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10 Aug 2014Deep Breath world première - Cardiff, by John Bowman
24 Aug 2014Deep Breath, by Chuck Foster

Reviewed by Nick Joy

Deep Breath red carpet world première
Cardiff
7th August 2014
Pictures by Nick Joy and Andy Smith

Cardiff has been the production base for Doctor Who since 2004 and perhaps in recognition of this its residents were treated to the red carpet treatment for Series 8's world première 16 days before its TV screening.

As part of the wider world tour to promote the new season and Peter Capaldi's arrival as the new Doctor, the Cardiff première was held at St David's Hall, a concert venue in the heart of the city's shopping precinct and ideally located for a West End-style première event.

Tickets for the screening and Q&A sold out pretty much instantly amongst scenes of the website crashing and demand far exceeding supply. To help manage the disappointment, a free fan meet was arranged for the morning of the première, with Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Steven Moffat and new guy Samuel Anderson traversing the 1/4 mile from Cardiff Central Library to the front of St David's Hall.

Having such a long "catwalk" was a double-edged sword. It meant that more people had the chance to see the stars up close and personal (at no point was it more than two or three deep), but it also meant they had further to walk in a short period of time. And while free publicity cards of Capaldi, Coleman and Anderson were given out to all, the chances of getting an autograph or two were really down to pot luck. Capaldi was particularly attentive - chatting, personalising autographs, posing for "selfies" and generally soaking up the rock star attention he was receiving.

All the while, Daleks patrolled the runway, stopping to terrorise the occasional delighted child, and Cybermen stomped up and down. BBC execs with clipboards scurried the barrier's length, prepping Capaldi for his next interview or soundbite, while presenters Lizo Mzimba and Jason Mohammad earnestly interviewed another group of delirious cosplayers. Even the TARDIS was in attendance, sitting outside the department stores.

After the screening, the cast set off for the London leg of the tour, hosted at the BFI. But back in Cardiff, as the carpet was rolled up, the railings stacked back on to the trucks and the visitors trooped off to the Doctor Who Experience in the Bay, the magic still hung in the air.

This was the same street that featured in the very same season opener being promoted that day (though it pretends to be elsewhere) and it's the same street that doubles as St Paul's district in the season finale. Two roads over and it's where Rose witnessed Autons smashing out of a shop window, and isn't that where Kylie and Doctor Tennant wandered around one Christmas?

And that's why Doctor Who premières happen here - they're a fixed point in time and space.

LinkCredit: Doctor Who,Jenna Coleman, Peter Capaldi, Premieres, Samuel Anderson, Series 8/34 
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Filters: Series 8/34 Screening Twelfth Doctor
 
The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) (Credit: Ray Burmiston, BBC/BBC Worldwide 2014)Series openers have always got a lot to contend with; they have to balance between welcoming back older viewers who are expecting more of what they watched the show previously for, and also welcoming new viewers to the fold who may not know what the show is about. With Doctor Who that can be even harder, with nigh on ten years of new adventures continuing a show now literally in its golden years, under unabated media scrutiny and audience expectation. Then, throw a new Doctor into the mix ...

Unlike the arrival of Christopher Eccleston's version, which the production team took great care to identify as a continuation of the 20th Century series in naming him the - ahem - ninth incarnation, at Christmas The Time of the Doctor actually pulled the reset switch in 'killing' off the Doctor as he reached the end of his final regeneration ... and then like a phoenix rising from the ashes brought forth a renewed Doctor as he is granted a whole new life cycle by the Time Lords. In doing so, it also gave the production team carte-blanche to radically change the Doctor's personality, unburdened by his previous forms, and take the show in a new direction. But would they take that chance to potentially alienate an audience?

Well, of course not. After the disaster that was the sixth Doctor's introduction back in 1984, such a radical alteration was never going to be on the cards. However, as demonstrated in last night's Deep Breath, the character can certainly be massaged into a much more ambigious personality who the audience themselves are unsure of, let alone those on screen. We have the moment where the Doctor apparently abandons Clara to the "Half Face Man" ("no point in catching us both"), and then later his look from the restaurant-turned-balloon after the aforementioned robot falls to its (his?) impalation on the top of St Stephens Tower (this is a Victorian story, pedants (grin)) leaves us in total doubt as to whether he pushed or not. However, considering the way the (original) first Doctor behaved over his first adventures we aren't exactly in virgin territory, and he is essentially still the same being that we've known over the last 2000+ years - as hammered home rather unsubtly during the course of the story by Vastra and the Doctor himself.

