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Deep Breath: A Recipe for Success

Guest contributor Francis Milan serves up the ingredients for a tasty series opener.

capaldi-deep-breath-nightgown

We all know by now that the soufflé isn’t the soufflé. For the soufflé, according to Clara’s mother – yes, the same reputable philosopher who brought us “oh my stars” – is the recipe. Applying that logic to the Doctor Who production world, the best Who stories are those built on sturdy foundations.

The thing about recipes, though, is that time after time, the same bunch of ingredients is used, but to a completely different – and often very delicious – effect. Therefore, the narrative techniques already used in the series openers of yesteryear can and will inspire Deep Breath to begin Series 8 with a bang. If I were lucky enough to be the writer of Deep Breath, here’s the recipe I would concoct to create it:

  • A smattering of The Eleventh Hour
  • A dollop of The Impossible Astronaut
  • A sprinkle of Partners in Crime
  • Two glugs of Smith and Jones
  • A pinch of New Earth
  • A shake of The Bells of St John
  • Three spoons of Asylum of the Daleks
  • ½ a bag of Rose

It sounds like the finished product would be quite an episode, doesn’t it? I think I have a lot of explaining to do. Based on the long line of series openers since 2005, here’s what, in my books, the Ultimate Episode One would contain…

A Bombastic Entrance
like The Eleventh Hour

matt-smith-eleventh-hour-tardis-openerCrash! Bang! Wallop! The Doctor hurtles towards the Earth in a heart-stopping struggle. This is The Eleventh Hour – the titles haven’t even rolled, yet already tensions are reaching overload. If a series opener is to engage its viewer, it may as well begin doing so from the get-go. Gone are the days when Doctor Who would begin a new year with a luggage-laden stroll towards the TARDIS. Each series opener seeks to outdo its predecessor in spectacular ways, leaving no room for a slow start. Start as you mean to go on by ramping up the tempo!

The Big Set-Up
like The Impossible Astronaut

Impossible Astronaut Spoiler pics (2)Each series is jam-packed with ongoing storylines and season arcs, serving to tantalise viewers with glimpses of the show’s future. The series opener, therefore, must establish this new recurring theme. This is achieved in no better fashion than in The Impossible Astronaut, where Steven Moffat and the production crew pulled out all the stops to deliver one of Doctor Who‘s most shocking and heart-wrenching twists – the Doctor is shot dead a mere ten minutes into the series! It’s a mystery to everyone; there’s no excuse not to tune in the following Saturday nights in an attempt to solve the death of Dr Who!

The Whimsical Villain
like Partners in Crime

adipose-570Let’s not kid ourselves here: Doctor Who openers aren’t all epic thrillers – well, they are all epic thrillers, but that’s never the full extent of their merits. Sometimes, the series opener may have too much content in the timeslot to facilitate everything, or may simply desire a lighter tone. In these cases, the villain of the episode acts as the cheery counterpoint to an otherwise heavy-going story, guiding the viewer through the episode in a charming fashion. This was the case in Partners in Crime, where the horrific concept of sentient beings sprouting from human body fat was matched with the cute and quirky Adipose.

Pacing
like Smith and Jones

smith-and-jones-doctor-who-runEvery series opener has a big job on its hands: to squeeze in as much information as humanly, or Gallifreyanly, possible. As the set-up to the rest of the series, the traditional series opener has a lot of explaining to do, and in a narrow timeslot. This translates onto the screen quite literally, as our characters are so quickly on the move that they can’t stop to take a breath! An electrifying dash through hospital corridors, Smith and Jones caught this essence of adventure magnificently.

A Sense of Scale
like The Bells of Saint John

doctor-who-bells-of-st-john-first-picDoctor Who feeds off BIG ideas. The writers’ brains are drained dry of epic concepts that fuel the turbulent masterpieces such as The Satan Pit and The Pandorica Opens. As the establishing episode, the series opener must convey this format via the story being told. The stunning urban location shooting on The Bells of Saint John added beauty to an already vast premise. The central threat of Bells wasn’t just modern-day London – it affected the human race worldwide. These enormous proportions will be just what the opener needs to prepare the viewer for a 12-week roller coaster ride…

