Just a warning, while this is not an in-depth review of “Deep Breath,” the first episode of Doctor Who season 8, I am going to be referencing parts of that episode. If you haven’t seen it yet (I’m looking at all of you waiting to see it in the movie theater), you might want to save this to read later.
I am a self-professed Nine girl. I started watching Doctor Who when I caught “The Unquiet Dead” one night in 2005, immediately set the DVR to tape this series, and fell in love with the show, its hero, and yes, even its companion (Rose is still one of my favorites, and you will never convince me that she wasn’t awesome). When the Doctor regenerated into Ten, I was heartbroken; having never seen the older episodes, I didn’t know this was a thing that would happen, and losing your first Doctor is a hard, hard thing.
Ten won me over in relatively short order (I liked him from “The Christmas Invasion,” I was a Ten convert by “Tooth and Claw”), and we had three plus (I’m never sure how to count the miniseries “season,”to be honest) seasons getting to know and love him. And while he’s not My Doctor, per se, he’s one of my favorite Doctors. I have a life-sized cardboard cutout of Ten in my rather small apartment, which is testament to how much I like him—we don’t have a lot of space here, and things that we don’t love don’t stick around for long. I bawled like a baby when Ten regenerated. And then we got Eleven.
For whatever reason (writing, acting, the devastating feelings of loss I was still experiencing over Ten), it took me a long time to really enjoy Eleven. He had his moments, but the first episode I remember absolutely loving Eleven in was “Vincent and the Doctor,” which was the tenth episode of the season. I had absolute faith in the show and the creative team, but the first part of that season seemed like a long slog at times. For me, “Vincent and the Doctor” was where the show found its footing again, and Eleven grew on me more with each episode after that one. By the time he made it to Trenzalore we were old friends, and I was sorry to see him go. And eager to meet this new Doctor, whose first line “Kidneys! I’ve got new kidneys!” reminded me so much of Ten’s comments about his new teeth. What kind of Doctor would Twelve be?
“Deep Breath,” the first episode of Season 8, gives us a taste of who this man might be. He spends a large part of the episode trying to regain his balance after regeneration and it’s interesting to see the hints of other Doctors that surface as he does. In addition to the Ten reference above, there’s a nice reference to Nine when he looks at himself in the mirror in the alleyway. Nine bemoaned his ears when he caught sight of them in the mirror at Rose’s house, Twelve is hung up on his eyebrows (“Look at the eyebrows! These are attack-eyebrows. You could take bottle tops off with these,” he barks at a homeless man). And like Eleven with Tricey (“Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”), Twelve wants to take care of the T-Rex he’s unwittingly brought into Victorian London with him. (As an aside—although most of this article is an aside—Doctor Who is damned hard on dinosaurs, isn’t it?)
The Twelve that emerges over the course of the episode is a hard man, a grumpy man, a man with little patience for “pudding brains,” and yet…there’s a level of pain and vulnerability there, leftover from his other incarnations. The last ten minutes of the episode packed the biggest emotional punch for me because it allowed us to see this (and here there really be spoilers). Beginning with the sequence where Twelve talks about the mistakes he’s made (“Clara, I’m not your boyfriend.” “I never thought you were.” “I never said it was your mistake.”) and moving into the unexpected phone call from Eleven, we as audience members get to see some of the pain Twelve is feeling because Clara isn’t seeing him as the Doctor. When he says, “You can’t see me, can you? You look at me, and you can’t see me. Have you any idea what that’s like? I’m not on the phone, I’m right here. Standing in front of you. Please, just…just see me,” my heart absolutely broke for him. It also broke for Eleven, who was facing his own “death” and yet being brave for Clara and the Doctor who he would become. To be honest, I cried more at Eleven’s goodbye in this episode than I did during “The Time of the Doctor,” possibly because I was in a fragile place because of some really powerhouse writing and acting.
Twelve is going to be quite a shift from Eleven, but I’m looking forward to the ride with Peter Capaldi at the helm of the TARDIS. With the exception of Nine, Twelve has brought me “in” faster than any other Doctor. And although there were occasional WTF moments as he tried to figure out what kind of man he is, or when he thought faster than I did, Twelve feels like “home” to me. Now let’s see what he can do with the Daleks.