Recap: ‘Doctor Who’ – Take a ‘Deep Breath’ for the 12th Doctor’s debut

Deputy Entertainment Editor
08.24.14

The wait is finally over. Peter Capaldi is the 12th Doctor and quite frankly, I am beside myself to see what he can do to bring the Doctor back to just this side of the darkness. Plus he has FLAWLESS bitch face. Warning, spoilers!

Geronimo!*

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*Placeholder exclamation of joy until Capaldi settles on his own catchphrase.

We open on a beautiful sunset. In the Cretaceous period. Wait no. That Tyrannosaurus Rex isn”t roaring its way through the jungle but through the streets of London! Big Ben bongs out a warning and, if a monument could, cringes for inevitable impact. Thankfully it never comes.

Dinosaurs are far more courteous than aliens, it seems.

And we aren”t just in any old London, but Victorian London. The denizens are shouting but not in a “oh God we”re all gonna die” way but in more of a “Hey George come look at this quick!” way. Because honestly there”s been so much nonsensical things on the streets lately that no one would be the slightest bit ruffled by a giant lizard from the dawn of time wandering through the Meatpacking District. 

Speaking of lizards from the dawn of time, you can”t have a Victorian episode with Lady Vastra. Right on cue she and her wife Jenny (and manservant/potato Strax) appear. The T-Rex has something caught in its…her…throat. It”s the TARDIS isn”t it? Isn”t it, Moffat!?

It is.

While London”s finest stand about with the plebeians, goggling at something any normal person would flee from, Vastra and company head down to the beach. But not before giving the constables a containment field to place around the T-Rex. Sorts questioning Vastra”s judgment in giving such technology to a man who thinks dinosaurs puke blue eggs that say Police Box in English on them, but use what you have I guess.

I love how Vastra doesn”t want to assume the blue box is the TARDIS.

As per the rules of regeneration, the 12th Doctor doesn”t quite have a handle on his new body…or mind…yet. He confuses everyone with everyone else, seems perplexed that London has a dinosaur too, and makes us sad about Handles again before finally collapsing into the dust.

Cue the opening credits. They are brand new! So many gears and clockwork and…oh. My. God. Steampunk. It”s a steampunk opening credits! Yessssss. The spiraling Roman Numerals count from one to twelve over and over like a whirlpool. And so much blue. Blue is usually a calming color but I wonder what its significance here will be.

The Doctor awakens in Vastra and Jenny”s home and he is confused by bedrooms. And you know, he makes a good point. Why do we have an entire room just for sleeping in? I am now having an existential crisis about the amount of square footage bedrooms take up in my home. 

For the first time, the Doctor realizes he”s speaking with a Scottish accent. Only in the most roundabout, Doctory way possible. He”s not speaking Scottish, everyone else is speaking weird! Luckily Vastra knows how to inflect Scottish tones and manages to calm him back down. There”s a weird bit of near-flirting on the bed, because God forbid Moffat allow a single woman in the universe to not want to bone the Doctor, and then he is out cold again. (The Doctor, not Moffat.)

Hey wait, wasn”t there a giant frickin” DINOSAUR wandering around outside?

Oh it”s cool you guys. She”s still outside but the containment field has her and they just rerouted traffic and everything is totally normal and be put on the back burner for now…because the Doctor is sleep-talking! Clara seems to think he”s translating for the T-Rex but I”m not so sure. I guess that”s the point. The sorrowful refrain of “no one can see me, I am alone,” applies either way.

Cut to a dude and his wife meandering about London. Really happy to see everyone taking this dinosaur predicament in stride. But wait, how much did people even know about dinosaurs in the late 19th century? To the Google machine!

Huh. Turns out the Tyrannosaurus Rex wasn”t discovered until 1905. So not sure if this makes it more or less astonishing at how little these people seem to care about a displaced – and at this point – mythological creature. Urbanites are so jaded, you guys.

So jaded in fact that no one notices or cares when a cyborg harvests the eyes from a screaming gentleman in the middle of the street. No big deal.

