Doctor Who – Deep Breath Review (or “Just Like My Unearthly Child Tagline, I’m Moved To Say That The Doctor Is An Utter Bastard. And Isn’t That Great?”

I like watching things without knowing what’s going to happen beforehand.

It baffles me that some people don’t seem to share that view and want to spoil things for themselves ahead of time, whether that be from reading plot details in advance or in the case of this new season of Doctor Who, watching leaked episodes in a quality unbecoming of the experience.

I just don’t understand why some people watched an apparently monochrome, low quality version of the opening story of Peter Capaldi’s reign as Doctor Who – Deep Breath – when it was accidentally put into the public domain a few weeks back.

What’s the point? Why not show the restraint to watch something in all its intended glory? Why ruin it for yourself?

It’s bizarre.

My brother asked me yesterday if I really knew nothing about this story before its broadcast, and I said that apart from it being set in Victorian England and involving Madam Vastra & Co, the answer was no.

He seemed amazed, but in my opinion, that’s how it should be.

Unfortunately, I’d forgotten that that wasn’t strictly true.

In actual fact – and assuming that nobody would be daft enough to read this review before watching it, and therefore operating under the assumption that I’m not spoiling this for anyone – I did know that Matt Smith was going to make an

What a bastard. Fantastic

What a bastard. Fantastic

appearance. And do you know what? That really pisses me off, because I shouldn’t have, and it ruined what would have been a terrific surprise.

Right now, reviewing this as I am mere moments after finishing watching the story, I can’t remember exactly how I came to know that. It was probably reported in a newspaper or on some website like Digital Spy, and that irks me. How is ruining the plot of a TV show newsworthy anyway?


Aaaaaaaanyway, here we are at the start of the Peter Capaldi Era of Doctor Who, and unlike every review I’ve written about the show, this is one I’m doing entirely based upon a first viewing.

It’ll be interesting for me to look back on this in the years ahead to see if my opinions on it will change.

Oh, and before we get into it, can I just take a moment to shamelessly plug my first book – Stuart Reviews Doctor Who – which is available to buy on Amazon for all Kindle, Tablet & Mobile devices. It’s great…honestly, and it gets 5 stars. Get it here

But back to Deep Breath.

Doctor Who – Deep Breath Review: What’s This One About?

A new, angry Scottish Doctor, a Dinosaur in Victorian London, robots looking for paradise, and a reference to an old story that I didn’t get until it was spelled right out for me.

Thoughts – The New Doctor

Ok, so let’s start with the new man.

Before I’d even watched this, I’d prejudicially made up my mind that I loved Peter Capaldi and was entirely sure that his take on the Doctor would be amazing.

Was I right?

Of course I was.

The first ten minutes or so of his character weren’t all that great, but they never are when a new Doctor comes along. Don’t get me wrong, this was hardly a “Three questions; who am I? Where am I? And who are you?” moment (oh…old story reference alert) but at the same time, it felt as though the lines given to him didn’t suit him as an actor.

Really, in his first few scenes, Peter Capaldi was sort of playing Matt Smith, and that was never going to work.

But from the scene with the tramp onwards, he was gold.

With the menace of a non-sweary Malcolm Tucker, but also with the gentle grandfatherly assurance of a William Hartnell style Doctor, Peter Capaldi – and I suppose Steven Moffat – have hit it out the park with this one.

Will the kids like him? I’m not sure. I’m writing this before I’ve read anyone’s feedback on his performance, so I don’t know for sure, but I doubt he’ll have the same appeal as David Tennant or Matt Smith to people of a certain age, and in a sense I feel he’s more aimed at viewers like me. I’m more than happy with that though.

Some of his lines cracked me up, and in particular, his exchange with Clara in the restaurant about the self obsessed egomaniac had me laughing out loud. Just brilliant.

The question of whether or not he’s a proper bastard is yet to be answered, but right now he certainly seems to be.

The Matt Smith Cameo

Like I said above, I don’t think Capaldi will have the same appeal as Matt Smith in certain quarters, and so, having Smith appear to convince Clara – and by association the viewing public who maybe hadn’t already decided Capaldi was awesome –

What a moment this would have been. had the press not ruined it in advance

What a moment this would have been. had the press not ruined it in advance

that he was a man who was vulnerable and needed to be given time was a smart touch.

Long term readers of my Who reviews might think “Hold on Stuart; you had a go at the writers for doing something very similar in both the Twin Dilemma and Time and the Rani“, but I think it’s different. Here, the audience identification figure – as Clara was in this episode – is being assured that he’s someone who must be given time and that she mustn’t judge by his older appearance (which is the thing that the kids will probably hold against him). In those other two stories, the new leading man basically told the viewer “You might think I’m a shite actor, but you’re stuck with me, so stick that up your pipe and smoke it”. It’s really not the same thing.

