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'Doctor Who' takes a 'Deep Breath' in season 8 premiere

Peter Capaldi describes his twelfth Doctor as "funny, joyful, passionate, emphatic, and fearless" in the new series.

New Doctor Peter Capaldi flies the flag at the season 8 premiere in Cardiff. BBC

Almost exactly a year after Peter Capaldi was revealed as the new star of "Doctor Who", the new series had its premiere in the UK today -- with a breathless first episode in which we meet a "mysterious", "fearless", and "more Scottish" Doctor.

Capaldi takes over from Matt Smith as the twelfth Doctor, alongside Jenna-Louise Coleman as the Doctor's traveling companion Clara. Fans, stars and other aliens gathered to meet the stars at screenings of the first episode, "Deep Breath", written by series showrunner Steven Moffat.

"Deep Breath" is ... well, I don't want to spoil it, but it's vintage Moffat: packed full of clever, quotable dialogue delivered with relish, breathless action, and scenes that turn on a sixpence from intense character drama to sinister suspense.

There's a real cinematic scale to the episode, helmed by movie director and master of the macabre Ben Wheatley. Still, Steven Moffat has no time for talk of a "Who" movie. "Have you seen cinema?" he asked the premiere audience in London. "They take ages to make everything! We get slagged off for making nine "Sherlock"s -- in that time Robert Downey Jr has made two!"

"Television's just better," he added.

If I have one criticism of "Deep Breath", it's that another Moffat hallmark, dense continuity, is present and correct. It's only the first episode and already I'm stuck trying to remember a callback to an episode from eight years ago. Still, "Deep Breath" is a great show, diving headlong into the mirror to face a very different Doctor to the Time Lord we've seen before.

When asked to describe his Doctor in five words, Capaldi suggested the twelfth is, "funny, joyful, passionate, emphatic, and fearless." Coleman suggested "enigmatic, mysterious, complex, worn, and unmannered." Moffat meanwhile described the twelfth Doctor as "more Scottish than last time."

'Open to change'

Companion Jenna-Louise Coleman described how she made herself "as open to change as I could possibly be to allow Peter to take it whatever direction he wanted, and what he's done is very brave and bold." In terms of the relationship between the Time Lord and the Impossible Girl, Coleman says the new series has "turned everything on its head and thrown everything off-kilter. Clara's going from being so safe and comfortable with Matt's Doctor to someone who doesn't even recognise she's a girl."

Series boss Steven Moffat says the new dynamic shows us a new side of Clara. "From the moment Peter turns up she realises she's in terrible trouble," he says. "Seeing Clara on the back foot makes her very funny."

Moffat describes how he met Capaldi before casting him. "The bloke from 'The Thick of It' loomed over me at a party," Moffat recalls, "and I wanted to talk about 'The Thick of It' but he wouldn't let me because all he wanted to talk about was 'Doctor Who'!"

While considering the looming Capaldi as the new Doctor, Moffat write three scenes of "insanity" as an audition, based on scenes from the Eccleston, Tennant and Smith eras. Capaldi thought his interview was "a disaster -- I thought I was out of the loop, to coin an expression. But I thought if that was it, it was worth it."

Steven Moffat, Jenna-Louise Coleman and Peter Capaldi discuss the new series of "Doctor Who". Rich Trenholm/CNET

Moffat was more impressed. He describes how as soon as they got Capaldi and Coleman together at the read-through, "We knew we were on to something."

In preparation Capaldi met up with his predecessors David Tennant and Matt Smith. Smith turned up to their lunch on crutches, which worried Capaldi slightly. "He's 30 years younger than me and he's on crutches!" joked the 56-year-old.

Next was the small matter of the Doctor's costume. Capaldi felt he had always seen the Doctor in dark clothes, "but that's because I was watching in black and white!" In choosing his costume of a Crombie coat, buttoned-up shirt -- they call that an "air tie" in the fashion industry, darling -- one of his considerations was that the look could be easily imitated, "so kids wouldn't have to spend a lot of money."

The new Doctor was one of those kids himself, and in many ways he still is. He went into work on the day "Dalek attack" was on the call sheet even though he wasn't scheduled to be there that day, and when asked what he'd say to his 8-year-old self he offered this advice to all fans: "Don't listen to what they say about you -- wear your anorak with pride!"

The new series of "Doctor Who" begins on BBC One and BBC America on 23 August. With Capaldi in the TARDIS, fans of the show can breathe easy.