Doctor Who: Deep Breath
(1 episode, s08e01, 2014)
The last chance for the Paternoster Gang to play Sherlock Holmes.
A tyrannosaurus rex stomps through London as the Paternoster Gang responds to investigate. Madame Vastra assumes that the dinosaur traveled through time, a suspicion that is confirmed when she coughs up the TARDIS. The blue box, which Police Inspector Gregson mistakes for an egg, lands on the bank of the Thames.
Vastra orders the inspector to place sonic lanterns along the river’s banks to confine the tyrannosaur while the Paternosters make contact with the Doctor. Strax knocks on the door and briefly meets the Twelfth Doctor. The Time Lord, still dressed in his predecessor’s clothes, is experiencing confusion and memory issues after his difficult regeneration.
With a bong of the cloister bell, the Doctor collapses on the river bank as Vastra remarks, “Here we go again.”
Everyone moves to Vastra’s house where the Doctor is overstimulated by the concept of a bedroom. He also remarks that the mirror looks “absolutely furious”. When the Doctor reacts to typical British accents, Vastra adopts a Scottish accent like the Doctor’s new persona and uses his telepathy to put him to sleep. When Clara demands to know how to change the Doctor back, Vastra retires to her study with a request for her veil. After all, she realizes, there is a stranger in the house.
As the Doctor sleeps, he murmurs translations of the dinosaur’s moans. The tyrannosaur is alone and laments the lost world. Clara leaves the Doctor’s side as Strax arrives to escort her to Vastra’s study.
On the streets below, people look upon the dinosaur as a man named Alf wonders if it is a government conspiracy. He chats with a mysterious clockwork man who admires Alf’s eyes to the point of taking them.
Vastra interviews Clara about the events of and following Trenzalore. Vastra challenges the companion about her impressions of the Doctor, alluding to her veil as an analogy for the Doctor’s faces: She wears it to be accepted among those who wouldn’t understand her life and values otherwise. She also suggests that the veil is a judgment upon the character of those she meets. The Doctor trusted Clara enough to regenerate in her presence, showing her his weakest side and moment, and this revelation spins Clara into a fury. Vastra is amused by the anger, and explains that the Doctor needs all of them – especially Clara – to anchor himself as he finds his identity again. In the exchange, Vastra has removed her veil, remarking that it disappeared when Clara stopped seeing it.
The Doctor wakes up and finds a piece of chalk. He then proceeds to write Gallifreyan calculations around the room. He scrambles onto the roof and promises to return the dinosaur home, but the tyrannosaur spontaneously combusts and collapses into the river. The Doctor leaps from the roof and liberates a horse from its carriage before riding off into the night. The Paternoster Gang pursues him to the river’s edge.
The Doctor is apologetic toward the dinosaur’s remains and furious at everyone else around him, but his detective mind raises questions. First, have there been any similar murders? Second, who is the one man not gawking at the spectacle? The Doctor dives into the river with a mind to investigate.
The next morning, Strax has the TARDIS delivered to Vastra’s home. Clara dresses in Victorian fashion after being knocked out by a newspaper thrown by Strax and meets up with Jenny. It seems that Madame Vastra is having the Camberwell child poisoner for dinner… after interrogating him, of course. Strax gives Clara a medical examination as a prelude to her joining the Paternosters in case the Doctor never returns.
The Doctor is wandering about in an alley, obviously freezing in his wet state. He finds a homeless man and asks about his own face, musing about how it seems familiar, including the “attack eyebrows”. He wonders who did the frowning to wrinkle his new face so. He is delighted by his Scottish accent and how it relates to his cross-looking face.
He then remembers reading about a case of spontaneous combustion in the newspaper. Vastra is also following the leads as Jenny inexplicably poses in her underclothes. The Silurian remarks that burning the bodies would be a great way to hide what was missing from them, but this train of thought is derailed when Clara enters to show them an advertisement in the paper addressed to the Impossible Girl. After some puzzle-solving, Clara figures out that she should meet the Doctor at Mancini’s Family Restaurant.
When Clara arrives at the restaurant, she is confronted by a terrible smell. It is the Doctor, who soon joins her at a table in a coat he pawned off a homeless man. They discuss Clara’s reaction to his regeneration through his response to her advert in the paper. They soon realize that they’ve both been tricked into coming to the restaurant.
