Peter Capaldi’s eyebrows have their own stage presence. They are are a distinct and unique entity which operate independently from the rest of his bodily functions. At least so much was made clear by the new Doctor in the Season 8 premiere ‘Deep Breath,’ one of many self-jibes to remind us that Doctor Who, despite its evidently darker tone, is a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Fans of “The Thick of It’s” seminal, unstinting and entirely cynical Malcolm Tucker will see a lot of the show’s antagonist in Capaldi’s first turn as the Doctor. It’s almost like veteran Showrunner Steven Moffatt told Capaldi “do your thick of it thing, but quirky, so angry but weird and endearing at the same time, like Tucker, except we’re supposed to like you.”
Capaldi is a fun Doctor, if more serious than Tennant or Smith, in part because his established persona is so much more familiar to us than his predecessor’s at the time they took on the role. Notably, Capaldi has kept his familiar Scottish accent, unlike Tennant’s which was shelved for a more British dialect, with the exception of parts of “Tooth and Claw.” It seems some of the action will even move to Capaldi’s native Glasgow as the show’s creators, wisely, try to make Capaldi stand out in a show which has gained such a strong international following.
The actual episode is tense and suspenseful, and as with ‘Blink’ will encourage the audience to take a ‘Deep Breath’ (I won’t elaborate on this point, go watch it). The villains and tone of the show are notably dark, furthering the trend in many of Smith’s later episodes and last year’s specials. Capaldi, despite not smiling a lot is funny throughout, though much of the comic relief comes from the supporting cast, this being a clear departure from the traditional premise of the companions being the “straight-men” to the Doctor’s eccentricity. The Doctor’s brief conversation with a horse was particularly fun, with Capaldi playing it completely straight for emphasis, without so much as a wink at the camera. He has the dramatic chops to do this – think Daniel Craig jumping into the train and adjusting his cufflinks at the beginning of “Skyfall” compared to Pierce Brosnan doing just about anything.
I managed to see the premiere at a local cinema and the audience boasted the breadth of Whovians from older fans with Tom Baker scarves to young kids who’ve adopted the show. With the preview for the next episode promising to go “into darkness,” it appears the older fans may react better to a more serious Colin Baker style Doctor Who, while the younger fans, many of whom still view Tennant’s whimsy as the benchmark, may not be so keen on the new installment.
Capaldi’s selection raised more eyebrows than his own and he’s on form; as a fan of the old and new series I’m looking forward to the new treatment. If this episode is anything to judge by we will see a more serious Doctor Who, yet it seems that the writers haven’t forgotten that the show is still about an alien who flies around in a blue box saving the universe with a fancy screwdriver.