The wait is over, and it’s one for the ages. Yesterday, in a live special simulcast all around the world, the BBC revealed who will play the 12th incarnation of the titular Time Lord in Doctor Who. Unlike last time, when relative unknown Matt Smith took over from David Tennant, it’s a familiar face: veteran actor Peter Capaldi.
Capaldi had become such a sure thing in the final hours that U.K. bookies stopped taking bets on the outcome. I didn’t believe such an allegedly closely guarded secret would get out, so I was really surprised it was him. Ever since the youthquake Matt Smith set off when he became the youngest-ever Doctor at age 26, and especially considering the huge push to keep building the show’s audience here in the youth-obsessed U.S.A., I never expected that the Doctor would ever again be older than me. But at 55, Capaldi is the oldest to win the role since William Hartnell, the First Doctor.
That could be the biggest risk, at least judging from the handful of angry videos made by teen-girl fans who clearly wanted a younger, hotter Doctor. But, although plenty of fans also welcomed the change, there was also a more tepid reaction (“Meh,” texted my Whovian beffie). Maybe that’s to be expected, since the BBC ratcheted up the excitement to 12 before revealing what a lot of people were pretty sure they already knew.
To me, the biggest bummer about this latest changing of the guard is that showrunner Steven Moffat isn’t leaving too. Still, since the rumors about Capaldi really picked up, I’ve had mixed emotions about him. Here are 10 reasons he is, and isn’t, a good choice to play the 12th Doctor.
1. The Choice Is Stunningly Predictable.
The revamped Doctor Who that Russell T. Davies brought us in 2005 opened up new horizons for the show, giving us thoroughly modern characters ranging from openly bisexual con man Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), to the Doctor’s first black companion, Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman), to the interspecies same-sex married couple Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh) and Jenny Flint (Catrin Stewart). This progressiveness made it easier for more people to imagine the Doctor being something other than a white male. Last time out, Paterson Joseph was a much-discussed possibility to become the first-ever black Doctor, and when writer Neil Gaiman’s episode “The Doctor’s Wife” casually made it canon that a regenerating Time Lord’s gender could change, the floodgates of what-if opened wide.
Not so, alas. Moffat actually boasted in Sunday’s special that the new Doctor choice was “a quite different idea,” when it wasn’t anything of the sort. Like all the Doctors ever, he’s a white male. Like Christopher Eccleston and Peter Davison, he is already an established and respected actor. Like David Tennant, he’s a lifelong Doctor Who fan. Yeah, Moffat. really different.
2. And Yet He’s Going to Be Great.
But it’s wrong to just dismiss Capaldi as yet another white bloke. He’s a fine British actor – pretty much the only qualification, I’ve come to believe, needed to convincingly play the Doctor – with a crazy-good range. In the U.K., he’s best known for portraying the excitable, foul-mouthed spin doctor Malcolm Tucker on the political satire series The Thick of It, but he also memorably played the elegant transvestite Vera in Prime Suspect series 3, starring Helen Mirren. He was the brutal King Charles I in Channel 4’s The Devil’s Whore and an angel who watches over the underground world of London Below in BBC Two’s version of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. (He’s also made previous appearances in the Whoniverse, but more on that in a minute.)
I’ve only seen a fraction of Capaldi’s work, but he impresses me with his slightly offbeat intensity, and he’s weird-looking in a pleasant way, which makes him a good physical choice. He could play the Doctor as more of a hardass, but still layer up the eccentric and tormented elements of the Time Lord’s personality. The man has played George Harrison, Robert Louis Stevenson and the Biblical Wise Man Balthazar, so he should be fine.
3. Still, Helen Mirren Will Not Be Amused.
Everyone had an opinion about who the next Doctor should be, and the demand that the BBC cast a woman was louder than ever, coming from the throats of regular fans, fave Whoniverse actors like John Barrowman and even the likes of Dame Helen Mirren, who thought especially outside-the-blue-box. “I think a gay, black female Doctor Who would be the best of all,” the 67-year-old star told ITV’s Daybreak.
No word yet on what she thinks about the choice of her former co-star Capaldi. I’m guessing she’ll wish him well and leave it to grumpy people like me to say it’s annoying that Moffat talked bollocks in Sunday’s special about how there very well could be a female next Doctor. Right, because it’s always safer to entertain radical ideas once you’ve already made the more comfortable choice. On the other hand, let’s face it: Doctor Who is big business, and the Beeb isn’t about to take that much of a risk with it.
4. At Least He Isn’t a Hot Young Thing.
Beauty is of course in the eye of the beholder, so I’m not saying the guy’s ugly. But he may not be perceived as sexy, especially to the younger set. This could make for a refreshing change. Current companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), who will carry on with the 12th Doctor, already has a way less romantic relationship with the 11th Doctor – any time he shows tenderness toward her, it is more fatherly than anything. The age difference between Capaldi and 27-year-old Coleman doubtless puts the kibosh on any overt smoochiness. It would be cool to see their relationship become a modern sort of rendering of the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith (pictured above), two best friends adventuring across the universe and watching each other’s backs.
