Okay, this is a bit of a late post. From here on in all Doctor Who episode recaps will appear on Mondays, but this week was a little different. See, I didn’t watch the premiere on Saturday night with the rest of the world; I waited till Monday night to see it with my daughter and a couple hundred of my close friends at the local multi-plex. This says something about the popularity of the program these days; that the first episode of a British TV series was shown on a movie screen in a small suburb on the west side of Denver. And people showed up.
On a related note: do you know how hard it is to avoid spoilers for three days? Answer: Pretty damn hard. Had to avoid all social media and stay away from the internet, but I did my best to avoid the temptation.
So what happened in this episode?
Well, they killed a dinosaur, which is not cool.
But I suppose the point of the episode was to introduce Peter Capaldi to the role of the Doctor. In this respect it did a fine job. The episode was slow and focused and allowed Capaldi to be funny and serious with some good lines and even a pratfall. However I must say that the “post-regeneration trauma episode” has in my mind grown a little tired – with the flailing about and the forgetting stuff. But it has become a thing that Doctors do ever since Troughton took the part so I guess it will continue. At least he didn’t try to strangle his companion.
This was also a re-introduction to Clara as well. Now that she is somewhat free of the impossiblness and mystery from last season she is allowed to grow a little and be something more than just plucky and chipper. And the scenes in Vastra’s drawing room and staring down the half-faced man were very dramatic and lovely.
Now I don’t really think any but a small few had any doubt that Capaldi would be great in the role. It was just a matter of how he would be great. My daughter was one of the few. To be fair she has only known the series in its new form and so only know the Doctor to be young and dashing. Her first response to the casting news was, “He’s so old!” and as the credits rolled on Deep Breath the response was, “He’s growing on me.”
And that in a nutshell was this episode was meant to do. To reassure the newbies that it’s still the same show and still the same character, just a bit more…mature.
Of course to the old-timers like myself this is nothing new. In the old days the Doctor was always a cantankerous granddad. I’m actually pleased the Doctor is older than me again.
But reintroductions aside let’s get to what the heart of the episode was and what I believe the subtext of the season will be as well – identity. What is it that makes us who we are? And after changes upon changes are we still the same person?
This was touched on with Matt Smith’s regeneration speech at the end of Day of the Doctor, “It all just disappears, everything you are, in a moment like breath on a mirror.” This was done with a sense of nostalgia and longing, whereas with Capaldi this is addressed again but this time with loss and fear, “Who frowned me this face?” he asks.
This idea that we are constantly changing year after year, that we are fundamentally different beings than what we once were is profound. Are you that same person you were when you were 18? Or 10? Or an infant? How many things have you forgotten? And if you forgot them did they really happen? It’s the ‘tree falling in the forest’ conundrum. It is a philosophically loaded question. The idea of what can we really know and who we really are questions that we think we know, we think we can answer but the more we think about it that more our faces frown.
In the episode the Doctor is confronted with several mirrors, all with different reflections, in every one the Doctor cannot recognize that reflection until faced with the refection of the Half-faced Man. A man/machine that has replaced every part, every cog, every limb so many times that the original no longer exists. The Doctor uses an example of an old broom to describe him – replace the handle, replace brush – is it still the same broom? The Doctor answers, “no.”
If that is the case then what does that make him?
There were many great moments in Deep Breath, but the question of identity is very exciting. It remains to be seen if this idea will be continued and expanded on and its potential realized.
Oh, and hopefully there will be no more dinosaur deaths.