One of my little side activities is writing reviews for the consumer site Ciao.co.uk, mostly on DVD’s. Unusually one my most recent submissions was rejected because the DVD in question “Doctor Who – Deep Breath” featured an episode I had previously reviewed as part of the Series 8 box set. Although as you’ll read the DVD also includes material not included in box set. Anyhow it seems a shame to waste the article, so my blog seemed an ideal home for it.
With the release of the complete Series 8 on DVD, is there any point buying a separate DVD of the first episode? Well it all depends on whether the chance to own its two exclusive extras is enough of an incentive.
There’s a Tyrannosaurus Rex on the banks of the Thames, multiple cases of spontaneous combustion amongst Londoners, and a brand new Doctor for the Paternoster Gang to take care of. Clara thought she knew who the Doctor was, but she is finding it hard to relate to this strange older man. Can the regenerated Doctor stabilize himself in time to stop the terrifying Half Faced Man and his gruesome plans for London?
Matt Smith’s first adventure “The Eleventh Hour” felt wonderfully fresh and different. It was not just the lead actors who had changed, there was a new production team installed down in Wales, led by Steven Moffat, who wrote the story too. Aside from the TARDIS, everything else was original. By contrast in “Deep Breath” only Capaldi is new and he is surrounded by Matt Smith elements like Victorian London, the Paternoster Gang of Vastra, Jenny and Strax, a continuing companion in Clara and eventually an old enemy from even further back. Steven Moffat’s still in charge as well and writing again. So there is initially a sense of business as usual. Yet as the Twelth Doctor begins assert himself, a change can be felt.
For an obvious start there’s Capaldi’s less immediately appealing Doctor. He’s erratic, more vulnerable, wilder, more alien. It is too much of a cliché to say he is “darker” but his greater age and presence gives his Doctor much more gravitas once he has recovered. His final confrontation with the villain is laced with sadness and a grim determination. Not that he can’t be funny, but a lot of that humour is unintended on his part, it’s just in the way he sees the world and his casual rudeness toward Clara. Clara too is developing, becoming a more complicated and interesting person. However her difficulty in accepting a new older Doctor seems odd given all she has seen of other Doctors lately. It’s a thread that seems contrived and imposed on her by Moffat, who seems worried that the audience too won’t like having an older gnarly hero. This nervousness leads to an unexpected cameo by Matt Smith to give his “blessing” to the new Doctor, a moment that actually seems rather insulting to Capaldi’s efforts.
There’s plenty of good set pieces in this busy story. The tyrannosaurus opening, the Doctor’s conversation with it across the rooftops later, a restaurant filled with the living dead, Clara having to hold her breath whilst surrounded by monsters and the Doctor’s final confrontation with the Half Faced Man. Who incidentally is a great villain with a memorable look, and it’s a shame we do not see more of his than we do. Good jokes too, such as the cockney smugly telling his wife that the dinosaur is just a special effect, the Doctor’s reaction to his new face “Don’t look in the mirror, it’s furious!” or Strax’s examination of Clara. “You have an excellent spleen!”
“Deep Breath” has a few clunky moments but it’s definitely one of my favourites of Peter Capaldi’s first season. It benefits from it extra-long running time of seventy minutes to tell a rich story.
There are three special features accompanying this story. “Behind the Scenes” is exactly what you think it would be, footage of the filming and interviews with some of the cast. It was originally shown on BBC iPlayer and the red button. This season’s behind the scenes series has been a lot better than the increasingly indulgent and samey Doctor Who Confidential of previous years, more focused, benefiting from its shortened running time of fifteen minutes.
I thought the exclusive prologue for “Deep Breath” rather disappointing. Hoping for more about the Doctor and Clara’s encounter with a tyrannosaur, or more of the Half-Faced Man mystery, instead we have Strax making a video log about the previous Doctors, whilst the gang are on a crashing spaceship that has nothing to do with the rest of the story. It’s essentially a remake of a previous Strax online video about the many Doctors filmed for the 50th anniversary. Dan Starkey is an entertaining as ever playing the Sontaran but the whole sequence feels superfluous compared to previous prologues.
There used to be a time when the announcement of a new Doctor was reserved for the “And finally…” spot on the evening news and perhaps an interview on “Blue Peter”. But it’s a sign of the importance of the show to the Beeb that Peter Capaldi’s unveiling qualified for a half hour live show on BBC1, which is available only on this DVD. Celebrity fan Zoe Ball hosted “Doctor Who Live: The Next Doctor” a shiny floor show and interviewed a few old cast members including ex-Doctor Colin Baker, introduced a video message from Matt Smith and finally ushered in Capaldi amongst a blaze of dry ice and lasers. It’s nice to have this bit of Doctor Who television preserved on DVD/Blu-ray for nostalgia but whether it is worth buying the DVD for depends a lot on how much you see this disc on sale for.
If you haven’t bought the Series Eight box set, which is already being reduced to a very reasonable price on some sites, I’d still say go for that. This disc is more of a novelty, designed for a moment in time in 2014. It has nostalgic appeal to fans but otherwise it’s an inessential release, despite the strengths of the story.