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Doctor Who season premiere recap: Deep Breath

A new Doctor contends with a series of strange murders, his companions, and himself.

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Doctor Who

TV Show
Sci-fi and Fantasy
run date:
Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas
BBC America
Current Status:
In Season

Finally, after a months-long news-filled hiatus, Doctor Who is back on the air. And, with it, the 12th (though technically 13th as we are quickly reminded) incarnation of one of television’s oldest sci-fi characters, the Doctor. As always when such a time is upon us, the fan base teeters on the edge of their seats to see how the new Doctor will be. Even people who have heard of the show in passing have their curiosity piqued and keep an eye on how the new Doctor does. It’s like the more frequent Halley’s Comet of science-fiction: a rare event that comes by once every few years and captures everyone’s attention.

There have been volumes said about Twelve and his upcoming tenure since the announcement of veteran actor Peter Capaldi as Matt Smith’s successor, all before we even had a chance to really see him in action. “He’ll be darker” they said. “Edgier.” “Gonna be like the old Doctors and not because just because he’s old!” Well, time to see what all the fuss is about: For the most part it holds true. The new intro and theme song to the show are clearly rooted in the classic series. It’s no longer the big booming bass-heavy intro of the modern Doctors but instead a warbling high-treble affair, with Victorian-era-clock-based designs and even a clear homage to the Fourth Doctor era intro with a flash of Twelve’s face.

But the big question is how Capaldi is as the new Doctor. As expected, he’s great. He’s far from the disconnectedly dark, brooding, and mean figure that the media has been hyping him up to be. In fact, it’s starting to seem more likely all the hype about that Doctor was actually describing the DC Animated Universe Batman. Capaldi’s Doctor continues the comedically manic thought process that Ten and Eleven displayed but the lighthearted aspect of it is undercut with a more pensive and impatient edge where he demands the answers to the questions he constantly asks. What results is a Doctor who is short, to the point of coming off rude and demanding, but, underneath, the caring figure that he has always been.

The episode begins with the always-comedic Strax, the idiot Sontaran, as he recaps the history of the Doctor’s incarnations from William Hartnell’s original portrayal up until the most recent Matt Smith model with his usual ignorantly sharp tongue, all while the ship he’s vlogging from is in the process of blowing up. This segment is decidedly lighthearted and comedic, which only serves to make Strax’s uncharacteristically concerned introduction to the Twelfth Doctor undercut the tone even more and introduce the overall sentiment of the episode. It’s definitely not going to be lighthearted.

And that’s when we see a dinosaur in the middle of 19th-century London. Yes, really.

The natural question of “How the hell did this happen?” has its answer coughed up by the dinosaur, quite literally, as it reveals the TARDIS. And with that comes the full reveal of the Twelfth Doctor as an incoherently babbling madman whose mind is like mush moving at the speed of sound, alternating between trying to remember the names of his companions and flirting with the dinosaur until he passes out from the exhaustion that follows a regeneration.

The Doctor’s continued insanity and inability to recognize things like bedrooms or accents causes the companions worry but affects Clara significantly. As someone who had no knowledge that the Doctor could regenerate, she reacts as would be expected when a man suddenly changes before your very eyes and turns insane: She gets quite unnerved. “How do we fix him? How do we change him back?” she asks Vastra and Jenny, wondering how the Doctor could even be in this state. And then the first of many references to the origins of the Doctor’s face in the episode come into question: “Where did he get that face? Why does he have lines on it? It’s brand new.”

NEXT: The game becomes afoot