Doctor Who: “Deep Breath” Recap

by Courtney Key

“Question: You take a broom. You replace the handle. And then later, you replace the brush. And you do that, over and over again. Is it still the same broom?”

The Doctor asks this question of the droid antagonist in “Deep Breath,” the feature-length Doctor Who season eight opener penned by Steven Moffat and directed by Ben Wheatley, but it’s clear that it’s a question he is also asking of himself. Now on his twelfth regeneration – or thirteenth, depending on who’s counting Whos – the Doctor has replaced himself time and time again, and this episode finds him not entirely certain of the answer.

Old soul, new face: Peter Capaldi as the Doctor.
Old soul, new face: Peter Capaldi as the Doctor.

Our story opens with a Tyrannosaurus Rex looming over Victorian London and stalking along the Thames, probably because some mad scientist got too clever with experimenting with chicken DNA. I did try to warn you all about the chickens. Among the curious onlookers at the river are the Silurian Madame Vastra, her human wife Jenny, and Sontaran servant Strax. These three were a bright spot in Matt Smith’s somewhat uneven last season, and it’s good to see them make a return for Peter Capaldi’s first outing as the Doctor.

Inspector Gregson tells Vastra that he’s glad she’s arrived, and wonders how the T-Rex got to London. Madame Vastra explains, rather obviously, that the T-Rex must have time-traveled, perhaps due to “something it ate.” Confirming her guess, the dinosaur promptly vomits up the TARDIS, which the inspector takes to be an egg. Apparently, intellectual standards for police detectives in Victorian times were not high.

After giving the inspector some high-tech frequency-emitting doo-dads to place around the T-Rex to keep it from rampaging any further through London, Vastra, Jenny and Strax go to knock on the door of the TARDIS and see who’s at home. Strax, of course, demands the immediate surrender of the Doctor to the “glory of the Sontaran empire,” a request to which the Doctor promptly opens the door and commands, “Shush,” before disappearing back inside the TARDIS.

Strax, as befuddled as the audience at this new Doctor’s abruptness, questions “Doctor?” before the Doctor opens the door again and declares that he was being chased by a giant dinosaur, but thinks he’s given it the slip. Then, he closes and opens the door a third time, eyebrows furrowed, having just worked out that Strax is someone he’s seen before. “Sleepy?” he questions, moving forward while a discomfited Strax backs away from him. “Bashful, Sneezy, Dopey,” the Doctor continues, running down the list of Seven Dwarves, before, in a delightful a-ha moment, triumphantly declaring “Grumpy!”

It quickly becomes clear that something has gone wrong in the regeneration process. Capaldi’s Doctor is confused about everything, losing words and names, and even humorously mixing up his companion Clara, who emerges from the TARDIS somewhat worse for wear, and Strax due to their “very similar” heights. “Maybe you should wear labels,” he suggests. Though his lines are humorous, Clara is definitely troubled by this new incarnation, and we in the audience feel some of her discomfort – the Doctor seems to have become the madman with a box he once told Amy Pond he was quite literally.

A close-up on the Doctor’s face reveals his dawning realization of this fact, and the music underscores it with some horror-movie piano as Clara and the others move towards him. “Why are you all doing that?” he asks. “Why are you all going dark and wobbly? Stop that.”

“I don’t think we are,” Clara replies, in a why don’t you just slip your arms into this nice comfy straitjacket sort of tone.

“Never mind, take five!” the Doctor shouts, then promptly passes out face forward into the mud.

Jenny, confused, asks who this man is, and where is the Doctor? Clara, not sounding entirely confident, tells her that the strange shouting man is the Doctor, prompting Vastra to declare, “Well then, here we go again.”

And here we go again indeed, as the theme music kicks in and we see the new season eight titles. We get some steampunk-y gears and the TARDIS spinning through Roman numeral clocks (a shout-out to Capaldi’s previous Doctor Who role, perhaps?) that turn into stars, planets and galaxies. A quick shot of Capaldi’s intense eyes and furrowed brow in the titles suggests that this Doctor is going to be darker in tone than the last.

Out of the title sequence, and back to a pan over Victorian London, with the ever-familiar skyline of Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and a Tyrannosaurus Rex bathed in the moonlight. Wait, that doesn’t seem quite right. The Doctor is also confused, but less about dinosaurs being in central London than over the concept of a bedroom, in which he has been placed. “So you’ve got a whole room for not being awake in? But what’s the point?” he questions, making what I must admit is something of a valid point. He’s also been dressed in fetching striped pajamas. Rowr.

Not only is the Doctor troubled by beds and his own reflection in the mirror (“It’s absolutely furious!”), but he also doesn’t understand why everyone suddenly has an English accent. “You’ve all developed a fault!” he says in his newly-Scottish voice, a line which must have produced cheers in Scotland. Vastra adopts a Scottish accent to speak with him and manages to coax the Doctor into a psychic connection and trick him into sleep. Clara asks Vastra how they can fix the Doctor and change him back to Eleven. Vastra immediately turns calmly cold, and instructs Jenny to get her veil. Jenny inquires whether they’re expecting strangers. “It would seem there’s already one here,” Vastra says, giving Clara a pointed look as she leaves the room.