Pulling it off is a skill, both in performance and direction, and as the new Doctor Peter Capaldi easily succeeds, ably introduced by Ben Wheatley, whose horror credentials certainly are in play in a number of scenes in the latter half of the story. However, it is the latter half where things properly kick off, with the earlier scenes are perhaps being a little too lengthy and slowing the story down somewhat. This is of course one of the problems with exposition, and as I mentioned when starting this review, there's a fair bit to expose! Writer Steven Moffat allowing some 80 minutes for the plot threads to 'breathe' (sorry!) was a good move, but perhaps it could have been shaved down a little just to make it a little pacier.

Anyway, to the story itself!

Prehistoric creatures have come a long way with Walking with Dinosaurs, and our inadvertent visitor to Victorian London was a remarkable creation (please give Invasion of the Dinosaurs a special edition...). Of course real science might not be in play here (see the New Scientist review) but it is catered for in the story universe (thanks, Vastra). It's a shame that it was a macguffin rather than anything more important in the story, but strangely you do feel empathy for it, courtesy of the Doctor (amazing how the TARDIS selectively translates language for its prefered inhabitants) and its sad demise does contribute to moving the story along - though the indication that the robots have been around since the creature's own era in time is an area of plot that, like the ship's location underground, shouldn't be dug into too deeply! Come to think of it, why bring back clockwork droids at all, their inclusion felt a bit like the Autons back in Rose, feeling more of a "historical" enemy's return for its own sake rather than serving the narrative. Mind you, Wheatley skillfully creates some genuinely disturbing moments that eclipse their previous appearance in The Girl in the Fireplace, so I'm not going to worry about that so much!

Jenna Coleman, Neve McIntosh, Catrin Stewart and Dan Starkey continue to perform strongly, with the latter's portrayal one of the highlights of the episode. The fan in me frowns a bit at how Moffat has seemingly turned the Sontarans into the Ferengi of Doctor Who, but he does get some of the best lines and Starkey never quites takes his performance into farce, so I end up looking forward to his scenes. ("The Doctor is still missing, but he will always come looking for his box. By bringing it here, he will be lured from the dangers of London into this place of safety and we will melt him with acid ... We will not melt him with acid.", followed by his 'special' delivery of the Times to Clara win the prize!). Peter Ferdinando was especially chilling with his portrayal of the "Half Face Man", and again the effects did not let down in animating his clockwork half. Whether we've actually seen the last of him remains to be seen after that ending, and like with Rose in Partners in Crime, the appearance of Michelle Gomez's Missy was delightfully unexpected - I really hope the Gatekeeper of the Nethersphere isn't going to turn out to be the Rani or a female Master as quite a few have speculated and that she is a new original character for us to enjoy in the same way as Madame Kovarian in the 2011 series.

As for that other cameo, I did know it was coming from filming reports but fortunately had forgotten about it until the phone rang. Watching it live evoked the same kind of nostalgic emotion that the final scenes of The End of Time did, though in hindsight I'm not so sure it really served the story so well - it might have been nicer as one of those online/red button extras to enjoy separately rather than in the story proper. Still, its purpose was to remind us (again) that we are watching a continuation of a fifty year tradition!

I can't finish without mentioning the new titles of course. The graphics looked great, and the reflection of the 'clock' theme within the opening bars of the theme was a nice touch (presumably weekly and not just for this clockwork-themed episode), but the main theme sounded very tinny, at least in a non-5.1 environment - I almost had a "Delaware" moment listening to it again! It doesn't seem to quite provide the majesty that I've come to expect from the series theme tune, but I suppose it'll grow on me in time!

All-in-all, Capaldi's debut story was enjoyable, if perhaps a little longer than it needed to be (though it certainly wasn't a clock-watching episode). There was nothing that made me tut at the screen either, so that is always a good sign. It will be interesting to see if this Doctor continues to be 'alien' or becomes more 'human' as with the first Doctor over the next eleven weeks.

Finally, Capaldi himself delivered all my expectations of him as the Doctor, so I'm looking forward to the next 7+ years of him in the role (grin).
LinkCredit: Doctor Who,Premieres, Series 8/34 
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