The Doctor measures the air disturbance using one of Clara’s hairs. They watch the other patrons and realize that they’re not actually eating. They’re also not breathing. When the duo stands to leave, the other patrons rise to block their exit. The Doctor and Clara sit down again and the patrons follow suit.
They are soon met by a clockwork waiter who categorizes the organs that the newcomers have to offer. The Doctor rips off the waiter’s face, noting that an automaton lies beneath, and the duo is locked into their chairs and lowered into a tunnel below. The Doctor notes that it appears to be a larder and, after some cooperative hijinks, is able to free them with the sonic screwdriver.
The Doctor and Clara tour the larder and find the Half-Faced Man – the eye thief from before – recharging in a chair. The automatons are stealing body parts to appear more human piece by piece. The cases of spontaneous combustion hide the butchery conducted upon the victims.
The Half-Faced Man begins to wake up, so the Doctor and Clara attempt to escape. The Doctor thinks that he’s seen something like this before, but the escape is thwarted as a door slides between the duo. The Doctor leaves Clara behind and she evades the automatons for a little while by holding her breath. As she walks to the exit, she’s confronted by a memory from the past and collapses as her body rebels.
Captured by the automatons, she awakens to the sight of the Half-Faced Man. Clara refuses to tell him where the Doctor is, calling the automaton’s bluff. After all, killing her will leave him without information, which is the same place he is now. Instead, she offers an information exchange, question for question, and finds out that the automatons killed the dinosaur specifically for parts so that they can reach the Promised Land. They have been working toward this goal for millions of years.
When the Half-Faced Man threatens to torture Clara for information, Clara declares that the Doctor will always have her back. Sure enough, he has been hiding as an automaton, and with a keyword – Geronimo! – the Paternoster Gang arrives as backup.
He also determines that the Half-Faced Man did not post the advert summoning the travelers to the restaurant.
The Half-Faced Man retreats upstairs with the Doctor in pursuit, attempting to leave via an escape capsule. Vastra had summoned the police, but the automaton chases them out and leaves an opportunity for the Doctor to pour two drinks for a discussion. He now remembers that the automatons are from the 51st century and continues to extract information as the escape capsule is deployed. It is powered by a hot-air balloon made from human skin.
The Doctor examines a control button and finds that the pod belonged to the SS Marie Antoinette, sister ship to the SS Madame de Pompadour. The ship fell through time and crashed into England millions of years earlier. The only survivors, the service robots, began their cycle of repairing themselves over and over again. The Doctor assures the Half-Faced Man that humans are never small to him. That he will always fight for them.
As they struggle, Clara and the Paternosters finally defeat the robotic warriors in the larder by holding their breath as Clara uses the sonic screwdriver to open the door. Meanwhile, the Doctor and the Half-Faced Man reach an impasse. Suicide is against the automaton’s programming, but murder is against the Doctor’s nature.
Only one of them is lying, and they both know who it is. In the end, the automaton falls from the capsule and dies impaled upon the spire of the Clock Tower.
Clara and the Paternoster Gang return to Vastra’s home only to find the Doctor and the TARDIS are gone. Clara offers to join the household, but Vastra points out that Clara has already dressed in her modern-era clothing in preparation for continuing her travels. Sure enough, the TARDIS returns and Clara joins the Doctor in a revamped console room.
The Doctor tells her that he’s not a boyfriend, noting that it was his mistake to lead her on in his previous life. He’s also made many mistakes over two thousand years and is keen to do something about them. He places the TARDIS in flight and asks about the advert in the paper. The Doctor ties it back to the strange woman who originally gave Clara the TARDIS’s phone number as a computer help line, deciding that someone really wants the two of them to travel together.
The TARDIS lands at Clara’s home time, and she expresses regret that she doesn’t know who the Doctor is anymore. At that moment, Clara’s mobile rings, and she steps out to head the Eleventh Doctor in the line. He leaves her a message from Trenzalore – before she found the exterior phone dangling – imploring her to put aside her fear in order to help the Doctor find his way. With that, the Eleventh Doctor says goodbye.