“Where did he get that face?” Clara asks Jenny. “Why has it got lines on it? It’s brand new.” Jenny tries to reassure Clara that the Doctor is still the man she knew. Clara claims to understand, but she doesn’t really. She asks Jenny how she would feel if Vastra changed into someone who wasn’t the person Jenny liked, to which Jenny replies that she doesn’t just like Vastra, she loves her. And besides, she adds, as if to underscore the silliness and shallowness of Clara’s question, “As to different, she’s a lizard.”

It does seem somewhat odd that Clara, who has seen all of the Doctor’s regenerations as she traveled through time to save him over and over again, is so discomfited by his new appearance, but at the same time it isn’t. Yes, she knows that the Doctor has had different faces, but in some fundamental way they weren’t really her Doctor, and she isn’t quite ready to let him go. Obviously, her refusal to accept the new Doctor is meant to be a stand-in for those in the audience who complained about an older actor being cast as the Doctor after a run of young, attractive actors (though I know more than a few who find Capaldi just as yummy as Tennant and Smith), but it’s also a stand-in for Who fans in general. Each regeneration brings with it sadness at saying goodbye to a face we have come to love, and trepidation about how we will receive the new one. At heart we know from experience that we will come to love this Doctor just as much as the last one, but there’s also always a feeling of wanting to go back to the familiar, the tried-and-true. Clara may have seen the other Doctors die, but she wasn’t with them long enough to grieve their passing, and in the end she always knew her Doctor was waiting. Now that he’s gone, she, like us, doesn’t know what lies ahead, and she can’t deal with it. Her reaction is ugly, but it’s also true.

Out by the Thames, the T-Rex is roaring as sadly as a T-Rex can, and the Doctor begins to translate her distress in his sleep. “I am alone,” he says, as the camera cuts tellingly to a shot of Clara’s back, “and the world which shook at my feet, and the trees, and the sky, have gone, and I am alone now. Alone.” Who knew there was such poetry in a dinosaur’s soul?

“Can’t see me, doesn’t see me,” the Doctor continues, still sleeping. The shot of the Doctor, eyes closed, and Clara, sitting by him on the bed and looking at him but not seeing him, while he delivers this line is beautifully done, and is a recurring theme of the episode. Clara, thinking he’s talking about the dinosaur, says wryly that she thinks all of London can see it.

Strax comes in to provide comic relief with his continuing gender confusion as he summons Clara to see Madame Vastra. Meanwhile, we cut to a shot of a couple walking down the street. The wife is marveling at the presence of a dinosaur in London; which, honestly, given the number of Doctor Who episodes that have taken place in Victorian London, you’d think a dinosaur would rank pretty far down the list of strange things the citizenry have seen in their midst. Her husband Alfie, however, is convinced it’s a government conspiracy. She gives him a quick kiss and admonishment not to stay out too late before heading home, as a gas-lamp is lit to reveal our villain, a droid with a human face on one side, and metal on the other, and wearing a top hat that makes him look a little like the Penguin.

Alfie, seeing only the human side of the droid standing beside him, continues opining about his theory that the T-Rex is a fake government plant, evidenced by the neck, which in his opinion doesn’t look right. The droid says that he has good eyes in a very creepy robotic voice that should have been an instant signal to run away, but Alfie cheerfully agrees with the stranger, saying they’re his greatest gift. “I accept,” replies the droid, and thankfully we don’t see him actually removing the eye. All we get is Alfie’s yelp before cutting to Madame Vastra’s parlor.

Vastra is questioning Clara about what happened prior to their arrival in London. Clara wants to know why Vastra is wearing her veil, but Vastra is having none of it. Tellingly, in her recount of events Clara says that “the Doctor was gone,” to which Jenny gently reminds her that the Doctor isn’t gone, but is upstairs in the bedroom. A look passes between Clara, Jenny and Vastra. “He changed,” Clara says. Vastra replies that he regenerated, and is renewed. “Fine,” agrees Clara, with a tone of voice and look on her face that signals that it is not fine at all. Vastra asks why she’s smiling, to which Clara insists that she isn’t. Vastra says that while Clara isn’t smiling outwardly, she can see that something Vastra said has amused her. “I’m used to seeing through a veil,” Vastra tells her, and it’s interesting that her line establishes the veil not so much as a disguise, but as something that allows her to see beyond the surface.

Clara admits that she thinks the Doctor doesn’t look renewed due to his older appearance. Vastra scoffs that Clara was shallowly attracted to the Doctor as a dashing young man and thought that was who he truly was, but he is the Doctor, thousands of years old. “You might as well flirt with a mountain range,” she tells Clara, who quickly denies that she ever flirted with him. Vastra counters that the Doctor was flirting with her. Clara, laughing sarcastically, asks how. “He looked young,” Vastra says. “Who do you think that was for?” She continues that the Doctor wasn’t just flirting with Clara, but with everyone. He chose his young face for the same reason she wears a veil, Vastra says. He chose it to be accepted.

