BLU-RAY REVIEW: DOCTOR WHO - DEEP BREATH / CERT: PG /DIRECTOR: BEN WHEATLEY / SCREENPLAY: STEVEN MOFFAT / STARRING: PETER CAPALDI, JENNA COLEMAN, NEVE MACKINTOSH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Peter Capaldi’s Doctor Who debut pops up on DVD/Blu Ray with almost indecent haste, barely a month after its TV transmission and all the breathless flag-waving and associated hoo-hah that accompanied it. But Doctor Who moves so fast Deep Breath almost seems like a lifetime ago and with much better episodes having followed it as Series Eight’s unfolded; looking back on it just a few weeks after its unveiling doesn’t really do it many favours.
However, in truth there’s quite a lot to admire here. The story’s more leisurely pace (many dialogue-driven scenes are much longer than we’ve been used to these last three years) allows the audience to adjust to Capaldi’s frazzled Time Lord and Jenna Coleman’s Clara finally gets some meaty material to add flesh to her character’s previously undernourished bones. Nevertheless, the thin story - clockwork robots stalking Victorian London and replacing their disintegrating mechanical bodies with human flesh - needs to be lighter on its feet. Action set pieces aren’t Moffat’s forte and Deep Breath tends to sag when it should soar. A decent script editor could have red-penned several unnecessary scenes (especially the tiresome ‘comedy’ antics of one-joke Sontaran, Strax) and just generally tightened up the whole narrative.
Deep Breath is concerned not just with introducing the new Doctor, but with making it quite clear this is a very different man to the fast-talking, hyperactive bow-tie obsessive of his previous incarnation. Peter Capaldi is initially manic - a post-regeneration trope that Moffat wisely doesn’t overplay - but quickly establishes himself as brittle, spiky and utterly unwilling to suffer fools at all, let alone gladly. Capaldi is captivating throughout, whether bantering with Clara in the extraordinarily languid restaurant sequence or trading existential angst with the half-faced clockwork man. Ambiguity’s the name of the game for this Doctor and by the end of the episode, although Clara may have made her peace with the new boy (courtesy of a slightly uncomfortable cameo from Matt Smith), we’re still not quite sure if the new Doctor is a good man or even the same man. Capaldi was already a brave choice in an era where the Doctor has become a sexy action hero but the actor’s testy, abrasive, hands-off portrayal is potentially even braver.
Deep Breath is, in many ways, fairly standard Moffat fare. The script is cleverly contructed to remind troubled viewers that this is the same old Doctor Who. Back come the Paternoster Gang, the tiresome triumvirate of Victorian investigators created by Moffat as shorthand ‘best friends’ for the Doctor, and a variation on the clockwork androids from ‘Girl in the Fireplace’ are the antagonists (although, refreshingly, the Doctor can’t quite remember where he’s met them before). It’s longer than it needs to be, and Wheatley’s direction is oddly lacking in confidence (contrasting with his bold, explosive and imaginative work in the next episode) but it’s a decent and generally-competent start to a bold new era in the history of 21st century Who. Special features on the disc include last year’s live BBC show where Capaldi was announced to the nation by a breathless Zoe Ball, a brief ‘making of’ previously available online and the desperately-bad cinema introduction to the episode in which ‘comedy’ Sontaran Strax assassinates the characters of the previous Doctor in the name of a few cheap laughs. Watch it once and wish you hadn’t.