DOCTOR WHO: DEEP BREATH (2014, BBC, UK, 76 mins, Colour, 1.78:1, Dolby Digital, Cert: PG, Sci-Fi/Adventure) ∗∗∗∗∗
Starring: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald), Neve McIntosh (Madame Vastra), Catrin Stewart (Jenny Flint), Dan Starkey (Strax), Peter Ferdinando (Half-Face Man), Paul Hickey (Inspector Gregson), Tony Way (Alf), Maggie Service (Elsie), Brian Miller (Barney), Ellis George (Courtney).
Executive Producer: Steven Moffat, Brian Minchin; Producer: Nikki Wilson; Director: Ben Wheatley; Writer: Steven Moffat; Script Editor: Derek Ritchie; Director of Photography: Magni Agustsson; Music: Murray Gold; Film Editor: William Oswald; Production Designer: Michael Pickwoad; Costume Designer: Howard Burden; Special Effects: MILK, BBC Wales Visual Effects, Real SFX, Millennium FX.
Peter Capaldi’s debut as the ever-popular Time Lord has been hotly anticipated since it was announced he would be taking over the role a year ago. Casting an older actor (Capaldi is 56) after the extremely popular Matt Smith, who was half Capaldi’s age was a bold move by Moffat, who has signalled a desire to introduce more gravity into the part and into the plots.
Deep Breath only hints at these changes, being a lively adventure with large doses of Moffat’s trademark humorous dialogue and manic energy interspersed with occasional moments of atmosphere and tension. There are nods to the classic series in a dinosaur roaming London (Invasion of the Dinosaurs) and residents of Victorian London being exploited for their flesh (The Talons of Weng-Chiang). Moffat also looks to his own earlier work – the clockwork men are taken from The Girl in the Fireplace and the Doctor’s instruction “don’t breathe” top avoid detection by the clockwork men is reminiscent of “don’t blink” from Blink.
The Vastra-Jenny-Strax trio is starting to wear a bit thin, however, recycling much of the banter from earlier appearances. It may have been felt that there was a need to surround the new Doctor with familiar elements in order to gain acceptance. This is nothing new – even Tom Baker had to go through a debut story obviously styled around his predecessor before very quickly finding his own feet one story later. It is to be hoped Moffat has remained true to his word in creating a more challenging and thoughtful Doctor. There is certainly a hint here that once Capaldi settles into the role we will have a strong Doctor and a more serious tone. The series needs to restore a sense of tension and jeopardy, so it was refreshing to see the seemingly infinitely adaptable sonic screwdriver used less frequently.
A good, but not great, start to a new era. Next week it’s Into the Dalek.