Recap: Doctor Who, “Deep Breath” (8×01)

To prepare for the season premiere, I cuddled up on the couch with a bottle of champagne, my sister and a repeat-viewing of “Day of the Doctor” and “Time of the Doctor.” As with the first time I saw it, I watched “Day” (50th Anniversary special) with glee, routinely clapping, giggling and gasping. It was fan service at its most heartfelt, deeply grateful and rewarding. And just as before, watching “Time” (Christmas Special, Matt Smith’s last episode), I was brought to tears as he took off his bowtie and reminded Clara – and us – that he’d always remember when the Doctor was him.

Primed for the new season, we topped off our champagne and were ready.

“Deep Breath” opens on a dinosaur rampaging through Victorian London. Like you do. We’re immediately greeted with Madame Vastra! And Jenny and Strax. A great excuse to root fans in the familiar, a visit with Madame Vastra and the gang is always welcome.

We are quickly provided with an explanation for a time traveling tyrannosaurus – he accidentally swallowed the TARDIS. And an introduction to our new Doctor.

Our new Doctor clearly is not as enamoured with the human race as he once was. He recognizes no one, including the woman who was present for his regeneration. He confuses Strax and Clara – calling her the “Asking Questions One.” While he may not be particularly interested in the characters we know, the Doctor is quick to empathize with and translate for the T-Rex. And then he faints.

As Madame Vastra says, “Here we go again.”

(Ooooo – the new title sequence inspired by a fan-made video)

“Who invented this room?” the Doctor asks, completely perplexed as to why there would be a room solely designed for sleeping. This is a Doctor separate – one who is clearly, purposefully alien. Vastra finally succeeds in luring the Doctor to slumber – and turns her attentions to Clara.

Madame Vastra is offended. She is deeply disappointed that Clara seems put out that the Doctor has changed. Clara is adrift – she has no reference point for regeneration and – fairly or not – doesn’t quite know who she is dealing with.

The flirtatious nature of Clara’s relationship with the Doctor is a key discussion point throughout this episode. But as Vastra realizes, even as she accuses Clara, the flirtation was hardly one sided. “He looked young, who do you think that was for? I wear a veil for the same reason he wears a face – to be accepted.”

Clara will not stand the insult. She points to Marcus Aurelius as the only pin up she ever had on her wall. She has never had any interest in pretty young men. Just because Clara is pretty and young – that does not mean that her interests are fanciful. I have never liked Clara nor Jenna more.

The Doctor is running across the rooftops of Victorian London in his pajamas, screaming at the “big sexy woman” of a T-Rex. “I brought you by accident – that’s mostly how I meet girls.” The Doctor, attempting sign language and screaming, promises to protect her – and just as quickly watches her perish.

Communication problems and the atonement for sins are clearly going to be major challenges for this Doctor.

This Doctor does not have the same love for the human race he once had – the pudding brains that we are. As we watch the dinosaur burn, we see the Doctor’s grief and frustration in those around him asking the wrong questions. Turns out, spontaneous combustion is apparently the new trend in death in town these days.

Clara is staying at Madame Vastra’s. Despite my newfound love for her, I am not above giggling when Clara gets hit in the face with a newspaper – the latest in a long line of Strax’s failings as a servant. Clara quickly realizes she isn’t any of these people’s companion as she continuously fails to insert herself into their lives. She worries she isn’t this Doctor’s companion either.

The Doctor is digging through the trash – looking for clues and probably some clothes. He sees his reflection. “It’s funny because I’m sure I’ve seen this face before. Who frowned me this face? Why did I choose this face – it’s like I’m trying to tell myself something. Like I’m trying to make a point.”

I have a theory about this face. About how it is there to remind him that saving one person can make all of the difference. About reminding him that going back to a fixed point and saving someone – even one person – is important. And that this face is meant to remind him to focus on finding Gallifrey. Because when Donna insisted that he save the family in Pompeii that was the first owner of this face, the Doctor got a taste for saving people from a fixed point in time. Something he did with aplomb when he locked Gallifrey in a moment in time.

