Tuesday 12 August 2014

Doctor in the House: Doctor Who Press Conference, Sydney

When I received my invitation to the Sydney instalment of "Doctor Who: The World Tour", a whirlwind series of press conferences promoting the new series of the BBC science fiction TV series, I jumped at the opportunity.

Setting up a separate piece of travel writing research and some business meetings in order to justify the journey north, I flew up yesterday. This morning, heading toward the Dendy Cinemas near the Opera House, I suspected I'd found the right location when I saw this:

We would see more of that blue box later, in completed form.

Meanwhile, our miscellaneous group of mainstream media, freelancers, bloggers and fans (well, we were probably all fans of the show), were ushered into a cinema theatre after signing a non-disclosure form which I couldn't actually read in the dim light.

I think it said something along the lines of "If you disclose any spoilers from the following screening, the BBC will arrange for the deletion of your personal timeline."

So I can't tell you anything about what happened after Adam Spencer stood in front of the screen and announced we were about to view episode 1 of Peter Capaldi's first season as The Doctor.

I will say this: it was very good. As foreshadowed, they've given this incarnation of The Doctor a darker, more serious character, a turnabout from the energetic high spirits of The Doctor as played by Matt Smith.

A very welcome development from this change is the deepening of the character of Clara, as played by Jenna Coleman.

Now matched with a Doctor old enough to be her father, it was necessary we see the consequences of that shift in their relationship - and the episode, "Deep Breath", does an excellent job of repositioning her from Doctor's larky playmate to a more substantial companion.

The episode is spoiled a little, in my opinion, by writer Steven Moffat's ever-present need to include emotional button-pushing (please don't tell me what to feel, SM, I can work that out myself). Other than that caveat, it's a solid start to a new era.

After the screening, Capaldi and Coleman took to the stage for the press conference proper, fielding questions from the audience. They were confident and thoughtful in their answers, and clearly have a warm working relationship.

I asked Capaldi about his Doctor speaking in the actor's natural Scottish accent when fellow Scot David Tennant had chosen a standard English accent for the role.

"We did try some other options," he responded. "But I wanted to bring the role to myself, not cover it with layers."

Some other random quotes of interest I jotted down from Capaldi:

"The very first thing i had to do [when filming], was go into the TARDIS for the first time. It's not really bigger on the inside... there's me, Jenna, and a prop guy with a smoke gun."

A joking comment on the period before his ascendance to the role was announced: "I was pleased that no-one mentioned me, but also peeved that no-one mentioned me. A little insulted."

On knowing what lies ahead in the series: "I'm particularly kept in the dark, because I've asked to be kept in the dark."

"I didn't have a lot of input into the character of The Doctor. I trust Steven [Moffat] implicitly as a writer."

Coleman confirmed that the two knew little about the storylines ahead, other than the episode they were working on at the time.

She also commented on how interesting it had been as an actor to adjust to acting opposite a new character who was also an existing character.

Challenged by Spencer to each produce three words to sum up the seaon of episodes ahead, Coleman said "Good versus bad". Capaldi, more cryptically, came up with "tiny / listen / beware."

After the presser, we trooped out to quayside on Sydney Harbour for a photo call, with TARDIS and Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background. I'll leave you with a selection of shots:

As the photo call broke up and Capaldi and his minders headed off in the direction of the Opera House, I said "Good luck, Peter" and he shook my hand.

That makes three Doctors I've met over 20+ years, including Peter Davison in 1983 and Sylvester McCoy when he was in Melbourne a few years ago, playing (of course) the fool in King Lear.

Wonderful chap, all of them.

The eighth season of the 21st century edition of Doctor Who commences on 23/24 August worldwide, with the screening of "Deep Breath" (on ABC1 in Australia).

Disclosure time: On this trip to Sydney I was hosted by Travelodge Wynyard.

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