Back at House Vastra, an interrogation is afoot. Lady Vastra is giving the smack down to fangirls…I mean Clara…and it”s pretty condescending and terrible and you can almost see Moffat”s hand manipulating her mouth as she dresses Clara down for finding the Doctor attractive in his old body but not his new one. “He”s not your boyfriend. You might as well flirt with a mountain range.” We leave the scene as Clara is virtually shaking in rage.

The Doctor is awake. And he smells something. Perhaps it”s from under the bed? Nay, it”s from the radiator! It”s a stick of chalk. Huh.

Elsewhere in non-chalk portions of the house, Clara has had just about enough of Vastra. She explodes in anger, basically saying “How DARE you insinuate I don”t find Peter Capaldi attractive!” She then accuses Lady Vastra of being attracted to her and Jenny is like “The hell? I”m standing right here!” and suddenly Vastra”s veil is gone because Clara “no longer sees it there.” So, are her clothes like lizard people psychic paper or something?

Honestly not sure how I feel about this whole exchange. You can read one of two ways. One is as Vastra being mad at Clara for being shallow in what she finds attractive, which is presumptuous and antagonistic for no reason. Two is as Moffat speaking directly to fangirls about their attraction to other Doctors and how silly it is, which is condescending and rude. Either way, it”s odd as hell.

Far, far away from this quagmire is Capaldi, who is scribbling all over the floor with his chalk. Some sort of math problem. But the T-Rex distracts him and it”s up to the roof to apologize for bringing her here in the first place. He promises to bring her home safe. So of course she immediately bursts into a pillar of flame so bright I”m wondering is she”s been doused in napalm.

One theft of a horse later, the Doctor is riding through London in his nightshirt to the scene of the crime. It”s nice to see the Doctor on a horse again. Such a nice nod to previous episodes.

Clara, Vastra, Jenny, and Strax find the Doctor standing above the Thames, staring into the fiery abyss that was a luckless dinosaur. Kind of an odd choice to bring dinosaurs back for another episode only to murder her partway through in a spectacular way. She didn”t even get to do anything cool…which is how you can tell Moffat wrote her. Zing!

Capaldi wants to know “Have there been any similar murders?” When Vastra confirms there have been similar blazing deaths, the Doctor promptly jumps into the Thames. Clara worries he”ll drown but honestly the dysentery will get him first. Ew.

The next morning Strax has been commissioned to retrieve the TARDIS. Which is does via horse-drawn carriage. So now the TARDIS is covered in T-Rex bile and strapped to a cart. Sexy is not happy.

Side note: Strax beaning Clara in the face with the newspaper was the best sight gag of the night.

Later Clara runs into Jenny, who warns her to stay out of the larder because Vastra is having some bad guy for dinner. Just how does one reconcile being in love with a person who eats the rude? Jenny and Will Graham need to start a support group.

Somehow Strax ends up giving Clara a physical in the kitchen with a fancy futuristic doodad. It”s equal parts adorable and disconcerting to watch their exchange until Strax discovers the limber young men engaged in “sports” in her subconscious. The way Moffat is suddenly trying to paint Clara as boy-crazy is kind of weird right? There”s nothing wrong with subconsciously liking sex. Or consciously liking it for that matter! 

Out in the street, the Doctor has spent the entire night in his Victorian nightdress and he looks like the ghost of Christmas Gross. Yet a drunk old dude sees him digging through trash and sees a kindred spirit. Big mistake. 

The Doctor knows he knows the face in the mirror but can”t place it. It”s because you saw it in Pompeii! REMEMBER DOCTOR, I believe in you!

Even the drunk old man can”t handle this much intense craziness and tries to escape. But Capaldi is insistent and goes off on a glorious rant about his eyebrows. I, for one, support the Independent State of Eyebrows. The rant leads to the Doctor remembering again that he is Scottish. Properly remembering. He is pleased.

