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The Doctor Who universe is ever-changing; the show twists and evolves with each Doctor (or, more importantly, each script editor) and the differences, be it subtle or dramatic have an impact upon the general view of the show. When Matt Smith stepped into the role after the phenomenally popular David Tennant, decided to leave, there were fears that Smith would never be able to match the popularity of his predecessor; the opposite happened and Doctor Who became more popular than ever, annexing areas of the American viewing public that had never previously entertained the notion of tuning into Doctor Who.

"They brought the muncher to some of the best places to eat in town..."

A giant tyrannosaurus rex is terrorising Victorian London; ejected forcibly from it's mouth is the TARDIS, carrying Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) and a newly-regenerated Doctor (Peter Capaldi). With The Doctor indisposed, Clara teams up with Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax to solve the mystery of the sudden appearance of the dinosaur and other related mysterious goings-on that will lead them to a being, the likes of which The Doctor has encountered before – sort of...

When Peter Capaldi was announced on Doctor Who Live back in August of 2013, it’s quite possible that nobody cheered louder than us when he was unveiled; the combination of being a great actor and a lifelong fan of Doctor Who added up to something special on the horizon. Fans had to wait a year for his first proper appearance on Doctor Who and this near feature-film length story was even screened at cinemas across the country in an attempt to replicate the success of theatrical screenings of the 50th anniversary story, The Day of the Doctor.

One of the number of issues we have with Deep Breath is the emphasis on The Doctor spending much of his time in a post mid-life crisis, wondering why his face looks so old this time - the answer within the context of the show is pretty simple, but the answer to this in terms of the fan-base is a little more complex. The Doctor has had several incarnations where he looks “old” - putting aside that he grew from childhood into adulthood in his first incarnation, his second, third and fourth incarnations weren’t exactly in the first flush of youth - as the Fifth Doctor so put it so succinctly - “that’s the trouble with regeneration, you never quite know what you’re going to get”. The reason why there is so much age-related angst as far as the fan-base is concerned is that because of Doctor Who’s stratospheric popularity in the US (and other countries), there are many fan-girls who latched onto Matt Smith (and to a certain extent, David Tennant) and only envisioned The Doctor as a young, physically-active character. When Capaldi was announced, message boards and Twitter went into meltdown as many-a fan-girl whined “he’s too old to play The Doctor” - with us being fans of Doctor Who for most of our lives, we say that the age of the actor is irrelevant, it just needs a good actor to play the part with conviction.

What really comes as a kick in the balls to Capaldi is the cameo at the end of the story - it was no real surprise that Matt Smith was going to appear (the filming of Capaldi’s reactions to the scene were caught and uploaded onto the net, so a lot of people pieced it together) - this was meant as another attempt to reassure the Smith fan-girls that The Doctor is still The Doctor, but from an acting point of view, this comes across as a massive smack in the face to everything that Capaldi had done for the previous hour-and-a-quarter, undoing any investment that Smith fans had put into the new Doctor and getting excited that the Bow-Tie-Wearing-One was on-screen again. Were the production SO troubled about certain areas of fandom not wanting to accept Capaldi that they felt the need to get Matt Smith back and essentially give Capaldi his blessing? Jesus Christ…

Deep Breath can be looked upon as a reasonably entertaining 50 minute story that had unfortunately been stretched out to near feature-length and the result is something that has many dead scenes that don’t do anything, or sequences that should have been more dynamic if more harsh decisions had been taken in the editing suite. Acclaimed director Ben Wheatley adds some cinematic touches to this story, with some impressive visuals, but the slow pacing of the script could not be fully overcome by even a director of Wheatley’s stature.

The decision to have a giant tyrannosaurus rex rampaging across Victorian London sounds like an obvious hook with which to try and catch viewers from the first few seconds; the reason for it being there is eventually explained (even though it’s a fairly shaky explanation), but the whole idea sounds like it came from the results of a focus group “hey, kids like Doctor Who and kids also like dinosaurs! Let’s put a dinosaur in Doctor Who! How could it possibly fail?” Having a much larger than average dinosaur seems to adhere to “bigger is scarier” notion that Doctor Who’s previous executive producer insisted upon - the finale of The Next Doctor, with the pathetic-looking Cyber-King rampaging through Victorian London being a perfect example. Did one of the people in that possible focus group sign his suggestion with the initials RTD?

