Doctor Who Season 8 Premiere Review: Deep Breath
Peter Capaldi takes over the TARDIS in Doctor Who season 8 episode 1. Here is a spoiler-free review of Deep Breath.
We also have a spoiler-filled version of this review, which you can read by clicking right here.
Inevitably, the arrival of a new series of Doctor Who, not least one with a new Doctor at the controls of the TARDIS, comes coated with a generous dose of goodwill. Certainly at the Cardiff-based world premiere of series 8, there was no shortage of that on show. Streets were lined, autographs were signed, and the moment Peter Capaldi entered the room, it might just have made One Direction turn around and remark "that was a bit loud." The reaction was always more likely to be upbeat than not.
That notwithstanding, few are going to feel shortchanged by "Deep Breath." There's a sense that the show has changed a little certainly, yet perhaps the biggest surprise is how relatively quiet much of the feature-length opener is. It might be that it's that extra running time ("Deep Breath" runs to nearly 80 minutes), but it feels like there's space and room afforded to talk, to put the brakes on more, and to more evenly space out action sequences. Even more importantly, it feels - and that wasn't always the case, particularly last series - that it's the right length for the right story.
Again, you don't need us to tell you that the main attraction is the new Doctor himself, so let's start there. We're strictly spoiler-free here, so we'll go light on the specific details. However, it's fair to say that much of "Deep Breath" is about a new Doctor finding his feet, his identity and his mind. Thus, whilst David Tennant sat in his pyjamas playing with satsumas, and Matt Smith tried some unusual recipes (and Syvlester McCoy got, well, lumbered with "Time And The Rani"), Capaldi comes across as quietly broken, and really quite mysterious. He is also, and no bones about this, very Scottish. He's also every bit as good and as interesting as you'd hope.
Granted, off the back of one episode, it's hard to pin down just what his Doctor's going to be. Yet thus far, he doesn't run much, he rarely shouts, and he has amazing eyebrow dexterity. He carries himself more like the Doctors of old, and he's seemingly more interesting doing some proper detective work, rather than pegging it from place to place. "Deep Breath" does walk a tight line, as it deliberately holds back too much warmth until it needs it. But the slower (and that's slower, not slow) pace, and Capaldi's rich performance are both very big positives.
Arguably, though, this is as much, if not more, Jenna Coleman's episode. Clara has been a different companion for the Doctor, in that she's more than once proven to be one step ahead of him. Here, though, she's just as broken as the Doctor, and Steven Moffat's script calls for some hard acting work from Jenna Coleman to put that across, crucially giving her the screen time to do so. She delivers, not in a bombastic way, but quietly and gradually, building up her performance and the mix of sadness and confusion in her character. It would be fair to say her faith has been rattled, and Coleman - and this is very much a good thing too - is a wonderfully uneven match for Capaldi.
Romance, as has been widely flagged beforehand, is not on the table, either. At least not between those two.
Moffat's script also has a theme of age running through it, and the judgement of it. It's still got some quality laughs - including more than one excellent physical comedy moment involving a certain Sontaran - and it's still very much Doctor Who, with a family audience in mind. There are tips of the hat to episodes and lines of old, and some welcome quality time with the Paternoster gang, particularly Jenny and Vastra.
But then there's the injection of unease from director Ben Wheatley. Known for films he wouldn't be allowed to let his children see, Wheatley proves a strong match for the material, lending Deep Breath a cinematic identity without showing off to do it. Unusual camera angles, holding his shots, and with a sharp eye for character (and, yep, eyebrows), Wheatley brings something extra here. It'll be interesting to see if he holds the same tone for his second episode.
"Deep Breath" may be a slightly quieter introduction for Peter Capaldi in some senses than people are expecting. Yet it's hard to avoid an underlying confidence that all concerned know they're onto something here. And with some flat out brilliant moments in the last third, there's an old fashioned ethos of putting in the foundations, doing the ground work, and building on substance. As such, the big moments really hit.
You're unlikely to remember too much about the on-the-surface foes of "Deep Breath," as fun as they are. But you are likely to take away a good, promising start for a new series, that leaves ceiling room, takes a bit of time getting out of the traps, yet also leaves you yearning to jump in a time machine yourself to spend some more time with the Doctor and Clara.
And to everyone involved in the casting of Peter Capaldi? We think we might just owe you a drink or two.