Looking back on the year leading up to the fiftieth anniversary, I can’t help but wonder if Steven Moffat and BBC America were doing something even more subversive with the Doctor’s Revisited than just introducing new series fans to the classic Doctors. Could it have been that Moffat knew that he was going to take the series back to its classic roots with the next Doctor and was getting fans ready for it by showing us four-part classic Doctor Who stories that had a moment or two to breath and were paced a bit more leisurely than much of what we’ve seen for the past ten years?
It certainly seems like it could be the case based on “Deep Breath.”
If this is how the rest of series eight is going to be, consider me fully on board for this one.
“Deep Breath” wisely brings back a relatively minor villain from the early days of the David Tennant era (and a previous Moffat script) so that the story doesn’t have to spend too much time establishing the villain and threat and can, instead, spend time focusing on who the new Doctor is. And while the new Doctor isn’t as young as Matt Smith was, I felt like Capaldi and Moffat were building on the alien nature of the Doctor that Smith did so well. It’s no longer an old soul in a young man’s body but an old soul in an older looking body and seeing how the universe is wearing on him.
Most regeneration stories are told through the eyes of those familiar with the previous Doctor to try and give us a clue as to just who this new character is. Having Clara, Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax on hand to give us different reactions to Capaldi worked well and allowed us to spend some time with the Doctor in a post-regeneration fog without having his relegated to the sidelines for far too long (“The Christmas Invasion”) or having him in a fog of amnesia so long that it begins to wear out its welcome (“Time and the Rani”).
I do have a bit of a question on just how Clara reacted to the new Doctor, given that we saw her split through time and interacting with all of the Doctor’s previous incarnations. And she also met three Doctors in person for the anniversary special. It did seem a bit odd that the regeneration would catch her quite so off guard as it did. But I suppose I can chalk it up to her accepting the Doctor as being different incarnations of the same person without necessarily understanding how it occurs. I was glad to see Madame Vastra’s conversation with Clara about veils and how all of it played out.
This feature-length episode allowed time for the Doctor to slowly gel into his new regeneration and for Capaldi to give us glimpses of just who this new Doctor might be. He’s gone beyond just glaring eyebrows that we saw in “Day of the Doctor” and now we see that he’s every bit as Pertwee-eseque as I’d hoped he would be. And it’s interesting to hear the Doctor want to make-up for some of his perceived wrongs from his history coupled with the question of whether or not the clockwork robot jumped to his death or was pushed by the Doctor. The scene is given ambiguity that I can see a lot of the season building on the tension between how the new Doctor wants to act and how he actually acts. And let’s recall there can be a dark side to the Doctor — one that we’ve even seen in the course of the new series at times (though not nearly enough for this fan’s liking).
All of that would be (almost) enough, but then Moffat wisely goes and sets the new ground rules for this era with the final sequence in the TARDIS and the top-secret guest cameo. Having Smith’s Doctor call Clara to assure he’s the same guy worked well, though it feels like the going to the old Doctors for a cameo moment has run its course (at least for now). The statement of “I’m not your boyfriend” elicited cheers from me, simply because I’ve grown weary of the romantic tension that has been forced on the audience for the past couple of years.
As for the final scene with Missy and the perceived heaven, I’m not quite sure what to think just yet. My first thought was that Missy was the Rani come back, but it feels a bit too obvious to go for that. I really feel like that after series five, the expectation of Moffat to have a grand, unifying plan for each series (or the series as a whole at this point) is a bit too high and I’ve tried to temper that back a bit. I want to enjoy the ride and not get my hopes too high for the show to stick the landing perfectly.
But it’s hard when just about everything leading up to that was soooo good. And it got better upon a repeat viewing — something I rarely do for new Who. Or at least that I haven’t done since series one.
Capaldi is here and I couldn’t be more intrigued to see where this is all going.
One thing I will add — I wish BBC America would let us see the closing credits as they air in the UK. This isn’t a new complaint, mind you. But it’s especially annoying when we get a new theme arrangement and credits.