Morality Check!
like New Earth

doctor-who-new-earth-zombie-patientsIn New Earth, the Doctor faced one of the greatest moral dilemmas of them all – by granting the test patients freedom, he was denying the people of New New York more advanced healthcare, potentially endangering an entire population. Although this dramatic device isn’t particularly necessary for a series opener, it would a great deal of pathos and empower Deep Breath to stand the test of time. Just ensure the culprit receives a suitably grisly comeuppance…

The Iconic Resolution
like Asylum of the Daleks

oswin-doctor-who-series-7 (2)Villainous scoundrels and vicious creatures are always best when they go out with a bang. Not only does it offer a thrilling pay-off to an already exciting story, but being the series opener, it sets the bar high for future adventures. In Asylum of the Daleks, the Doctor was being attacked by vengeful enemies of his past – an issue which was resolved, very cleverly, by Oswin causing the Daleks to lose their memory of the Doctor, removing their taste for revenge! Although this memory loss was seemingly subverted in The Time of the Doctor, the idea sure was fun while it lasted.

The Show-Stopping Dilemma
like Rose

doctor-rose-series-1-promoThe closing moments of many a good series opener features a mega make-or-break scenario. The course of events in this scene will have ramifications throughout the rest of the series, so naturally tensions are high. In Rose, we end with Rose’s big choice: to stay in London, living a life of normality with Jackie and Mickey, or to join the Doctor in his adventures across a billion galaxies. They need her. But she needs him. And so, in time-honoured Doctor Who fashion, she must choose the Doctor. This is just the beginning of a newly opened-up universe of possibility…

Now, Deep Breath may be the recipe – but it’s what the writer, director, cast and crew make of it that really counts. There’s no doubt in my mind that Deep Breath will be magnificent, and up there with the best. Every series opener has done the show proud in one way or another, and I have confidence that Series 8’s will follow suit – here’s to 2014 Who!

Step back in time...

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73 comments
yolt13
yolt13

What I find extraordinary about season openers is how many fans approach them (and, in truth, every new episode) paralyzed with fear that they might let them down. Not all episodes or openers are created equal to be sure, but it continues to amaze me how little faith some who profess to love this show have in its ability to start off on the right foot or, should it be necessary, correct its course following a minor mis-step. Honestly, WHO has survived and thrived for the better part of a half century without being absolutely perfect every single outing. Yet many of its fans seem to view it like a deadbeat father who they dearly love but fully expect to fail to show up to their next football game or piano recital. It's been around this long not because it has some magical ability to get better after inevitably & completely going to pot, but because even its weakest outings are more entertaining than 95% of everything else ever produced for television. No disrespect meant to anyone here going on about "My biggest concern about 'Deep Breath' is..." and such, but I can't imagine hanging in there with a show that I was that afraid might disappoint me. That's why I'm still a Whovian after all these decades - because even at its worst, DOCTOR WHO never has. 

ahunter8056
ahunter8056

A good article. Personally for me, I'd take elements from all series-opener episodes, apart from 'Partners In Crime'. To me, that episode has no standout elements worthy of being reused. Although I'd take more from 'Rose' rather than just the ending, although perhaps it doesn't need to set up a story arc, so perhaps cancel out 'The Impossible Astronaut' for this one.

Noybusiness
Noybusiness

Jackie and Mickey didn't really need Rose, although they thought they did. She was 19 and ready to move on with her life in some way.

Master Michael Moon
Master Michael Moon

The only fear I have about Deep Breath is it's potential to be just a mad and random episode. There needs to be a justified story and good development. And the villain really must have decent screen time. With 75 minutes, there is a lot you can do. Fortunately, this time the story will be about one thing: the Doctor's regeneration and settling down into one location. I am comparing that of The Day of the Doctor where it was 75 minutes of 3 stories at once and it felt too jammed. I really am optimistic about the Series 8 opener, but I'm not hyping myself up too much in case it's another let down...


The Outer Space K9
The Outer Space K9

Very interesting article, Francis! You've got all the ingredients for a great story in there and I'm pretty confident Deep Breath will live up to our expectations.

So far The Eleventh Hour and Partners in Crime are my personal favourites so I'm looking foward to see where Deep Breath is going to fit in or if it will take the top spot. But I kind of doubt that since 11 is mt Doctor and I've got a soft spot for the 11th Hour. We'll just have to wait and see.

TheNightmareChild is LISTENing!
TheNightmareChild is LISTENing!

