On ‘Doctor Who,’ it’s ‘Time’ to change the Doctor

Dec. 25, 2013 | 11:00 a.m.
Peter Capaldi will be the 12th Doctor Who when he takes over from Matt Smith in the 2013 Christmas Special. (BBC/MCT)

Peter Capaldi will be the 12th Doctor Who when he takes over from Matt Smith in the 2013 Christmas Special. (BBC/MCT)

On Christmas Day 2013, Peter Capaldi will take over for Matt Smith as the star of “Doctor Who,” the phenomenal BBC sci-fi series about a traveler in time and space. (It airs here on BBC America.) At some point in the holiday special “The Time of the Doctor,” Smith’s Doctor will regenerate into Capaldi’s — same character, new body — and the era of the 12th Doctor will begin.

Capaldi is best known to Americans, which is not to say well known, as the F-bombing spin doctor in Armando Iannucci’s political comedies “The Thick of It” (BBC series) and “In the Loop” (film spinoff) and, reaching back through the foggy mists of time, for Bill Forsyth’s gentle comedy of Scotland, “Local Hero.”

At any rate, he is better known to us than were immediate predecessors Smith, David Tennant and Christopher Eccleston when they assumed the role. And Capaldi has twice appeared in the Whoniverse, as a 1st century businessman in “The Fires of Pompeii” and a tragic figure at the center of the spun-off “Torchwood” miniseries, “Children of Earth.” Thrice, if you count his very brief appearance (eyes only) last month in the 50th-anniversary special episode, “The Day of the Doctor.”

The announcement in August of Capaldi’s casting followed months of public speculation and wish-listing, conspiratorial sifting of coincidence and readings of tea leaves. He had been the bookmakers’ favorite and, at least in one respect, came as no surprise: Because whatever else the new Doctor would turn out to be — and, if recent history were any guide he would turn out to be tall, thin, white, clean-shaven, not bald and unconventionally attractive, and did — it was going to be somebody British.

00 10 51mb On Doctor Who, its Time to change the Doctor

Matt Smith in "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

00 11 51mb On Doctor Who, its Time to change the Doctor

"The Wooden Cyberman" in a scene from "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

00 12 51mb On Doctor Who, its Time to change the Doctor

"The Wooden Cyberman" in a scene from "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

00 13 51mb On Doctor Who, its Time to change the Doctor

Daleks in a scene from "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

00 14 51mb On Doctor Who, its Time to change the Doctor

The Doctor (Matt Smith) faces off against Daleks in "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

00 15 51mb On Doctor Who, its Time to change the Doctor

Matt Smith in "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

00 16 51mb On Doctor Who, its Time to change the Doctor

Matt Smith in "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

00 17 51mb On Doctor Who, its Time to change the Doctor

Cybermen in a scene from "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

00 18 51mb On Doctor Who, its Time to change the Doctor

Orla Brady as Tasha Lem Cybermen in a scene from "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

00 19 51mb On Doctor Who, its Time to change the Doctor

Orla Brady as Tasha Lem Cybermen in a scene from "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

00 20 51mb On Doctor Who, its Time to change the Doctor

Jenna Coleman as Clara in "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

00 23 45mb On Doctor Who, its Time to change the Doctor

Rob Jarvis as Abramal, left, and Tessa Peake-Jones as Marta in a scene from "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

00 26 45mb On Doctor Who, its Time to change the Doctor

Rob Jarvis as Abramal, front left, and Tessa Peake-Jones as Marta in a scene from "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

00 33 45mb On Doctor Who, its Time to change the Doctor

The Doctor (Matt Smith) and the Daleks in a scene from "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

00 39 45mb On Doctor Who, its Time to change the Doctor

Orla Brady as Tasha Lem Cybermen in a scene from "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

00 40 45mb On Doctor Who, its Time to change the Doctor

Artwork featuring the Doctor and some of his friends and foes in a scene from "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

00 41 46mb On Doctor Who, its Time to change the Doctor

Artwork featuring the Doctor and some of his friends and foes in a scene from "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

doctor who xmas 2013 jennasingle simplelyrs On Doctor Who, its Time to change the Doctor

Jenna Coleman as Clara in a poster for "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

doctor who xmas 2013 mattsingle simplelyrs On Doctor Who, its Time to change the Doctor

Matt Smith in a poster for "The Time of the Doctor," the 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas special. (BBC America)

doctorwho christmasspecial 5 On Doctor Who, its Time to change the Doctor

A poster for "The Time of the Doctor" features Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman. (BBC America)

Like James Bond, “Doctor Who” posits a world in which the U.K. is still at the center of things. It’s where the aliens arrive, where the Earth is repeatedly saved.