Anyway, Smith’s final appearance was handled very well, and I was impressed with him. I was less impressed with Clara not bothering to say goodbye to him, as she just hung up the phone. What a bitch!

If only that bit hadn’t been spoiled for me beforehand…


Speaking of Clara and her role as audience identification figure, I thought she was written for far better than in the past here.

My criticism of her last year was that despite being played well enough, her character was empty. There was nothing to her other than being the companion. We knew nothing about her.

Deep Breath managed to add some layers to her character, and with an actor that she actually seems to have some chemistry with, Jenna Coleman thrived.

With the news that she’s set to leave at Christmas – and once again, may I thank the press for ruining that one ahead of time – I’ve gone from being not fussed at all, to quite disappointed. On first impressions, these characters seem to work well together, and it’s a shame they’ll be split up.

And What Of The Story Itself?

It’s very easy in a new Doctor’s first story to forget about the plot and concentrate on the new man.

Not the best special effects. #BarryLettsCSOLoyal

Not the best special effects. #BarryLettsCSOLoyal

While I don’t think the plot was forgotten about per se, I do think it existed merely to help form the character of the new Doctor and his dynamic with Clara, and I’m happy enough with that.

There was nothing particularly groundbreaking or clever about it, and as a flowing narrative it won’t be remembered along with the classic stories, but then again I have no problems on that score.

It’s set the scene for what’s to come, and incidentally, I have absolutely no idea where they’re going with that new story arc with Heaven.

Let’s hope it’s more Bad Wolf than River Song though, eh?

Random Observations

  • Surprisingly, I enjoyed the use of Vastra and Jenny here. They helped Clara and the audience understand the new Doctor that little bit better.
  • I’m not sure about Strax though. He’s clearly a comedy character, but I think that comedy is wearing a bit thin.
  • The scene at the end is very like the final scene of The End of the World. I’m sure that was not an accident.
  • From an effects point of view, there were a couple of scenes – particularly the opening one with the dinosaur in the Thames and the one with the Doctor standing on the roof – that looked shonky. In that latter example, you could so clearly see he was standing in front of a backdrop that you might have been forgiven for thinking it was Barry Letts and Season 8 all over again.
  • The “You’ve redecorated. I don’t like it” line should never be used again. Ever.
  • I’ve got to be honest; I didn’t see the Girl in the Fireplace reference until it was so obvious that a blind man couldn’t miss it. That’s a shame.
  • Ok, I’ll be pedantic; when a Giant Cyberman walked across Victorian London, at least they came up for a reason for why it wasn’t recorded in the history books. How will they explain away the dinosaur?
  • The main villain robot looked a bit too much like a cross betwee the Gunslinger from A Town Called Mercy, and Richard E. Grant’s Great Intelligence for my liking.
  • If they keep talking about how much they miss the original TARDIS interior design, why not just bring that back?
  • In a weird coincidence, I was watching an episode of Black Books the other night that included the guy who got his eyes removed in this episode. Not a very exciting coincidence I’ll admit, but a coincidence nonetheless.
  • Though they were no doubt written with Clara being the audience identification figure in mind, some of her lines about changing the Doctor back seemed at odds with what we know she knows about him.
  • As a native of the same country, I love that Capaldi is being played as an angry Scotsman.

Doctor Who – Deep Breath Review: Final Thoughts

The main aim of Deep Breath was to introduce the new Doctor, and Steven Moffat achieves that spectacularly.

Peter Capaldi is assured and pretty much awesome already in the part and on initial impressions, has the potential to be one of the best Doctors of all time.

That’s fantastic.

It’s also great that Clara finally seems to have some purpose to her character and that Jenna Coleman works well with the new leading man.

On all those scores, Deep Breath is a success.

Judged on the merits of a stand-alone Doctor Who story though, the likelihood is that Deep Breath will never be considered a classic, or at least not by me.

Still, it did what it set out to do, and I enjoyed it a lot.

So I’d say it was a success and a strong start to the new season.


Remember!!! Get Stuart Reviews Doctor Who over at Amazon. I have no doubts it’ll be the best $9.99/£6.14 you spend all week.


17 Responses to Doctor Who – Deep Breath Review (or “Just Like My Unearthly Child Tagline, I’m Moved To Say That The Doctor Is An Utter Bastard. And Isn’t That Great?”

  1. Meh.. I liked the 11th Hour better as a post regen story. This had its moments though. I hope Capaldi becomes less manic though.

