Some Doctor Who spoilers below of the production-note variety. I imagine most of you have heard the news from the BBC by now, but if you like to stay away from any and all Who-related news, stop reading now.
As per the kind request from the Hog’s Head’s Travis Prinzi, and because I obviously can’t shut myself up from the subject of Doctor Who, these are my thoughts on the casting of the Twelfth Doctor who will be making his way into the world this Christmas. I’m not sure how cogent an argument or analysis I can make at this point as to his ability, given that it will be a year before we see a full episode featuring him as the new, new, new, new Doctor. However, I do have several thoughts (many of them shared with other Whovians and bloggers) that I’d like to put on record while the news is still fresh.
Firstly, let me just say that I was very pleased by how the BBC handled the announcement. The fact that there was a worldwide live simulcast to announce the casting of a character in a TV show (and a weird, sci-fi, children’s television show at that) is simply astounding, and speaks volumes about the impact the show has had on people’s lives and in their affections. The British do have a talent for creating stories that seem to speak to the world at large regardless of culture, and Doctor Who is just one in a long line. The half hour special itself was nice and short. Of course, they left the big announcement for the end – you would be silly to expect otherwise – but the special was concise enough that it wasn’t like sitting through three hours of rejected contestants on American Idol just to get to the announcement of the winner in the last ten seconds. The filler stuff was entertaining enough, including a lovely reel of Eleventh Doctor highlights, interviews with Smith and Moffat, and a hilarious celebrity fan who destroyed his Doctor Who street-cred for life by getting every fact wrong. As for Number Twelve himself, Peter Capaldi, he was gracious and warm and gave a very genial interview.
On to the casting itself: From where I’m sitting, I couldn’t be more excited. I said in my earlier piece that I wanted either an unknown actor or a bit of completely unpredictable stunt-casting. Although Capaldi is not unknown (he’s been around in the UK for quite a while, done a ton of work, and had some very successful and well-received projects) he is certainly not among the A-list Hollywood stars that I was hoping they would avoid (a la Benedict Cumberbatch). Similarly, although Capaldi isn’t quite as unorthodox a choice as might have been (such as an actor of a different race or gender or even of the so-wrong-it’s-right quality of Christopher Eccleston) he nonetheless bucks the trend of New Who in general. He will be a change, and change is good. Change is what makes Doctor Who thrive.
Moffat said in an interview that this time, following Matt Smith, Capaldi just felt right. “Didn’t you just think when he walked out onto that stage,” Moffat asked, “Well, there he is. There’s the Twelfth Doctor.” And by golly, I did. Darn you, Moffat, and your keen insight and flawless casting! He really just feels like a natural progression, and there’s no other way to put it than that. And of course the things that make him different are the things that make him right. He has an energy (someone else said a gracefulness) that is unlike what we’ve seen in the show since its revival. Physically speaking, Eccleston had presence, Tennant had exuberance, and Smith has a delicate clumsiness (if such a thing is possible). This guy seems to have stature. Especially following the newborn giraffe-like Smith, the contrast is startling. A lot of this is of course due to his age (he’s 55), which is another big departure for New Who, and is probably for me the most exciting aspect of his casting. We have simply not seen an incarnation of the character look this way before in the modern show. The effect this should have on the Doctor’s relationship with Clara should be fascinating. Strangely enough, not only is Capaldi a departure for the new show, he is also relatively advanced in age for all of Doctor Who. For those complaining about the supposed fangirls who they are sure will stop watching out of rejection of an older actor, I would like to point out that Capaldi is also the oldest actor to play the part since the First Doctor, William Hartnell, left the show in 1966. While many Classic Doctors look older (Troughton, Pertwee, Baker, McCoy), they were in fact only in their early middle age, some in their early 40’s. For another insightful discussion of the question of the Doctor’s age and the supposedly fickle devotion of modern-show fangirls (and the underlying misogyny and snobbery underlying a certain percentage of the fandom) I recommend L.B. Gale’s short post “In Defence of Doctor Who’s Fangirls.” As a fan who happens to also be a girl, and as an ardent lover of both Tennant’s and Smith’s portrayals, I think she hits the nail on the proverbial head.
In addition to the different possibilities an older actor will bring to the characterization and relationships, it also suggests a difference in the style of storytelling. The one reason why I doubted that Moffat would cast an older actor was the extreme emphasis on action in New Who. Tennant and Smith were both very physical performers, Smith recklessly throwing himself around and Tennant being the undisputed champion of corridor-running. Although both were young, healthy and physically fit, you can see the toll the 9 month shooting schedule took on them over their four respective years on the show. I just don’t see a 55-year old Doctor being quite so physical, which means that the storytelling must change. I’m sure the action won’t go away entirely, but I’m curious to see how it evolves to fit Capaldi’s Doctor.
