Does ‘Doctor Who’ Have Room for Peter Capaldi?

Does 'Doctor Who' Have Room for Peter Capaldi?

“I am not your boyfriend,” announces Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor, to Jenna Coleman’s lame duck companion Clara Oswald, near the end of “Deep Breath,” the first episode of the 8th season of “Doctor Who” (BBC America).
Of course the announcement is not directed only at Clara, who has been somewhat thrown for a loop by the fact that the handsome young 11th Doctor (Matt Smith), with whom she was half in love, has been replaced by a man who is not just older (Capaldi is 56) but light years less dreamy and ingratiating than his immediate predecessors, David Tennant’s swashbuckling 10th Doctor (2005–10) as well as Smith’s manic 11th (2010 to 2013).
The rub is that the youth and glamour and gung ho spirit of those Doctors was central to the hugely successful revamp engineered by producer Russell T. Davies to re-launch the series in 2005, after a 14 year “hiatus,” as  a faster-paced and more contemporary action show than it had been in its Classical phase, with an occasional dash of romance and way better production values. (In the 1970s one could often see the hacksaw marks in the Styrofoam used to build the sets.)
Capaldi was a brilliant choice to play the Doctor, and he performs brilliantly in “Deep Breath,” by turns irritable and irritating, childish, heroic and highhanded, sometimes within the span a single sentence. No one who enjoyed his performance as Malcolm Tucker in the political satire “The Thick of It” will be surprised to learn that Capaldi has the verbal dexterity and the steamrolling energy to play the role this way.

But this conception of the role is also a reversion, knowingly retro, a jumping backward in time over the heads of Smith and Tennant, to the spikier style of the greatest early Doctors, Patrick Troughton’s 2nd (1966–69) and Tom Baker’s 4th (1974–81).

The mode of what has now been officially designated “Classic Doctor Who” is firmly in the tradition of the troublesome British eccentric hero, which is bound to strike many in the show’s huge new audience as somewhat fussy and old fashioned. (Baker played Sherlock Holmes for the BBC, as well, and it’s surely no accident that “Deep Breath” is set in Victorian London.)

Capaldi’s debut, written by show runner Stephen Moffett and directed by young Turk Ben Wheatley (“Kill List”), is an exciting and at times genuinely scary episode about a crew of alien cyborgs harvesting human organs in order to transform themselves, piece by piece, into biological beings. Its attractions include a sweetly docile CG T-Rex and some tasty explosions.

The story is also elegantly thematically consistent. If we wanted to get high-fallutin’ about it we could say that “Deep Breath” is about the masks people adopt and their relationship to their true identity. To put it another way, the central issue is: How much does the Doctor actually change when he regenerates? Is he an entirely different person or a variation on a theme?

Pains are taken early on to disabuse young Clara of the notion that the Doctor’s drastically altered appearance is a definitive indication that he’s no longer the goofy and engaging do-gooder she admired. That persona was merely a mask, she’s told, concealing his utterly alien true identity.

Of course the situation is tricky here because it’s a firmly established convention of the show that it isn’t just the Doctor’s face that changes with each Regeneration, but also his personality. In a powerful later scene, the Doctor himself confronts the issue, gazing into a mirror, shocked by the signs of aging on his new face, soliloquizing on its implications: “It’s covered with lines, but I didn’t do the frowning. Who frowned me this face?” And he wonders, “Why this one? Why did I chose this face? It’s like I’m trying to tell myself something. Like I’m trying to make a point. But what’s so important that I can’t just tell myself what I’m thinking?” (Masks are a motif throughout the episode, but we can’t run through any of the others without dropping major spoilers.)

Capaldi, I think, has the potential to become one the great Doctors, with a grave sense of wonder that could carry the show pretty deeply “into darkness,” the destination announced in the trailer for his second episode. It’s an open whether the shinier, perkier current version of the show has room for that kind of greatness, any longer.

