JON KANEKO-JAMES says Peter Capaldi’s first outing as The Doctor in Doctor Who’s “Deep Breath” is worth watching and has high hopes for the rest of the season
“Do you fancy coming over to mine and watching some Doctor Who?” asked someone, at some point.
“Yeah, so long as it’s a regeneration episode,” said no one, ever.
Regeneration episodes are a difficult thing.
It’s been a long time since I read ‘Power of the Daleks’, but it’s the closest to an episode where the Doctor is up and firing on all cylinders straight away, in fact, since it came before the concept of regeneration was fully embedded in the canon, it could be argued that Power of the Daleks doesn’t count as a regeneration episode, because there was no such thing as regeneration.
When it comes to other regeneration stories, they have a tendency to be a bit… not good.
Spearhead from space is one of the best, Robot is what the Doctor Who TV blog describes as a ‘once off view’ (which worries me, because Moffat says that he based Capaldi’s Doctor on Tom Baker in this episode), and Castrovalava falls into place with the rest in a parade of mediocrity.
There’s The Twin Dilemma, but I made myself forget that with expensive East-European brainwashing.
With the tradition of the Doctor being unstable in the first story after his regeneration, writing a post-regeneration story must be a particular challenge.
The story has to reassure the old fans, enliven appetites for the new actor and somehow make time for a plot.
They don’t always succeed.
A lot of the time, you don’t get an episode about the Doctor: we spent a lot of The Christmas Invasion waiting for David Tenant to get out of bed.
All of that said, the first thing I liked about Deep Breath was that it got to the chase fairly quickly: before the end of the first act of the plot, once the first inciting incident kicks off, Capaldi’s Doctor is out of bed and making relative sense.
The Paternoster Gang are back (a wise move on Moffat’s part, since he’s introducing a big change in choosing Capaldi to play the Doctor after Matt Smith) and the plot spends a lot of time on Jenna Coleman, but definitely isn’t as Doctor-lite as The Christmas Invasion or Classic Who’s Castrovalva.
We get some great scenes out of Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, particularly when he’s having a conversation with a frightened tramp in an alleyway.
The writing of Capaldi’s Doctor is a definite bridge between Matt Smith’s Doctor and… something else.
The first half of the episode sees a confused Doctor camping it up as far as possible, really showing Capaldi’s chops as a comedy actor.
Later scenes show a hint of Tom Baker’s touching lack of self-awareness, along with something darker as the Doctor offers the villain a glass of whisky, saying “I have a horrible feeling I’m going to have to kill you. Thought you might appreciate a drink first. Know I would.”
I really hope that’s the way the Doctor’s going: something more weary: a tired, angry, ruthless Doctor with a clueless hint of vulnerability.
After Tennant’s increasingly hyperactive scenery-chewing and Matt Smith’s increasingly hyperactive impression of Tennant, it would be a tonic.
Other things I liked about the episode, without giving away any spoilers, were the fact that it stuck to a proper narrative structure.
It had a beginning, a middle and an end, in just the right proportions.
None of the mess that was Time of the Doctor, or the “love conquers all because we didn’t have time for a proper ending” rubbish we saw in Closing Time, Asylum of the Daleks, The Snowmen, and most of the Russel T Davies era.
The Paternoster Gang are integral to the plot without taking over, and there are some classic moments between them.
The pacing is great and the bad guys are cool (there are some great, Moffat-worthy scenes that remind us why we were happy he took over).
Was there anything I didn’t like?
Some of it was too silly: when the Doctor passes out at one point we hear a cartoon ‘wham’ sound.
Other times, there are just parts of the dialogue that don’t work.
Like a lot of New Who, it just feels as if the script needed one more stiff edit.
Aside from that? I liked it, and I’ve watched it again. Twice.
As far as post-regeneration stories go, it’s up there with Spearhead from Space (until someone unearth’s Power of the Daleks, at least).
I’m very hopeful for the rest of the season.
JON KANEKO-JAMES of Boo Tours, which runs ghost and supernatural tours around London, including talks about human skin covered books. Check out Boo Tours website is www.bootours.com.