Doctor Who Re-Watch: Looking back on the Twelfth Doctor’s opening story Deep Breath

Over five years after Deep Breath was first broadcast, we look back on that episode and see how well it works as a new Doctor story in hindsight.
(Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

After celebrating five years since Peter Capaldi’s first episode of Doctor Who, we decided to watch his era from the very beginning, starting with Deep Breath.

Deep Breath. It’s a meta title to an episode that delves us firmly into a new era of Doctor Who. An episode that serves well as a debut story to a very different type of Doctor. On a more macro level, however, it’s not so much of a radical shift given the holdover of companion and the return of previous supporting characters. More pertinently, Deep Breath marks the first time since 2005’s The Christmas Invasion that a showrunner has remained during the transition to a new Doctor.

Yes, Steven Moffat remained to steer the time-travelling ship post-Matt Smith, perhaps even stubbornly to some fans who viewed a lot of his recent creative efforts as subpar. On the other hand, Moffat had recently pulled off the 50th Anniversary to much acclaim, bolstering his reputation to much of the fandom.

Whilst re-watching Deep Breath for the first time in a long while, I really did notice an interesting dichotomy of familiarity and freshness. So to celebrate half a decade since the airing of this pivotal story, here is a collection of my musings as I revisited it…

Peter Capaldi’s new Doctor

In the run up to Series 8, the PR machine was churning the phrase “100% rebel Time Lord” to excite and set fans up for the arrival of Peter Capaldi. You can definitely see that vision come to fruition with potency in this story – the phrase “Attack eyebrows” sticks out in my mind.

By now we are all accustomed to Capaldi’s interpretation of our Time Lord hero. But, it’s easy to forget how much of a clean break from Matt Smith this was at the time. It’s true Smith was very different from Tennant, though he retained a similar youthful vigour and quirky mania that made the two incarnations a tad more interlinked than most.

No such overt connections can be made here and I love that. Grumpy, dry, acerbic, less amenable and more aloof. It’s a shift more reminiscent of the First Doctor than an incarnation from modern times (the closest comparison obviously being Eccleston).

Looking back upon Deep Breath, now that we recently got the Thirteenth Doctor, it ends up being a thought exercise of comparing and contrasting. I didn’t appreciate it all too much at the time, but it’s clearer to me that Moffat established Twelve and handled post-regenerative trauma very well here. Both are achieved with a confidence and balance that Chris Chibnall failed to adequately deliver in The Woman Who Fell To Earth.

 

Clara had been a companion for quite some time by the time Capaldi’s Doctor came along. How well was she handled in his first adventure?
(Photo by Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)

Clara

On the topic of regeneration, it’s not just the Doctor who’s changed. Returning companion Clara Oswald also goes through a shift here with her character feeling like she’s regenerated along with the Doctor. Perhaps now, with the character freed from being a plot device, Moffat decided to re-energize Clara’s characterisation – a creative choice that is possibly one of my favourites in this story.

There is another point I appreciate in regards to the handling of Clara. This was the choice to make Twelve firmly reject any semblance of romance between the pair. “I’m not your boyfriend” is a line that I get great satisfaction from in particular. The Classic era rule of “No hanky-panky in the TARDIS” returned at long last.

It’s not all positive on the Clara front however. What was obvious at the time and is even more obvious with hindsight, is the absurdity of Clara’s underlining attitude towards the Doctor. She was primed and familiar with the concept of regeneration, even asking the Time Lords to grant the Doctor more of them. She had just previously met three incarnations of the Doctor too. The whole “I don’t know who the Doctor is anymore” shtick is silly. A contrived way of manufacturing drama and character growth that has no internal logic.

Other thoughts

The return of the Paternoster Gang is always welcome in my eyes.  I really enjoy witnessing their antics and I find it a shame they’ve not returned since. I always envisaged Twelve and Strax going on a pub crawl and getting furious with each other

That Tyrannosaurus Rex was trailer bait. Nothing more, nothing less. Although I did like how Moffat factored in that the Doctor can ‘speak’ dinosaur.

Viewing Deep Breath again reminded me of two narrative elements; two that I’m shocked were chosen to be weaved in here. One being the ‘Woman in the Shop’ micro mystery and the other being the curious familiarity of Twelve’s face. There was zero need for the latter and back in 2014 I assumed nothing would ever come from the former. Moffat really does have the ability to surprise.

Talking of surprises, who on earth would have thought that the Eleventh Doctor would make a cameo just after departing the show? At the time I was marveled by that phone call scene. In hindsight, I don’t really think there was a need for it.  But I can’t complain, it was an extra scene with one of my favourite Doctors.

Have you re-watched Deep Breath recently? Has it changed in your views since you first watched it? How well do you think it established Capaldi’s Doctor in hindsight? Let us know in the comments below.