DVD Extras for this story on the 12-episode box sets include:
Sadly, I think that's unlikely to be the case. "Deep Breath" is neither a particularly good story, nor a great "pilot adventure" for anyone who's never seen "Doctor Who" before. It really just becomes a dull re-hash of ideas we've seen many times before, without really being all that accessible or attractive to new audiences. I came to this DVD box set full of excitement to see what might have been cooked up in this first season since 2010 not to be split up into two distinct halves, and promptly got doused with a bucket of cold harsh disappointment.
Opening RevealsThe opening pulls a few surprises and reversals on us, which seems to be writer Steven Moffat's speciality. First we see a huge dinosaur, or similar primitive alien creature. Cool. "Deep Breath" earns a positive point. Then the skyline comes into shot: London. Oh bloody hell. "Deep Breath" loses a big point for not bothering to imagine a more interesting setting with less predictable stakes and outcomes.
Ahh, but perhaps we're here to facilitate the presence of the ever enjoyable intrepid trio of the Silurian detective Madame Vastra, with her Sontaran sidekick Strax, and her constant companion Jenny Flint. I love this trio enough to almost give "Deep Breath" the whole point back again.... although I have to say that in the end, this turned out to be the dullest story I've seen yet featuring these three. Their humorous lines seemed to be recycled, their interaction listless, their action-scenes and stunts a bit limp. Though they do get a few good moments in here and there, somehow they just didn't seem to be able to lift this story to any great heights.
The anachronism of the dinosaur in 1800's London might have been a good source of mystery, but once it up-chucks the TARDIS, we all know how it got here, and the story is without drive once more. This weird stunt to get the TARDIS to the scene may seem unique, but I'm not sure anyone other than Moffat was amused. I prefer a good materialization, which wasn't forthcoming until the third story of the season. Blah.
Clockwork Witch TitlesI also have to say, I have loved every title sequence this show had produced over 50 years. Last year's title was possibly the best ever. This year's is... Oh my God! ...the WORST I have ever seen, and the only one that I hate. Instead of various permutations of outer space or temporal vortices, the TARDIS now flies around some surreal painting of European clocks, complete with gears and Roman numerals. Universal scope is obscured by European culture, producing more of a virtual concept instead of an actual environment. This suggests that the show is disappearing into a parody of itself, which may sadly be true in many other respects as well. It also looks exceedingly flat most of the time, and doesn't have a proper sense of motion like most other titles do.
The real kicker is the music. I don't know what got into Murray Gold, who had created many successful variations on Ron Grainer's theme music before. It's hard to imagine a worse choice for the lead instrument sound on the main melody. All that unnecessary wavering of pitch and tremolo makes it sound like someone's bad imitation of a witch at Hallowe'en, when they try too hard to be frightening and just come off as silly. Again, perhaps an indication of how the show itself is going off course. At any rate, I usually find myself fast-forwarding past the title sequences and end credits before the melody kicks in each time, which is something I never did during previous seasons. Even the infamous Delaware title music from 1972 was less objectionable, and the producer had the good sense to yank it off the episodes and use the perfectly good previous version instead. Too bad no one was quick enough to pull this version. Let's hope they replace these awful titles A.S.A.P.!!
Re-runs and PaddingAt its heart, this story repeats a conflict with the bizarre kind of 51st Century clockwork androids we saw before in "The Girl in the Fireplace" (story no. 175). They barely managed to work then, when they were new enough to us to be worth exploring. Here, the plot with them is stretched much too thin, and can't sustain our interest. Moffat is hoping to get a lot of mileage out of them being oh-so-scary, and look what ridiculous things our protagonists have to do to survive. Ho hum. Scripting tactics like this pretty much always leave me bored.
With this limited main conflict stretched too thin already and backloaded towards the end of the 80 minute premiere episode, the front end is largely padded with the bad idea of the usual regeneration trauma, where a new actor in the role of the Doctor acts in a manner that will not reflect his usual self moving forward. He'll be sick, weak, addled, confused, etc. - which doesn't really help a brand new audience to like the show. It's only an experienced audience, if any at all, that finds this interesting. Having seen (or in Troughton's case heard) every Doctor's debut, I've learned to largely discount regeneration trauma as a false-start and wait for proper later adventures to get a handle on what any particular Doctor is about. Judging by the worldwide media circus of famous panelists providing spin immediately after Capaldi's debut, I'm not sure the rest of the world wants to be as patient. Hindsight will later show whether any of the hype they create now has resonance in the future - or whether people better remember the show itself or what's said about it afterwards.
Despite the fact that the role of the Doctor seems to be changing way too often, not getting the full mileage out of each lead actor that the show deserves, Peter Capaldi seems to be doing alright in the role. But is "alright" going to be enough, considering how popular his two predecessors were?
