Doctor Who in NYC: Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Steven Moffat talking Time Lord

Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman

Threatened by a Cyberman is an interesting way to begin a morning. But it is certainly not an unexpected or unfortunate beginning when the morning also involves a screening of the season premiere of Doctor Who and an interview with the new Doctor.

Tonight, New York City will play host to the Doctor Who World Tour at the historic Ziegfeld Theater. Fans will gather to watch the season eight episode “Deep Breath,” the first adventure with Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor. And afterward, Chris Hardwick will moderate a talk with Capaldi, co-star Jenna Coleman and showrunner Steven Moffat.

But this morning, myself and a small group of press gathered in a Manhattan hotel for breakfast with a Cyberman, a viewing of the feature-length episode (written by Moffat) airing stateside Aug. 23 at 8 p.m., and a Q&A with the trio.

It is important to note that this is a spoiler-free zone. If you want a complete synopsis of the premiere before it airs, there are places to find it, but I want to avoid revealing too many details here. Plus, Moffat warned emphatically not to hint at significant plot points so that everyone’s “children will be released unharmed.”

What I will say is about “Deep Breath” is that a T-rex is on the loose in Victorian London, and the Paternoster Gang of Vastra, Jenny and Strax are called upon to investigate. When the newly regenerated Doctor and Clara arrive, they learn of spontaneous combustions plaguing the city, and a very confused Time Lord sets out to uncover the mystery.

The episode seems to take place soon after the events of “The Time of the Doctor,” the Christmas special in which actor Matt Smith passed the torch to Capaldi. As such, the Doctor is in a state of transition. He is lost in the world, looks much older than his previous incarnation and, yes, he’s Scottish. And while the time traveler may begin the episode uncertain about who he is, and was, he is still the same character fans have been watching progress over the course of the series -- and especially since the 2005 reboot.

OK, that’s enough vagaries. Let’s get to what the Doctor, Companion and Showrunner had to say!

When asked, by a British journalist, about bringing the show and the world tour to the U.S.:

Steven Moffat: It’s just so lovely to hear the American accent.

Peter Capaldi: We’ve been here for 20 hours, so it’s uh, very skyscraper-y, very New Yorky.

Jenna Coleman: We haven’t experienced the American screenings, which we’re both going to watch tonight. We hear it’s very vocal.

Has the show filmed in the U.S. at all this upcoming season, or are there American “angles”?

Moffat: Nope. I never lie. I could be lying.

Did you feel the new Doctor had to be “sold” to audiences in the premiere?

Moffat: No, not particularly. I think it’s just fun when the Doctor is new. There are certain things that always happen in Doctor Who. People will always walk into the TARDIS and say, "It’s bigger on the inside." You never get bored of that. It’s like James Bond introducing himself; you want to see it happen again. So a new Doctor is just exciting. It isn’t a sales job.

Coleman: I feel like he doesn’t sell, I feel like he withholds more. That’s what I find intriguing about it. I wanted to know more. He wasn’t telling me everything. There is so much more that you couldn’t access. He drew me in because I wanted to know more. 

Moffat: Not so much a charm offensive, just an offensive [laughs].

[To Peter]: When you made your appearance [in “The Fires of Pompeii”] were you thinking how much you’d like to stay as the next Doctor?

Capaldi: I wasn’t thinking about being the next Doctor. I was just delighted to be in the show. I loved the show; I just remember the other day I turned up on that day when I went onto the set and said, ‘Where’s the TARDIS?’ … I went over and was touching the police box and got a little teary because I loved the show. First of all, I was surprised to be in that episode. I was always interested when they were changing Doctors, but I never really thought they’d come to me.

How has the relationship between the Doctor and Clara changed, and how has it been for Jenna to change from season to season?

Coleman: My face in the regeneration scene is literally me watching Peter throw about a thousand options at the wall, and try and explore everything. My face is literally is about 45 minutes of watching Peter do this entire routine. I’m thinking, "This is great." Change is amazing. And having to start again and re-evaluate, it’s kind of what the story is. It is two things happening together, of working out how is this dynamic going to work and expecting a reply of what maybe the Eleventh Doctor would say. And similarly, this new Doctor does not respond the same way. I suppose that is what is jarring, is I’m realizing, "What are the rules now?" How does this dynamic work? As an actor, that’s a great thing. 

Capaldi: What you start to see, as the show unfolds, is Jenna and I get to know each other. The Doctor, although he’s the same character, he’s also brand-new. He’s also unfamiliar with his own personality and discovering things about his own personality, and they’re not necessarily welcome. But he has a very, very deep bond with Clara. He finds it difficult to express that, but it’s there. And she’s one of the few people who can actually push him around. 

Coleman: Try to.