Peter Capaldi is understandably subdued in his first full story, suffering from a regeneration that has gone somewhat awry (remember when regenerations actually went relatively smoothly?) and it feels as though he is being propped up by Jenna Coleman and the cast of the Paternoster Gang. It would take several episodes for Capaldi to really come into his own and here he just seems to be running with his thespian throttle open.
   
We have never really been a fan of the Paternoster Gang - they seemed to be created for politically-correct box-ticking reasons and the whole “we’re an interspecies lesbian couple” thing is seriously grating in this story, as the number of times that Vastra and Jenny are married is mentioned is ridiculously excessive, even if they were mainly repeating it for somewhat contrived comedic effect. We have no problems with the characters being in a relationship, nor with them being married, it’s just that the continual repetition of it all just smacks of a desperate attempt to shock, which it really doesn’t do in 2014 (well, not here in the UK, anyway). On the plus side, there is some of their schtick that is amusing and there is also a brief passage that allows actress Neve McIntosh to speak with her real regional accent (she’s an Edinburgh lass).

How could we not have a New-Who review without a grab of Jenna Coleman?  And Who wouldn't...?!?

Speaking of the Paternoster Gang, the third member is becoming increasingly irksome, mainly because in order to get greater comedic value from him, Strax’ IQ seems to be diminishing with each story he appears in; Sontarans were brilliant tacticians, but Strax just seems to have devolved into an idiot with a thirst for war. He has gone the way of Homer Simpson and Col. Jack O’Neill in terms of gradually dumbing-down a character purely for comedic purposes.
 
Stephen Moffat presents a hodgepodge of recycled ideas and overly-familiar tropes; the Clockwork Men from the wonderful The Girl in the Fireplace make a return in the form of the Half-Face Man (Peter Ferdinando), a remnant from the sister-ship of the Madame de Pompadour, who is trying to reach the Promised Land. Moffat yet again delivers another short, four-words-or-less instructional piece of advice, (others being “don’t even blink”, “count the shadows”, etc) - here it’s “take a deep breath” - such cryptic pieces of advice are intriguing when used sparingly, but Moffat seems to deploy them with most of his stories. Ferdinando makes for an intriguing addition to the New-Who rogue’s gallery, with several different techniques, practical and computer-generated, to sell the illusion that he is half-organic, half-mechanical.

Speaking of the Half-Faced Man - his “escape pod” is revealed as the story nears it’s climax; the idea was to have a horrifying hot-air balloon flying over Victorian London - it must have sounded great on paper, but having a round, flesh-coloured object on-screen appearing doesn’t signify horror, instead, it provokes laughter, as it bears more than a passing resemblance to a giant testicle in the sky.

It's not all bad news – Jenna Coleman manages to carry much of the show as the plucky Clara, bringing her usual perkiness to shine amidst the heavily post-production-filtered gloom. Usually, it's up to the companion to pick up the slack during a first Doctor story and Coleman performs admirably.

The scene where Clara and The Doctor (having started to regain his marbles after the regeneration) meet up in a restaurant and it begins to dawn on them that things are terribly wrong within the seemingly ordinary confines of this particular Victorian eatery - there is a palpable sense of dread that works because of good writing by Moffat and tense direction by Wheatley.

It was a pleasant surprise to see actor Brian Miller appearing as Barney, a derelict in the grimy back-streets of Victorian London; Miller has been linked with Doctor Who on several occasions, most notably playing a character in the Peter Davison story, Snakedance, but his strongest connection was arguably being married to the late Elisabeth Sladen, forever etched into the hearts of Doctor Who fans as Sarah Jane Smith.

"Thank Christ I haven't got a silly Mockney accent!"

Video


This first episode of Series Eight of Doctor Who looks pretty good on DVD, with fairly impressive colour reproduction and a fair amount of image detail. There are no obvious signs of artefacting nor any serious evidence of digital compression - these are a couple of the advantages of releasing one episode of Doctor Who on it’s own.

Audio


The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is pretty good - though not as rich or as showy as some of the latest cinematic blockbusters, there is enough going on in terms of directional effects and low frequencies to add a touch of the big screen to the proceedings.