From a production, behind-the-scenes standpoint, it also doesn’t hurt that Capaldi was and is a huge Doctor Who fan. This isn’t the be all and end all: Matt Smith certainly showed that an actor can play the Doctor with great intricacy despite not having grown up watching the show. However, the fact that Capaldi, like David Tennant, grew up watching, loving, and obsessing over this character and his adventures suggests that it’s something he has put a lot of thought into. Don’t believe me? Check out this i09 post chronicling his youthful enthusiasm. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have a leading actor who cares as much about this project as his fans. Also, if Tennant is anything to go by, it will make Capaldi an excellent ambassador for the show. All of this love and enthusiasm can’t help but translate both on and off-screen.
Finally, there is the question of how Capaldi will play the part. I’m torn between the temptation to immediately go out and watch everything he’s ever done in order to try to predict what kind of Doctor he’ll be, and censoring myself completely from his body of work so as to watch his Doctor with a clean slate. Considering this was pretty much how I first watched the other Doctors (I’d seen Eccleston and Tennant in one or two things, and Smith not at all) I’m leaning towards the latter, but we’ll see. I did just complete the Torchwood miniseries Children of Earth, in which he was quite chilling and generally excellent. I’ve been meaning to watch In the Loop and Local Hero for a while anyway, so I might not be able to resist. Really, what we’re waiting to see are the details, the nuances. In the end, every Doctor needs to play a riff on the same basic melody: He needs to have an otherworldly face, to be both young and old, tragic and silly, intelligent and ridiculous. Every Doctor pulls it off in his own unique way, and I’m sure Capaldi has the chops to do the same.
In a word, what I am is excited. Excited for the 50th Anniversary, for the Christmas Special, for the regeneration, for series 8, and of course for the new Doctor. Welcome, Number Twelve. I’m sure you’ll be brilliant, or fantastic, or…whatever your word of choice is.
AUTHOR’S NOTE #1: This is not intended to start a comments war, but I just need to vent one little thing that, I have to admit, really bugs me about the Doctor Who fan community. I suppose it’s natural, and part of the fun, and there’s nothing I can do about it, and I should really just never read online comments, and blah blah blah, but I have to say it anyway. Why does every discussion have to turn into a battle about which Doctors are best and which ones stink? Honestly, why? Why do we feel compelled to compare apples to oranges? This is not James Bond. It’s not about playing a certain type of character (one that can therefore be compared to other attempts to play said character). The whole point of the Doctor is change and difference. Yes, Peter Capaldi is different than the ones who have come before. That makes him neither better nor worse. It’s just different. All four actors who have played the part in New Who have been terrific. And you know what? I like that they are not the same. I don’t want Capaldi to be like the others, I want something different. But neither does his being older and more stately and more supposedly “Classic” necessarily make him the superior Doctor either. The point of this all is to explore the Doctor’s character, and each time he is recast we learn something new. For example, the Tenth Doctor is arguably the most human; He is followed by the supremely alien Eleventh. News flash: Both are equally good, true, and valid. As long as the acting is good, the Doctor can be anything and everything. That’s the point. We should be celebrating this fact, not complaining about it. I also think that people often miss the subtleties of the performances in playing the better-or-worse game. Although Smith’s Doctor is arguably the most bizarre and alien, he has had incredibly emotional and human moments (see “The Doctor’s Wife”), just as Tennant’s Doctor’s overwhelming compassion and approachability only made his colder and more alien moments all the more poignant and disturbing (such as how he deals with the Family in “Family of Blood”). Let’s not do any of the actors a disservice by putting them in a box of what they can and can’t do. Capaldi’s performance will inevitably define certain aspects of the Doctor’s character, but that does not invalidate all of the other aspects perfected by his predecessors, nor does it mean he won’t be a versatile, well-rounded Doctor. Again, I don’t wish to start any fights about this. If you have a comment by all means share it, but let’s all try to quit the constant complaining.
AUTHOR’S NOTE #2: As of this week, Curtis Weyant and I are up to Episode 10 in Kat and Curt’s TV Re-View! This is quite a milestone – I’m so pleased that we’ve come this far. If you haven’t yet joined in the fun, check out our website, like us and follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and be sure to watch along with us. We’re starting to get into the juicy parts of each season, so it’s a great time to jump in. This week’s episode discusses the first part of Steven Moffat’s delightful two-part debut: “The Empty Child” (which made my Top Ten Episodes of the Russell T. Davies Era list). Admittedly the Buffy episode (“The Puppet Show”) is the weakest of the season, but I guarantee it’s only uphill from there. Next week’s in particular is a real cracker. Listen now and join the discussion in the comments.