Lady Vastra is also pleased. But not because of eyebrows…though I”m sure she finds Jenny”s quite perfect…but because Jenny is in a state of undress to be painted. For the record, Jenny is astoundingly pretty. Not that it matters since Vastra was actually working on a map of the crimes and not painting her lovely and obliging wife. But she manages to save it by saying Jenny just makes every room prettier. Then loses it by asking Clara to “pop your clothes on that chair” as soon as she enters the room. 

No time to dwell on Vastra”s sudden flirtatious nature with women who are not her wife because Clara has found a clue in the newspaper! She must meet the Doctor for lunch at some creepy restaurant with an obelisk outside of it. Fact: Nothing good ever happens in a building with ancient Egyptian architectural elements.  

It takes a minute but eventually Capaldi joins her in a coat he got from that poor drunken bum. Clara immediately takes control of the situation. She is furious with him for being weird and running off without her. The Doctor accuses her of not liking him now that he”s old. I”m not a psychologist but maybe this was written by a man having a hard time coming to grips with his age? Naw.

Either way, it turns out neither of them sent the message and Doctor succeeds in calling Clara and egomaniac needy game player which…fair point. That”s why they”re so perfect together. They”re both narcissistic extroverts who thrive on control and being right. In fact, as they realize they”ve been played it occurs to me Clara has been injected with more personality in this episode than in most of her arc. Maybe that”s why the characterizations feel so off-putting. They”re trying to transform her from a MacGuffin to a three-dimensional person in less than an hour.

Clara and the Doctor are now trapped in a demonic Disney World ride and cannot leave and OH GOD CAPALDI WHY? I am screaming internally because he just put a scalped human face on Clara”s face and NOOO. I need an old priest and a young priest and 15 showers.

Apparently ripping the face off your waiter gets you a one-way ticket to restaurant hell. Which is run by the Penguin from “Batman” based on his fat fingers and jaunty hat. Luckily he is also a cyborg and needs to recharge so our heroes have time to free themselves from the evil Helping Hands that bind them. At one point during this the Doctor mutters, “Times like this, I miss Amy.”

Whoa, sorry. I just blacked out from rage. What did I miss? Oh, Clara kicked him in the dick? GOOD. Because he”s acting like one.

Freed from the chains, the Doctor and Clara wander around a spooky room filled with other cyborgs and random chains. Well if I know anything, I know chains hanging from the ceiling means an Alien Queen is near so they should probably get the hell out while the getting is good. But no. They decide to get a closer look at the cyborg instead of, I don”t know, unplugging it. 

So of course he wakes up! And then, something terrible happens. The Doctor leaves Clara to burn. She saves him and he locks her in and leaves her. But he didn”t really leave her, did he? Normally I”d say no, but this episode seems intent on punishing Clara for the crime of thinking Matt Smith was hot, so who knows. 

Finally we get to the crux of the episode name. The room of evil cyborgs cobbled together from untold human victims can”t sense you”re alive if you stop breathing. So Clara takes a deep breath and makes a clunky, robotic run for it. I”m holding my breath with Clara. Don”t lie, you”re doing it too.

I didn't make it. I”d be dead.

Guys, I”m not sure but I think Clara might free dive in her off-time because wow that is some serious lung capacity! She almost makes it when the prickly lights that signify imminent unconsciousness force her to breathe. Which ends in her immediate capture.

While she”s in and out of consciousness, we get a weird flashback to Clara”s first day as a teacher. The class is rowdy and she threatens to kick them all out. They call her bluff and…nothing. That”s the last we see of it. Um, what?

Clara awakens in a room very similar to the first room she was in. It”s time for another interrogation. I”m starting to sense a theme. Steampunk cyborg Penguin says they will kill her if she doesn”t reveal the Doctor”s location. She calls their bluff! This never happens. Despite yelling at the TV for years that the bad guys will kill you anyway, to give them nothing, heroes always cave. But not Clara. She”s having none of it. If they kill her, they won”t know where the Doctor is. If she tells them, they”ll kill her anyway. 

So that”s what the flashback was. To explain how Clara knew that you have to follow through on threats for them to mean anything. Which is lame. Did we really need a flashback for Clara to be a badass? Answer: no.

