Sunday, 10 August 2014

DOCTOR WHO: DEEP BREATH Panel Discussion and Q&A, BFI


On Thursday 7 August at the BFI Southbank, Doctor Who went back to first principles. To my surprise and delight, possibly the most exciting and unpredictable era of my favourite TV show is about to begin.

See those eyes: Sir Peter Capaldi IS the Doctor. (Image: BBC)

Without a doubt, the BFI launch of Peter Capaldi's Doctor Who was one of the best days of my life. As I was coming out of a rough patch in my professional and personal life, I was determined not to miss the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of seeing the first story of a new Doctor on the big screen, with the man himself then invited onstage, together with Jenna Coleman (companion Clara Oswald) and Steven Moffat (executive producer), to be interviewed by the critic and columnist Boyd Hilton. After (several) drinks in the West End with friends on Wednesday night, I walked across Waterloo bridge to bed down outside the entrance to the British Film Institute on the Thames' Southbank (or, as I put it on Facebook, 'off to pass out outside the BFI.') I was first in the queue for return tickets, which in itself was a bit of a first for me

The queue, with me at the front wearing
Matt Smith's stetson. (Image: Louise Traxon)
More people arrived at 4.00. Sara (22), Roberto (21) and Chiara (22) had come all the way from Italy. They were excited but slightly bewildered, and I automatically became a bit of a mother hen, asking them if they had enough bottled water to drink - it was pretty warm, even at that time of the morning - and telling them they could buy a whole magazine about Doctor Who if they nipped over to Waterloo Station and went in WH Smiths.

As is usually case with every Doctor Who event I've been to, as more and more people arrived, they fell naturally into chatting - 'How far have you come to be here? Do you like Classic, New, or both?' - and so on. Louise Traxon (27) had caught the 6.22 from Hemel Hempstead and had fallen in love with the show watching the Jon Pertwee repeats in the 1990s; Henry Mendoza (great name, 18) had caught the tube up from Tooting and hadn't seen any of Peter Capaldi's other performances; Paul Ducker (35), a support worker in the Community Cardiac Service for the NHS, had booked the day off work specially and had grown up with Sylvester McCoy's Doctor. Beatrice Paroni (23) from America was currently studying for a Masters Degree in Time Travel and Philosophy  honestly and preferred her Doctors 'older and wiser.' Simeon Couter (19, up from Surrey) loved both the BFI and Capaldi, considering him 'a legend'. 

John Mouzo (52) was a delight to talk to, mainly because he was so dryly funny - 'I've been hearing about this Doctor Who thing and thought I'd give it a try' - when he had, in fact, been giving Doctor Who a try since the 1980s when he helped organise the big US conventions there. Significantly, John had liked Capaldi ever since he had featured in Local Hero (1983), also bringing along the US DVD sleeve of the actor's Oscar-winning short film Franz Kafka's It's A Wonderful Life (1995, right) for him to sign. After several hours of bonding as the London sky slowly brightened, it was heart warming that we all got to sit near other for the screening.     
As for 'Deep Breath' itself - no spoilers. What I can say is that the Doctor - that is, my Doctor, the moody, wise, funny, arrogant, occasionally frightening, occasionally violent Doctor I grew up with, who quoted Gertrude Stein and misquoted Karl Marx - is back. Like one of my favourite stories 'The Face of Evil', Steven Moffat's literate, funny and terrifying script has a mature philosophical theme, as it tackles the positive and negative consequences of renewal.

Not everyone will like the change of creative direction, primarily, I suspect, the audience that first came to Doctor Who when it was relaunched in 2005. At times during 'Deep Breath', you'll get the feeling that the production team is deliberately trying to alienate the audience that the BBC have spent the last ten years cultivating; all over the NFT1 auditorium, you could almost hear jaws hitting the floor at key game-changing moments. As a regeneration story, for me 'Deep Breath' is up there with 'The Power of the Daleks', 'Spearhead from Space' and 'The Eleventh Hour' and, beyond that, is already one of my favourite stories ever.

Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi on stage. (Image: Getty)

During the twenty minutes when questions were invited from the audience for Steven, Jenna and Peter, I asked him if, as a writer and director, he would like to get involved in that side of Doctor Who. When the audience had stopped laughing at Peter's softly spoken but emphatic 'No', he went on to explain that the series was already demanding enough without the added pressure on him of directing and writing. Rather humbly, Peter felt he was 'a dabbler' when it came to film making. With perfect comic timing, Steven Moffat followed up his leading man's comment with, 'says the man with an Oscar at home'.

Endearingly, Peter would like to see 'The Dalek Invasion of Earth' remade, which, predictably, drew an endorsing round of applause. Personally, I'm looking forward to his next spoof documentary, Cricklewood Rocks, which looks at 'rubbish British rock bands' in a sequel to Crickelwood Greats, Peter's affectionate parody of Ealing Studios and Britsh film in general.

The man was tireless, abandoning wine-guzzling BBC liggers in the green room to spend time with the fans queued up outside the BFI waiting for autographs and photos. I never normally do this sort of thing, but I was so excited by 'Deep Breath' that I couldn't stop myself, getting him to sign the latest copy of Doctor Who Magazine. I had a very amiable chat with Mr Capaldi - 'please, call me Peter' - and two of the highlights were:

ME: 'It's good to see you're now making Doctor Who for 50+ Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes fans.'

PETER: 'Ah, well, we have had it in mind for years.'


ME: 'The great thing is, the Daily Mail will hate Doctor Who now more than ever.'

PETER: 'I do hope so.'

On Friday morning, I did something I hadn't done since the 1970s; I bought a cross-section of that morning's newspapers to check out the reviews. Nicola Methven, the Daily Mirror critic, said that Clara eventually came to like the new Doctor, 'but, the question is... will you?' and in The Independent, Ellen E. Jones hit the mythical nail on the head by suggesting that 'Capaldi's Doctor Who might just be the best yet.'

I realised one thing on Thursday. Everyone who's ever taken the piss out of the fans for liking - no, loving - Doctor Who is completely and utterly wrong. Talk about feeling vindicated.

Going by 'Deep Breath', it seems that the best times for the series are yet to come. Prepare yourselves. 

Carpet diem. (Image: Mr Ducker)


  1. Think there's some confusion here Rob - I HAVE seen Peter's other performances - watched the entirety of The Thick Of It and seen him in The Fires Of Pompeii and Children Of Earth!
    And thanks for the compliment regarding my name - yours is pretty cool too!

    Great post - loved reading it. I shall follow your blog from now on! Pleasure to meet you :)

  2. Sorry Henry! Please forgive the mistake; it was probably all the excitement. Thanks for decideing to follow the blog. :-)

    1. Pleasure to follow the blog! Look forward to reading more :)

  3. I don't know if you noticed, but I also got the date wrong!

  4. Nope! Didn't actually spot that I don't think...