The “Doctor Who” Season 8 premiere gave fans their first real look at Peter Capaldi and the new Doctor. He’s older, a bit confused, somewhat angry but "Doctor Who" is back and Peter Capaldi is off to a fine start in "Deep Breath."
Introducing Peter Capaldi
Regeneration can be quite difficult to figure out for both the Doctor and his companion in the "Doctor Who" Season 8 premiere. While Steven Moffat may be reluctant to call this an introspective season, "Deep Breath" did not have a lot of action. The dinosaur was sort of a MacGuffin, featured prominently but ultimately just used as a way to bring the Doctor into Victorian London, and the main villain, the clockwork droids from "The Girl in the Fireplace," served more as a way to reunite the Doctor and his companion, Clara.
Capaldi's Doctor has a lot of nervous energy about him. He's not dangerous and he's certainly not flippant. The buoyant energy of the youthful Matt Smith is replaced by the weariness of Capaldi. By the end of the episode, the Doctor is fully in control of himself and he understands the 2,000 years of his existence has had some dire consequences and challenges for the lives of people who have befriended the Time Lord. While we might not know the first adventure of the new Doctor, we do know the TARDIS was swallowed by a dinosaur, the Doctor we see in "Deep Breath" is the one that recently spent 900 years defending the town of Christmas on Trenzalore. His past decisions will come back to haunt him and it looks like Capaldi will be an older Doctor who does not take things lightly, weighing each action and decision carefully.
The Doctor is also quite funny. His chat with the homeless man, especially the part about eyebrows, the scene with Clara about who placed the ad in the newspaper, and his ability to talk with the dinosaur (a she, by the way) all serve to show the lighter side of the Doctor and Capaldi handled all of these challenges with great success.
As much as it's the Doctor's episode, the "Doctor Who" Season 8 premiere is also very much about Clara. We saw how attached she was to the 11th Doctor in the "Doctor Who" Season 7 Christmas special and her sense of mistrust, or is it betrayal, lingers in "Deep Breath." She's not sure if she wants to continue on the journey aboard the TARDIS with this Doctor. Clara failed to recognize how much the Doctor trusts her and what she means to him beyond just being a companion. It takes some harsh probing from Madame Vastra, as well as an unlikely phone call, before Clara becomes the impossible girl, the one who jumped into the Doctor's timestream without any hesitation.
By the end of "Deep Breath," order is restored and Clara is heading off into darkness with the Doctor. Capaldi's great in "Deep Breath" and I don't think fans are going to worry too much about the new Doctor. As with all things "Doctor Who," there are stages of acceptance following a regeneration and while Smith will be beloved, I think Capaldi will win fans over quite quickly.
The Paternoster Gang
The trio of Strax, Jenny and Madame Vastra act as comedic foils for the Doctor's identity crisis in "Deep Breath." Strax has plenty of great scenes and quips, he still has a hard time identifying gender and human anatomy, but Jenny and Vastra's relationship gets plenty of screen time. The two flirt and fight very much like a married couple and share a tender moment as the clockwork droids overwhelm the Paternoster Gang and Clara.
I hope the Paternoster Gang return during "Doctor Who" Season 8 and I think it would be fun to go on a sleuthing adventure with the trio as they solve crimes in Victorian London.
That Final Scene
While fans may have expected something from the 11th Doctor, even a small cameo as a hallucination or projection, Moffatt shocked everyone by having a complete scene with a returning Matt Smith. The telephone call drew a huge gasp and cheers from the unsuspecting New York City crowd during the premiere. It's a fitting goodbye for Smith and gives Clara the push she needs to return to the Doctor and the TARDIS.
Through it all, it is the same Doctor and he didn't need to eavesdrop -- it was he who was on the other end of the line after all -- and his sadness at being unrecognizable completes the necessary closure. He and Clara can continue on new adventures. The duo will face a tough challenge with the Daleks and it will be interesting to see if the Doctor shows mercy or serves up a harsh punishment.
Stray "Doctor Who" Thoughts
-- I liked the episode but am worried about the reliance on call backs to history. For new fans they missed an important component of the "Doctor Who" Season 8 premiere. I'd they had not watched the great "Girl in the Fireplace" from Season 2. The villain was not important but the Doctor unable to recall a past adventure, and lost love, is an important theme in "Deep Breath."
-- Hopefully "Doctor Who" does not drown under its own history. Continuity is great but should not be part of the admission for new fans. Comics have had that problem, decades of stories lead to all sorts of conflicts and continuity issues, which have required massive crossover events to act as a reset. Some callbacks can be great, the nod to Handles and the quip about the scarf, but too many of these touches can alienate and dissuade new viewers from giving the Doctor a chance.
-- What to make of paradise and Michelle Gomez and her role as the Gatekeeper of the Nethersphere? It is too early to know what the main villain of the season will be, the Cybermen have been featured prominently, and I'm interested in seeing how she fits in "Doctor Who" Season 8.