“He flirted with you,” Vastra explains.
“How?” Clara replies.
“He looked young! Who do you think that was for?”
The idea of the Doctor “flirting” with the universe, hoping to be accepted by means of looking like someone’s “dashing young gentleman friend,” is a poignant one. Yes, it’s ageist, but the Doctor does spend an awful lot of time on Earth, where, even in the 21st Century, ageism is, in fact, a thing. It also brings to mind a similar post-regeneration episode: “The Christmas Invasion,” David Tennant’s first full turn as the Tenth Doctor after he’d regenerated from Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth. Aside from spending a good chunk of their respective debuts in borrowed bedclothes, both Ten and Twelve go through a very rough regeneration that involves a lot of sleeping, some erratic behavior, and two seriously freaked-out incumbent companions.
In a way, those two regenerations mirror each other. The Ninth Doctor fell in love with Rose Tyler, but he appeared much older than the 19-year-old Rose. So he got younger—and the Tenth Doctor and Rose became more obviously a couple. Perhaps the Doctor missed that feeling, which would at least partially explain his infatuation with Clara. And then, with several hundred years to sit around and think about it (wow, yep, still hate pretty much everything about that Trenzalore storyline...), he realized (again) that he just can’t have that kind of a relationship with a human being. So he got older, providing Clara with an implicit statement he later made explicit.
“I’m not your boyfriend,” he says near the end of the episode.
“I never thought you were,” she replies.
“I never said it was your mistake.”
Despite the slower pace, “Deep Breath” still throws a lot of stuff at the viewer, much of it top-notch. The Doctor and Clara realizing that they’re the only living people in the restaurant delivers a powerful jolt of Lovecraftian body-horror. Clara’s effort to escape the droids by holding her breath is deliciously tense. The Doctor riffing on his “attack eyebrows” works for a chuckle. The Scottish jokes stop just short of being too much. And Vastra and Jenny finally share a kiss. Well, sort of.
Other points are ham-handed, warmed-over, and/or plot-holey. The dinosaur is a metaphor for the Doctor, as is the clockwork droid, as was the Starwhale from “The Beast Below,” as was the minotaur from “The God Complex,” etc. And just how did those droids get the optic nerve out of the dinosaur before they set it on fire? It was in the middle of the Thames, with crowds gawking at it, the whole time. Since the Doctor speaks dinosaur, he should have heard the T-rex shouting, “Hey, there’s a rubbish robot on top of my head with a really big set of tweezers!” (Man, being a dinosaur in the Whoniverse these days is like being a point-of-view character in a George R.R. Martin prologue. Poor Tricey.)
Which brings us to the bit where Clara accidentally hits the Doctor in the crotch with his own screwdriver. The Doctor’s response? “Oh, the symbolism.”
Look, in another context, Peter Capaldi can growl at a female character, “Allow me to pop a jaunty little bonnet on your purview and ram it up the shitter with a lubricated horse cock,” and it’s hilarious. The Doctor calling a woman a ball buster? That’s not funny, it’s cringe-worthy, and in an unnecessarily gendered way.
Mostly, though, Capaldi is as brilliant in the role as everyone expected. In a progression that feels intentional, his early scenes are more Smith-like—frenetic, bombastic declarations, often directed at CGI up high. The death of the dinosaur marks a turning point to a more measured—sometimes malevolent—performance. Speaking of In the Loop, Capaldi gets his teeth into something akin to this scene, in which he matches menace with the late James Gandolfini. But as he tries to send the clockwork droid to its doom (one way or the other), he isn’t nearly as frightening as when he utters these four words to a hapless tramp:
“Give me your coat.”
The lack of inflection on that line made me shudder. Many of his predecessors have done truly terrifying things, but with those four words, he might have become the scariest Doctor ever.
I’m not exactly sure how to feel about the coda, which, after all this “no flirting” business, features a very campy female character—much closer in apparent age to the Twelfth Doctor than Clara is—who refers to the Doctor as her boyfriend. Hmm. I have a theory about “Missy” and “the Promised Land.” And, for all the problems I’ve had with the show the past couple of seasons, there’s enough interesting material in “Deep Breath”—including the potential for a Ten/Donna Noble type of friendship between Twelve and Clara—to keep me hanging around to see if my theory proves correct.