‘Doctor Who’ Recap: “Deep Breath”

By August 24, 2014

Regeneration is always a gamble. Young, old, flirty, rude, childish, bitter–you never know what you’ll get with a new Doctor.

As per usual, the Doctor’s regeneration has gone a bit wrong. Echoing David Tennant’s first episode, when Peter Capaldi’s Doctor steps out of the TARDIS, he’s not quite himself. He’s disoriented and unwell: within the first five minutes, he faints dead away. He’s excitable and confused, mixing up Clara and Strax, and completely unaware that the TARDIS had been swallowed by a dinosaur, transporting the creature to 19th century London.

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“Who is he?” Jenny asks, echoing Mickey Smith’s words nine years ago. “Where’s the Doctor?” And, as with Rose Tyler, the companion’s struggle to come to grips with a new Doctor begins.

This is where the similarities between Tennant and Capaldi begin and end. Tennant’s Doctor was flirty from the get-go (“Am I sexy?” he asked, throwing Rose a wink). Capaldi’s Doctor is quite clear: there will be no more flirting in the TARDIS.

“I’m not your boyfriend,” he tells Clara at the episode’s end, even while admitting that the past flirtation between them had been his mistake, not hers.

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Can Clara come to terms with this new, gruff, older Doctor? It’s a struggle from the start. Even though she, unlike Rose, had the fortune of knowing about regeneration before it happened, she finds it difficult to reconcile the man that she knew with the man standing in front of her.

“I don’t think I know who you are anymore,” she says regretfully, when the Doctor asks her to stay.

Fortunately, an old friend phones to help her see the light.

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In an unprecedented move, Matt Smith makes a cameo, phoning Clara from the past to ask her to help him in the present. It’s enough to change Clara’s mind; she envelopes Capaldi’s Doctor in a hug.

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But will the viewer be so easily satisfied? Capaldi’s Doctor remains an enigma, standing in sharp contrast to his boyishly charming predecessors. Classic fans who remember the days of a more asexual Doctor may be pleased at the new Doctor’s lack of sexual proclivities; those who grew up with a suave Tennant and a clumsily flirty Smith may feel otherwise. Capaldi himself has been clear on the subject: he wants no romance between the Doctor and Clara.

It’s not just his age or level of flirtation that’s different. Gruff and volatile seems to be the new Doctor’s baseline. But why? What has led to this particular personality…and this particular face?

Even the Doctor wants to know. “I never know where the faces come from,” he laments. “It’s covered in lines, but I didn’t do the frowning.” He knows he’s taken his new face from someone else, and he’s convinced that he’s trying to send a message to himself…but what could that message be?

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Capaldi, of course, has appeared in the Whoniverse twice before. He played the Roman Caecilius, who, along with his family, was saved by Tennant’s Doctor from the ashes of Pompeii, and John Frobisher, the tortured government official who took his own life and the lives of his wife and children, in Torchwood’s “Children of Earth.” Former “Doctor Who” and “Torchwood” showrunner Russell T. Davies has suggested that the two characters were connected; will Steven Moffat play on this connection further?

The episode is a throwback to the Tennant era in more ways than one. The villains – clockwork robots who steal human parts to repair themselves – are from the sistership of the SS Madame De Pompadour. Their leader is a droid who is convinced he will reach the Promised Land; the Doctor tries to convince him there is no such thing. They tussle, and the droid plunges to his death.

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Does the Doctor kill his enemy, or does the droid kill himself? The question is left unanswered. “Self-destruction is against my basic programming,” the droid says.

“Murder is against mine,” the Doctor replies, but later admits that one of them is lying.

Given the Doctor’s increasing darkness (Matt Smith’s Doctor killed a man in “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship,” and threatened another man at gunpoint in the following episode), I’m inclined to believe the Doctor is the liar in this scenario. His mercy has withered with each passing season, and he himself admits that he will go far to protect the people of the Earth.

But is the droid truly dead? In a twist, he ends up in “Heaven” with a disturbing woman named Missy, who claims to be the Doctor’s girlfriend. Meanwhile, the Doctor realizes someone is pulling the strings to keep him and Clara together, from giving Clara the TARDIS phone number to tricking them into having lunch together in Victorian London. Could that someone be Missy? Who and what is she?

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What do you think, fellow Whovians? Did you enjoy Capaldi’s debut? Will the new Doctor take some getting used to, or are you already on board with his new persona?

  • OverlordOfEvil

    Personally, I’d like to see the reference Missy makes to the location she presents as “Paradise” somehow tie back to the old series’ episode “Paradise Towers” with the murderous robotic cleaning crew.

  • Michael Wasserman

    Incredibly insightful recap! Loved it!