As I took my seat in an intimate (but glitzy) television studio in Elstree last night, I felt part of something rather special. Gone are the days when the new Doctor was announced via Radio Times, replaced with a flash set, an assortment of hastily wheeled out guests and a broadcast shown simultaneously around the globe. In TV terms it doesn’t get much bigger than this so, Whovian or not, you couldn’t help but feel a thrill of excitment at being present during such a seminal event.
Having said that, I did find myself wondering whether I’d accidentally strolled onto the new set of Strictly Come Dancing, the abundance of glitter and fairy lights temporarily distracting me from the giant Cyberman and dangling Tardis adorning the studio. Bruno Tonioli’s increasingly enthusiastic entries on the VT certainly weren’t the only influence of Brucie & co…
But the audience itself was decidedly Whovian. From the floor-skimming stripey scarfs, to the boy who brought along his homemade sonic screwdriver, these are the fans whose passion has made the show the phenomenon it is today. And then there’s the plucky woman who braved the sweltering studio inside a head-to-toe Tardis ensemble. That was just bonkers.
So as we edged closer to transmission, and Zoe Ball tottered out on stage to debut her Claudia Winkleman-inspired makeover to the audience, even the press contingent struggled to hide their building excitement. And by the time the lights came up and the cameras began rolling, poor Zoe was all but drowned out by the wave upon wave of rapturous applause.
Yes, the sofa chat that followed was a bit naff and for every Peter Davison and Bernard Cribbins there was an, er, Daniel Roche (that kid from Outnumbered, silly) but that moment Peter Capaldi took his first steps onto the stage is one I’ll never forget. Having been adamant in the press room earlier that there wasn’t a chance The Thick of It actor had bagged the role, I was hastily swallowing my words as he sauntered out on stage – and I know I wasn’t the only one.
You see, there was something rather magical within that studio during Capaldi’s first few seconds as our new Doctor. It must have been a moment he’d rehearsed over and over in his head but as he emerged into the glare of fans, media and inevitable criticism, the 55-year-old possessed an enviable swagger. Chatting backstage afterwards, showrunner Steven Moffat put it better than I ever could. “The Doctor was in the room and that’s it,” he explained. “You don’t argue with that.”
And judging by the initial Twitter reaction, few people have. A lifelong fan of the show, as proven by his 1974 letter to Radio Times, we were watching a middle-aged man fulfilling his boyhood dream. And as the confetti rained down and the cameras stopped rolling Capaldi continued to demonstrate just why he is the perfect fit, stepping out to the audience to chat and shake hands with his already-adoring fans as they continued to cheer their new Doctor. Whatever ‘it’ is, he’s got it.
Behind the scenes a grinning Moffat showed his face in the press room, visibly relieved and delighted that his big reveal was finally done and dusted. “Malcolm Tucker is knocked out the way. He’s just suddenly this new man,” he quipped. “I can absolutely believe that the strange old young Matt Smith will turn into the strange young old Peter Capaldi.”
By all accounts, the casting process was a very short one – there was only ever one name topping Moffat’s list since Matt Smith announced his departure. And as I sat there hastily typing up my notes, surrounded by others hastily typing their own, I felt so lucky to have been there. To have experienced that electrifying atmosphere, to have listened to the gasps and whoops and cheers, to have heard first hand why Moffat cast his “utterly brilliant, arresting-looking leading man”. As TV moments go, it was a big’un and when the viewing figures are released it’ll seem even bigger. But although Doctor Who now reaches far flung corners of the globe, last night the eyes of the globe were on a balmy studio in Elstree.