Clara returns to the Twelfth Doctor’s side. The Time Lord asks her to look beyond the appearance and just see him. Clara examines him before giving him a hug, thanking him for the guidance. This Doctor’s not a hugger, but he offers to go for chips and coffee. They’ll work through the change together.
The Half-Faced Man awakens in a mysterious garden. He is greeted by a woman named Missy who refers to the Doctor as her boyfriend. She tells the automaton that he has reached his goal. He is in the Promised Land.
This episode is a rough start to a new era, but it plays well because it reflects the rough regeneration and the turmoil in the relationship between the Doctor and Clara.
On its face, Clara’s reaction to regeneration doesn’t seem reasonable. One could argue that she doesn’t remember her fragmented trip into the Doctor’s timeline in The Name of the Doctor, however, she readily recognized the War Doctor in The Day of the Doctor and remembered the salvation of Gallifrey during The Time of the Doctor. Therefore, she obviously knows about regeneration having directly interacted with three distinct incarnations of the Doctor during her travels.
Her confusion, therefore, seems to be linked to how the Doctor appears after regeneration, which makes her appear shallow. This is an unfortunate change of character for Clara that only gets a bit of smoothing over by suggesting that the Eleventh Doctor led her to believe that their relationship was more romantic and/or intimate. There is a point to be made here, of course, because the Eleventh Doctor was pretty obsessive over Clara’s “Impossible Girl” mystery, but her knowledge of regeneration should have overridden that.
The smoothing at the end of the episode also gives a bit of promise to the new somewhat antagonistic dynamic between the Doctor and Clara. She has been requested specifically by the old Doctor to help the new Doctor find his footing, and I can get on board with that as long as the transition doesn’t take too long. I am eager to have a Doctor that doesn’t have romantic entanglements with his companions.
The roughness of this episode also results from smashing elements of three previous adventures into one: Invasion of the Dinosaurs, The Snowmen, and The Girl in the Fireplace. To that end, it plays as a “greatest hits” story in the background of this Doctor’s character introduction. It works, but it is awkward, especially with some of the more slapstick comedy elements like the boing effect when the Doctor is put to sleep, the car alarm on the Paternoster carriage, and the strange underwear modeling by Jenny while Vastra works. These comedic beats fell flat for me.
On the upside, I love this Doctor’s outfit and mannerisms once he returns to pick up Clara. Between these elements and Vastra’s “here we go again”, Steven Moffat is obviously trying to tie the Twelfth Doctor to the Third Doctor.
Speaking of the Doctor’s return, this is typically seen as the moment where the Twelfth Doctor joined the Siege of Gallifrey.
Peter Capaldi’s eyebrow cameo in The Day of the Doctor has never been explicitly placed within his run on the show, but the visual clues point to this moment. The console room in the cameo clearly shows the Series 7 console room coloring (which has changed upon the Doctor’s return here) and Capaldi has his shorter haircut. The piece that seals it for me is the chalk equations, which aren’t explained within the story but make sense if he’s still processing the plan put in place by the Tenth, Eleventh, and War Doctors.
There is a possibility that the Twelfth Doctor’s inclusion in the Siege of Gallifrey is a paradox that takes place outside of time, which typically happens when multiple Doctors appear in the same story – see The Five Doctors and Time Crash for prime examples – but the effects of The Day of the Doctor have shown to be pretty significant, so I’m keen to side with the theory that the Twelfth Doctor’s role in the 50th anniversary special happened here.
Finally, this episode brings us the final appearance (to date) of the Paternoster Gang, and Steven Moffat really hammed up the Sherlock Holmes connections (which we started seeing in The Snowmen). Inspector Gregson, “the game is afoot!”, the Conk-Singleton forgery case, the Camberwell poisoning case, and Vastra’s use of the agony column are all significant in the universe created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
(Though I did learn that “the game is afoot” originated with Shakespeare’s Henry V.)
While this story was rough and awkward, it was far more engaging than The Time of the Doctor and lays some groundwork for the adventures to come. Recall that, per the rules of the Timestamps Project, regeneration episodes pick up an extra point. That pushes Deep Breath from above average to top marks.
Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”
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The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.