Upstairs, the Doctor wakes up with a series of sniffs. He crawls along the carpet, following the smell to a piece of chalk. He picks it up, sniffs it, and begins writing on the radiator.

Downstairs, Vastra and Clara are continuing their tête-à-tête. Vastra explains that she and Jenny are married, but for appearance’s sake they present themselves in public as mistress and maid. Jenny, teapot in hand, points out that she’s still pouring the tea in private. I love Jenny, she’s so sassy. Vastra tells Clara that she doesn’t wear the veil as a courtesy to those who would see her as disfigured, but as a judgment on the quality of their hearts. I hope Clara has some aloe vera for that burn, because damn. Somewhat needlessly, Clara asks if Vastra is judging her, which – um, yes, obviously. Vastra, her tone finally rising from icy to heated, says that the Doctor lifted his veil for Clara, that he trusted her. “Are you judging him?” she spits, and she at last gets the rise out of Clara, literally and figuratively, that she has clearly been trying to provoke. “How dare you,” Clara repeats, in a low but angry voice.

Back upstairs, the Doctor is writing what seem to be equations all over the lovely hardwood floor, making me wince. Suddenly, he leaps up and runs to the door, opening it. “Boring, not me,” he declares, running to the window. “Me!” he says with a smile, having established the perfect means of his escape.

Meanwhile, Clara is filling us all in on her fetish for dead Roman emperors by telling Vastra that Marcus Aurelius was the only pin-up she had on her wall when she was 15, so she totes isn’t shallow, lizard lady. I don’t know, I’ve seen busts of Marcus Aurelius, and he was kind of a hottie.

Marcus Aurelius.  Come on, you know you'd hit it.
Marcus Aurelius. Come on, you know you’d hit it.

She continues ranting that she has never been interested in pretty young men, and anyway if there is anyone who could flirt with a mountain range, it would totally be her. I actually am a fan of Clara, but she can be quite the narcissist. She gets in a last dig at Vastra. “Just because my pretty face has turned your head,” Clara tells her, “do not assume that I am so easily distracted.” Vastra, veil now gone, seems both chastened and impressed, and Clara’s speech wins her a round of applause from Jenny. I’m not quite sure why, Clara’s basically saying that Jenny’s wife has the hots for her, but maybe Jenny’s into that. Vastra laughs and says that she always wondered what Clara would be like when she lost her temper, with a lasciviousness behind her words that gets her a playful smack on the head and an “Oi, married!” reminder from Jenny. I guess Jenny’s not into that. Vastra, hopes of a threesome now dashed, admonishes Clara that the Doctor is lost, and Clara must help him find himself. Clara realizes that Vastra is no longer wearing her veil. Vastra replies she stopped wearing it when Clara stopped seeing it, which is a nice line.

The Doctor, meanwhile, has found his way up to the roof, and is shouting and waving his hands around at the dinosaur across the city, or “big sexy woman!” as he refers to her. Hey, I don’t judge. Whatever gets you going, Doc. He apologizes for the TARDIS getting stuck in her throat and bringing her here, but promises he will get her home and safe. Unfortunately, he makes this declaration just as the dinosaur bursts into flames, so it all rings a bit hollow. “Don’t do that!” the Doctor yells helplessly, as the T-Rex collapses out of sight with a pained roar.

The Doctor runs over the rooftops towards the river, but pratfalls off the edge and into a tree, where he greets a startled carriage driver and commandeers his horse. The Doctor then gallops towards the Thames, still clad in his sexy striped pajamas, with Vastra, Jenny and Strax in a carriage close behind, having also heard the dino’s death throes.

Unfortunately, the Doctor doesn’t get to the river in time to save the T-Rex. He stands on the railing of a bridge and looks down at the flaming corpse with despair. “She was scared and alone,” the Doctor says sadly, continuing the Doctor-as-dinosaur metaphor from earlier. He blames himself for bringing her to London – which, yeah, that one is kind of on him. Vastra asks who could have done this, to which the Doctor replies that isn’t the right question to ask, nor is how. The right question is whether there have been any similar murders. Of a dinosaur? I’m guessing probably not.

It turns out, however, that there have been similar cases of spontaneous combustion in London. The Doctor looks around the crowd and sees our top-hatted droid from earlier, who is not caught up in the chaos surrounding the dinosaur like the “pudding brains,” but is calmly moving through the crowd. Before Clara can catch up to his speculation that this is their number one suspect, the Doctor jumps into the Thames to go after him. Vastra tells her that the Doctor has taken up the murder case, and if they want to find him, they also need to set off on the murderer’s trail.

The next morning, Clara awakes to find Strax directing men unloading the TARDIS in the courtyard. Strax has reasoned that the Doctor always returns to the TARDIS, which is a surprisingly logical move for the Sontaran. Clara gets dressed in Victorian garb with curled hair, mimicking her appearance in “The Snowmen.” There’s a light-hearted exchange with Strax giving her a medical exam, where he diagnoses her with narcissism and passive-aggressiveness, among other things, and sees “muscular young men doing sport” in her subconscious. No Marcus Aurelius in sight. Strax tells Clara he’s examining her for her fitness to serve with him. Clara asks, alarmed, why he’s doing this, since surely the Doctor will come back for her? Strax tells her she shouldn’t worry about the Doctor so much. “By now, he’s almost certainly had his throat cut by the violent poor.”

