Review! Doctor Who, Ep. 8.1: ‘Deep Breath’ [Spoiler-free]

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“Lost in the ruin of himself.”

I’d say that’s a pretty accurate assessment of Doctor Who over the course of the past few years.  Capaldi, the Twelfth Doctor looks like he is going to help the show, and its viewers, find its way back to what made it so great.

Dinosaurs in the Thames River joined us in welcoming Peter Capaldi to the scene as the Twelfth Doctor, but they didn’t clap.

Peter Capaldi’s dramatic first appearance in the doorway of the TARDIS is here, and the season 8 premiere episode “Deep Breath” successfully hints at a sort of return to an earlier form for the show.  For those who have never seen the show, or for those who have lost interest in it in recent years, “Deep Breath” is a great a jumping-in point as a new series of adventures begins with all kinds of galactic implications.  For those who have enjoyed the program all along, it’s a quotable, memorable episode in the spirit of “The Girl in the Fireplace,” filled with just the right kind of allusions so as not to not muddy the newness of the new Doctor’s arrival.

The premise of the episode is as simple as we’ve seen in a few seasons: a dinosaur has appeared in Victorian London, and the situation requires a solution, as dinosaurs are not supposed to be in Victorian London.  But the story that grows out of this cold-open  isn’t bogged down in Time Lord lore, or complex time-travel mechanics, or a lengthy, difficult explanation of how the dinosaur got to London–the episode does what the show has done so well in the past: it develops characters and creates a solution to the problem at hand out of that development.  The dialogue about the Doctor in his “regenerated” state is terrific, as the handful of people that gather around the Doctor work together to help him get back on his feet.

Who’s there? Lol.

Great dialogue between the Doctor’s traveling companion Clara and his friends Madame Vastra (a member of the Silurian race), her wife Jenny, and the single-minded Strax, as well as a stunning scene between the Doctor and a homeless man about the nature of the Doctor’s new face, work together to figure out what they–and by extension, us–are supposed to do with a Doctor that doesn’t even seem to know himself.  The episode itself is never lost in these conversations, though, as the writers make great use of the extra time to develop the characters, to extend and explain the danger at a hand, and to resolve the episode’s story wholly unto itself before we get the tease for the Great Big Threat that will plague the Doctor this season.  It’s a solid episode all the way around, and it promises some equally great things to come this season.

BACKLOG PRIORITY
Capaldi is terrific as the Doctor who will face that plague.  His age and sharp contrast to Tennant and Smith are the butt of some jokes, but the nature of the change is all serious–the Doctor is old, more than twice as old as he was the last time he regenerated–and we are headed “into darkness” with a Doctor who seems more comfortable with that darkness than either of them.  Awesome.
Priority Rating: 8/10.  Showrunner Steven Moffat still has to prove that he can deliver on big story promises without resorting to time travel as a cure-all, but be sure to check out this season premiere sometime this week as it’s nearly the exact step in the right direction the show has needed for some time.

– Vandal

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