Cheers Doctor Who, You've Ruined Malcolm Tucker
Apparently for a new ‘doctor’ to be born his predecessor must die first. I say apparently because, quite frankly, the mythology of Doctor Who is quite far down on the agenda of things I need to know – I’ve mustered the strength to watch it once or twice, but have found the steam-punk cyborg storylines as boring as the special effects are shite.
But this weekend I broke one of my TV rules by flicking over BBC ONe, not so much in excitement I presume dominated twitter – luckily the great British bake-off had afforded me the opportunity to purge ‘those’ people from my feed – but rather in morbidity. I came to watch a character die.
It wasn’t the dimension-hopping detective I came to mourn, rather the character through which actor Peter Capaldi had found his fame through – Malcolm Tucker. Ever since the rather baffling fanfare that surrounded the primetime ‘unveiling’ of the new doctor I’d knew this was a death sentence for nuclear-powered Caledonian swearing machine, but I needed to see the execution, I needed to be sure.
And lo, there he was – dressed in a suit, his features gaunt, a snake-like vein still protruding from his temple. For a second my mind dared to dream – I foresaw a barrage of expletive-laden anger being unleashed on the girl say next to him, all book-marked by torrent of hot, multicolour violent imagery in which various internal organs would be fashioned into fashion items. But no, instead I was presented with some bullshit involving candle-powered robots and a MS paint quality Tyrannosaurus Rex.
No more Tucker. In truth, the creator of the show/thesis on swearing Armando Iannucci has always said that the 4th series would be the last, but it didn’t feel real until I saw the body. And even then it didn’t feel right – like watching James Gandolfini in his post-Sopranos roles, they just felt unnatural, which in itself is a very natural reaction when a character imprints on you so much.
In the long, storied and gloriously rich history of comedy that British television has produced, Malcolm Tucker - Director of Communications for the Government of the United Kingdom to give him his full title – is one of the greats. A kinetic, sweary, angry, bullying, schemer – all qualities the preserve of the bastard – but in Tucker’s case he does it so well, with such craft and aplomb that he becomes the anti-hero.
He verbally eviscerates ordinary, decent -if dull-witted and incompetent - civil servants and politicians and lays waste to entire departments, a politico destroyer of worlds. Yet while most characters would find ample ammunition in the periodic table of swearwords, Tucker’s verbal take-downs run deeper than that, and are all the more entertaining for it.
Exhibit A: “I'm scaring you? I'm so sorry for fucking scaring you, I mustn't scare you, must I? I won't scare you! Okay, I'm just going to explain what I'm gonna fucking to do to you! I'm gonna take your bollocks, I'm gonna fucking rip them off, I'm gonna fucking paint eyeballs on them! And then stitch them to a FUCKING SOCK and use THAT as a mouthpiece!.”
Exhibit B: “Feet off the furniture, you Oxbridge twat. You're not in a punt now.”
Exhibit C: “Jesus Christ, see you, you're a fucking omnishambles, that's what you are. You're like that coffee machine, you know: from bean to cup, you fuck up.”
Of course one thing you’ll notice those three quotes all share in common is the existence of at least on expletive or some kind, and some ‘personal’ comment to help the burn on its way, but what made it so vital, and, to be honest, so funny, was the manner of the delivery. Through bulging eyes, veins pumping, thin finger aimed at the recipient, the verbal barrages are delivered with the combined energy of a nuclear bomb having a drunken argument with a hurricane.
It was Capaldi’s delivery that set the tone for the entire show – many comedy vehicles have portrayed an office environment , or documented incompetence of the political establishment – but it is ‘The Thick of it’ that is considered the pinnacle of the satire genre – in fact comments from those who have experienced working life within Whitehall have suggested that the only way The Thick of it could have been closer to reality is if it featured a version of the show being broadcast on televisions in the background.
And none of what makes the show great – the constant fear of the incompetent underlings, attempting to hide their deeds from Malcolm, would be neither believable nor entertaining if it weren’t for Peter Capaldi’s performance that induces the fear of God into you.
And that’s why I’m sad and a bit pissed off. I don’t blame the 56-year old for taking the role – it’s a guaranteed, lucrative pay check for the foreseeable future, something most actors will never have the chance to accept let alone turn down.
But whenever I stumble onto that BBC One Saturday night slot and find myself watching a straight faced Capaldi facing down a hoard of fascist dustbins or GCSE level alien invasion special effects I will feel sad that one of this generation’s greatest comic actors has been deployed in such an unbefitting manner and that the foul-mouthed government enforcer is never coming back.
Thanks Doctor, you’ve gone and ruined it.
In the words of Tucker himself: fuckety-bye.