On this funny line we cut to a scene that contains some laughs, but turns out to be one of the more disturbing in the episode. The Doctor is rummaging through the trash in an alley and finds a mirror, when a tramp approaches him. He tells the tramp that he needs clothes. “And a big long scarf,” he says, before dismissing that as looking “stupid.” He asks the tramp if he’s seen his face before, in a line that shows Moffat is addressing the question of Capaldi’s previous appearance in “The Fires of Pompeii” head-on. The tramp replies no. The Doctor, all manic confusion, says that he’s sure he has seen this one before. “I never know where the faces come from,” he says. “They just pop up.”

He drags the tramp over to the mirror to look at his new face, and it seems he is just as troubled by it as Clara, especially the lines. “Who frowned me this face?” he asks. The Doctor asks the tramp if he has ever looked in the mirror and thought that he’s seen his face before. Of course, the tramp says, every time I look in the mirror. The Doctor concedes this is a good point, but “my face is fresh on, though.” The tramp by now has the look of someone wondering if he’s just about to wake up in a bathtub of ice with his kidneys cut out. “Why this one?” the Doctor wonders, ignoring the tramp’s distress. He decides he’s trying to tell himself something, but wonders what is so important that he can’t just tell himself. He grows angry at the tramp’s non-responsiveness, urging him to reply. “I don’t like your face,” the tramp answers with vehemence.

“Well I don’t like it either!” the Doctor shouts, saying that it’s all right until the eyebrows. “These are attack eyebrows!” he declares, waggling them up and down. “You could take bottle tops off with these!” Capaldi here is in full The Thick of It ranting mode minus the profanity, and it’s glorious. In the middle of his diatribe about his eyebrows, he realizes that his accent is now Scottish, which he is happy about since it gives him license to complain about things. Then, just as we are laughing about that, Capaldi turns dangerous. “Give me your coat,” he demands of the tramp, who is edging away from him. “I’m cold.” The tramp tells him that he’s cold, but this Doctor is having none of it. He is cold, and his need matters more. He advances on the terrified tramp, and for a moment you truly believe that the Doctor is about to rip the coat off this poor, shivering man’s back. Just as it seems he’s about to do it, he wheels away again, caught by the memory of something he’s forgotten he saw. It’s a newspaper, bearing a story about spontaneous combustion. “What devilry is this, sir?” the tramp asks, perhaps as much about the Doctor as of the Doctor. “I don’t know,” the Doctor replies, “but I probably blame the English.”

Back at Madame Vastra’s, she’s working at an easel while explaining the theory of spontaneous combustion to Jenny, who is posing, presumably for a painting Vastra is doing. Vastra tells her that there have been nine reported cases in the past month, turning the easel to show a map of victims she’s been working on, much to Jenny’s chagrin. Vastra posits that the burnings were done by the murderer to conceal the fact that parts were missing from the bodies. Clara bursts in to show them that, to her delight, she’s discovered an ad in the newspaper reading “Impossible Girl: Lunch on the Other Side.” They try to decipher what this means without success, before Clara realizes that the Doctor isn’t complicated and doesn’t do puzzles. She turns the paper around to find an ad for an Italian restaurant on the other side of the Doctor’s ad, working out that this must be where he means to meet.

Clara arrives at the restaurant and has a seat in a booth. She waits for a while and seems just on the verge of leaving when a bad smell catches her attention. She looks over to find the Doctor sitting at the opposite end of the booth, wearing the tramp’s coat, which he claims to have traded for his favorite watch. He starts to laugh about something, but Clara is having none of it, revealing that she is “cross” with him. Tellingly, the Doctor first asks if she would have been cross with him if he hadn’t changed his face. Clara asks what sort of person puts an ad in the newspaper to meet for lunch instead of just getting in touch, and the Doctor replies, “an egomanianc needy game player.” Clara, satisfied that she has got the Doctor to admit to his fault, laughs that she supposes that won’t ever change. “No, I don’t suppose it ever will,” the Doctor says with a meaningful look at her, before grabbing her hand and telling her that he doesn’t want her to change. Man, everyone is calling out Clara’s narcissism in this episode. I’m surprised the dinosaur didn’t chime in before bursting into flames.

He goes on to tell her that he played her game and came to the restaurant. Clara, of course, is taken aback by the Doctor’s reveal that he thinks it was her who placed the ad, and she’s quick to defend herself and turn the blame back round on him. They figure out that neither of them placed the ad, leading the Doctor to become suspicious that the restaurant itself is a trap. Of course, Clara is more concerned by her realization that the Doctor called her an egomaniac, resulting in her delightful line, “Nothing is more important than my egomania!”

