It is a strange thing to stop watching a TV show on Netflix or Hulu and to begin watching it, episode by episode, as it airs on TV. It is very strange to have to wait in between episodes, and somehow everything new that you see feels all the more new than if you're watching a pile of episodes online. It just feels different.
Season 8 is my first season of Doctor Who that I will be watching on TV, episode by episode. This is it; this is the beginning. Fitting, then, that this season is also the start of a new doctor's reign. Sure, I watched Christopher Eccleston regenerate into David Tennant and David Tennant regenerate into Matt Smith, but Matt Smith regenerating into Peter Capaldi feels so much more permanent. He isn't the next actor that I'll be watching for the coming week's worth of episodes (as it is when you're watching old episodes online); he's going to be the Doctor for I don't know how many years to come. I don't know if it's heartbreaking this time; it's just weird.
Everyone was also expecting this to be a weird transition because we're going from the youngest doctor to a much older actor. But oh, my goodness, the script has all this make so much sense. The Eleventh Doctor was always trying to be young and enjoying being young and pushing away worry. He left the Twelfth Doctor to inherit all of that worry. He carries an enormous burden of time with him. This first episode had such wonderful moments in it, moments that ponder the difference between physical identity and inner identity. What does age mean? What impact does eternity have on individuality? How can you keep one character intact if he is constantly changing? Does he have anything new to give? Anything good?
Besides giving this episode a wonderful steampunk style, the clockwork droids serve as a way to combine the episode's plot with what is happening to the Doctor. His questions about his own identity reflect back and forth to the droids. And the connection to "The Girl in the Fireplace" (which was one of the episodes that helped establish the Tenth Doctor as, in many ways, a tragic figure) also helps us reconnect that sense of tragedy to this doctor. Then there's that scene where he tells the dinosaur that he'll save it and it instantly burns up in flame; that was just the entire show (at its current point) encapsulated in a single moment. The Doctor, believing all can be right in the world and that he can help make it so, but bringing death and destruction in his wake.
Clara's reaction to Peter Capaldi's doctor is not only a smart way of helping the audience get used to a new doctor, but also an intriguing exploration of character. Who is any person? Would we be the same if our consciousness could be put into a different body? What does "the same" even mean? And are we even "the same" all throughout our lives, even if we live in the same body the whole time? These are the types of things I find so compelling about this show and while the time travel, the history, the action, and all of that are all fun, it's this that keeps me most interested. So as a first episode, "Deep Breath" was quite good and definitely has me curious to see more.