The worldwide cultural phenomena that is Doctor Who continues on Saturday when Peter Capaldi makes his debut as the 12th Doctor at 8:15pm on BBC America. Technically we saw the new incarnation at the end of the last season, but that was more about the departure of Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor. This weekend it’s all about Capaldi, a 56-year old actor originally from Glasgow, Scotland who in many ways returns the show to the traditional era of Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker when the Doctor was perceived as being older. Certainly Pertwee was, being 51 when he took the part, but Baker was only 40 compared to David Tennant’s 35 and yet the impression lingers that Baker was much older.
Be that as it may, the casting of the Capaldi who is well known for the role of spin doctor Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It, is a huge departure from the three previous actors who inhabited the role; and a risky one. Whovians, the fans of Doctor Who, can generally be classified into two camps. There are those that grew up with Doctor Who and particularly revere the interpretation of Pertwee and Baker and then there are the newer fans that have embraced the show since it returned in 2005. It is this latter group that has fueled the spectacular success of the show over the past nine years with first Christopher Eccleston and then Tennant and Smith in the role.
All three also had something in common with Pertwee and Baker in their relative anonymity prior to being cast as the Doctor. My suspicion is that this is important in the suspension of reality when it comes to the character. Capladi on the other hand is a known entity somewhat like Peter Davison was when he took over from Baker. Liked by many, including Tennant, Davison was however the start of the slow decline of the show that would see Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy ultimately drive the series into the ground.
Davison, the fifth Doctor, was in some ways a peculiar choice being well known to the British audience as Tristan Farnon in All Creatures Great and Small. Subsequent roles in Campion, Law and Order: UK and in particular the superb The Last Detective have allowed Davison to avoid the fate of all that went before and after him, but his career trajectory is instructive. Tennant, as I noted in my recent coverage of A Politician’s Husband, has been making bold strides to avoid the stereotyping that befell Pertwee and Baker, but Doctor Who is still the first thing that comes to mind when the actor is on the screen.
Enter Capaldi and I’m unsure as to whether he will be a hit. Part of that is to do with the uneven nature of the show since Steven Moffat took over creatively from Russell T. Davies. I loved Moffat the episode writer who with Blink, The Girl in the Fireplace, Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead set a standard that I doubt any other scribe will meet. But somewhere in taking the leap from writer to show runner, Moffat has lost his magic. Hence my apprehension that this may not be the casting choice that the series needed. But I’m happy to be wrong and like many others I’ll be glued to the set on Saturday for the start of the latest season. Prove me wrong; please prove me wrong.
– Wallace Poulter