The Doctor posits that the restaurant is a “vanity trap,” leading those self-congratulatory about figuring out the puzzle to enter the restaurant without noticing what’s wrong with it. He plucks a hair from his own head before determining it is too short to measure the air, then grabs one from Clara’s. When she protests, he apologizes. “It was the only one out of place,” he says. “I’m sure you wanted to have it killed.” The Doctor tells Clara to look at what the other diners aren’t doing – they’re not actually eating, just making mechanical movements mimicking dining. Moreover, he says, plucking a second hair from Clara’s coiffure and dropping it from his fingers, they’re not breathing. The air is too still.

Clara wonders how long it will be until the others notice that she and the Doctor are different. She asks what they can do. “How long can you hold your breath?” the Doctor queries her in response. Clara suggests that they simply pretend they’ve changed their minds about eating and leave, a suggestion which doesn’t work out as the automaton diners, as one, rise from their chairs and stare down the pair. Each step they take is met with a corresponding step forward by the creepy clockwork customers. Defeated, the Doctor and Clara sit back down, and a waiter appears to take their orders, with the same unnerving stare as the other diners. He takes out a sonic screwdriver-like device scans the two, listing off organs, and the Doctor quickly works out that he’s not giving them the specials. “I don’t think that’s what’s on the menu,” the Doctor tells Clara. “I think we are the menu.”

He reaches up and rips off the waiter’s face to reveal a metal frame with a candle lit behind it. Now, where have we seen that before? He puts the face on Clara’s, much to her horror, before seatbelts pop out of the booth cushions to strap them in as the floor opens and the booth descends below ground. This place is so getting a one-star review on Yelp.

When they reach the bottom, the Doctor tells Clara that they are inside an ancient spaceship which has been underground for centuries. But, functionally, he says, it’s a larder. He pops the sonic screwdriver from between his bound wrists for Clara to pick up with her feet. She has trouble reaching it at first. “It’s times like this I miss Amy,” the Doctor sighs. Finally, she’s able to kick it up to his lap, and he uses his free fingers to unlock his seatbelts and free her. “You should make that thing voice-activated,” Clara tells him, before realizing that it is. “I don’t want to talk about it,” the Doctor says.

They find the other inhabitants of the larder, who are all droids with human faces. The Doctor figures out that the droids are harvesting spare parts, a situation that reminds him of something, though he can’t work out what. The droid who took Alfie’s eye and was in the crowd when the dinosaur combusted is also here, sitting in the middle of the floor, recharging. We will call him Hat Droid to avoid further confusion, after his jaunty top hat. The Doctor notices that Hat Droid’s hands don’t match. He’s not a man turning himself into a cyborg, the Doctor realizes. He’s a robot turning himself into a man, with the help of the restaurant’s customers. As the Doctor is inspecting him, Hat Droid begins to wake up.

The Doctor and Clara start to escape through an open passageway, but the Doctor stops, turns and goes back inside, troubled by his inability to remember where he’s seen this scenario before. Clara rushes back in and pushes the Doctor in front of her through the exit, but as she does the door starts to come down, separating them and leaving her trapped in the larder. The Doctor uses the screwdriver but can’t open the door all the way. He gives Clara the same terrifying look he gave the tramp in the alley when he asked for his coat as he says there’s no point in both of them being caught. Clara, still not believing the Doctor would leave her, pleads with him to give her the sonic screwdriver. “I might need it,” he says, closing the door back on her and disappearing from sight.

Clara, left behind, continues to whisper frantically for the Doctor, looking for another way out. She notices that she is attracting the attention of the droids, so she stands in a vacant doorway and tries to look as much like one of them as possible. She remembers the Doctor’s words about the customers not breathing, and holds her breath. The ruse works for a time, but Clara starts to black out as she moves slowly down the passageway to the exit that one of the droids has opened. Finally, she can’t hold it in any longer and takes a deep breath, passing out. As the other droids obey Hat Droid’s command to bring her to him, she relives her first day teaching, her students running wild and failing to listen to her. She threatens to have all the children kicked out of the school, and the camera closes in on one student in particular telling her to “go on then, do it.” Clara’s stricken face in the flashback shows the hollowness of her threat; she can’t back it up, and she and the students both know it.

She wakes up to find herself on the floor of the larder, being interrogated by Hat Droid as to the Doctor’s whereabouts. “You will tell us, or you will be destroyed,” he demands. Clara asks Hat Droid to repeat himself, and when he tells her she will die if she doesn’t tell him the student’s words echo in her mind. “Go on then, do it,” she tells Hat Droid, saying that threats have no meaning if you can’t back them up. She gambles that he won’t kill her because if he does he’ll never know where the Doctor went, and he’ll risk the chance of his secret getting out and losing his supply line. Hat Droid threatens her with torture, and Clara, her composure cracking, admits her fear of death and says that she will endure a lot of pain before giving up the information keeping her alive. “How long have you got?” she asks, all Northern sass and false bravado. Hat Droid removes one of his hands to reveal a metal stump, a flame shooting out of it in what is either a terrifying weapon or the most kickass Zippo lighter of all time. Clara is crying now, but she won’t give up her gambit, and she decides to negotiate with him, a tit-for-tat offer; she’ll answer his questions if he’ll answer hers. She asks Hat Droid why he killed the dinosaur, over and over, as he shouts that he will not answer questions. Clara tells him that he might as well kill her then, because she won’t respond until he answers her.