Some had hoped for a black Doctor (Idris Elba was often named), or a female Doctor (Olivia Colman, perhaps), and as with other great and important offices, it does seem only right that it be open to anyone, regardless of gender or color. If such a move seemed just possible this time, it’s hard to believe the next Doctor won’t break one of those lines, or both.

That Capaldi is an award-winning actor of great reputation does not necessarily mean that it will be any easier for him to take control of the Tardis (his time/space machine). Every new Doctor represents a testing of the brand and a testing of the faithful; there are viewers still mourning the loss of Tennant (Doctor No. 10), and undoubtedly some who feel nothing’s been as good since Tom Baker (No. 4) quit back in 1981.

It will also, and not incidentally, be a test of the show runner, Steven Moffat, who arrived with Smith, following the retirement of series-rebooter Russell T Davies. Show runners are a thing viewers know about now; we know who to blame when things are not to our liking, and Moffat (whose work I do like) gets a fair share of abuse.

Still, first reactions were on the whole approving, though some younger online commenters bemoaned Capaldi’s age — 55, the age of William Hartnell, in fact, when he created the role in 1963. Fangirls who crushed on the younger Eccleston, Tennant and/or Smith wondered how they would adapt to a Doctor old enough to be their dad.

There is, of course, plenty of precedent for gray-haired swashbucklers (your Gandalf, actually called Grey, your Obi-Wan Kenobi, your very vibrant Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee). And Moffat can always create companions for raw youth appeal, as was the original custom: Hartnell’s Doctor traveled with a granddaughter. But Capaldi is also very much more fit and energetic than was Hartnell at his age.

Jenna Coleman and Matt Smith in "The Name of the Doctor." (BBC Worldwide)

Jenna Coleman and Matt Smith in “The Name of the Doctor.” (BBC Worldwide)

Certainly, he represents a change from Smith, thought by some to be too young for the part when he took over, ironically. He offers a range of new tonal possibilities, some of which are also old possibilities. Indeed, if you look back across the whole life of the series, Capaldi seems very much in the tradition — a likely, almost obvious choice.

He has the authority, the madness, the sweetness. And at bottom, Moffat might be more of a “Who” classicist than was Davies, who brought sex, romance and a will-they-won’t-they element to the series. It may be time for the return of a more fatherly, or at least more fatherly-looking, Doctor.

Still, there’s no telling how Moffat will write him. The Doctor is as constant as the stars and as changeable as the wind; he is a warrior clown, comical and stern, a 1,000-year-old child, a tenderhearted soul who loves humanity and yet is renowned across the universe as the scourge of worlds. (Worlds that deserve a scourge, naturally.) There is a lot of room to play in there.

Fans — especially British fans, whose allegiance spans decades and generations, speak of “my Doctor” as if every citizen needs to have a favorite — do have strong ideas about what the Doctor should be. But variety is in his nature, and in choosing to take this ride, we agree to accept the authenticity of the latest anointed choice — a choice no more in our hands, after all, than it is in the Doctor’s.

He is always surprised by who he next finds himself to be.

– Robert Lloyd

RECENT AND RELATED

"Doctor Who" star Matt Smith. “I think what he brought back to the role is the absolute nuttiness of the Doctor,” Moffat said. “Matt’s Doctor is basically insane. You put him in a normal situation, and you realize he’s an absolute lunatic.” (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)‘Doctor Who’: For Matt Smith, it’s been a ‘nutty’ ride

‘Doctor Who’: Tennant, Piper in anniversary video

‘Doctor Who’ casting: ‘You know it when you see it’

‘Doctor Who’ 50th anniversary hype

Peter Capaldi: A return to distinguished tradition?

‘Who’: Jenna Coleman is right in time

Moffat reveals new Doctor’s audition scripts

Comic-Con bids Matt Smith farewell

‘Doctor Who’ finale: The mystery of Clara

ESSAY: A love letter to ‘Doctor Who’

Comments


35 Responses to On ‘Doctor Who,’ it’s ‘Time’ to change the Doctor

  1. philipbond says:

    Peter Capaldi in my opinion is a consummate actor able to complete complex dialogue (yes ladened with expletives) whilst maintaining character. (the outtakes/bloopers would be worth seeing alone) I would like to see him on stage, methinks it worth the price of admission.

