The Twelfth Doctor: And don’t look in that mirror. It’s absolutely furious.
Doctor Who Season: S34 (Ep1).
Story Number: 242.
Well then, here we go again….
Moffat loves words. Words love Moffat, and they dance for him.
The words he’s written this time are intended to launch a new actor in the role of the Doctor with this feature-length episode. This new Doctor and all the others of the previous 4 Doctors had all had a extra-long debut – with the exception of the Ninth Doctor, whose starting episode was the 21st Century regular-length of 45 minutes.
You can read this 2014 episode as another movie like the Eighth’s TV Movie, or as four 20-minute “Classic” episodes formed into one omnibus. There’s definitely a divide into four acts (with the Doctor getting separated or joining his companion each time). With that division in mind, it’s interesting to compare it to an “omnibus” of Rose–The End of the World, (which would be effectively a “feature-length” adventure to start the Ninth Doctor era).
Deep Breath could be said to be as joltingly new as Rose was.
It has the comedy of Doctor Who sure – Capaldi riffing on all the different ways he can converse with a giant dinosaur – and it has the scary drama, but it’s not quite the same as the past nine years.
The final image before the credits, the Doctor collapsed upside down on the shore, next to a boat – it emphasises this will be a journey.
Unlike some previous post-regeneration stories, this Doctor is journeying constantly, wildly at first, down into the water – and eventually under the earth and up into the air. The “cold wind” theme – begun when Clara is thinking he’s talking about the dinosaur – is another elemental aspect to the this story.
His distress at the death of the prehistoric leviathan could be said to be an echo of the early weeks of the Ninth Doctor – it’s the Space Pig again, except this time the creature crashing next to Big Ben is gigantic.
Jenna (playing the companion) really has some great words from Moffat this time – and she really makes the most of them. Her scenes with Neve (the lizard-lady Vastra) are electric, both actors giving it their all. There are two long sequences which are very Shakespeare-esque, when Vastra is extending and extending the metaphor of her veil, and when the Doctor is wandering in his nightshirt, (the cold wind again), grappling with the confusion of his new face.
(By the episode’s end these two ideas – seeing through the veil, his new face – are intertwined.)
Once Doctor and companion are reunited by the newspaper advert, their prickly wariness of each other makes for some great comedy. The behind-the-sofa moments are increasing though, and their journey downwards underneath the restaurant heralds the second half of this feature length adventure, and towards more traditional Doctor Who territory of tea-time shocks, scares, and horror. (The End of the World to the previous Rose, or the start of Episode 3 if you’re thinking “Classic”.)
Although it’s very “Hinchcliffe Horror”, Ben Wheatley gives this a fresh and full-of-dread look. The camera is closer now, with extreme close-up of the terror expressed by Clara’s eyes. Shafts of light falling only highlight the darkness of the rest of the tunnels while memories dissolve onto the screen creating a woozy atmosphere.
It’s another chance for Jenna to flex her acting muscles when Clara faces down the Half-Face Man. The question of whether this new Doctor would actually abandon here is given extra uncertainty as it’s Doctor we haven’t gotten to know yet – but of course he hasn’t and using a different face so he’s unseen both is thematically on-point and a continuation of the tea-time horror of the episode.
In what seems a nod to Wuxia cinema the Paternoster Gang arrive gracefuly on flowing cloths to elegantly draw swords (well two-thirds of the do), and as the Doctor rises-up in the opposite direction pursuing Half-Face Man this separation of Doctor and Companion again signals the start of another act, the fourth and final act, (or Episode 4 if you’re thinking “Classic”).
After the giant dinosaur and advancing robots who would have thought the most thrilling part of the story would be two men in a room quietly talking?
Two men, though as the Doctor points out, neither of them are human.
Two men in a room floating across London by means of a balloon made of human skin.
Clara has already managed to extract the Half Face-Man’s motivations – he hopes to reach the “Promised Land”.
As all eyes likely are Peter Capaldi, curious as to how his Doctor is emerging, it’s easy to forget the other man – it’s a fascinating performance from Peter Ferdinando , and Moffat’s words come out sometimes like ticker-tape and sometimes more plaintive, sometimes both.
“How could you kill me?” – this can be read as the a surety of a man who knows he has an immortal soul that will live on – similarly, “I will not die!”
Capaldi’s perfomance – this Doctor feeling out his environment and accumulating the things he likes, the dark suit.
Once the Twelfth Doctor is suited and booted with his own choice of clothes, it’s the last 10 minutes in which all the words and phrases we the audience have absorbed really have the greatest meaning.
“Boyfriend”, “promised land”, all resonate until the end.
Earlier the Doctor was thinking he was trying to tell himself something with a change of face.
“I’ve made many mistakes, and it’s about time that I did something about that. Clara, I’m not your boyfriend.”
“I never thought you were.”
“I never said it was your mistake.”
Think back to Vastra and how she said that was the Doctor flirting with the universe.
Words you’ll remember from last episode of Christmas 2013 – and if not there’s a helpful refreshing of memory – the change will be a “whopper”, so says the Eleventh Doctor to Clara in a moving surprise appearance. (You’ll remember it has a slightly different context before. The lightshow of the regeneration of 2013, now it’s the significance and daringness for the show of the Doctor once more appearing as an older if not wiser man).
They both ask Clara: “Is that the Doctor? “Is that the Doctor?” “Yes”.
She thanks the Twelfth Doctor for phoning, the veil having been lifted.
In the coda Michelle Gomez as Missy squeezes every opportunity for unexpected expressions and noises and dance out of few lines – words which include “boyfriend” and “promised land”. Dancing with words.
The happy ending of the story for the Doctor and Clara – of this half of this story, this version of The End of the World – on a Glasgow shopping-street instead of London this time:
“Shall we, er. Do you want to go and get some coffee, or chips, or something? Or chips and coffee?”
“Coffee. Coffee would be great”.