Hat Droid, worn down by her arguing, explains that the dinosaur was killed to harvest its optic nerve. Clara realizes that the fact that the droid knows what’s in a dinosaur’s optic nerve means that he’s seen them before, giving this droid a lifespan that makes the Doctor’s look like a mayfly’s. She tries to question him further, asking how long they’ve been rebuilding. Hat Droid declares that “we will reach the Promised Land” before asking her about the Doctor again. Clara, at last, reveals that she doesn’t know where he went, but if the Doctor is still the Doctor, she knows where he will be – having her back. She reaches back a shaky hand, and there is a moment of doubt in her quavering voice before a hand indeed grabs hers. At first it seems like one of the droids has grabbed her, but no! It’s the Doctor in a clever and disgusting human face disguise. He’s also changed out of the tramp’s coat and striped pajamas into a natty dinner jacket ensemble. R.I.P. striped pajamas, you will be missed. The Doctor thanks Hat Droid for all the “gratuitous” information. “Five foot one and crying,” he declares, pointing the sonic towards Clara. “You never stood a chance.”

Hat Droid asks why the Doctor and Clara are here. The Doctor replies that they simply answered his invitation in the newspaper, but it is apparent from the look of confusion on the droid’s face that he wasn’t responsible for the ad. “I hate being wrong in public,” the Doctor says. “Everybody forget that happened.” He commands Clara to say the word, and at “Geronimo!” Clara pushes a button in the neckline of her dress which glows and signals Vastra and Jenny, now in full ninja mode, to unfurl themselves from the cloths in which they were bound from the ceiling and into the larder, swords drawn. They’re followed ungracefully by Strax. Vastra informs them that she and Jenny have taken care of the droids upstairs, and called the police. “You see? Destroy us if you will, they’re still going to close your restaurant!” the Doctor tells Hat Droid, in what is surely the most intense Kitchen Nightmares episode ever.

Unfortunately, the other droids have all been equipped with some bitchin’ sword arms, and are advancing on them. The Doctor protests that this isn’t the droids’ M.O. – they kill to survive, they’re not murderers. What would be the point in killing them? the Doctor asks. “To reach the Promised Land,” Hat Droid answers, which seems like a bit of a theological leap, but O.K. The Doctor plays Richard Dawkins with Hat Droid, telling him that the Promised Land doesn’t exist, and that if there is a Paradise neither of them will make it. Hat Droid, having none of this discussion, backhands the Doctor, and instructs the droids to destroy the intruders while he leaves in the escape capsule. None of the other droids seem to have a problem with Hat Droid leaving them behind. I guess they don’t get a vote because they don’t have jaunty top hats. Vastra points out that his ship was destroyed, and therefore shouldn’t have a working escape capsule, but Hat Droid replies that it has been repaired, with, ominously, “you.” So gross.

“Your friend is intelligent,” Hat Droid says, as he ascends in the booth-a-vator back to the restaurant. “He’ll know better than to follow me.” Cut, of course, to a shot of the Doctor hanging on to the bottom of the booth.

Outside the restaurant, the po-po have arrived, led by the hapless Inspector Gregson, but one look at the dead droids on the floor and Hat Droid and his flaming arm sitting menacingly in the booth-a-vator convinces him to get the hell out. The Doctor, meanwhile, has sat himself at a newly unoccupied table and opened a decanter of some dark liquor – I’m thinking whiskey, given that he’s newly Scottish. He tells Hat Droid that he has a horrible feeling he’ll have to kill him, and thought Hat Droid might appreciate a drink first. “I know I would,” the Doctor says, raising a glass. Hat Droid goes to a panel on the wall and pulls a lever to eject the escape pod, which turns out to be the restaurant itself. The Doctor gets up and walks over to Hat Droid. He guesses that Hat Droid was part of the crew of a 51st-century spacecraft that crashed in the past, and is now trying to get home “the long way round.” Hat Droid repeats that he’s going to the Promised Land. The Doctor, picking up a bouquet of flowers lying on the floor, tells him his plan is useless, that the escape pod will never fly. Hat Droid replies that the escape pod has been repaired and is viable. The Doctor asks how, saying that you can’t repair a spaceship with human remains – “this really is ringing a bell,” he realizes, as the audience collectively shouts “It’s ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’!” at him. The restaurant starts to shake, and the Doctor admires Hat Droid’s cleverness. He asks how Hat Droid is powering it. “Skin,” Hat Droid answers. All together now – ewwwwww.

