After what felt like forever for Doctor Who fans, the new season and Doctor are finally here. “Deep Breath”, at a running time of 80 minutes, provides an ample canvas to showcase Capaldi’s talents in his new role. There are a lot of interesting ideas here, and Capaldi is brilliant. Unfortunately the script is a bit of a mess.
There is a danger to regeneration stories. The trope over the past several decades of Doctor Who has been to have the Doctor act erratic, confused, and find his way back to himself. Oh, and sleep. Given that this is someone who essentially died and came back to life, I can give them a pass. The problem here is that, despite some genuinely humorous moments (the scene with Capaldi giving an impassioned speech to the dinosaur, and then that happens? Brilliant.), the episode meanders for too long. I get it; we are given an opportunity to see Capaldi stretch his legs and essentially give a shakedown cruise of his new 12th Doctor.
But part of what made “The Eleventh Hour” (Matt Smith’s début episode) so brilliant was that it sidestepped this trope. Yes, there’s a little bit of goofiness, but it was brief and we were immediately taken into the dark mystery surrounding the crack in the wall in Amelia’s room. In “Deep Breath” showrunner Steven Moffat indulges in the trope, and it hurts the episode. The first half is messy, with Capaldi dashing off madly on horseback, finding himself ranting at a hapless man, and subsequently reuniting with Clara at an unusual restaurant where things really begin to get interesting. These moments give us a number of humorous set pieces but provide the episode with an overall disjointed feel.
But once things settle down the plot proves to be an intriguing one, buoyed by the guest appearances of Vastra, Jenny, and Strax. I love this gang, and welcome the edge and humor they provide (see their spectacular entrance late in the story as the Doctor’s Calvary. Oh Strax…). Jenna Coleman continues to shine as the Doctor’s companion Clara, continuing the run of strong female leads the (new) series has enjoyed to date. Capaldi’s more somber take on the Doctor is refreshing. It feels like Sylvester McCoy’s darker Seventh Doctor done right and with an actual budget.
And in typical Moffat fashion, this episode sets up an intriguing mystery at the very end that will not only develop throughout the season, but hopefully turn out to be a better “Big Bad” than last season’s “Great Intelligence”.
“Deep Breath” is full of great pieces that don’t quite gel as well as I had hoped. Given its length I wish it had not meandered as much in the first half, but strong performances and a brilliant Capaldi rise above the fray.