  2. Chris Sullivan says:

    No 'show runners' in Britain; sorry.

  3. Lynn Walker says:

    It's Gandalf, called Gray because of the color of his cloak, not the color of his hair or his age.

  4. Vinny says:

    Never ever will watch a woman Doctor. There are holy traditions to behold, and a PC "wo-man" is not one of them.

  5. Paul S. Nicholls says:

    The new Doctor will prove to be a true challenge for both us older generation followers and the newer generation (past 9 years). I hope the new Doctor proves to be able to live up to the standards of those in the past and can win over all the Doctors followers.

  6. Ray says:

    I don't like this Dr from the word go. He is an old fart. I'm 67 myself. I don't want a DR as old as I am.

    • Aaron says:

      Well, good thing he's 12 years younger than you, old man!

    • Erik says:

      Oh, come now! I've been watching Dr. Who since Tom Baker and I like the pre-Baker doctors just as much (well, maybe no Pertwee).

      You'll get used to it – I got accustomed to young Doctors, after all. McCoy was probably a bigger change than this, though his Doctor was more in the spirit of the 2nd Doctor. On the other hand, I'm only a bit more than 1/2 your age.

      I just want to see what Capaldi's Doctor's personality will be after two sensitive and somewhat comedic doctors in a row.

  7. ackraus says:

    Just saw the Doctor Who Christmas episode here in the East – Meh.

    It's a typical Steven Moffat episode – constant jumps and turns to hide the lack of a real plot. Just keep things moving fast enough to keep most people from noticing that it doesn't make any sense.

    • Aaron says:

      I pity Moffat-haters. You poor souls have no sense of wonder or joy.

    • Jonathan says:

      Sorry you're so easily confused. Watch a show that won't tax your brain as much and stop bothering the people who get it.

    • GJ_Morin says:

      You poor soul! If you have seen all the episodes from 2005 to date, you would get it. There was so much going on with the dialog and the characters that were nods to things in the past, it was unbelievable!!

    • Dwayne says:

      maybe its actually too deep for you to follow in true Dr Who fashion ;) Are you a Cyberman????

  8. ally says:

    ugh… what turn off to the show. No one wants to see an old man running around.

    • Jen says:

      Haha, I almost wanted to give this a thumbs-up. This is exactly what Hollywood and other entertainment executives say about older women. On one hand it's hilarious to hear a young woman turn the tables, you won't always be young, dear.

  9. LifeIsMyGame says:

    Christopher Eccleston was my first doctor since I had not seen Dr. Who as a child. He was a great Dr. Who. Then came the ultimate, David Tennant. My husband and my adult doctor cannot abide Matt Smith. I can take him or leave him. Mostly leave him, so we were very hopeful that the new doctor would be someone awesome. This new actor (I remember him from the Fires of Pompeii) does not bode well. Too old, too ugly. As much as I enjoy Steve Moffat's stories, I think we need Russell T. Davis once in a while.
    This last episode, my daughter and I watched and neither one of us understood anything. And the regeneration left a lot to be desired. The casting people should be fired.

  10. Lori says:

    Just watched the Dr Who Christmas special they had me up until the end when the new Dr was revealed all I can say is ughh he is too old. I don't want to see Clara with him. Now I wish I wouldn't have watched it :( so disappointed.

  11. jmateus says:

    From a marketing point I don’t understand why the producers would have gone with a much older Dr.  Who. I don’t underestimate Mr. Peter Capaldi acting capabilities for one bit,  I am sure he is a very capable and fine actor but I quite don’t see Dr.  Who merchandising jumping off the shelves into school girls ( and boys)  college dorm room with a Dr.  that could be their dad. Dr.Who will still be very popular TV series with Mr. Capaldi but at what cost?

  12. Ralph says:

    I first saw Peter in an earlier show of Dr. Who., as a teenager during the Dr. Visit to either Vasuvious or Pompay (Can't remember which city it was). Peter didn't much of a roll, but I thought his acting back then was too much acting. Now he is the next Dr.. Personally I would to have seen Brian Masters as the next Dr.

