“Deep Breath” is the first episode of the eighth series of the British science fiction television programme Doctor Who, first broadcast on BBC One and released in cinemas worldwide on 23 August 2014. It was written by executive producer Steven Moffat and directed by Ben Wheatley (Kill List; Sightseers; Freakshift).
The episode stars Peter Capaldi in his first full episode as the Twelfth Doctor, alongside Jenna Coleman as his companion Clara Oswald. It also features Neve McIntosh, Catrin Stewart, and Dan Starkey reprising their roles as Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint, and Strax. Capaldi’s predecessor, Matt Smith, also appears at the episode’s conclusion.
In Victorian London, the Paternoster Gang, comprising of Silurian Madame Vastra, her human maid and wife Jenny, and Sontaran butler Strax, are summoned by the police force when a dinosaur suddenly materialises outside the Houses of Parliament. Vastra observes that the dinosaur has something stuck in its throat, and moments later it spits out the TARDIS onto the banks of the Thames. The Paternoster Gang announce that they will deal with the dinosaur, before heading down to the TARDIS, only for the Doctor to emerge, closely followed by a confused Clara Oswald. As the Doctor deliriously begins speaking to the dinosaur, and struggles to remember who the people around him are, Clara explains that the Doctor has just regenerated. Overwhelmed, he collapses, and the Paternoster Gang take him and Clara back to their residence.
Vastra manages to trick the Doctor into sleeping, while she confronts Clara on her prejudiced attitude to his changed face. Clara admits that she is struggling to adapt to the new Doctor, due to his stark difference to the old one. The Doctor awakens and heads down to the river, hearing the dinosaur’s pleas for help due to its loneliness. However, as he arrives, closely followed by his concerned friends, the dinosaur bursts into flames. Angry and seeking answers, the Doctor discovers that this is not the first case of spontaneous combustion in London recently, and after spotting a seemingly unfazed man across the river, he jumps into the Thames to begin investigating…
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“The direction from Ben Wheatley is very effective when it comes to conveying a tense atmosphere, and there’s definitely something a little more unnerving and unpredictable about Capaldi’s Doctor that is conveyed by the visuals. Flimsy plotting aside, this is a hugely confident introduction to the new Doctor that showcases some really brilliant performances. Its ambition isn’t always realised and many of the jokes fall flat, but when the show relies on Capaldi or Coleman to sell either the quieter moments or the more hyperactive ones, it’s a delight.” Ben Cocks, Twitch
The Guardian‘s Euan Ferguson responded positively to the episode, labelling Capaldi’s performance as “intimidating, bold and unsettling”, and praising Ben Wheatley’s direction in the episode’s tenser moments, calling it “the stuff of true terror and wonderment” although decried the plot as “demented”.
Matt Smith’s cameo as the Eleventh Doctor was criticised by Richard Beech in The Mirror. However, it ultimately labelled the episode “impeccable” and stating that Capaldi “has all the hallmarks of a great Doctor … If you watched “Deep Breath” and you don’t want to watch the rest of series 8, then there truly is something wrong with you,” he wrote.
The Telegraph’s Michael Hogan said Capaldi “crackled with fierce intelligence and nervous energy”.
“The plot runs secondary to the emotional throughline here.” wrote US critic Geoff Berkshire in Variety. But he added: “What Capaldi lacks in youthful energy, he more than makes up for in gravitas and wry eccentricity, whether marvelling at his “independently cross” eyebrows or gleefully embracing his Scottish accent as a license to complain.”
The episode was also met with negative reviews, most notably Forbes, who panned the story as “strangely recessive, unheroic, [and] dull” calling both Capaldi and Coleman’s characters “insipid”.
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