Yes, I know I’m ages behind.
Doctor Who is the one show I’ve been committed to doing a review for every episode as opposed to a series overview, and I’d like to continue giving it an episode by episode review, but it’s hard to find the time to do that at the moment, so they’ll have to be delivered late and in bulk for a while.
Deep Breath is the first episode of series eight, and also the first full episode for the new Doctor, Peter Capaldi. But it doesn’t really feel like a new series launch episode, let alone one introducing a new Doctor. It feels very ordinary, very “business as usual”. Perhaps that was the intention.
This marks only the second time a companion in a NuWho series has carried on with a regenerated Doctor. Rose saw the Doctor change from Christopher Eccleston to David Tennant in The Parting Of The Ways at the end of series one. Tennant’s first proper episode as the Doctor was in the Christmas Special The Christmas Invasion. The main plot in that episode was, well, the Christmas Invasion, so there wasn’t as much time to focus on the effect of a regeneration on a companion. Deep Breath takes place over a longer period of time so there is more shown of Clara struggling to come to terms with the fact the Doctor has changed and whether she really knows him any more.
The episode opens in Victorian London, so we see the Paternoster Gang again, as well as a dinosaur. Madame Vastra, being a Silurian, has seen dinosaurs before. You might expect the situation to be a bit like a Godzilla film, with a giant reptile rampaging through a city and people running away screaming and panicking. Instead, the people are looking at the creature in amazement, and the dinosaur barely notices them, and is just wandering up and down a bit confused. The poor thing ends up spontaneously combusting, and the sight of it going down in flames is quite shocking and affecting, especially considering it was an innocent victim that was literally in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The dinosaur isn’t the only victim of a spontaneous combustion though, several people have been reported to meet their end that way too. The Doctor has to find out what is behind it.
He ends up separated from his companions for a while, until Clara spots a coded message in a newspaper which they think is from the Doctor arranging a meeting. It has a cryptic message, “Meet me on the other side”. Clara works out that by “the other side” he means the other side of the page in the paper, and they turn it over. On the other side where the message is written is the name of a restaurant where they are to meet.
Clara goes to the restaurant and the Doctor is there, but it turns out he didn’t send the message. It is in fact a trap by the villains of the episode. The restaurant is full of mechanical people doing the same moves repeatedly and not actually eating anything. The scene looks very eerie, especially when the mechanical people stop their routine to get up and prevent the Doctor and Clara from leaving. The scene also reminded me a bit of museums I used to go to when I was a kid which had animatronic dummies reenacting historical events.
These mechanical people are clockwork robots similar to the ones the Doctor encountered before in The Girl In The Fireplace in series two. The ones in this episode crash landed on Earth at at least the time of the dinosaurs, and have kept themselves alive by constantly replacing their parts, using both mechanical and organic matter. They have likely nothing left of their original forms. It is they who are responsible for the spontaneous combustions. They are harvesting organs. In a twist to the “cyborgs lose their humanity by replacing themselves with mechanical parts” idea, these are robots who have become more like humans by adding organic parts, and as such have come to believe in the concept of a heavenly afterlife. Their leader, referred to as Half-Face Man, calls it “The Promised Land”. He dies at the end of the episode, falling from a great height and impaled on the top of Big Ben no less, and it is left ambiguous at the moment as to whether he jumped or the Doctor pushed him. I liked the Half-Face Man, he was suitably creepy and very well played by Peter Ferdinando.
The Half-Face Man does reach some sort of “Promised Land” though, waking up in a beautiful garden. There is a woman there named Missy, and she says the place is “Heaven”. She claims the Doctor is her boyfriend. It looks like the series arc plot is who exactly is Missy and this place referred to as Heaven? There has been speculation that Missy could be another incarnation of River Song, which I doubt personally, but I do think she could turn out to be the woman in the shop Clara referred to in The Bells of Saint John who gave her the Doctor’s number. Some have even said she could be the classic series villain The Rani. In any case, Missy is intriguing. She’s a sinister Mary Poppins-like figure and I love her already, especially as she is played by the fabulous Michelle Gomez.
Deep Breath has some dull, long conversational scenes and the plot doesn’t go anywhere for a while. But it has its moments, as I said I liked the Half-Face Man, and Missy could potentially be a brilliant character. It’s notable that Jenny and Vastra kiss for the first time on screen. It also has a very moving scene with a surprise cameo by Matt Smith as the previous incarnation of the Doctor phoning Clara from when he was still in Trenzalore to tell her to keep traveling with the new Doctor.