Saturday, 30 August 2014


This article was originally published in The Courier on 30th August 2014.

Doctor Who: Saturday, BBC One

Paul Whitelaw

Fans of Doctor Who are notoriously critical. I should know, I've been one since I was two. But in all that time I've never witnessed the kind of mass approval that Peter Capaldi enjoyed when news of his casting was announced. Even before he'd set foot in the TARDIS, fans were already confident that his Doctor would be one of the best. Had we set our hopes too high?

Of course we hadn't. Would I have opened this review with a rhetorical question if we had? Don't answer that. His performance in head writer Steven Moffat's Deep Breath was nothing short of immaculate.

It's traditional that every Doctor must first go through a period of post-regenerative instability before gradually settling into their new persona. Moffat and Capaldi handled this process with the utmost assurance.

Despite never doubting his prowess as an actor, I had mild concerns that Capaldi – famously a life-long Doctor Who fan – might approach the part self-consciously. But there isn't a trace of fussy detail to be found in his portrayal. Instead, he's utterly, organically commanding as he flips with ease between acerbic eccentricity and a Tom Baker-esque sense of brooding alien danger.

Much has been made of the game-changing 'darkness' of this new Doctor – a claim which blindly overlooks the depths of his incomparable predecessor, Matt Smith – and while he's certainly a fiercer, more morally ambiguous proposition, he may be one of the funniest iterations yet.

Fans of The Thick Of It will already be familiar with Capaldi's razor-sharp talent as a comic actor; his perfectly timed delivery of vituperative rants is a rare gift. Moffat, himself a sardonic Scotsman, is clearly in his element with Doctor # 12. The scene in which he realised with glee that he was gruffly, uncompromisingly Scottish was genuinely very funny; it's no coincidence that, after an unsure start, the episode kicked into gear at this point (I'm all for a measured pace, but its 75-minute running time contained some obvious padding).

Capaldi aside, Deep Breath also benefited from Moffat's concerted efforts to embellish the character of companion Clara. Little more than a one-dimensional plot device last year, she was finally given the chance to show some mettle as she came to terms with this abrasive incarnation of her old/young friend. Jenna Coleman is a personable actress, previously ill-served by flimsy material, but her spiky chemistry with Capaldi bodes well: Moffat has obviously been listening to some constructive criticism.

It could've easily backfired, but his framing of Clara as a surrogate viewer in need of assurance that this mercurial Doctor could be trusted was skilfully handled. The poignant cameo from Matt Smith didn't undermine Capaldi's d├ębut, it bolstered it by grafting an element of charming vulnerability to this outwardly cocksure anti-hero.

That said, Moffat's niggling flaws were still in evidence. A middle-aged family man, his adolescent obsession with flirting is embarrassing, and once again he blatantly regurgitated past ideas to the point of self-parody. I don't mind him reviving the clockwork droids from The Girl in the Fireplace – the Doctor's inability to remember them fed into the theme of him shakily reconnecting with his past – but the conceit of outwitting them by holding your breath was far too redolent of his senses-sensitive foes, The Weeping Angels and The Silence.

But I'm nitpicking. Flaws and all, Deep Breath was an exemplary introduction to a promising new era. 

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