In publicity stills, Capaldi struck me as headed towards an interpretation like the third Doctor Jon Pertwee, but in action and temperament, I think he's much more like the first Doctor William Hartnell with all the guilty-conscience baggage of New Millennium Doctors layered on top. I think he's got a good grasp of the meta-character, the unchangeable aspects that all Doctors have. In terms of his own peculiar characteristics, it feels like he's still trying things out, and I'm not sure he's settled in yet. Interestingly, it was only after I finished the season and began to scratch the surface of the DVD extras that I saw Capaldi in his interviews, smiling, gracious, and humbled to have a role he'd dreamed of all his life. Suddenly, Capaldi was completely charming, and I thought that was something that had been missing from his portrayal of his Doctor pretty much all season long. Adding extra charm was one of the numerous reasons why the original pilot "An Unearthly Child" was re-shot in 1963. Every Doctor needs it. I hope they layer more in next year, because I'm sure it will do Capaldi's Doctor a world of good.
This story, and indeed the season as a whole, seems to have let Capaldi down somewhat in the writing. Indeed, I wound up spending most of this story either not seeing at all where it was headed, or feeling sure that it was not headed in a direction that aligned with anything that truly interested me.
Part of the problem is that companion Clara and the trio of local recurring characters and for that matter the audience are all way ahead of the Doctor in terms of what they understand about both his character and the plot of the story at hand, and yet instead of truly coming to grips with this, they sit around waiting for him to catch up, or show up. No matter how many amusing moments crop up from Moffat's writing or Capaldi's acting during this stretch, the formula's in place for it to be a bit of a long drag overall.
Meanwhile, they seem to have inexplicably swapped their issues around such that they aren't true to their characters anymore. Many fans have noted that Clara should be familiar enough with regeneration that it doesn't baffle her quite so much. But equally, we have to wonder how Vastra (and by extension Jenny) has any idea of what regeneration is at all. We've never seen this trio encounter any Doctor other than Matt Smith's eleventh. If anything, it should be Clara explaining regeneration to Vastra and company. And of course, we all know that Vastra's line "Here we go again" belonged to the Brigadier bridging "Planet of the Spiders" (Jon Pertwee's finale) and "Robot" (Tom Baker's debut), but how does it make any sense coming from Vastra, who hasn't seen this before?
Ben Wheatley's direction also seems to be somewhat lacking in energy and focus, even while still remaining visually interesting. Still, much of the final action leaves much to be desired in terms of logic, tactics, and blocking the actors within the scene. Clara has a lengthy tense sequence of bluffing the lead villain all on her own, interrupted as Capaldi suddenly decides to disguise his way back into the room. Why did he even bother leaving the room in the first place? He starts to talk as though he's got a plan to totally defeat the villains - then instead he suddenly abandons this and tells Clara to call in their three friends as cavalry, which she does. If she could do that all along, why didn't she call them in at the beginning of her stand-off with the villain? The plotting of these tactics just isn't making any sense at all. Reportedly, Vastra and friends have no trouble clearing a restaurant full of these androids all by themselves. So how is it that our nicely armed and skilled trio suddenly becomes so lame in trying to defeat more of the same androids in the larder? The androids' need to repair their clumsily-built selves stealthily is suddenly replaced by instant regeneration. On top of that, the blocking of this fight is absolutely confusing, and no one seems to know what they are doing, nor do they have the space to move or take aim. This fight just doesn't seem to work. The pacing throughout most of these sequences is also slow as molasses, attempting to stretch out the fairy-tale fear and tension. A big problem here is that the outcome of the whole thing is so obvious and predictable, it doesn't feel worthwhile to go through the motions.
The final confrontation for the Doctor has a nice moment or two, particularly when his comment for the villain's reflection pertains equally to his own.... yet these scenes still seem largely to miss the mark. They don't seem to be half as philosophically grand as they want to be, nor do they provide great action or dramatic satisfaction.
The TARDIS interior only appears at the very end of the show, for such a brief glimpse that I really didn't have time to notice that anything had changed since the previous story. Clara's line "You've redecorated. I don't like it." seems to be the canned recycled response that always accompanies any changes, and is especially out of place here since all of Michael Pickwoad's changes to the TARDIS are good ones. I DO like it! Especially good are the library rafters encircling the console room - a very nice touch. Yes, we do still need more round things, but I'm sure we'll get to that in time. But it wasn't until later episodes that I actually began to notice and appreciate all these changes.
"Deep Breath" is available on DVD and Blu-ray:
Bonus features (NONE of which are included in the full-season box sets) include:
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