  2. drwhonovels says:

    I was less enamored of the Matt Smith cameo, and, while I never seed to see Jenny and Vastra again, I do admit that Strax’s one-joke character continues to amuse me. Otherwise, I agree with you pretty much across the board. Thanks!

  3. Excellent review, I just wanted to ask though, have you any thoughts regarding the Doctor encouraging suicide? I thought it was rather tasteless.

    • sgmilne says:

      I hadn’t really thought about it like that. It’s an interesting moral dilemma the Doctor was facing there. I suppose you have to ask yourself if it’s better that he encouraged suicide to “do the right thing” or whether he just flat-out murdered him to save the day.

      • It is an interesting point (and one I haven’t seen brought up anywhere else) There’s no evidence that the droid jumped or was pushed by the Doctor (smart move by Moffat there to avoid it?). I guess it’s up to us to decide, but If the droid was ‘more human than machine’, and taking into consideration the moment where the droid described the view/planet as ‘beautiful’, it added a new dimension to the moment than just seeing a mechanical device ‘switch off’ or ‘terminate’. It rather disturbed me a little. The fact the Doctor encouraged suicide is a difficult issue. Was there no other way? I realise the subject of suicide is even more sensitive with recent news regarding Robin Williams tragic death, although I realise this was written long beforehand. Even so it did disturb me somewhat.

    • drwhonovels says:

      There is precedent for the Doctor encouraging an adversary to commit suicide before … back in the early Tom Baker years (“Planet of Evil”). Still, definitely not something we see every day (or every decade). The more moody elements of Capaldi’s performance in “Deep Breath” did remind me a bit of Baker’s early work. Knowing Moffat’s writing style, I’m sure we’ll get a much more thorough evaluation of this strain of the Doctor’s character; it won’t just sit there awkwardly as an out-of-character moment (I hope).

  4. Slavin Ivanov says:

    Seeing as I am the only one who hasn’t commented yet: this episode is a game of two halves for me. I can’t really think of a recent episode that was strange/confusing and very interesting at the same time. Fortunately, Coleman’s acting saved it for me. How long can you keep your breath? Under duress?
    Anyway, Capaldi did a great job and Smith looks literally so last season, but his cameo was unexpected.
    BTW I finished your book today and have to say that while it’s brilliant, it would have worked better with pictures. Mon Then appeared only twice (I think) and that’s a shame.

    • sgmilne says:

      Yeah, the pictures would have been great to be included, but alas I would have had to pay out far too much in image rights.

      Hope a 5 star Amazon review is on its way 😉

      • Slavin Ivanov says:

        What did you actually have to pay for (if you had anything to pay for obviously)? I suppose you paid the publisher?

  5. I didn’t like it. It’s hard to judge Capaldi because this is his first episode and the character probably is undergoing post regeneration symptoms but I found the writing of Clara utterly appalling. Her reactions and actions were completely out of sync with the fact that she’s been inside the Doctor’s time stream and seen him at all ages and personalities. In one egregious example, Twelve mentions Amy and Clara response with ‘who?’. Ok, they’ve never met face to face, but Clara has met River Song and been in the time stream; am I really supposed to believe that she wouldn’t know who Amy is?

    I did like the themes they set up for the series ahead, such as Twelve remembering his face from somewhere and possibly being willing to kill again. The episode itself, from a standalone point of view, just left a bad taste in my mouth though.

  6. Perry Armstrong says:

    I sympathise with your comments regarding spoilers – circa ’79 I tried so very hard to limit pre-knowledge of the upcoming ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’, only to have a friend suddenly blurt out the true nature of V’Ger mere hours before I went to see it! Argh.

    Capaldi was enjoyable, but overall I found myself underwhelmed by ‘Deep Breath’. Following ‘Don’t Blink’ and now this, I’m half expecting some future story to be based upon the notion of not farting!

    • Slavin Ivanov says:

      LOL! Stuart would no doubt approve though, considering he didn’t like the Slitheen.
      “Don’t think. Think and you’re dead!” Now that would be hard to do, wouldn’t it? 🙂

  7. J.S says:

    What was that veil scene about? I didn’t get it.

  8. Matt says:

    Deep Shit.

  9. […] Doctor Who – Deep Breath Review (or “Just Like My … – 23/8/2014 · Doctor Who – Deep Breath Review (or “Just Like My Unearthly Child Tagline, I’m Moved To Say That The Doctor Is An Utter Bastard. And Isn’t That …… […]

  10. […] Doctor Who – Deep Breath Review (or “Just Like My … – 23/8/2014 · Doctor Who – Deep Breath Review (or “Just Like My Unearthly Child Tagline, I’m Moved To Say That The Doctor Is An Utter Bastard. And Isn’t That …… […]

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