The restaurant/escape pod rises into the skies of London with its super-gross skin balloon while back below stairs Vastra, Jenny, Strax and Clara are fending off the attacking droids. Up in the escape pod, the Doctor learns the name of the ship was the S.S. Marie Antoinette, sister ship of the S.S. Madame de Pompadour. Dum dum dum!!! The Doctor smells the flowers in his hand and repeats the ship’s name to himself as the audience’s cries of “It’s The Girl in the freaking Fireplace! Come on already!” grow louder. “Nope, still not getting it,” he says, tossing the bouquet away, and the audience groans can be heard throughout all of space and time.

The restaurant passes over St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the Doctor asks what Hat Droid thinks of the view. Hat Droid replies that he is a droid and does not think of such things, but the Doctor points out that by now he’s more human than machine, and asks again. Hat Droid goes to the window and says that the view is beautiful. The Doctor argues with him that it isn’t beautiful, it’s just small and far away. “I prefer it down there,” the Doctor says, in a perfect summation of who the Doctor really is, and what motivates him. “Everything is huge. Everything is so important. Every detail, every moment, every life, clung to.”

The Doctor guesses that Hat Droid’s death will deactivate the other droids, since he is the control. Hat Droid repeats that he will not die, but will reach the Promised Land. The Doctor tells him the Promised Land is just a superstition he’s picked up from the humanity he’s gained over the millenia. Then he asks Hat Droid his question about the broom. “You have replaced every piece of yourself, mechanical and organic, time and time again,” the Doctor tells him. “There’s not a trace of the original you left. You probably can’t even remember where you got that face from!” He hands Hat Droid a silver serving platter to see his face, and in the back of the platter the Doctor sees his own. Capaldi’s acting here is fantastic, as he conveys with his eyes that he’s realized he’s not just talking about Hat Droid, but about himself.

The Doctor goes to the front doors of the restaurant and opens them to the air and the ground below, inviting Hat Droid to take the honorable way out and end this himself. Hat Droid declares that self-destruction is against his basic program as he lunges towards the Doctor, and the Doctor states that murder is against his. They struggle together at the edge of the escape pod, locked in this mutual impasse.

Back underground, Vastra, Jenny, Strax and Clara are being overwhelmed by the horde of battle droids. Clara tells them the only way to survive is to hold their breath. They do, and the droids immediately stop their attack, lifting their swords. Clara crawls out of the melee and grabs the sonic screwdriver lying on the floor. Jenny thinks that she can’t continue, but Vastra, reading her mind, answers back telepathically that she can store oxygen in her lungs, and literally gives her the kiss of life, sharing her breath with Jenny.

Up on the escape pod, Hat Droid is pinned to the wall by the Doctor and expresses his surprise the Doctor’s strength, which belies his appearance. He asks if the Doctor has it in him to murder him. “Those people down there,” the Doctor says from behind gritted teeth, “they’re never small to me. Don’t make assumptions about how far I will go to protect them because I’ve already come a very long way, and unlike you, I don’t expect to reach the Promised Land.” Hat Droid, realizing he’s been defeated by a greater will than his, turns off his flame arm in surrender. “You realize, of course,” the Doctor tells him, “one of us is lying about our basic programming.” The Hat Droid responds affirmatively, and somewhat unnecessarily the Doctor adds that they both know who that is, as if it wasn’t already clear from the dangerous look in the Doctor’s eyes.

Underground, our foursome can hold their breath no longer, and the droids advance again. It looks grim for them, until as one all the droids deactivate. Above, Hat Droid’s titular hat sails downwards in front of a clock face, and we see Hat Droid impaled on the spire of Big Ben. Cut back to the Doctor, looking down at his apparent handiwork, before giving a look straight to camera that is intense and frightening and says a lot about who and what Capaldi’s Doctor will be.

The shot fades to Clara in a carriage being driven to Madame Vastra’s by Drax. We learn that the Doctor has not yet been seen, and the TARDIS is gone from its place in the courtyard. Clara changes back to her twenty-first century wardrobe before asking Vastra if she can have a place to stay, since it appears she’s stuck in the Victorian era. Vastra replies that she is welcome, but she has it on “the highest authority” that the Doctor will be back for Clara soon. Clara asks whose authority that is. “Why, the person who knows him best in all the universe,” Vastra answers, “Miss Clara Oswald.” She points out that Clara is wearing modern clothing, meaning she must instinctively expect to go home soon. Clara protests she just needed a change of clothes, and says she’s not sure who the Doctor is anymore, when we hear the sound of the TARDIS materializing. She turns with a relieved smile to race out to meet the Doctor. Vastra stops her, instructing her to “give him hell – he’ll always need it.”

Clara enters the TARDIS, and we get our first look at the new interior, all spinning grey gears, darkness, and old books and glowing round things on the walls, though the Doctor doesn’t think there are enough of the round things. Clara runs her hands over the TARDIS controls, and the Doctor comes towards her. “I’m the Doctor,” he declares. “I’ve lived for over 2000 years, and not all of them were good. I’ve made many mistakes, and it’s about time I did something about that.” He and Clara share a look, before he tells her he’s not her boyfriend. She protests that she never thought he was, and he says, with a touch of sadness, that he never said it was her mistake. He sets the TARDIS in motion and puts his hands in his pockets to reveal his new coat’s red lining. “What do you think?” he asks, and Clara’s smile tells him she approves.

