Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Answering Who: Introducing the New Doctor

In a world rife with feverish mania over the minutest details in pop culture, everyone paid attention to BBC recently to find out who. Not just who—Doctor Who. As in, who would be replacing Matt Smith in one of the most coveted roles out there right now? And it was with great fanfare that BBC presented the 12th Doctor in Peter Capaldi. Doctor Who? The coveted role had many eyes on it and the casting is something of a surprise. Capaldi is older and it looks as if the show may take a slightly different tone with him at the helm. Casting him in the role of the 12th Doctor doesn’t make that his first affiliation with the role though. 

Fans of the recent reboot might recognize Capaldi as Caecilius in “The Fires of Pompeii.” That’s right; the new Doctor previously played a purveyor of fine arts. Getting a little more specific, he purchased the TARDIS from a local merchant in Vesuvius a day before the famed eruption when the 10th Doctor (David Tennant) was visiting with Donna Noble. That the show-runners decided to break canon and cast a previous background character in a title role is very bold, but not the first time they did it. In fact, in that same episode, Karen Gillan made an appearance as a Soothsayer prior to devastating the 11th Doctor with her fateful decision as Amy Pond. Why cast such a character as the new Doctor then, despite there being precedence for the move?
Taking things in a new direction would seem the most obvious choice. Both Matt Smith and David Tennant provided a certain “sexiness” factor to the role, with the relationships with their companions bordering on romantic at times. Whether or not this was intentional on the part of the writers or a function of the on-screen chemistry doesn’t really matter. What matters is that fans all over the world were drawn to the relationships for whatever reason, with throngs of screaming fans (mostly female) clamoring for a glimpse of the good Doctor.

Something changed with Amy Pond though—the introduction of Rory. As Amy’s boyfriend and future husband, the dynamic transformed. No longer was the male Doctor traveling with a female companion. Now, he was traveling with a female companion and her mate. That sea change presented an opportunity for the show to go in a slightly different direction. There wasn’t so much the will they/won’t they aspect of things. It just became about the Doctor and his friends getting out of one sticky situation after another and a lot of the romantic tension was defused.

All of this is coming around to say that the 12th Doctor doesn’t have the same sex appeal that the previous two Doctors did. This is neither a knock on Capaldi’s appearance nor a statement that Doctor Who is all about a male Doctor leading around a female companion in a teased romantic relationship. What it’s saying is that clearly the folks behind the show wanted to go back to a different era of the show; one where the Doctor was significantly older and presumably a little less daring in that flashy way that both Smith and Tennant provided the role in more recent memory. Offering a new Doctor/companion dynamic will shake things up a bit and give viewers something new to watch as the series continues into future seasons.

What’s also interesting is that Jenna-Louise Coleman is continuing her role as the Impossible Girl. When Smith took over, the entire series felt like it hit the reset switch. With the exception of River Song, there were very few references to the 10th or 11th Doctors and their adventures (of course, all of that will change with the 50th Anniversary special later this year). There’s going to be some continuity across the two Doctors and that will make for an interesting run with Capaldi in the role. Maybe down the road, these seasons will be remembered as the Tennant/Chris Eccleston seasons and the Smith/Capaldi seasons, as there will be some overlap across the two respectively.

It seems as if the folks behind the show wanted to play it safe for some reason. If that wasn’t the case, then why not break that barrier and cast the first female Doctor? River Song evidenced much of the Doctor in her own approach to life, wheeling and dealing and getting out of just as many sticky situations on her own. That’s not to say that she should have been the next Doctor, but regenerating Doctor Who into a woman would’ve been a blast of fresh air and really challenged a lot of preconceptions about the role and the aforementioned relationships. Even casting a more diverse Doctor would have turned some heads. An actor like Idris Elba, who was rumored for the part and can do no wrong these days in any role, would’ve been phenomenal as the 12th Doctor.

There’s a certain aura to the role and the series that has to be maintained and in casting Capaldi, it seems as if that mystique is preserved. His casting harkens back to a different era of Doctors, one where the relationship will likely be more mentor/student between the Doctor and his companion, as opposed to will they/won’t they. That’s not to say that one way is better than the other or that either is right/wrong. It’s just that there seems to be a sea change when it comes to hurling the Doctor through space and time in the big blue box. 

One thing is for sure though: Daleks, Cybermen and any of the other myriad of foes who square off against the Doctor didn’t have a say in the voting process. If they did, the 12th Doctor would clearly be a Dalek with a modified Sonic Screwdriver attachment.


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