With the Battle of Trenzalore behind him, the Doctor has shed his Matt Smith form, and now longtime Scottish actor Peter Capaldi steps in to provide a new face for television’s favorite dual-hearted hero. In the Doctor Who Season 8 premiere, Capaldi brilliantly shoots for the stars in his first full performance, while a disjointed story serves to almost completely undermine it.
“Deep Breath”, written by the one and only Steven Moffat, is much less a premiere and more of a mashup adventure of sorts, in which a series of odd events are loosely connected to a generic nemesis that, in the end, doesn’t really matter. This is obviously not ideal; however, it's used to blend the story into the background, allowing for a heavy injection of character development throughout.
Although terrific character development does occur, one must be watching intently for those moments which lay outside of the Clockwork Repair Droid, black market organ-harvesting storyline taking place - as it’s within those too few moments that both Clara and the new Doctor shine, and the feeling of uncertainty in the show’s future melts into a familiar feeling of excitement.
Capaldi is grey, yes, and his heavy Scottish accent can, at times, be a bit of a challenge when mixed with some of the series’ quirky dialogue. And in the premiere, it's hard not to argue that he’s attempting a poor Matt Smith impersonation. Fortunately, many of Capaldi’s awkward affectations can be attributed to the fact that he is attempting to emulate his predecessor, and his voice simply doesn't match up with what he’s trying to communicate. All other concerns can be attributed to the story, or having to talk to a T-rex while figuring out his purpose in life.
Madam Vastra (Neve McIntosh) helps kick off the new Doctor’s character arc by explaining that youth, for the Doctor, is a way for him to be accepted. Nevertheless, the Doctor has thrown away his youth for a reason, and much of the episode is spent trying to figure out why. What happens when the Doctor stops trying to be accepted? As he says, "he’s not our boyfriend."
The Doctor is confused and afraid, and his new form is a sign that he once again needs to change his intentions. He’s holding on to his previous form, reluctantly following the lead of his new self, whenever and wherever it takes him. He’s facing similar challenges, but is now coming out with very different outcomes, and a much higher body count.
If the suggestion that the Doctor has been lying about the true nature of his programming is to be believed, then there are many exciting tales that can be told along the way - should he choose to continue 'breaking bad.'
Doctor transitions are never easy, and this particular shift might be a bit more difficult than ones in the recent past. But if viewers keep in mind that Capaldi is a BAFTA Award-winning actor who is making specific choices in this role, it is much easier to trust that the more problematic elements viewers will notice could actually be done for a purpose; a purpose that's being overlooked... due to the large number of human skin hot air balloons in this episode.
In season 8, Doctor Who is well beyond the veil of safety in its position as a fan-favorite show. But just like others, it must still earn its spot on the air. After all, Doctor Who was cancelled before. At 8 years old, the modern Doctor and all his many adventures must still compete with what else is available to TV audiences, and although there will always be room for such a fan-favorite on the air, the quality of the series must match the enthusiasm of its many fans - not become dependent upon it.
The Doctor Who Season 8 premiere's dependence on character development may prevent it from being one of the best introduction fans will have seen, but there are more than enough fun moments – not to mention a surprise phone call - to at least keep fans interested enough to tune in to next week’s episode with the Daleks. With a new Doctor, we’d say that’s a win.
Doctor Who returns next Saturday with "Into the Dalek" @8pm on BBC America. You can check out a preview of next week's episode below: