I’m a newer fan of Doctor Who. I started watching the show with its return to television in 2005 with Christopher Eccelston as the titular Ninth Doctor. I’m not alone. Many new fans were created with Eccelston. Even more first jumped on with David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor. And even more – like my niece – became new fans with Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor. If there’s one thing that all three of them shared, it was an inherent goofiness. Even Eccelston’s darker, post-war persona had a “daft face,” big ears, and a goofy grin. And to be fair, Tennant and Smith both had their share of dark moments. But as a whole, they were funny, goofy, Doctors. They were young, hip, sexy. Many fangirls swoon over David Tennant. That’s all well and good. I have no problem with that. Heck, Matt Smith was definitely my favourite Doctor largely because of his nature as a giant kid at heart.
But with the emergence of Peter Capaldi as the Doctor #12, we’re seeing a very different Doctor. One that I think will be jarring for many new fans such as myself.
When Doctor Who started 50 years ago, The Doctor was an older, perhaps grumpier old man. It wasn’t until the Fifth Doctor in Peter Davidson that the character really started “having fun” as David Tennant said in Time Crash. He was “dashing about, playing cricket.” I would argue Tom Baker’s incarnation as the Fourth Doctor had his times of silliness – he was clearly partly what inspired Matt Smith’s eleventh incarnation. And previous Doctor Who writers have played with the idea of sterner Doctors, such as Colin Baker. But as a whole, The Doctor character has been a funnier, goofier character. He’s a “madman with a box.”
Peter Capaldi, on the other hand, is different. He’s still a madman with a box, but he’s a more reserved, stern madman. In his debut episode, Deep Breath, he negotiates with the episode’s clockwork villain by pouring and drinking scotch. You would never have seen Eccelston, Tennant, or Smith even consider touching a drink. There were very few – if any – instances where Capaldi even smiles. He has giant, angry eyebrows. He doesn’t run about and in fact, leaves Clara to fend for herself for arguably far too long. Fortunately, she fared well.
What I like about Capaldi is that he is not only incredibly different from Smith, Tennant, and even Eccelston, but he’s calling back to early Doctors. I feel a lot of similar vibes with the Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee. It’s actually a refreshing change from goofballs in brainy specs, bow-ties, and fezzes. As much as I loved Smith, I think this is a great way to separate Capaldi from the rest that many new fans are used to. He’s certainly not the young, dashing “boyfriend” that many fangirls will fantasize about like they did Tennant or Smith.
In some ways, though, I think the producers of Doctor Who were preparing us for this new, older, stoic Doctor. During The Time of the Doctor, there were many mentions of growing up or being a grown up. The War Doctor (arguably the true Eleventh Doctor, though I disagree on that) scolded his younger counterparts, asking them why they were so afraid of being a grown up. In Adventures of Time and Space, a great TV movie about the production of the first few seasons of Doctor Who, The Doctor is first described as “C.S. Lewis meets H.G. Wells meets Father Christmas.”
All this, I think, prepared us fans for an older Doctor. And honestly, it’s a Doctor that I hesitantly welcome. I say hesitantly only because while I accept and embrace this new Doctor, I wonder if the writers and producers can bring him to life in the right way that the rest of the fanbase will also accept him. Last episodes episode, was good in many ways, felt like the creative team were still trying to find their feet with this very new, very different Doctor. Even the music was more subdued than usual and the opening credits sequence very different, as well. Again, all changes I welcome, but I can’t help but wonder how long it will take Capaldi, show producer Steven Moffat, and the rest of the creative team to really find their footing.