I was about to share my opinion on all of the New Who series openers because it seemed like everyone was doing it and I just wanted to fit in, but I've done that already in previous articles and I don't really feel like doing it again.  Besides, it was going to be so long that I don't think most people would bother reading it anyway.  Long story short, every series opener works for me in one way or another.  There isn't one that I hate or even strongly dislike.  "Deep Breath" has a lot to live up to, but based on what we've seen, I feel confident that it's up to the task.




YouveBeenDuplicated
YouveBeenDuplicated

I hope Deep Breath is a mix of Deep Breath and Deep Breath, with maybe a little Deep Breath tossed in for variety.

Ottoman14
Ottoman14

He shouldn't try Eleventh Hour.2, that kind of intro is done and dusted for the Moffat era. He needs to try something completely different

Whovian_Brownoat
Whovian_Brownoat

Awesome article. I like/love 6/8 of the series openers above, so clearly they're doing something right. I can't wait for Deep Breath, but I'm a tiny bit dubious about it being extra long. Yeah yeah, I know, Doctor Who is all about change... I'm sure I'll be proved wrong. I just like it how it was.

GrantBattersby
GrantBattersby

I think too much has been said about Deep Breath now, I'm not all that fussed, I feel like I know most of it. The episode after is the one where I'll start looking forward to it, we've not heard a lot about the rest of the series so thats good


Liana21
Liana21

I liked it, actually, I loved it and I'm waiting for watch it again the 23rd. It's a really good episode and a really good entrance for Capaldi.

adamwright1989
adamwright1989

The series opener, particularly with a new era to the show such as a new Doctor, is an opportunity to attract new viewers. So the opener is very important. It feels that the opener for Series 8 is going to be a bigger one than usual. Do you get that feeling?

MaraBackman
MaraBackman

That's an excellent recipe, which should work well with regular episodes just as well as with openers. Two thumbs up!

MrRazza, General Rogue Timelord Identifier
MrRazza, General Rogue Timelord Identifier

You have to be wary with series openers. While important, they're very rarely the stand out episodes of their series (the exception probably being The Impossible Astronaut), so it's important not to go in expecting too much. We may see another exception to the rule with Deep Breath, given its extended length and cinematic screenings, but for me they primarily serve one purpose, easing us in to the new Doctor/new companion/new direction - and that's what I look for most. Given we have two of those to deal with this time, I think this needs to be the focus for the grand entrance of Series 8.

Master Michael Moon
Master Michael Moon

Can we really call The Bells of Saint John an opener? Certainly not a series opener. It's like calling Let's Kill Hitler an opener. It's just the continuation of the second part of the series because on both occasions they were split. Not nit picking or anything, or am I...


Don't Blink
Don't Blink

The Impossible Astronaut was great, great, great, great, GREAT. It was the following episodes of the series that begin to really let it down. Honestly, imo they should have wrapped up that whole Doctor's Death thing by the end of the first half of the series, OR never had that absolutely godawful series break. Oh, what's this, my comment is irrelevant? Yeah, well, just needed another excuse to get that one off my chest... :D


I LOVE Partners in Crime. But I don't like the Adipose. To be honest, I wouldn't take anything from Partners in Crime - it was a fantastic, fun, hilarious episode, but I want to see Deep Breath take a very different course indeed. Although an extended scene as funny as the Doctor/Donna miming farce would be a great break from the tension.



Antee991166
Antee991166

Very interesting and original way of writing an article! I have to confess that I'm not the biggest fan of The Eleventh Hour. The opening minutes with young Amelia Pond are brilliant and the ending is pretty awesome as well, but I never found the Prisoner Zero or Atraxi plot very interesting. So for me, Deep Breath is up against The Christmas Invasion for best new-who Doctor premiere and Power of the Daleks overall. 

supermoff
supermoff

That's a pretty incredible recipe, though I'd add in a few more dollops of The Impossible Astronaut, simply due to how amazing it was! :D but anyway, great article, you've thoroughly succeeded in making me hungry as well as making Deep Breath more potentially tantalising :)

Undiscovered Adventure
Undiscovered Adventure

Really enjoyed reading this! Deep Breath will certainly be a delicious soufflé... err.... I mean episode if it follows this recipe.

