Deep Breath: A Recipe for Success

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


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.

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!