Doctor Who 8×1 Review: Deep Breath
It’s no secret that I’ve been growing increasingly pessimistic about Doctor Who during the past couple of seasons, but one of the highlights has been the inclusion of the secondary characters Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax. They are an excellent trio and each time they pop into the story they get a little bit more depth. Unfortunately this episode was still filled with cringe worthy moments and problematic elements of Moffat’s writing that have become too blatant to ignore. I wasn’t particularly blown away by the plot and the problematic elements brought me down, but I enjoyed Capaldi’s performance and thought that Coleman handled Clara’s emotional journey incredibly well.
The premise of the episode was a simple one. A T-Rex is loose in Victorian London wrecking havoc and the Tardis drops the Doctor and Clara right in the middle of it. But the point of the episode wasn’t actually the story itself, but rather the transition from Smith’s Doctor to Capaldi and how Clara would handle the whole situation. Capaldi and Coleman have an interesting dynamic that’s much different from what she had with Smith. The relationship between Clara and Smith’s Doctor was much snappier, playful, and, well, flirty. The dynamic between these two so far seems rather tense, but some of that may be attributed to the fact his brain is still a bit wonky after regenerating. It’s hard to say if he’ll continue being as rude as he is now or if this is just him being confused after a rather unusual regeneration.
I have a lot of faith in Capaldi. Once the Doctor ‘settles’ a bit I think he’ll be a very interesting take on the character and that his tension with Clara will settle down to a more playful banter. His first impression hasn’t entirely won me over just yet, but neither did Smith and now he’s ‘my Doctor.’ I’m one of the few people in larger fandom who claims Smith as my favorite, so I’m willing to let my initial somewhat negative impression take a back seat to my faith in Capaldi. There were some concerning lines that came out of his mouth that made me worried that Moffat is going to potentially taint my feelings for this version of the Doctor like he eventually did with Smith’s. The Doctor insulted Clara’s appearance and personality a couple of times, but again, they were made when his mind was still ‘cooking’ after a regeneration so I’d like to blissfully imagine that this isn’t actually part of his new self. I hope that his and Clara’s relationship isn’t filled with him insulting her. Snark is one thing. I love snarky Doctors, but his rudeness in this introductory episode went a bit beyond snark for my taste.
Despite the tension and awkwardly insulting dynamic between them, they did find a faith in one another by the end of the episode. When it seems as though the Doctor has left her, she proudly declares that if the Doctor is still the Doctor, he will always have her back. Her expression read as doubtful, but at the last moment the Doctor did pull through and prove that he still cares about her. His role as a protector to his companions is still something he obviously takes seriously. He even complimented her ability to take care of herself, which was a contrast to his earlier insults towards her. This is what i’m hoping their friendship will be like going forward.
For Clara’s part, I feel like she handled the regeneration rather well. She was confused and a bit distant, but any companion who wasn’t aware that he could do that has acted pretty concerned during the initial shock of it all. Rose was distant from the 10th Doctor at first, too, and they ended up being one of the most favorite pairings in Doctor Who history. Her confusion that he looks old is understandable, too, because from a logical perspective a ‘new face’ should look young and age over time. That’s not how regeneration works, but Clara had no way of knowing that. I’m sure some part of her was initially concerned that her young handsome Doctor was replaced with an older man, but I feel like Madame Vasta’s grilling of her revealed her true concerns over the matter. Most of these awkward situations would be cleared up if he just told his companions that regeneration is a thing that happens sometimes. He never seems to think that this situation will come up despite the fact that he puts himself in potentially deadly situations pretty much all the time.
As I’ve mentioned before, Madame Vastra and Jenny are some of my favorite characters on the show so their inclusion made me really excited. With them in this episode we managed to pass the Bechdel test repeatedly with their conversations with each other and with Clara. I almost wish that Vastra, Jenny, and Strax could become full time companions. It’d be a very different dynamic than almost all the long term new Who companions who are usually young women with at least a small amount of romantic interest in the Doctor at some point. There’ve been a few exceptions to this with Donna being adamantly opposed to romance with the Doctor, and Rory whose marriage to Amy both broke up any potential romantic tension between her and the Doctor and added a long term male companion to the mix. Shorter term companions have bucked the trend, of course, but they usually don’t last more than a few episodes.
I’m also enjoying how the Jenny and Vastra’s relationship becomes a bit more defined with each appearance, giving them a unique and fully fleshed out relationship. I’d love to someday see the start of the trio’s working relationship, and particularly how Vastra and Jenny fell in love with one another. Truthfully Strax doesn’t change much compared to the other two. He’s a pretty straight forward character, but I still love him anyway. The trio wouldn’t be complete without him and his accidentally offensive commentary.
One concerning part of Jenny and Vastra’s appearance in this episode was the odd and very out of place comment that men are ‘monkeys.’ I almost feel like Moffat heard the criticism of his treatment towards women and decided to throw in an insulting line towards men to balance it out. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. Instead it just perpetuates the stereotype of that lesbians are man haters and gives people who like to defend Moffat’s writing a reason to somehow claim that things are ‘even’. They are not. If this was an attempt to ‘fix’ his reputation I think it was a pretty poor attempt.
Despite its flaws, this episode did manage to make me tear up. Smith’s cameo at the end and his conversation with Clara brought back the emotional experience of losing him during the last special. As I mentioned before, Smith is ‘my Doctor’ so I couldn’t help being emotional about the whole affair. His send off last episode made me legitimately cry and his assistance in easing Clara into accepting the new Doctor was very well done. Moffat’s writing can have a strong emotional resonance, even if I’m often critical of some of his dialogue and treatment of women within the narrative. When it comes to Smith’s Doctor, I feel very emotionally attached and have been reduced to tears on more than one occasion. I’ll miss Smith greatly, but, like Clara, I’m looking forward to how this new Doctor will be now that he seems to have established himself.
As this episode was mostly trying to establish the initial dynamic between the new Doctor and his companion, it’s hard to say just how the rest of the season will play out thematically. I wasn’t entirely gripped by the plot and I’m not even sure if any of the elements from this episode will come into play going forward. As the primary antagonist of the episode popped back up at the end, he could very well be an important player in the overarching plot of the season. It’s hard to say, though. This may have just been an introductory episode for Capaldi and we’ll get to the overarching plot in later episodes. If there is anything from this episode that has something to do with the season long story, I hope it includes Jenny, Madame Vastra, and Strax coming back again and again. Or hey, maybe just give them their own spin off. Just give us more, please.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. She identifies as queer.
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