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Comments

KIlburn Hall

Peter Capaldi a huge disappointment. BBC should have hired him to play the Master- not the Doctor. Who? Exactly. TO refer to him as one of the great doctors does the series an injustice. Beginning woith Peter Davidson, there were so many horrid actors to play the doctor the show almost went off the air. It found new life in the most remarkbale of actors Christopher Eggleston and then the best doctor by todays standards, David Tennant. Capaldi is like a creepy old pervert. I watched the first show but refuse to watch. Thank God there are 50 years of re-runs. Check out Patrick Traughton's years. The most over looked doctor.

TJ

"The spikier style of the greatest early Doctors, Patrick Troughton’s 2nd (1966–69) and Tom Baker’s 4th (1974–81)." I never got why four was so popular. 4 drove me crazy and all the classic Doctors are fantastic, two was no better than the other Doctors either. And so far I actually think 12 is showing more elements of 1, 6 and 7 than 2 and 4. Which is great as I think six is one of the best Doctors (my personal favourite along with one and eleven) but very underrated and I was happy to see similaties between six and twelve such as their general relationship with their main companions, Peri and Clara. I loved the firmed ship between Peri and Six after the first episode and think 12 and Clara will have quite a similar tone. Capaldi costume wise looks like 3 but seems more of a mix of one, six and seven with a little bit of two and three thrown in.

Jennifer

I'm all for a bit more seriousness in the show (I liked Tennant and Smith–Tennant a bit more–but their manic energy was getting a bit tiring). But hopefully, they won't go overboard with the darkness–it could be too off-putting. Look what happened the last time they tried to make the Doctor too abrasive…by the time Colin Baker toned it down, the damage had been done.

So…darker, yes, but not to the extent of losing what makes the Doctor the Doctor…the warmth, humor and compassion for others.

LesFleurs

I've stopped enjoying the writing on that show. I'm not sure why.

Cee

I have watched Peter Capaldi act in wildly varying roles since the very late 80's, in England and on PBS. He always impresses.

Cee

Did anyone else think the production values in the show seemed to have slipped a little bit? It seemed somehow more video and less film than previously.

Droppo

I thought the first episode showed potential with Capaldi, but I won't make any judgements on him until I have seen at least three episodes. I believe it takes that long to get a good handle on who a new Doctor is going to be.

Rollstuhlwolf

With each and every Doctor since the show's inception come new companions and new enemies. The "fans" are the companions, who travel with each Doctor through good and bad episodes, regenerations, new incarnations and new actors playing the role. The new enemies are the naysayers, skeptics, individuals trapped in nostalgia and too stubborn to allow any changes to their myopic view of things. More recently, the new enemies are not The Weeping Angels or Vashta Nerada; but instead the legion of internet trolls like certain commentators below. You cannot make them happy or appease their angst with the world, so instead I leave them to their self-inflicted and enforced misery.

I'm a 36 year old true Whovian, with every available classic and new episode in my collection. I like some Doctors better than others, some eras and episodes more than others, but I stay with the show. We few that accept the show in all it's forms and constant changes view the program much like the Doctor views his beloved TARDIS:

It may not take us where we WANT to go, but it always takes us where we NEED to.

Believe that and like myself, you may visit old friends and new enemies, old Doctors and new faces with an Eye of Harmony. It means you may not always blend in with other fans and watchers, but you will make a very distinctive sound that true Who fans will always come when they hear.

carmen

i loved Christopher Eccleston, and David Tennant, and it took awhile, but i liked MATT Smith too . This doctor will be fine! i like him, and i really hope they have some story lines with River Song. I am also really glad that the character of Clara is leaving she is my least favorite companion.

KatS

I wasn't sure how I was going to like Capaldi as the Doctor. I think he is a great actor but I wasn't sure how the show would use his talents. I needn't have worried. They did a fine job of stirring up the Doctor pot and allowing him to sample the previous incarnations while settling on his own. Well done.

