'I'm the Doctor. I've lived for over 2000 years. Not all of them good. I've made many mistakes. And it's about time I did something about that.'
Has any other actor been the Doctor so immediately as Peter Capaldi? Usually when a new Doctor is announced there's months of trepidation on the fans' part, worrying 'will this new guy fit the bill?' But it felt different this time. As soon as Peter Capaldi was announced to the world, walking out of the smoke holding his lapels, he was the Doctor. Then when we got to see a glimpse of him in 'The Day of the Doctor' - those were the Doctor's eyebrows. It was simply a fact that the Doctor's future was in safe hands. So, a whole year after he was announced as the Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi last night made his début in the role. And how like Doctor Who to give us a change we've already accepted and then rip the rug from under our feet. Make no mistake, 'Deep Breath' marked a regeneration, not just of its leading man, but of the whole show, hurtling us into a brave, moodier reincarnation of Doctor Who.
After one of the daftest (for daft, read brilliant) pre-titles sequences to ever grace the series - not only is there a T-Rex in Victorian London but it also coughs up the TARDIS! - 'Deep Breath' proves to be a more low-key affair than other opening episodes. Instead of a large-scale alien invasion we have a pseudo-sequel to 'The Girl in the Fireplace' with a troupe of Clockwork robots rebuilding themselves with bits of people - with some clever parallels drawn with the eerie Half-Face Man (both have changed their body parts so many times they can't tell if they are the same person underneath any more). And, of course, the Paternoster Gang return with the now customary comedy Sontaran antics of Strax. However, this was just window dressing as the main thrust of the story was the idea of changing perceptions and age. In all, then, the plot was a familiar one but it was how it was told and the moments hanging on it that set the different tone. Quite fitting for an episode about patchwork monsters, really.
Perhaps this episode's biggest surprise, however, was how it is really Clara who steals the episode. Some have said that the character served as a plot device throughout Series Seven rather than a proper person but here we are unequivocally on Clara's side as we both adjust to the new Doctor. Jenna Coleman delivers her best performance yet, imbuing Clara with facets to her character - fear, anger, grief - that we have never seen before. The spark that she shares with Peter Capaldi is incredibly fresh and feels like none of the other Doctor/companion pairings we seen so far in the revived series. These two have real promise to grow into one of the great TARDIS teams.
Complete with a thrilling title sequence (still not sure of the shrill new theme though) and a new mood and tone, this new series could literally go anywhere but there is someone to hold our hand along the way. Irascible yet irreplaceable, Peter Capaldi is the perfect man to helm this brand-new version of the show. The old Doctor Who is gone. Long live the new Doctor!
P.S. As we're on the subject of old Doctor Whos... While it's sure to prove a controversial moment, I for one thought Matt Smith's cameo as the Eleventh Doctor was a stroke of genius. It could have come across as fandering (that's a contraction of fan-pandering - do you like it?) but instead marked a special moment of Clara's - and our - acceptance of the new Doctor. This moment tells us that beneath the volatile and a little unknowable Twelfth Doctor, the more amiable, human characteristics of the Doctor - that Matt Smith embodies - are still there. Also, more Matt Smith is always a good thing.