So it was announced. And I died a little bit inside. I was sure he’d be good in the role – though I didn’t know too much about him. He looked happy to be doing it and the production team seemed convinced that he’d make a perfect Doctor. But it still hurt.
Matt Smith was 26 years old when he was announced as the Eleventh Doctor. You know that thing when they say that you’re getting old when policemen start getting younger or your hair starts going or when you feel the thing to set off your jeans would be to iron a nice sharp crease in them? It’s none of these. It’s when the bloke who plays Doctor Who is younger than you. THAT’s when you know the inevitable march of time is starting to run roughshod over you.
So it was not without a certain sense of relief to see Peter Capaldi announced as the new Doctor Who the other night. At 55, the Glaswegian actor is the same age as William Hartnell (i.e. The First Doctor) was when he stepped into the role of the iconic Time Lord. While the bookies clearly knew something that we didn’t, as Capaldi had been a clear favourite in the betting stakes before the announcement, it was still something of a surprise. The modern incarnation of Doctor Who (or ‘Nu-Who’ to give it it’s achingly hip fan title) has always been something youth led with the formerly avuncular Doctor of the classic era (i.e. everything between 1963 and 1989) morphing into a more dashing and sensual character. Will Capaldi – undoubtedly great actor that he is – really be able to keep the show popular after it celebrates its Fiftieth Anniversary this year?
He certainly has a tough act to follow. Despite the fact that many people had their initial reserves about Smith – he looked like he should be out playing with Lego or collecting football stickers – he turned out to be absolutely brilliant. He had a youthful energy but managed to convey the ancient wisdom and complexity at the heart(s) of the 1000+ year old Time Lord. It was this ability to play the young man in an old man’s body with such gravitas and humour that made him such a popular Doctor. Let’s not also forget that Smith – and Tennant before him – had helped change the demographic of the show. Now, amongst the hardcore fans and the children, there were a bunch of teenage fan girls (and quite a few boys as well) who became a large part of the audience. Capaldi’s casting seems to have turned a few off (“Oooh, he’s old and not as dishy as Smith/Tennant, and it’s not fair and I’m never, ever watching it again,” seems to be a fairly typical response from a certain branch of fandom) but – conversely – there also seems to be a vein of viewers who usually couldn’t care less about Nu-Who who are now interested in catching it when Capaldi takes over the controls of the TARDIS.
The biggest thing about Capaldi is the baggage that he’ll bring with him. Yes there are ‘name’ actors who have played the Doctor before. One of the reasons Christopher Eccleston was cast when the show was revamped was because his chops as an actor would help offset the slightly shonky, cheap and quaintly naff connotations that Doctor Who had acquired since it was put on hiatus in 1989. But Eccleston was a character actor, not really associated with any one part and the same has gone for almost every other Doctor before and after. It was only perhaps Peter Davison, at the time the youngest man to be cast as the Doctor and who had achieved previous fame as Tristan Farnon in the popular vet drama All Creatures Great and Small, who was well known amongst audiences before he took over the role. But there is no-one who has played a role quite so iconic as Malcolm Tucker. With all due respect to Capaldi, who has had a long and glittering career, Tucker is perhaps one of his defining roles and one of the most recognisable characters on modern British television. It’s going to be hard to shake the memory of the innovator of swearing when Capaldi steps into the Doctor’s shoes, especially when we’re going to subjected to thousands of YouTube mash-ups with scenes of Tucker and Daleks going ‘Tee-hee, the new Doctor’s swearing,’.
But there’s one important thing: Capaldi’s a bloody brilliant actor. If anyone can do the fine balancing act of playing the Time Lord (that is to make the character recognisably The Doctor whilst still putting his own mark on the role) then it will be Capaldi as Tucker is only one side of a multi-faceted and talented thesp. He’s one so in demand that was actually cast in a Nu-Who episode opposite Tennant (‘The Fires of Pompeii’) as well as being in Who spin-off Torchwood: Children of the Earth (it’s not the first time this has happened though: Colin Baker appeared in a Peter Davison serial before he became the Sixth Doctor). Capaldi is also a fan of the show, with a letter he wrote to the Radio Times praising the show in the 70s already doing the rounds, and he seemingly seems massively excited to be taking on the role. In knowing the history of the role, Capaldi can take in it into the future with gusto.
The greatest thing about Doctor Who is its ability to – pardon the pun- constantly regenerate itself while retaining the essence of what makes it one of the greatest British TV and sci-fi shows of all time. Whether Capaldi will play a grumpy and harsh Doctor or a fun-loving and excitable one will remain a question for the future, but it’s one whose answer everyone is eagerly expecting. Similarly, his age shouldn’t really be a factor – the show has proved it can have a plethora of actors of all ages and styles in the role (though it will be interesting to see how Capaldi works with current companion Jenna Colman). With the show seemingly suffering ups and downs as of late, with rumours of problems in the production office and delays in making the series, the announcement of Capaldi has injected a new sense of excitement and direction. With the 50th Anniversary of the show in November – which includes Smith and Tennant teaming up in a special which will include John Hurt as an unknown incarnation of the Doctor and the Christmas Special in which (presumably) Smith will hand over to Capaldi – Doctor Who shows no signs of slowing down.
There’s a current interent meme describing a new Doctor, which goes something like this:
New Doctor announced: “I hate him”
New Doctor’s first episode:” He’s OK, preferred the last one though”
End of season: “He’s my favourite ever!”
New Doctor announces he’s leaving: “No! He’s the best! No-one can replace him!”
And repeat ad-nauseum…..
I look forward to you all reading my next article. The one when Capaldi is replaced by a 16-year-old….