Doctor Who Recap: Deep Breath
By Edwin Davies
August 26, 2014
That's a pretty fun premise and, dinosaur aside, makes for a relatively small-scale start for the new phase of the show (long-time readers of these recaps will know that my main gripe with the Moffat era is the tendency to make every episode about saving the world/universe) but it also seemed to sideline the whole regeneration business. The episode seemingly kept forgetting that a major event had happened for long stretches of time, then would suddenly slow down to discuss the change at length. It made for an awkward introduction to the new Doctor, and while there is probably no happy medium between the need to introduce the new actor and to tell a captivating story, "The Eleventh Hour" demonstrated beautifully that you can make that messiness work wonders with the right actor (which, I would argue, the show has) and the right story (which, I would argue, the show doesn't).
When the show did engage with the question of what the Doctor changing would mean for his relationship with Clara, the episode improved drastically, especially since Moffat made their lack of trust in each other central to his story. The spikiness between Capaldi and Jenna Coleman came to a head in a great scene at a restaurant, which then segued effortlessly into a trap, an escape, a rescue and a solid Doctor monologue. The mix of odd couple humour and outright antagonism between the two suggests that there is potential there for the show to explore a Doctor-Companion dynamic that its current iteration has yet to explore. Whether it takes that route, or if it will just have Clara moon over a different Doctor, remains to be seen. Still, entertaining the idea of trying something new is encouraging considering how badly the show has got stuck in the same (admittedly entertaining) patterns over the last few years.
Another encouraging sign: the show finally seems to be engaging with Clara as a real person, rather than as an concept. When it first introduced her a few years ago, Doctor Who made Clara out to be a puzzle to be solved rather than a character with much of a personality, and while she still feels a little too much like Amy Pond without a boyfriend to weigh things down, she at least is starting to show some consistency and spirit that wasn't there before. Jenna Coleman has always been tremendous fun on the show, and making her smart and resilient while also giving her something resembling responsibility for her own fate (even if it took the form of having her hold her breath to remain undetected by her mechanical captors) is a step in the right direction. The performance has always been there, but the writing has been lacking. This felt like the first episode where she transcended the problem of being merely a collection of well-performed tics to become a genuine character.
Finally, the episode felt like a standalone story, rather than like a tiny piece of a puzzle that might or might not come together at some point in the future. There was still a touch of mystery involved since the episode left it unclear why Clara and The Doctor were tricked into going to that restaurant, and it certainly seems as if the mysterious Missy (played by Michelle Gomez) will play a bigger part in the episodes to come, but it wasn't bashing us over the head with a lot of Big Picture talk. There's still time for the show to mess that up and try to tell stories that its writers aren't up to realising, but it's a new start, so let's be a little hopeful, eh? After all, The Doctor represents hope and optimism at his best, and there's always a chance for redemption, even for a 2,000 year old mass murderer and the show around him.