Great night at the British Film Institute (Wednesday 18 December) with the BBC and Doctor Who commandeering the building for a special advance screening of this year’s eagerly anticipated Christmas special, The Time of the Doctor – not only Matt Smith’s swansong, but Peter Capaldi’s debut as the Time Lord.
I’ve never known such tight security at the BFI. Checklists. Wristbands. Vast black barriers in the lobby. Politely phrased embargoes. A ban on recording devices. Emphatically, no spoilers. Even the Thamesside bar was screened off, transformed into a winter wonderland with polystyrene snow, Daleks and Cybermen, ready for the afterparty, which was a lot of fun. The Beeb was pushing that boat out.
The 450-seater NFT1 auditorium soon filled up with lucky invitees: celebs, politicians, press bods and quite a few children. Team Radio Times spotted Brian Cox (the prof), comedian Frank Skinner, RT’s regular columnist Justin Webb, former BBC director-general Greg Dyke and, erm, shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander. All the big names… ;-)
Doctor Who’s lead writer Steven Moffat arrived with his extended clan (sons, wife and mother-in-law), Jamie Payne, the special’s director, and outgoing producer Marcus Wilson. Actress Orla Brady was somewhere in the room: she plays mysterious new alien, Tasha Lem. Tardis royalty was also on the guest list: Katy Manning and Louise Jameson (1970s companions Jo and Leela) both looking fabulous.
Tony Hall, current BBC DG and himself a major Who fan, introduced proceedings. He blew a lot of smoke – deservedly – in Moffat’s direction for masterminding both of BBC Drama’s big guns, Sherlock and Doctor Who. Not only was November’s 50th anniversary episode the most watched programme of the year (on TV and online), it reached 94 countries and played to packed cinema audiences worldwide.
Steven took to the lectern in spikily good-humoured mood. He apologised that Matt Smith couldn’t attend – he’s busy playing a slasher-killer in a musical (American Psycho at the Almeida Theatre on the other side of London). I’d quote the Moff directly, but was abiding by their strictures so all my devices were switched off.
Well, enough guff. What of the episode? The Time of the Doctor…
I’m certainly not going to give anything away, and in truth I am still digesting the on-screen developments. I can guarantee that many will be excited, moved and satisfied by the special. I was reasonably excited, unusually unmoved but, on balance, satisfied.
There’s too much Christmassy blather for my liking. But that’s just bah-humbug me: others probably won’t mind at all. The drama is epic in scale: loose ends from Matt Smith’s era are tied up, and the ongoing legend of the Doctor is moved on significantly. The parade of monsters (Daleks, Cybermen, Angels, Silence…), already announced, is effective. There are stunning visuals – the town where much of the drama unfolds looks like a homage to the classic Radio Times cover of Christmas 1977.
I’m liking Jenna Coleman as Clara more and more. (She has a touch of Lis Sladen about her.) Matt Smith is magnificent as the outgoing Doctor. I am sad that he’s leaving, and perhaps when I watch the special a second time, I’ll actually feel sad watching how his departure is accomplished.
It was Matt’s night really (in absentia) and Steven Moffat’s. In a few short months, in this golden anniversary year, he has shaken up Doctor Who and confidently realigned it for the future.
Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor will air on Christmas Day, 7.30pm BBC1