Planet of the Deaf
Planet of the Deaf

The other factor in making this particular soufflé work is keeping Clara away from the kitchen, with her lousy cooking abilities :-)

WhoLocked
WhoLocked

Great article :)  I think from what I've heard accidentally on the grape vine that Moffat has struck a good balance with the series opener - good storyline, use of favourite characters and a few action packed explosions with added comedy.  Just add a sprinkle of sonic screwdriver and a TARDIS and you have the makings of another brilliant episode. 

gunslinger19
gunslinger19

it only just occurred to me that by getting rid of the test patients, the doctor caused the apocalypse in gridlock. very clever...

The Moment
The Moment

Great article Francis, I loved the recipe!!!

Planet of the Deaf
Planet of the Deaf

Great idea for an article and examples

One missing ingredient from your recipe, if we're shopping exclusively in New Who is the white from a free range Christmas Invasion, which would be

The New Doctor fleshed out

How the new Doctor number behaves and acts, and how everyone else reacts to him. 10 in his dressing gown, with his fighting hand and no second chances. 11 eating his fish fingers and custard in front of Amelia, then calling back the Atraxi, all helped define their Doctors to us and their Companions

Sephora.IWishIWasScottish
Sephora.IWishIWasScottish

Adipose? Adipose? No. Just no. Not ever again. Please. I'll beg. I'm not a big fan of the ending of Rose either... Who on Earth would react like that? kiss your boyfriend goodbye and run away with a stranger...? I thought the ending of Eleventh hour was far more superior. 

Angie Whodini
Angie Whodini

I do, but not in terms of the scale of the threat in the episode just... I wouldn't know how to explain it.

TheIdleIdol
TheIdleIdol

Got to agree on The Eleventh Hour. It started and ended well, and had a few nice moments in the middle, but by and large I didn't find it all that interesting or exciting (even if it was a slight step up over, say, Partners in Crime or New Earth). As far as NuWho Doctor debuts, it's always been Rose for me - until now. I think Deep Breath has surpassed the competition at long last; it's a very solid episode, and I'm expecting a lot of people to love it. As far as general opening episodes go, I think anyone will be hard-pressed to top The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon any time soon though, and Asylum of the Daleks doesn't fall a great deal shorter.

Antee991166
Antee991166

According to the fandom this is the list of best to worst Doctor premieres. I wonder where Deep Breath will place!


17-The Eleventh Hour

19-The Power of the Daleks

28-Spearhead from Space

57-The Christmas Invasion

72-Rose

78-An Unearthly Child

119-Robot

121-Castrovalva

152-TV Movie

239-Time and the Rani

241-The Twin Dilemma

TheElusiveWhovian
TheElusiveWhovian

Yes. Recently, they've had too many sprinkles of Sonic Screwdriver.

Moxx
Moxx

Ah, yes, that's a good 'un! (Though it doesn't apply to many openers...) It's amazing how small bizarre moments in a Doctor's first episode can define them for the rest of their era. Sounds, er... tasty!

ahunter8056
ahunter8056

@SephoraNeedSeries8 You can't compare that situation to real life. Although The Doctor is at that moment not exactly a familiar person to Rose, he's not exactly a stranger. They had just saved the Earth together. If you had the choice of travelling through time and space, or living a mundane existence on Earth, would you really choose to stay at home?  Amy did the same thing as Rose, so it doesn't really make sense how you criticise Rose for it and not Amy. If anything Amy is worse, as she ran away from marrying her boyfriend.

Master Michael Moon
Master Michael Moon

@supermoff  @Master Michael Moon But then isn't that surely Asylum of the Daleks with her shock appearance then, the actual Series 7 opener. Bells was just like a Series 7 opener, part 2, again. We all know the problems with Series 7 about how it felt fragmented and disjointed and it's a shame because those first 5 episodes were really great (except one particular ending), but then we had a load of change too soon from The Snowmen onwards. This is where for me, the show started to decline a bit- especially with the dreadful Series 7 Part 2. 

TheElusiveWhovian
TheElusiveWhovian

Judging by this, I'd be happy if we got an episode worthy of the top 60.

yolt13
yolt13

@mrclever @Antee991166 "Robot" is one of those utterly fantastic, truly brilliant serials from the classic series which is tragically dismissed by modern sci-fi/fantasy fans because the robot doesn't look "real" (i.e., CG) enough for them. I find it's best to simply disregard the opinions of such individuals.