Reviews

Doctor Who: Deep Breath Spoiler-Free Review

“I’ve got a horrible feeling I’m going to have to kill you.”

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Anyone familiar with the recent kerfuffle surrounding Doctor Who leaked content will no doubt also be aware of the #keepmespoilerfree hashtag. The leaked scripts and rough-cuts for the first five episodes were met with a backlash from Who fans who wanted no spoilers for the upcoming eighth (or thirty-fourth) series of the program.

The episodes themselves were in black and white, with watermarks all over them and some of the CGI missing or incomplete – including the new opening titles, which are a vast improvement over the previous ones. And, as it turns out, that’s not all that was missing. Some of the music has changed, and bites of audio have been added here and there. But that’s not the major difference.

The first, near-feature-length episode, Deep Breath, has miraculously (or perhaps not so miraculously) gained tension, style and sophistication.

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And, barring a few small annoyances, the new episode, which features Peter Capaldi’s debut as the Twelfth Doctor, marks an enormous improvement over the last episode and Christmas special for 2013, The Time of the Doctor.

To get back to basics, the script simply makes sense. There is no fan-festing or deus ex machina resolution as in the Christmas special, and the acting is formidable (especially from returning actress Neve McIntosh, who plays silurian Vastra alongside co-stars of the Pasternoster Gang Catrin Stewart and Dan Starkey). The plot is believable and creepy all in a bundle of Doctor Who goodness.

The music has improved since the last series, in an understated sort of way, and the colour grading – oh boy – is absolutely stunning.

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As the new Doctor inevitably faces difficulties with his regeneration, the viewer, rather than be taken along on a superficial ride like in the last regeneration story The Eleventh Hour, is given a front-row seat to the Doctor’s mind and character. He battles with his new persona, as does his companion, Clara, who should not be forgotten – easy though it may be with a new Doctor on board.

Yes, the problem of the returning face has been addressed, albeit in such a way that seems like it’s part of a greater plot device. And speaking of plot devices – there are hints of an over-arching story arc, for the eighth series in a row. Make of that what you will.

The questions on everybody’s lips, though, must surely be addressed: is the new Doctor any good? What’s he like? Does his mouth spill swear-words like nobody’s business?

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Well, fortunately for the younger viewers, Capaldi’s Doctor is less like Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It than he is like Matt Smith’s Doctor. And much of that comes down to the writing.

Steven Moffat, who penned the episode, still retains some of his trademark quirks (no, not quarks. Thank heavens they’re not coming back). His characters, namely the Doctor, still seem to talk in infantile speech patterns (“me and the not-me one”, “I don’t sleep, I do standy-up cat-naps”… you get the picture). It really does begin to grate on the nerves after a while. While Capaldi delivers these lines well, there is only so much makeup you can put on a pig.

Moreover, Moffat’s inclusion of self-references would annoy even the most forgiving of Doctor Who fans. The joke “I see you’ve redecorated. I don’t like it” has been used in Doctor Who four times now. Two of them were under Moffat’s hand.

Capaldi’s performance is otherwise grand, as you would expect from an actor, as he put it, of his “ilk”. He is dark and sophisticated while retaining his Doctorly charm. He delivers the lines assuredly, although some are hard to take in at points thanks to the script packed with one-liners and quips.

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Fortunately, that means that those who enjoyed Matt Smith’s reign as the Doctor will like Deep Breath. It’s not for everyone, but it is for some. Nonetheless, the Doctor is in, and many Doctor Who fans will be pleasantly surprised. Here’s hoping Capaldi outstays Moffat. With no disrespect to Moffat, Capaldi deserves as wide a range of writing as possible. Then, he might really find his groove.

Should you, then, go ahead and watch the remaining four episodes that have leaked, in their rough-cut and watermarked phase? The answer is a strong, vehement, capital-lettered “No.” While the temptation is strong, the outcome will be the spoiling of what is a mostly-excellent piece of sci-fi drama. That’s why they call them “spoilers” after all.

This means, too, that it would be even worse to read the leaked scripts. Where the scripts give hardcore Doctor Who rawness, they lack the complexities and subtleties of the performances, of the direction, of the filming, of the editing, of the scoring – heck, even of the colour grading.

Don’t ruin it for yourself, folks. Wait for Season Eight. It’ll be worth it.

7/10

Deep Breath will air again in Australia tonight at 7.40pm on ABC1. It is also available on iView and will be showing in Hoyts cinemas today only. Home media will be released in November.

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