‘Deep Breath’ is a tangential sequel to ‘The Girl In The Fireplace’. At some point the 51st century ship SS Marie Antoinette (sister ship to the SS Madame de Pompadour) travels back in time to at least the age of the dinosaurs.
In ‘The Girl In The Fireplace’ the ships engines were powerful enough to punch through time, allowing the clockwork droids to create windows into the past. They cannibalised the crew for spare parts but needed Madame de Pompadour to ‘mature’ to use her for the final components.
The situation is different here, with the ship itself travelling into the past. Did any of the crew survive? Were any able to escape before the droids turned on them? Did they make contact with the Silurians and possibly reveal what the future held?
What is interesting here is two separate incidents in which this model of 51st century ship was used for time travel and this particular type of droid almost immediately starts using organic components to effect repairs.
Are there any other occasions in which this happened? Was this a known design floor that had to be rectified? This could lead to an adventure in the 51st century as this type of ship and their droids are recalled. What if someone programmed the droids to do this?
One of the differences in ‘Deep Breath’ is that the droids not only repaired their ship with organic parts but began to modify themselves as well. While their control node, the Half Face man, still has robotic parts visible the others appear mostly human.
The Doctor indicates that some of the metal works appears Roman, suggesting that they have been repairing and replacing their metal components. Presumably they’d always have to keep their computer brains to still be them.
This behaviour could be attributed to the length of time that they were stranded. We can assume that the SS Madame de Pompadour wasn’t stranded for long and thus the droids hadn’t begun to breakdown. Here the droids components would begin to wear out and need replacing.
The sheer amount of time they’ve spent on Earth means that the PCs could encounter them in and around the area that will become London over a vast number eras. Individual droids might be sent out to capture rare organic components.
Their targets could include exotic animals (mammoths, sabre tooth tigers or later species brought to England from overseas). They might also single out historical figures, believing that part of what makes them special can be attributed to unique organs.
Consider the events of ‘The Girl In The Fireplace’ they could be very motivated to capture Marie Antoinette (1755 – 1793). This could lead into a more direct sequel to that episode, taking place within the same region.
We’ve previously seen that the droids can blend in (before using masks to conceal their true nature). They take this a stage further, wearing the faces of dead people and their clothing to appear human.
While they can converse with others (at least the Half Face man can) they give away their nature quickly. Indeed, they don’t have a great deal of intelligence, becoming confused whether someone is a living person if they simply hold their breath.
This makes these droids able to blend in only if they keep their distance and minimise their interaction with others. This could be enough for them to go out in public to either capture new donors or stalk PCs.
The droids on the SS Madame de Pompadour were entirely dedicated to repairing the ship. Once the Doctor convinced them they were no longer able to get in contact with their ship (having cut of the time windows) they all deactivated.
In ‘Deep Breath’ their mission is different. Here they are driven to survive so that they might reach the promised land. The Doctor attributes this to the humanity that the droids have picked up but it could be that not only do they need to the ship to be repaired they need to get to a specific destination which became their mythical promised land.
In all likelihood if the Doctor had never discovered the activities of the droids they would never be able to repair the ship completely on organic parts alone. As technology advanced they might have been able to get further (which could be the basis for UNIT era adventures) but considered this is 51st century technology it could be a long time before they found anything compatible.
We’ve seen previously that the Cybermen seem to be an inevitability. First they appear on Mondas and then they also occur on a parallel Earth. These droids could be a variation of that theme, with robots becoming human.
The Doctor suggests that the Half Face man has implanted so much organic material into himself that he has gained some humanity, able to appreciate beauty and possibly sacrifice himself to prevent further death.
Could these droids eventually find true humanity? Would they reach a stage where they seek other means to survive without killing others? Would the ends justify the means or would they need to be punished for their past actions?
Due to their nature an adventure based around these type of droids (if not these exact ones from this episode) encountering true Cybermen could be interesting. These droids might want to use the remaining organic components of the Cybermen for themselves. They might fully transform the Cybermen into robots to do so.
They could also form an alliance, working together to capture humans. The droids can then take the organic components the Cybermen remove for themselves. In this scenario both sides of the alliance benefits.