Brace yourselves, Whovians: Long-running cult obsession Doctor Who returns to BBC America on Aug. 23 with a new star, Peter Capaldi, and a new attitude. Compared with Matt Smith’s previous Doctor, Capaldi’s lead character is “a lot fiercer,” says Jenna Coleman, who plays his traveling companion, Clara Oswald. “This man is a total adrenaline junkie.”
If you don’t count John Hurt’s one-and-done performance in last year’s 50th-anniversary special, Capaldi is the 12th actor to play the show’s Doctor, a two-hearted alien who travels through space—and time—in his ship, the TARDIS, and periodically regenerates his outward form. The announcement that Capaldi would replace Smith was simulcast last August on Doctor Who Live: The Next Doctor. For the most part the casting was received warmly by fans thanks to Capaldi’s Who-tastic résumé, including an appearance in a 2008 episode of the show and in the 2009 spin-off miniseries, Torchwood: Children of Earth. As one EW.com commenter wrote at the time, “If you’re a Doctor Who fan, you already know him.”
The Scottish actor—whose other credits include World War Z and The Fifth Estate—then made the briefest of cameos in the anniversary show before debuting properly at the end of the 2013 special Christmas episode. His first official ep—the feature-length season premiere titled “Deep Breath”—is set in Victorian England and promises the return of the so-called Paternoster Gang, a trio of detectives made up of the dome-headed alien Strax (Dan Starkey), the lizardlike Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), and her human wife, Jenny Flint (Catrin Stewart).
But that’s almost beside the point. “It’s a big introduction—he’s the new Doctor,” says executive producer and head writer Steven Moffat, who penned the premiere. “There’s no point pretending that it’s not the most interesting, dynamic thing that you’ve got to sell in that first episode. It’s going to be about ‘What’s he like? How’s he different?’ I suppose it feels a bit like a character piece, but there’s plenty of action and nonsense and jeopardy, as there ever is in Doctor Who.” (Moffat is full of good news these days, having just announced that Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman will be reteaming for a fourth season of his beloved BBC/PBS drama, Sherlock.)
While the showrunner is being tightlipped about Who’s 12-episode season, we do know it will culminate in a two-part finale directed by Rachel Talalay (Tank Girl) featuring the Doctor’s frequently encountered foes the Cybermen. Both the 50th-anniversary special and the Christmas episode left some fans a bit teary-eyed—so how will folks feel by the end of this run? “Like they want Doctor Who to come back very, very quickly,” says Moffat with a chuckle.
You can check out an exclusive first-look photo of Capaldi and Coleman in the premiere episode above.