Capaldi: Oh, I think she succeeds in dominating him and telling him what to do. But then she gets so far with that he’ll turn. He often turns. I think that we’ve all tried to not get into a groove where we know exactly who this character is. The great thing to me about Doctor Who is there is an unknown Doctor. There is the character who presents himself to the people around him, but there is always this sense that there is another aspect to him which is untouchable, unreachable. 

Steven, were you going for an identity crisis and internal struggle with the Doctor character before you cast Peter?

Moffat: Well, first of all, I don’t think we’re going to put on the poster “It’s more of an internal struggle this time.” There are monsters and corridors and explosions, I promise. But the Doctor is quite a complicated character, actually. For a melodramatic hero, he is quite complicated. You’re wasting your opportunity with a regeneration if you don’t do a bit about that. He doesn’t really just change his face. Things about him are not the same. Things he reaches for aren’t there. He has feelings he didn’t have before. That must be awfully alarming and make you wonder who you are. I think there is an element that runs through every Doctor, and why Doctor Who is so much better than anything else in the world is the Doctor doesn’t know he’s a hero. He doesn’t know he’s in that show. He knows other people thinks he is. He knows sometimes he seems like a legendary warrior, but he knows -- and we know -- he’s just a man who can’t drive a time machine properly.

Capaldi: The episodes are so full of incident, drama and adventure, there’s barely any time to talk about the character. You just get on with dealing with whatever threat has to be dealt with. Yet there is something enigmatic about the character that makes me want to talk about him all the time.  

When you’re crafting a character that has been embodied by so many other characters -- a new guy but also a familiar guy -- how important is it to incorporate quirks or characteristics of preceding actors? (Listen to hear the answer!)

Capaldi: I think it is always exciting when Doctor Who touches his past. For me, as a kid, it was always exhilarating when he made contact with the past. For me, personally, I am not conscious of trying to emulate any of the previous Doctors. But I would say, I have been watching the show since I was 5. I absolutely grew up with it. Even if I hadn’t been cast as Doctor Who, my acting would probably have been influenced by William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker and all the other guys. Those were the actors I watched every moment, as opposed to Laurence Olivier. These were the guys I was watching and wanted to be. My own tics as an actor probably first found their way from them, so I’ve no need to specifically pull them out of the bag. Although occasionally, sometimes in the show during the season, there are some little specific things that are directly references to previous Doctors. 

Moffat: I think, for me, when you book a new Doctor, you really want the actor to lead the way. The most conscious thing you do is cull, in this case, the Matt Smith-isms out, and see what he’s going to start moving into place. I knew certain things we wanted to do with the character were already there, and what we wanted to do with the show, but really it’s a question of lead actors have to lead ... obviously I’m a ridiculous list-making fanboy. I never stop thinking of it. I try, as far as possible, with a giggle, to resist [callbacks].

Capaldi: Anyway, you can’t, as an actor, conduct yourself by making constant references to other people. And the day-to-day working of the show is so challenging, you just do your best as an actor.

Coleman: Peter came in with such a strength and an idea, and was really brave. I remember some days we’d have this certain direction. Normally when you read a script, at this point, the Doctor would embrace the scene, or dance, or run around the console. Actually, there were times, especially in the early days, when Peter would say, "No, I’m going to just stand here." It is that thing of instead of going to the room, the room is going to come to him. I feel like he was really bold and brave, and he made those changes, and him doing it his way.

Is there something you’re able to bring to the character as a fan that you’d not seen before, and something specific where the inner fan in you emerged?

Capaldi: The thing I always wanted to bring to it was me! The thing is, it’s every day. Every day is full of moments where you go, "Doctor Who, this is amazing." But I think the first time you make your escape through a ventilation shaft is quite special.

Moffat: Peter, I know the moment when you felt it the most, I think. It was when you go, "Cybermen," and I thought, "Yes, this man is happy."

Capaldi: I have to say the moment when I have my first conversation with a Dalek was extraordinary … It’s really something. I just swore with delight.

Has the online fan community affected your perception of the show?

Moffat: Trying to assess Doctor Who’s audience from its online community would be like trying to assess world affairs from the comments section. I had this conversation with Gale Ann Hurd [of The Walking Dead] about how you cannot mistake Twitter for the voice of the audience. I’m aware of it and it can be a difficult thing, but let’s look at the positive side. Our beautiful new title sequence -- it’s absolutely stunning -- is from an online Doctor Who fan. Billy Hanshaw just decided to make a Doctor Who title sequence and put it up on YouTube. I happened across it and thought it was the only new idea for a Doctor Who title sequence since 1963. We got in touch and decided we were going to do that one. I suppose when we talk about Doctor Who fandom online, that’s what we should be talking about. We should be talking about the extraordinary creative response. We give them a show and they give us the show back, sometimes better. That’s cementing. There’s something magical about Doctor Who that makes some of the people actually want to do it. 

And for a final bonus, here's a video clip of Jenna and Peter discussing Whovian (and Capaldi) cosplay:

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