As an American, Doctor Who is not part of my culture the way it seems to be in the UK.
I first started watching it when I was maybe 8 or so, because channel 9 in New York would show episodes of this crazy, British sci-fi show on Saturday mornings. My first Doctor was Tom Baker, he of the crazy curly hair and long-ass scarf. I really dug Doctor Who back then, though it was mostly a blur.
When Doctor Who was rebooted back in 2005, I was excited. So far I haven’t been disappointed. Christopher Eccleston, one of my favorite actors, took over as the Doctor. Then came David Tennant, and next was Matt Smith. All the while, Doctor Who continued its tradition of a universe-weary hero dashing across time and space, with a human companion (typically female and star-struck) in tow. The storylines have been unevenly thrilling, heavily British, and always fun.
The new Doctor Who era has ramped up the youth and sexiness (the same hold true for the companions, mostly). In fact, Matt Smith was just in his twenties when he was signed to play the centuries-old alien. So when it was announced that Peter Capaldi (an Oscar winner, by the way) was hired as the next Doctor, everyone, including me, was thrown for a loop. Capaldi is in his late 60s. He’s gray haired and wrinkled. He is a man who has lived. And he most likely won’t be melting teenage girls hearts. Head writer Steven Moffat, in choosing Capaldi, was abandoning the rush to youth. And it makes sense, when you consider that the Doctor is really, really old (older on the inside, at least).
So how’s Capaldi doing?
We’re nearly at the two-episode season finale, so now’s a good a time as any to rate Calpaldi’s incarnation of the Doctor. And it’s not as easy as listing the pluses and minuses.
First, there’s the question of how the last Doctor died. Matt Smith’s Doctor lived a long, long time protecting the inhabitants of Trenzalore. He died an old man, and he wasn’t expecting another regeneration. The Doctor, as we knew him, was willing to pass on peacefully. But then he was granted more regenerations, and he came back. He wasn’t prepared for that.
And then there’s the question of his companion, Clara, played by Jenna Coleman. I’ll leave her for another post, but Clara has not been the ideal companion for Capaldi’s Doctor. She’s conflicted, she doesn’t understand what regeneration is, and she isn’t trying in the least to be supportive. She’s also one of the only companions who calls the Doctor out on his God complex. What that’s given us is a rough transition for this latest Doctor.
On the good side, Capaldi’s age gives him more freedom to play the Doctor as a whimsical, childlike figure. He doesn’t have to pretend to be old. David Tennant and Matt Smith were young men who wore their gravitas on their sleeves. Capaldi reminds me of the first Doctor I knew, Tom Baker. He was older and could get away with playing silly.
But all is not perfect with this Doctor, and I think it boils down to the difficult relationship between Clara and this version of the Doctor. There is very little lightness between them. Their relationship is strained and forced. Most times I doubt they even like each other. The Doctor needs a traveling companion, and he’s developed a thing for humans. And Clara loves the rush of exploration. Theirs is a symbiotic relationship. Not much love, or warmth.
Their tension, however, makes for great drama, and some damned funny lines. I loved when the Doctor commented on how Clara’s face was so big she needed three mirrors to see it all. Rumor has it that Jenna Coleman will leave after the season is over. As much as I’ve enjoyed her on the show, I’ll be glad to see her go. This Doctor — befuddled, socially inept, and a little cold — needs someone who will balance him out.