SPOILER ALERT: Don’t read ahead if you haven’t watched Doctor Who series 8, episode 1: Deep Breath
Steven Moffat takes questionable pleasure in teasing fans, be it with hypothetical kisses between Sherlock and Moriarty or digs at Twitter via Clara Oswald. But the premiere of Doctor Who series 8 felt like a much needed atonement on the show runner's part. As promised, the Doctor is darker, the season arc is looking to be sufficiently mysterious and the companion is a three dimensional complex woman that we can all actually identify with.
The episode starts with Peter Capaldi acting oddly Smith-esque, as he wanders out of the Tardis in the middle of victorian London, the old blue box covered in vomit from the reptilian esophagus. Despite mixing up Strax with the cast of Snow White, Doctor somehow has full grasp of his universal linguistic skills which he uses to flirt his way into the dinosaur's graces, keeping the latter from chowing down on the British parliament. Like I said... Smith-esque.
This Doctor's regeneration is fairly different from what we've seen in the past, as he has no immediate recollection of most of his life, or of basic physics. He appears to be distressingly senile, which may be attributed to his drastic aging on Trenzalore. He slowly regains his memories throughout the episode, yet by the end we are left to wonder if we are still following the same man. The basic traits of the doctor are all there. He still cares for all living creatures, he is still loyal to his friends, and he still has that ferocity you only see when he is really, really cross. However, this Doctor has an clear conflict with his face. He claims that he has seen it before... which he has.
Capaldi's casting was much contested partly due to his previous Doctor Who role as Caecilius, a man saved by the 10th Doctor in 'The Fires Of Pompeii.' There was much speculation of how Moffat would address Capaldi's presence in the show's canon. While rummaging through garbage for clues on who killed the dinosaur, the Doctor openly admits that he has "seen this face before." Following Tom Baker's cameo as "The Curator" in the 50th Anniversary special, some speculated that Doctor actually has a say in his appearance. This is confirmed as the distressed Time Lord asks "Why did I choose this face?" right before realizing he is Scottish.
If this episode was any indication, we'll start seeing a more morally ambiguous Doctor. In the past, while he's mostly walked away from a fight as the good guy, this episode ends on a more ambiguous note. When facing off with the Clockwork Robot, it is unclear if the creature commits suicide or if the Doctor pushes it to it's death. My guess is that Moffat is trying to test our faith in the Doctor, much like he tested Clara in the episode.
Until 'Deep Breath' Clara was amongst my least favorite companions, but Jenna Coleman delivered a fantastic performance in 'Deep Breath,' making the rumors of her departure quite unwelcome.
Moffat is really trying to tap back into the show's classic roots by using Clara as the mouth piece of the fandom. In a fantastic exchange on Doctor's older appearance between Clara and Madame Vastra, it's hard not to draw parallels to conversations on the new casting. Moffat calls us out for falling for Eccleston, Tennant and Smith's charm and "underwear model good looks" and in return Clara acts like much needed voice of the audience who has stuck with the show for the characters' substance.
At it's core 'Deep Breath' is about Clara's struggle accepting the new Doctor. In an effort to help her... ahem us... we get a much needed push from our old friend.
Series 8 Story Arc
We'll likely be seeing more on Doctor's struggle with moral ambiguity, especially if the "Paradise" sequence at the end is any indication. I don't really know what to make of it. "Paradise" as is, is not a concept the show has tackled in a traditional way. We've seen galactic/technological versions of afterlife in 'Voyage of the Damned' and 'Silence In The Library'. The woman we saw in the "Paradise" sequence referred to herself as Missy, but she has also been identified as The Gatekeeper of the Nethersphere. She is featured in promo photos with Cybermen, so maybe we're looking at a connection with Clockwork Robots.
'Deep Breath' also resurfaces old questions we didn't get answers to in series 7. Specifically who was the woman in the shop who helped Clara find the Doctor in 'The Bells Of Saint John'. It appears to be the same culprit that lead the two to the Clockwork Robot restaurant. I know many argue that it was Rose, others speculate that is was Missy, but my money is still on River. Missy strikes me as a villain, while bringing Doctor together with his companion is a positive goal and well there is also this...
"Doctor Who" airs Saturdays at 8:15 p.m. ET on BBC America.