TV Review: Doctor Who World Premiere - Deep Breath

Doctor Who: Deep Breath Doctor Who: Deep Breath

Matt Adams
Thursday, August 7, 2014
4:51 PM

Spoiler-free review of the new series’ opening episode starring Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman

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Take a deep breath, there’s a new Time Lord in the TARDIS, and he’s nothing like the man you expected…

Oh Peter Capaldi is the Doctor, make no mistake about that, giving an interpretation of the role that respects those who have gone before him while also bringing something fresh to the part. But as you might have predicted, there’s very little of the Matt Smith about him, and it’s this contrast which actually serves to propel much of this episode’s plot.

Whether this Doctor is even a good man appears to be a theme which we will be drawn back to over the course of this series, as questions are asked about the morality and motivations of the new model – no funny hats and silly dances for this incarnation.

As is often the case, the audience is encouraged to adapt to and embrace the newly regenerated Time Lord through the eyes of his friends, as Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) finds herself having to come to terms with the face of a stranger claiming to be the Doctor. For younger viewers who have grown up with Smith in the role, it is important to show them that this is the same character, albeit in a different body, in order to ease the transition.

The appearance of regular guest stars the Paternoster Gang – Silurian sleuth Madame Vastra, her wife Jenny and Sontaran manservant Strax – are also welcome familiarities who bring a sense of normality amidst the turmoil of the Doctor’s post-regenerative state.

Lifelong fan Capaldi admits to drawing on the performances of the first four Doctors in his interpretation of the role, and perhaps you might see hints of William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker in this episode, but it’s far from that simple. He infuses the character with an uncertainty which has been lacking from the role for decades, leaving the audience guessing at how he is likely to react to a situation, and gasping when he does something completely shocking.

But in many ways the greatest burden falls on the shoulders of Jenna Coleman, who must convey the fear, suspicion, doubt and ultimately acceptance which Clara experiences in dealing with this new Doctor. That she achieves this so faultlessly is proof of her strengths as an actor, and illustrates how she has evolved since joining the show two years ago.

The plot itself is relatively simplistic, and also owes a subtle debt to the series’ past, but it is presented with a confidence and style that owes more to a blockbuster movie than a homegrown Saturday teatime TV series.

Sumptuous period vistas, breathtaking monsters and heart-pumping action sequences are all there in good supply, but the 75 minute length also gives the story room to breathe, and the moments of quiet character reflection are some of the strongest we’ve seen in the revived show. Perhaps there’s an argument for longer stories in the future, instead of the done-in-45-minutes format we’ve had in recent years.

And perhaps most refreshingly, given his tendency for convoluted timey-wimey plots, this is Steven Moffat at his most straightforward, offering a story which isn’t too clever for its own good, but instead focuses on the logical development of the narrative and motivations of his characters.

Perhaps it’s that this is his second new Doctor, and having found his feet in introducing the Eleventh, is prepared to stretch his creative muscles in developing the Twelfth. It’s certainly a very different approach to that afforded Matt Smith in his debut, and suggests there’s more to Capaldi’s Time Lord than first meets the eye.

• This world premiere of the new episode took place before a sell-out audience in Cardiff, with Capaldi, Coleman and Moffat on hand to provide introductions and appear in a Q&A panel afterwards. The new series begins on BBC One on August 23.

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