Coming back to our story, Clara finds a message for The Impossible Girl to meet for lunch. The Doctor shows up as well but neither placed the ad. As they both realize it is a trap, Clara asks the Doctor what to do. The audience waits for him to say “Run” but he doesn’t. They both are locked to their seats and dragged slowly down a creepy tunnel to be harvested for parts by robots.

They are both trapped and trying to escape. The Doctor makes it to one side of the door while Clara is locked on the other. Trying to find a way to survive, Clara begs for the screwdriver. “No point in them catching us both,” our Doctor says refusing to give Clara the screwdriver. “I might need it.”

And just like that the Doctor leaves his companion – not just leaves but directly imperils her with his decision. Clara is stuck – and using the best of her wits to try to save her own skin. But the strongest of those wits is her belief in the Doctor, despite everything he has shown her since his regeneration. She reaches her hand back – and he finds it.

This was brilliant. It put the audience’s questioning of the Doctor directly in line with Clara’s. At regeneration, more than at any point of time, the companion and the audience are asking the same question. Who is this man? Turns out, he’s exactly who we expect him to be.

The Doctor and the main robot escape to – well, the escape pod. The Doctor is trying to figure out what is going on – what is making this android tick, as it were. Turns out, they crash landed from the SS Marie Antoinette and astute viewers, though not the Doctor, remember that this is a call back to the SS Madame De Pompadour from “The Girl in the Fireplace.” The androids are trying to repair themselves the only way they know how – harvesting all available lifeforms around them for spare parts.

The Doctor demands that the android cease its harvesting and just succumb to death. “You have replaced every piece of your self time and time again until there isn’t a piece of the original left. You probably can’t even remember where you got that face from.” The Doctor again doesn’t quite realize what he’s saying – but he is clearly talking about himself. It is going to take the Doctor some time to remember who he is and why he is precisely who he is – and he’ll need to if he stands any chance of finding the lost Time Lords.

This Doctor doesn’t want to kill and offers suicide as a valiant alternative for the andriod. But, as the robot says, self destruction is against its basic program. And, the Doctor insists, murder is against his. Once again, the Doctor asserts that the people below are never small to him. The android falls – and it is left vague whether he jumped or was pushed.

Clara remains in Victorian London, unsure as to whether the Doctor will ever return to get her. But, of course, he does. When she returns to the TARDIS, he has redecorated and neither are sure they like the changes.

“Clara, I’m not your boyfriend.”

“I never said you were.”

“I never said it was your mistake.”

Too much of this episode has focused on Clara’s side of her flirtatious relationship with the Doctor. It was he who chose a young face – and he who was more than happy to flirt back. Capaldi’s line delivery here was absolutely perfect.

Someone – the same someone who took out the ad and gave Clara the TARDIS’s phone number – is trying to keep Clara and the Doctor together. But Clara still has doubts. She is worried she doesn’t know this Doctor. And her phone rings.

It’s Eleven. He’s calling from Trenzalore, right before he regenerated, to beg her to help. He knows this regeneration is going to be a doozy and he needs her to stand by him. Clara looks up and sees the Doctor in front of her and, for the first time since regeneration, finally sees him for the man he is and was.

The scene changes and we’re introduced to what is sure to be the overarching story of the season – the promised land. With Mary Poppins as the Doctor’s “girlfriend” introducing the recently deceased (if you can call it that) android to heaven. I’m sure she’s the woman trying to get and keep the Doctor and Clara together – either that or Clara’s doing those things in her previous incarnations. I’m trying my hardest to reserve judgement. It’s hard – but I’m trying…

This episode had SO much work to do: introduce a new Doctor and a drastically new dynamic between him and his companion. It did those remarkably well. This is a Doctor with a purpose – though he hasn’t remembered that yet. Clara has never been my favorite companion but the removal of flirtation from her repertoire has opened her up and brought her back to the best parts of Oswin Oswald.

How excited are you for the new season? What do you think of the new Doctor/Clara dynamic? How wonderful was it to hear Matt Smith’s voice one last time?