The Doctor’s back and it’s Peter Capaldi’s turn to bring the eponymous character to life with Kill List director Ben Wheatley at the helm. Ryan Pollard sees how they get on in Deep Breath…
After Matt Smith’s tearful and heart(s)breaking farewell in ‘The Time of the Doctor’ last Christmas, all eyes were on the new Time Lord at the helm, Peter Capaldi. Post-regeneration episodes are very tricky to do, as some have been spectacular (‘The Eleventh Hour’) whilst others have been abysmal (‘The Twin Dilemma’). Four years ago, Steven Moffat’s first Doctor, Matt Smith, was an unknown quantity, and while Peter Capaldi is a more established face and a more well-known actor, this new take on the Doctor is if anything much more mysterious, unknowable and unpredictable than ever before. Moffat now has had the privilege of creating three superb Doctors (if you include John Hurt’s War Doctor, which you must!), and this new bold and ambitious approach is a change that is most welcome. By the end of ‘The Christmas Invasion’ or ‘The Eleventh Hour’, you absolutely adored and trusted the new Doctor. However, by the end of ‘Deep Breath’, you’re still not certain who Capaldi’s Doctor really is or how you feel about him, and while that can be unsettling, that just merely adds to the magnitude of Capaldi’s performance.
Picking up a short time after the Eleventh Doctor’s frenetic regeneration in ‘The Time of the Doctor’, a Tyrannosaurus Rex is running rampant in the Thames in Victorian England after swallowing up the out-of control TARDIS. After coughing it up, everyone’s favourite crime-fighting trans-species lesbian couple Madame Vastra and Jenny, and their hyper-aggressive bobble-headed sidekick Strax, go to investigate, only to discover a newly regenerated Twelfth Doctor emerging from the TARDIS and a confused Clara. At this point, everything has changed. For the rest of the story, the team have to investigate mysterious combustions that are being orchestrated by clockwork droids, led by the eerie Half-Face Man, whilst also trying to look after, cope and manage with the new and out-of-control Doctor.
Peter Capaldi is a terrific actor who has provided many great performances throughout his career, from Local Hero to TV’s The Thick of It, and everyone, including me, was hoping that he would really pull it out of the bag as the Twelfth Doctor… and he certainly did. I wanted this new Doctor to be dark, brooding, moody, unhinged and intense, and that was precisely what I had got from him. Immediately from his first scene, Capaldi is an electrifying presence, and whenever he is onscreen, you simply can’t take your eyes off him. He is a Doctor that can surprise you, entertain you, puzzle you, and disturb you in equal measure. He is, perhaps, the maddest Doctor since Tom Baker, and that is no mean feat.
Plaudits also go to Jenna Coleman who delivers her finest performances to date as the Impossible Girl, Clara. She completely embodies Clara’s frustrations, heartache and confusion at losing her “boyfriend” Doctor, and her emotional conflict and prejudice towards the new Doctor was extremely well played and proved she’s much more than an “Impossible”, snarky and flirty character. However, the two phenomenal and terrifying scenes of Clara holding her breath as she walks past the waiting droids and heroically calling her captor’s bluff while admitting that she’s scared and crying demonstrates a master-class in performance and that makes Clara all the more believable. Coleman’s chemistry and banter with Capaldi’s Doctor is brilliantly witty and realigns the Doctor/Companion relationship in an electric, antagonistic and intriguing new way.
Getting Ben Wheatley to direct the season opener, as well as the next episode ‘Into the Dalek’, was a stroke of genius. Considering his unusual dark and surreal streak after helming disturbing cult favourites like Kill List, Sightseers and A Field in England, it was certainly no surprise that he brought a suitably off-kilter, gloomy and sinister tone to the story, whilst also keeping in with the tradition of Doctor Who’s legacy. He gives the whole thing a dazzling cinematic feel, especially if you’re watching it on a big cinema screen, and everything from the art direction, lighting, costumes, sets, prosthetics and CGI are all classy, and yet occasionally beautiful. It certainly feels like you are watching something brand new, despite the show being nearly 51 years old.
The smoke-bound gothic Victorian London streets owes with its inhuman flesh-stealers owe one minute to the old Hammer Horror movies whilst also owes a debt to the Tom Baker classic, ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’. The Clockwork Repair-Droids of the SS Marie Antoinette, similar to the Droids of the SS Madam de Pompadour in 2006’s ‘Girl in the Fireplace’, don’t quite have the exact same iconic shiver as their Venetian counterparts, but they sure as hell come close. Plus, Peter Ferdinando’s Half-Face Man is deeply disturbing and sinister, right down to the close ups of the slimy eye-ball plugged into the clockwork.
Overall, whilst the episode lacks the finesse, the style and the constraint of Matt Smith’s 2010 debut ‘The Eleventh Hour’, ‘Deep Breath’ is still a bold and ambitious introduction to the brand new Doctor. A Doctor that is going to be more intriguing, more dangerous… and whole lot more exciting than ever before.
Written by Ryan Pollard
Directed by: Ben Wheatley
Written by: Steven Moffat
Starring: Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Neve McIntosh, Catrin Stewart, Dan Starkey
Released: 2014 / Genre: Action/Sci-Fi / Country: UK / IMDB