Doctor Who Season 8 Premiere Recap: “Deep Breath”

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The Doctor Who season premiere wasn’t so much about introducing a new Doctor as presenting Clara’s struggle to accept a new Doctor. Or to be more specific: to accept a new face on the Doctor. Because as the episode made very clear, he is still the same man. And while he may look more wizened than he did as Matt Smith, the young face was the illusion, not the old. He’s been alive for over 2000 years.

TARDIS-fast recap: A dinosaur appears in Victorian London, where it spits the TARDIS onto the banks of the Thames. The Paternoster gang—Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint and Strax—investigate, and encounter Clara and a very confused Doctor. They return to Madame Vastra and Jenny’s house, and put the Doctor to bed. (Since he keeps passing out.) But after the dinosaur “spontaneously combusts”—i.e. is murdered—the Doctor runs off to solve the case. He is eventually reunited with Clara at restaurant that doubles as a home base for a group of robots who are slowing turning themselves into humans, killing people (and sometimes dinosaurs) for their parts. Could this be the most steampunk episode of Doctor Who ever made?

“Deep Breath” highlights both the humour and the gravity of the Doctor’s transformation into an older (and Scottish) man. At one point, a cyborg hits Peter Capaldi point blank in the face, sending him to the floor. It’s a rare moment of total physical vulnerability for the Doctor. And in his final showdown with the head cyborg, the Doctor draws a lengthy analogy between the repurposed robot and a broom: if you keep replacing the handle and the brush until they’ve both been replaced numerous times, “is it still the same broom?” The Doctor says, “Of course it isn’t, but you can still sweep the floor with it—which is not strictly relevant, skip that last part.” It would seem, however, that that last part is key to the analogy. Both the Doctor and the robot have replaced their parts so many times that none of their original physical makeup remains—and yet they are still the same.

Which is not necessarily the easiest thing to wrap your head around. There’s a sense that Clara’s uncertainty reflects that of the Doctor Who audience. Madame Vastra judges Clara harshly for her inability to instantly accept the new Doctor, which feels like a challenge to viewers: if we can’t see past his changed exterior, we don’t really understand him.

All the references to flirting also felt like a direct communication to the audience. Clara denies having flirted with Matt Smith’s Doctor, but Madame Vastra insists that he flirted with her. (His phone call in the final scenes was both lightly romantic and an explicit endorsement, from Eleven himself, that we must accept the new guy.) Meanwhile, Peter Capaldi—who has announced there will be “no flirting” in the TARDIS—openly hits on the dinosaur, screaming from a rooftop that she’s a “big sexy woman.” Clearly his taste does not run cute.

The episode also introduced some significant mysteries to be explored in the season to come. Particularly, the identity of Missy, the sassy gatekeeper of the “promised land” in which the head cyborg wakes up after committing suicide. She calls the Doctor her boyfriend, and seems just wacko enough to believe it’s true. More to come on this one.

So, what did everyone think of the new episode and the new Doctor? Let us know below!

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