“Confused, reckless, smelly, acerbic, unknowable” – spoiler-free Deep Breath review

Our mega-Whovian Patrick Mulkern gives his first reaction to Peter Capaldi's opening Doctor Who

The most important question – and the 12th Doctor asks a lot of questions – is this: “Is Peter Capaldi any good?” Answer: “Of course he is. He’s Peter flaming Capaldi!”


I think people will quickly grow to adore his interpretation, although his debut episode takes pains to ease the flakier viewer into the change – via the medium of Clara, who’s not at all sure she likes this impostor, a figure much older, greyer and less cuddly than the best friend she has lost.

For many die-hards, though, this is the Doctor we have longed for – and the part it seems Capaldi has been waiting his whole life to play. In Deep Breath, he shows the severity of William Hartnell’s Doctor, the aloofness of Tom Baker’s and the style and gravitas of Jon Pertwee’s. But by the end he is very much his own Time Lord.

After last night’s screening at London’s BFI, Capaldi described his Doctor as “funny, joyful, passionate, emphatic, fearless”. Well, maybe all that is to come. In episode one he’s confused, reckless, smelly, acerbic, unknowable. Yet in need of a best friend. And defiantly Scottish. Which is a good thing.

Deep Breath is not the most riveting Doctor Who story ever told, but the 80 minutes fly by and it fulfils its mission to reboot. There’s a striking change in Steven Moffat’s style of storytelling. Who knows if this will pervade the entire season but Deep Breath, at least, bears a slow-down in pace (less wham-bam, more sit down and talk) and a marked change in tone (sombre, sepia, befitting its Victorian setting).

It’s no spoiler to say that Vastra, Jenny and Strax are back. They’re the modern, or rather 19th-century, equivalent of Unit (the show’s military/scientific corps first seen in 1968) in that they give the Doctor a temporary grounding. Vastra even spouts the Brigadier’s line from the 1974 Pertwee/Baker changeover: “Here we go again.” In fact there are several nods to the past: other 70s adventures and a small link to David Tennant’s first season.

I will write a full review once Deep Breath has aired on Saturday 23 August, but in the meantime, what else to point up? The new title sequence is beautiful (cogs and spirals). The bewildered new Doctor has an amusing encounter in an alley with a tramp played by Brian Miller (widower of Elisabeth Sladen). 


I thank and love Steven Moffat for the seemingly casual manner in which he’s put lesbian wives (and one of them a lizard!) centre-stage as heroes in a family show on primetime telly and cinema screens around the world. I wonder how that will play out in some parts… but forget about whether the Doctor and his companion are ever going to flirt again. I hope they won’t.