“Who put that advert in the paper?” Clara asks, to which the Doctor asks in turn who gave her his number back in “The Bells of St. John’s.” Clara replies that it was the woman in the shop. “Then there’s a woman out there who’s very keen that we stay together,” the Doctor says. “How do you feel on the subject?” he asks her, a little uncertainty in his voice at her reply. Clara looks up as the boom signals that the TARDIS has landed. “I’m home,” she says. “If you want to be,” the Doctor replies, with the nervous smile of someone fearing rejection. Then, in a stab to the heart(s), Clara tells him she’s sorry, and his smile fades as he really hears her words. “I’m so, so sorry,” she says, swallowing, “but I don’t think I know who you are anymore.”

Just then, her phone rings. The Doctor tells her she’d better get that, it might be her boyfriend, to which she replies that she doesn’t have a boyfriend. She leaves the TARDIS to answer it, walking out onto a modern city street. And then, after her hello, comes Matt Smith’s voice saying “It’s me.” I was totally unspoiled for this episode, and that hit me like a punch to the gut. Of course, it’s standard practice now for old Doctors to make appearances in a new series, but in the very first episode? I did not see that coming.

Eleven is calling her from Trenzalore, and we see a flashback of Clara walking up to the TARDIS on during the battle and noticing that the phone is off the hook, hanging it up. “It’s all still to come for me,” he says, “but it’s coming. Oh, it’s coming.” Clara, overcome, puts the phone to her chest for a moment. He tells her that he’s calling her because he thinks the change is going to be “a whopper,” and that she might be scared of it. “And no matter how scared you are, the man you are with right now – the man I hope you are with – believe me, he is more scared…and he needs you.”

Twelve stands in the doorway of the TARDIS, watching Clara on the phone. “Who is it?” he asks. “Is that the Doctor?” Eleven says, and Twelve repeats the question. “Yes,” Clara replies. Eleven asks her about the new Doctor, remarking that he “sounds old” and asking, with horror, “is he gray?” He tells Clara to help his new incarnation, “for me – and don’t be afraid.” Of course, he didn’t just watch the new Doctor apparently impale a dude on the spire of Big Ben, or he might concede a little fear is in order.

Clara looks toward the TARDIS, and Twelve shuts the door and walks to her as Eleven tells her goodbye. “He asked you a question,” the Doctor asks when Clara hangs up, tears rolling down her face. “Will you help me?”

Clara tells him he shouldn’t have been listening, to which the Doctor replies he didn’t need to, that was him on the phone. He shakes his head and turns to walk away, sure now that Clara won’t accept him, doesn’t see that he is the Doctor she once knew. “You can’t see me, can you?” he asks, with a vulnerability that’s heartbreaking. “You look at me and you can’t see me…Please, just see me,” he pleads. And then, as the music swells, Clara walks up to him and she does just that.

She tells him thank you for phoning her, and wraps her arms around his neck in a tearful embrace. “I don’t think that I’m a hugging person now,” the Doctor says, his arms flapping about awkwardly. “I’m not sure you get a vote,” Clara tells him. She lets go and tells him that they aren’t actually at her home – they’re in Glasgow. Good to see the Doctor’s sense of direction is as errant as ever. They walk down the street together to get coffee, and we’re left with the feeling that this might turn out well after all.

Then, in a surprising coda, we see Hat Droid again! He’s waking up in a beautiful formal garden, seemingly no worse the wear for his impalement, though suffering from a wicked case of hat head, and is just as shocked as we are that he’s still alive. A woman dressed in black Victorian garb introduces herself to him as Missy, apologizing for the meanness of her “boyfriend,” and tells him he’s made it to the Promised Land. “Welcome,” she declares, arms spread wide, “to Heaven.”

Rating: 10 out of 12. A solid season opener with a good mix of humor, action, and genuine emotion, and a promising start for Capaldi’s tenure as the Doctor.

Number of times I mistyped Strax as Drax: Six. To be fair, they’re both bald, frequently angry and don’t understand metaphors.

Things we discovered about the Doctor in this episode: He once formed a band with Marcus Aurelius, and dislikes mimes and karaoke. He is also not a “fetching person” now.

Courtney’s Who season cry count: 1, during the Eleven/Clara phone call. Matt Smith’s Eleven wasn’t my first Doctor, but he very quickly became my Doctor, and despite some so-so episodes he remained that throughout his run. Seeing him again was unexpected and emotional, and I think hit just the right note for those still missing him, giving us permission to mourn but also encouragement to accept the new Doctor. Also, I met Matt Smith in June and he was a doll, so it was lovely to see him again.

Photographic evidence of me meeting Matt Smith.
Photographic evidence of me meeting Matt Smith.

What did you think of this episode? Are you a fan of the new Doctor? Let us know in the comments!

Courtney is a returning reader to the world of comic books, drawn back in by the power of Tom Hiddleston's portrayal of Loki in the MCU and her attraction to broken antagonists with questionable hair. Favorite titles she's currently reading…

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