Clara has resigned herself to painful death but still holds out her hand in the hopes the Doctor will swoop in and save her. Seriously. She”s just gonna let them melt her face off and literally hold out her hand like a small child, waiting for the Doctor to rescue her. 

Damn, these rage blackouts are getting kind of worrisome. How long was I out?

Not long I guess because the Doctor did rescue her. While wearing a dead man”s face. Honestly this might be the most disturbing episode of “Doctor Who” I”ve ever seen. Capaldi is gloating over the rubbish robots from the dawn of time. Because no one stands a chance against 5″1” crying woman and DAMMIT MOFFAT JUST STOP BEING SEXIST FOR ONE MINUTE.

Suddenly, Lady Vastra and Jenny descend from the ceiling on Cirque du Soleil ropes, looking elegant and deadly. Strax…tries.

The plot boils to a head as the secondary characters battle it out with the undead cyborg army below while the Doctor follows the Penguin up to the escape pod. And by escape pod I mean a hot-air balloon made entirely of human flesh because sure. The Doctor corners the leader of the cyborgs and asks why he sent the clue to finding him if he doesn”t want to die? The cyborg has no idea what Capaldi is talking about so we still don”t know who placed the ad.

Remember the horse from the beginning of the episode? It was a clue! The cyborgs are the same clockwork monstrosity”s from “The Lady In The Fireplace” only upgraded. The Doctor says he”ll kill the Penguin if he has too because there”s no such thing as the Promised Land for either robots or humans or Time Lords.

We”re treated to a great bit of monologuing from Capaldi, ostensibly about the cyborgs but truly about himself. How many times can a thing replace its parts before it is no longer the same thing? If you have a broom and you replace the handle, then later you replace the head, and later still the handle again, is it the same broom? No. It serves the same function but is not the same thing. And great, now we”re all sad and feeling the weight of mortality on our shoulders.

Just as the Doctor is about to murder the leader of the cyborgs and/or the leader of the cyborgs is about to commit suicide to end it all, we cut back to the rest of the gang. They”re surrounded by undead steampunk battle cyborgs when Clara remembers they should hold their breathe. Just when it seems none of them will be able to hang on any longer – despite Vastra and Jenny”s onscreen kiss! – all the cyborgs drop dead a their feet. It”s over! 

But did the Doctor commit murder? We”ll never know! MOFFAT!!!

The Doctor immediately abandons Clara in the 19th century for an undisclosed amount of time, forcing her to wear dead Clara”s clothes which is sort of creepy yes? Also, why did Vastra still HAVE those clothes? Best not to dwell on it.

Of course he eventually returns for her and the Doctor takes her home in the shiny newly redecorated TARDIS. Lots of circular and blue things. Sensing a theme here. The two of them discuss who might has put the IMPOSSIBLE GIRL ad in the newspaper and conclude it must have been the woman in the shop who gave Clara the number to the TARDIS. I”m just glad “the woman in the shop” means something. The Doctor asks Clara again to come with him but she declines. Until of course she gets a phone call from Matt Smith”s Doctor on Trenzalore asking her to stay. Which I think is supposed to play as sweet but the episode has spent the entire runtime painting Clara as “in love” with 11, so having him be the reason she stays with 12 reads as sketchy.

Just when I think the credits are about to roll as 12 and Clara go for a coffee, cut to a pretty garden. Steampunk Penguin awakes in what looks like something from “The Girl Who Waited” episode. Turns out there is a Promised Land…at least for clockwork genocidal maniacs. Just when I”m about to be outraged at the injustice of it all, a woman appears to welcome our newly dead friend to Heaven. And asks about her boyfriend. And has very familiar mannerisms. And oh my God, is that you regenerated River Song!?

Well, there we have it. So much to parse. What did you guys think? Is that River? Do you think whoever it is – River or not – is also the woman in the shop? What do you think Heaven truly is? And what was the Doctor drawing in chalk on the floor??

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