5. He’s Rude and Definitely Not Ginger.
One name that was briefly bandied about this time was Domhnall Gleeson, the redheaded Irish actor best known as Bill Weasley in the last two Harry Potter films. Would the Doctor at last get to be ginger? Nope, sorry – Capaldi is a much snowier choice.
But a bigger challenge is that his best known role is Malcolm Tucker, the sweary hothead on The Thick of It, who at least on the surface seems universes away from the Doctor. (But, man, are the foul-mouthed Time Lord memes already getting old!) Dubbed “Iago with a Blackberry” by U.K. weekly The Spectator, Malcolm is a ruthlessly manipulative character who is largely hated and feared. Yet he’s also said to be extremely intelligent, righteous in his motivations, intolerant of cronyism and surprisingly respectful of underlings. Hm. Maybe it’s not such a challenge, after all.
6. He’ll Probably Rein in the Mania.
Though 55 is by no means geriatric, I’m guessing Capaldi won’t be playing the Doctor with the wildly abandoned physicality that the fez-wearing, mop-wielding Matt Smith brought to the role. I thought David Tennant was a maniac as the 10th Doctor, until Smith came along and positively reveled in pushing the limits of how many busy little movements he could make and verbal torrents he could spew in any given scene. It’s gotten to the point where Moffat seems to use that mania, and the confusion it creates, to disguise how little is really going on in some stories. I’m hoping Capaldi has a fresh take on how the Doctor moves and speaks, because that will challenge Moffat to do things differently too.
7. But He Was Already on Doctor Who.
Yes, I know: Sixth Doctor Colin Baker first appeared on Doctor Who during the tenure of Fifth Doctor Peter Davison, playing the sniffy Gallifreyan Commander Maxil. Despite his previous role, the BBC hired him to play the Doctor anyway. Look how well that turned out.
But generally, I don’t think having had a previous role on the show should prevent someone from getting the job as the Doctor. Or as a companion, as both Freema Agyeman and Karen Gillan were in episodes before becoming Martha and Amy. But those were all supporting parts, whereas in the Series 4 episode “The Fires of Pompeii,” Capaldi played the central role of Caecilius, the head of the family around whom most of the action revolves, and who owe their survival to the Doctor. I just hope Moffat will refrain from feeling obligated to address the resemblance on screen, like Russell Davies did with Agyeman (explaining that her previous role was Martha’s cousin) and also for Eve Myles, the actress who appeared in “The Unquiet Dead” before joining the Torchwood cast as Gwen Cooper, a fact that Davies self-indulgently couldn’t resist drawing unnecessary attention to.
8. Who Cares, Because Another Scotsman, Yay!
I don’t know what you’d call someone who loves all things Scottish beyond reason – an Albaphile (after the Scottish Gaelic name for Scotland)? Anyway, I am one, and two of my fave Doctors are David Tennant and Sylvester McCoy, who played the Seventh Doctor. I think it’s awesome that Capaldi was once in a punk band called the Dreamboys with countryman and future late-night host Craig Ferguson (another avid Whovian). I kind of doubt that he’ll be as tartaned-up as McCoy sometimes was, but I’m hoping that, unlike Tennant, Capaldi will get to add a little Scottish flavor to the Doctor’s accent.
9. Never Mind Caecilius, What About Frobisher?
Capaldi’s In the Thick of It role, however different to the Doctor, is outside the Whoniverse. His having played Caecilius isn’t a huge problem because the character was just a guy caught up in the events of history, who happened to cross the Doctor’s past.
But the actor’s turn as John Frobisher in Children of Earth, the third series of Who spin-off Torchwood, is what really made me cross him off the list of potential Doctors, and still kind of unnerves me about this choice. That may change once I actually see him as the Doctor, but right now it’s hard to shake off the memory of the tormented middle-manager who is a willing, albeit unhappy, participant in a government conspiracy to appease an alien threat by handing over Britain’s least-likely-to-succeed children.
Though sympathetic at times, perhaps because he is caught between a rock and a hard place, ultimately Frobisher reflects all the very worst rationalizations for going along to get along. He pays a dear price, which he thinks is a necessary sacrifice but ironically isn’t, but he’s still an awful person.
10. The Only Constant Is Change.
Whether you became a Doctor Who fan yesterday or have been one for 50 years, you know the drill by now: The Doctor’s gonna change, and we won’t see his face again. But we’ll see a new one, and that still marvelously clever conceit is why the show has lasted this long. Changing Doctors creates a sense of excitement and possibility that doesn’t really need all the fanfare the BBC brought to it this time. One of the more moving parts of the special was Matt Smith’s goodwill message to Capaldi: He seemed a little sad and reluctant to say the words, as though he couldn’t completely hide some regret at his decision to depart.
But, like the old showbiz saw goes, always leave ’em wanting more. Here’s hoping that, when the 12th Doctor finally turns up, he won’t leave us wanting something else.
Previously by Natalie Nichols:
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