Extras


Behind the Scenes: This is just the episode of Doctor Who Extra that was available on the BBC I-Player and the red button service for a week after Deep Breath aired. It’s pretty mush a piece of fluff, with quick cuts of b-roll footage and sound-bites from members of the cast and crew. It’s nice to see some footage of Capaldi during the photo-shoot which resulted in THAT picture that was used to depict his Doctor in the run-up to the start of the new series. Although the tone of this mini-documentary isn’t as child-orientated as the infamous Totally Doctor Who from a while back, it’s still voiced by someone who sounds like they are desperately trying to bridge the tricky gap between kid’s TV and more grown-up fare.

Doctor Who Live - The Next Doctor: The hype and speculation about just who was going to succeed the incredibly popular Matt Smith was sufficiently large enough to warrant a live television special.This show was broadcast live on BBC1 back in August 2013 and culminated in the revelation of the actor who was to play the 12th Doctor. Zoe Ball was your genial (and somewhat excitable) host for this look at the show's past and and a tantalising look at what was to come.

In some respects, Doctor Who Live was similar to the various National Lottery game shows that have been on BBC1 for the last couple of decades – people watch the content that is effectively padding, but mainly just want to see the all-important last few minutes. Though speculation as to who was going to get the role was rife – and internet chatter had bandied Capaldi's name around as a certainty – there was still a degree of tension and excitement as the identity of the next Doctor. Many people were convinced that the annoying wee shite from the BT adverts, thinking that the popularity of Matt Smith might have influenced the production team to cast an actor similar in age and demeanour, but seconds before Capaldi was revealed, a close-up of his tense hand proved that this was not a young man, and at that point, many fans across the country rejoiced – ourselves included. It was also cool to see that when Capaldi stepped out to face the audience , he was stroking his lapels in a reference to William Hartnell.

Ultimately, Doctor Who Live was truly something “of the moment”; it was irresistibly fascinating at the time, but now that the moment has long passed, it will only have a certain curiosity value as a piece of televisual antiquity.

Deep Breath Prequel: Filmed to function as a lead-in to the theatrical screenings, this is a ten minute piece of smug irritation. Featuring The Paternoster Gang, in no particular order of butchness, Strax gives a run-down of the previous incarnations of the Doctor. The only serves (apart from the very end opening up the start of Deep Breath) as a way say to all the Nu-Who fans: “Hey, kids - The Doctor has been an old guy before. Please don’t switch off in droves when the regeneration process swings back in the other direction! We promise he isn’t going to offer anyone a Werthers Original where once he brought Jelly babies. Nor will he have to empty his bag every time he hears the Colostomy Bell. He’s here, and he really is the same guy you know and love.”

It all smacks of the trailers brought out when they made On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, fearing that such a radical departure in the lead might push away the fans, making sure to stress that although “different”, it was the same character: “The new Bond from the same stable”. OK, this is all groundwork, but what annoyed us about this? Well, displaying images of all the previous incarnations, it takes swipes at each one, but the cheaper, more pointed ones are reserved for those of the original run. It’s noted that the hair on the first Doctor was “unconvincing”, and rolls out other annoying “witticisms” for the rest, but the ones doled out for Nu-Who are more jocular and self-serving.  There is the kind of hypocrisy at work that you find in The Simpsons when they tackle religion, happy to put the boot into Christianity through it being an easy/lazy target, but wouldn’t dare to do anything to rock the boat at about any other branch for fear of stirring up shit. A show that was made a long time ago with limited resources (both technically and financially) is like shooting fish in a barrel, but to have a new series built on the bible of what came before and still come up with a 50/50 hit rate has far fewer excuses.

That's not the only aspect of this story that can be likened to recycled bollocks...

Overall


We're trying to be as nice as we can about this release without resorting to blatantly lying – the hype surrounding Peter Capaldi taking over the main role in Doctor Who was immense and this stand-alone release was intended to capitalise upon the success of the cinema release of Day of the Doctor and – to a smaller extent – the theatrical release of Deep Breath. There are those who could look upon this standalone release as a cynical cash-grab – we couldn't possibly say if we are amongst that particular group or not...

Peter Capaldi's début as the Twelfth Doctor wasn't exactly an auspicious one; as first Doctor stories go, it's not Time and the Rani bad, but it's fairly close; Capaldi's not really given a chance to shine and the over-length, leaden pacing and reworked ideas from Moffat all add up to a huge miscalculation from the Doctor Who production team.

It does get better. Eventually.


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