At last, Doctor Who is free to be Doctor Who again. After spending a decade pretending that it’s not just a freakier version of Masterpiece Theater, the venerable BBC sci-fi series no longer feels that it has to enlist pop stars or rely on queer sex references to remain relevant. It’s a worldwide phenomenon at this point, so the creators might as well go back to how the show used to be: meandering and random as all hell.
Regeneration episodes should be a way to redefine the Who series. A good example of this was when Matt Smith took over as the eleventh Doctor in 2009. It worked out fairly well. Of course, you had the executive producer hand-off to Stephen Moffat that really drove the point home, but remember when David Tennant stumbled in during the Davies era? The tone immediately shifted. Such a shift is somewhat apparent in “Deep Breath,” the first episode of the show’s eighth season. However, the tone itself is still being located, and it’s just out of reach from Peter Capaldi and the rest of the cast.
As a first episode to inaugurate a reboot of sorts, “Deep Breath” feels too bogged down in Matt Smith’s pre-existing world. What would have been great here—instead of a period piece featuring lizard people and robots—would have been an episode in which the TARDIS was catapulted into some unknown part of the universe that the Doctor didn’t recognize. Clara would be stranded there with a new Doctor she’d know nothing about. They would both be stuck there together, getting to know one another. It would have been a fresh start. Sounds kind of appropriate, right?
Instead, we get Downton Abbey with dinosaurs. And Victorian cyborgs. Which is very Doctor Who in itself, but more in line with the older incarnations of the flirtatious but asexual time traveller. (I love classic Who, so this is a good thing for me. Mostly.)
The rapport between Clara and Capaldi feels natural and quite amusing already. Capaldi’s comedic timing is perfect for the role of the Doctor, and I can see why he was cast in such an iconic role.
One thing I appreciated about this installment was the theme of how we all wear masks to be accepted. This rings true for our beloved Time Lord, in particular. Each persona he’s worn has been another mask allowing him to better communicate with the universe, fit into it, be a part of it. Over the course of all of the different franchises and their respective seasons, the Doctor has been working up to this particular incarnation—his 12th and final.