And the line, "I'm Scottish!?" was one of the best lines and deliveries ever. Good job all.

Joe

Who is this dumb article kidding? This guy is the worst actor to play the Doctor ever, Hopefully his time will be short.

Joe Spencer

Yes. Capaldi will be great as long as the team can maintain the energy, higher productions value and special effects, and the brilliant musical scoring that came with the reboot.

MissDisplaced

Does 'Doctor Who' Have Room for Peter Capaldi? Hell YES!
The only constant with Doctor Who is change. Much as I fancied Tennant and liked Smith, I think the time is right for a different sort of Doctor (and an unabashedly Scottish one to boot!). Personally, I like a little darkness.

steve

wow so many old bags on here trying to relive their youth so sad!

steve Thomas logie

better think again Capaldi is the evil priest on the Musketeers,not doctor Who!

Patty

I miss Matt Smith. His earnestness and humor made the Doctor appealing. Whether it is "classic" or not, I don't want a Doctor that is stand-offish and grumpy. Capaldi's debut episode seemed uneven-hope it gets better.

James

Capaldi looks good as the Doctor. The problem will remain the scripts. Particularly with Matt Smith there was a habit of making the themes too momentous, revealing the Doctor's future, his past and more. It leaves the series now with little space to manoeuvre. As someone who remembers the happy days of the 60s and 70s, I preferred those old storylines where it was one 'baddie' versus the Doctor and kept simple.

JW

I think he will make a good Doctor, I like him better than Matt Smith but not nearly as well as David Tennant (who I will always miss). I did however dislike the first episode and hope they get better.

Mike

I started with Christopher Eccleston and never looked back. Oh yes, I did actually when the "classic episodes" were made available here is the U.S. I was never the Matt Smith fan but really liked Amy. Tennant was okay but I think Peter Capaldi will prove to be the best of the new breed. Congrats to a good start with episode 1.

Jennifer

You seem to have forgotten a key player. Tennant was not the Doctor when it was relaunched. That honor went to Christopher Eccleston, who was 40ish when he played the Doctor. He was older (but not old) and rougher. As someone who started with him, I am glad to see a return to more Classic nuances. And I'm in my mid 20s.

Des

I love how so many people are relieved to finally be rid of the 10th & 11th doctors…..you know, the ones who made the show really popular. Yes, I grew up on Tom Baker……me and a few thousand other Americans really enjoyed the show. Somehow I'm thinking those kind of numbers won't make the people at the show OR the networks very happy. But at least all these internet folks will finally have what they wanted with a return to mediocrity….

cadavra

As one of those "geezers" who prefers his Doctors older and grumpy, I did a happy dance when Capaldi was cast. It's high time we took him back from the kids. Now if only they'll shoot some outtakes where he goes all Malcolm Tucker on the Daleks. ("Exterminate THIS, you f—ing tin c—s!")

Doug Luberts

Capaldi is 56. His birthday is 4/14/58, according to multiple sources.

Ella

I couldn´t stand Matt Smith and his Doctor. Too manic, constantly waving with sonic screwdriver, yelling "I am the Doctor!" as if he dressed into his dad´s clothes, yelling "I am all grown up now!". To get through his episodes was tough, especially since Amy as a character was annoying as hell. Presence of Rory helped somehow and once Clara came on board, he got a little calmer. But still, I am glad he is gone and Capaldi had me on "No sir, all thirteen!" and didn´t disappoint. Regeneration episode is always difficult for judging the new Doctor but Capaldi is such a great actor that he will make anything work. And btw., when did Matt Smith become handsome? Since day one, I thought he was creepy looking…(yes, I really disliked him)

Jane

I hope it works. I stopped watching Dr Who when Matt Smith took over, because I did not like the focus on younger actors. I am very excited to see what Capaldi can do; to me it is perfect casting.

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