identity are put into focus. Not so much in a "Doctor Who?" way as the beginnings of the Doctor having to understand himself. It's far better handled than with The Eleventh Hour as there's enough familiar elements left over for the audience to accept this rather than completely starting anew. 

The story itself also works surprisingly well as while it's a theme we have seen done before, the tale draws attention to this fact and makes a point of it. The series seems to be stepping away from the more insane fairytale elements of Matt Smith's era somewhat, so it draws inspirations from David Tennant's tenure. This said, it doesn't simply copy and paste everything, showing events playing out in a very different way, with a very different villain, and most of all showing how a very different Doctor deals with it.

Even beyond this, there are some very poignant scenes which add to the mythos quite well. A lengthy conversation between Clara and Vastra is present quite early on, discussing the nature of regenerations and the potential reasons for them. Not just for the Doctor to remain young, but for why he changes into what he is and the reasons for some of his more dramatic shifts. Unlike the last story they were in, Vastra's group also has a great opportunity to shine and they feel far more core to the tale rather than being tacked on. Each has their own individual moment of drama and genuinely funny dialogue. Combine this with a few light nods to past stories (especially certain comments by Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee's regeneration) and it's a solid episode.

The only semi-bad elements I personally found in the story were mostly additional parts. The new opening, now completely abandoning the time vortex or star field themes which have been present since the 60s, looks over-complicated. Similarly the new attempt to set up a mystery seems to slide back into the old problem of a River Song clone, with someone (presumably the new villain) acting sassy, arrogant and cheerful, claiming to be the Doctor's girlfriend.

If you were put off by Time of the Doctor or Series 7, this is the time to get back into the series. While requiring a little bit of prior knowledge, it's a good story and one which is starting off this new era strong. Let's hope we see more of this in the weeks to come.

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