  13. Mike says:

    Who was hoping for a black doctor or a woman doctor? people who watch this show could care less.

  14. Sheldon_W says:

    I watched Time of the Doctor last night and my first reaction to The Doctor MKII.1 is positive. I also like how Moffat underscored the new regeneration by both undermining and sticking to the rules established in the series from back in the seventies when they were first explicitly stated.

    Very clever stuff.

  15. margarita says:

    I just started watching with Matt Smith as the Dr. and have to say I fell in love with his mania. I guess I'll give he new Dr. a try, but I don't hold out much hope. I agree with those who say going back to a much older Dr. is a bit of a drag. Would have loved to have seen a woman in the role.

  16. James Riggs says:

    Dr Who is awesome! David Tennant is my Dr but Matt Smith was cool too. I say before we judge an older Dr, let’s see what he brings to to this stage of his life. Who knows we may like him. But for me David Tennant will always be my Dr.

  17. cadavra says:

    Tennant and Smith were more like companions than The Doctor, though the former at least had an off-the-wall sense of humor. The Doctor should be a cranky older guy (preferably in a scarf) and there's nobody better for that than Capaldi. I only regret that the series' status as a family show won't allow him to go all Malcolm Tucker on the Daleks' asses (or whatever part of them qualifies).

  18. Dannyboy says:

    I'm 19, And as i much i hate smith to go, I have a feeling Capaldi will win me over as did smith when tennent left, Too all you guys hating on capaldi just because hes 55 is petty, Have you seen 50 year olds these days, they mp can run around as much as smith/tennent, for excample tom cruise hes about 51 and still does movies like mission impossible, so to all you guys hating on capaldi just cause hes 55, Its the 21st century, If you dont like it im sure peter capaldi will be happy to drop you off in his tardis back to the stone age.

  19. Thomas says:

    Last time I check the U.K was still the centre of the universe ! every comment on here is written in English after all.

  20. susanna says:

    I have no problem with the new Doctor. He is a Fabulous actor. I do think it is a bit of a shock to go from one so young as Matt Smith to a 55 year old. Maybe one 40ish in between would have been a smoother change.

  21. Pete says:

    There are many people here in America who enjoy following Dr. Who and hope Matt Smith, Steven Moffat and everyone else involved in the creation of the show are aware of it. My skin is to thin to be in their line of work. I absolutely appreciate the time and dedication that so many people put into the program. I have to say that the people who do lighting on the show are absolute wizards! Thank you for another great season of programs and a wonderful 50th year celebration. Looking forward to lots more Dr. Who in the future.

  22. Newfan says:

    The new doctor may be as old as Hartnel, but 55 is younger than it was fifty years ago. Back then you were waiting to die. Now people are looking at 30 or more years ahead of them. Fifty-somethings are in better shape and are no longer seen as kindly grandfather types.

  23. Cynthia says:

    They always seem to choose the right actor for the role! Young or older, they win me over with each one!

  24. Tyra says:

    My is ruined now I don't like it the older the doctor gets the younger he gets and i was so hoping it would become a law I will always miss Tom Baker and David Tennant my two favorites.

  25. Zane says:

    Everyone, CALM DOWN! Capaldi's 'Old' Doctor is, at the heart, exactly what the original Doctor was. The wise, worldly traveler. The reboot children (Those of you who've only ever experienced Eccleston, Tennant, and Smith) should have some faith. The classic series ran for ages with 'Old' men. Fifty, as others here have said, is not as antiquated as it was during the classics. Realistically, it equates to the same basic maturity level and energy level. Capaldi's Doctor is essentially a viable homage to the roots of the series, which was highly successful. I know, you all want 'Sexy'. But, The Doctor was never particularly skilled with his Regenerations. The Master was, but the Doctor kind of gets what he gets.

    As for a woman Doctor? I have a hard time accepting that. It's an established possibility, true. But at its heart, the Doctor is a man. His Companion, his Conscience, is feminine. True, he's had male companions, but never as the TRUE, single companion. I don't think he should become a woman, just to appease the outcry for 'PC' writing.

    Now, if we could just get Moffat to write a less-slapstick, and more serious, Doctor for Peter….

  26. patrick rummery says:

    John Hurt pulled it off as Doctor with such little screen time on the 50th… why can't Capaldi do the same.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title="" rel=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <pre> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Close
E-mail It
Powered by ShareThis