Doctor Who series 8, episode 1 review: Peter Capaldi’s Doctor may just be the best yet

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The plot is not really the point - it’s to get to know Doctor No.12

Tonight, in a not particularly Tardis-like screen at the British Film Institute on London’s Southbank, members of the press, expert Whovians and lucky competition-winners gathered for a preview screening. This first episode of Doctor Who’s eighth season is titled “Deep Breath” – appropriate, given the heart-stopping anticipation it has generated in the 12 months since Peter Capaldi was announced as the new Doctor.

There have been lengthy debates about the 56-year-old Glaswegian actor’s suitability for the role. Forums and Twitter feeds have been clogged with speculation on production details and there was even a mysterious scandal in July, when scripts and footage were leaked online.

And exhale: thankfully, this new episode fully justifies the patience of those #keepmespoilerfree fans, determined to wait it out for the Steven Moffat-approved version. It is a perfectly paced, hugely enjoyable 80 minutes of everything you want from Doctor Who – action, silly jokes and enthralling sci-fi.

The Victorian-London setting also meant time pleasantly spent in the company of everyone’s favourite intergalactic same-sex couple, the lizard-faced Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh) and her human wife Jenny Flint (Catrin Stewart).

To give away more than that would involve spoilers and be unfair to the Doctor’s devotees. As you read this, Capaldi and his co-star Jenna Coleman will be jetting off to the next stop on the five-continent, 12-day screening tour, but most fans in the world will have to wait until 23 August, when BBC 1’s official first broadcast takes place.

In any case, plot is not really the point of “Deep Breath”. We have celebrated the Doctor’s legacy in the 50th anniversary episode “The Day of The Doctor”, and said our teary goodbyes to eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith, in the Christmas special. Now is the time to really get to know No 12.

So what’s he like, then? Everyone has their favourite Doctor and my hunch is that Capaldi will one day be viewed as the connoisseur’s choice. He is mercurial, of course – that’s in a Time Lord’s DNA – but also fierce, snappily dressed and patriotically Scottish.

As is only age-appropriate, the Doctor’s relationship with companion Clara (Coleman) had a very different dynamic to the will-they-won’t-they tension of last series. These are two clashing personalities with the very real potential to get up each other’s noses; romance is very definitely not on the cards.  You do fancy, however, that this more thoughtful incarnation would get on famously with Moffat’s other great creation, Sherlock, should they ever meet in some alternate fan-fiction universe (internet, make this happen, please). Fans of The Thick Of It will also be glad to know the Malcolm Tucker death-stare hasn’t been retired just yet; it’s merely been ‘regenerated’.

Capaldi isn’t the only exciting new addition to the Doctor Who team. This episode is one of two in the new series directed by Ben Wheatley, the British director of such witty, weird and woozily violent films as Kill List, Sightseers and A Field In England.

Wheatley’s grown-up CV, combined with a Doctor who is pushing 60 has led some to worry whether Britain’s longest running sci-fi can still fulfil its family-entertainment remit. The plot contains a sharp lesson on ageist assumptions – just because the Doctor has gone grey, doesn’t mean he has lost his youth appeal.

It is one of the scarier episodes of the series, but the dark mood Wheatley creates makes the Doctor’s dark side all the more plausible. “Am I a good man?” he asked Clara in a recently released trailer. ‘Deep Breath’ ties up many a loose end, but that question remains thrillingly unanswered.

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