Doctor Who: The Time of Capaldi

Well it’s that time of year again. The turkey’s been served, the presents have disappointed, and there’s an extra special hour of schmaltz from Dr Who on the TV. For Christmas this year, Matt Smith celebrated by ageing into Emperor Palpatine in tweed before finally regenerating into Malcolm Tucker moaning about the colour of his kidneys. It was a cracker.

This was the regeneration that everyone’s been waiting for. After what feels like years of tyranny under the irritatingly buoyant fist of the young and bouncy, we’ve finally got an old(ish) Doctor back on our hands. And who better to take over the Tardis reins than Mr Shouty Shouty McAngry Scot himself? Pull me up an armchair: Saturday nights are back on.

Being somewhat underfed in the logic department, I tend to imagine all of Fictional Characterworld as a contingent landmass that can be hopped across from one TV series to the next. Thus, I like to think that Peter Capaldi (not really Peter Capaldi) was midway through a particularly expletive arse-ripping when he found himself transported inexplicably into a flying time machine. This certainly would explain his annoyance at the choice of kidney colour.

But it’s true: eager anticipators of the Twelfth Coming have got themselves excited not at the prospect of a Capaldi Doctor so much as a Tucker one. Will he swear? we whisper excitedly; will he dare? There was no delay in imagining what Doctor Malcolm might sound like.might sound like: it’s the curse of any actor who plays a character beloved by the public to wear that face like a kind of haunted mask in whatever role he next picks up. So what will Capaldi’s Doctor look like?

We can presume the swearing will have to go for a start. Dr Who is, after all, first and foremost a children’s programme (yes it is, it is – sit down there at the back). We all get terribly excited about it and some crazy people even write grown up articles about it (imagine! What losers) – but there’s no getting around the fact that it is primarily a kid’s show. Take away the littl’uns and you’ve just got a load of over enthusiastic adults watching Matt Smith have not-so-subtle frisson with his latest bit of skirt, which frankly makes for a very different rating.

Now Tucker without his fucks is more than one gun short of an arsenal, but it’s likely that the glory of commands such as ‘come the fuck in or fuck the fuck off’ would be lost on the 8-11 year olds. Although everyone is falling over themselves to proclaim that society’s gone to the dogs, so you never know. Presuming the juicier bits of verbal parlance will have to be axed, however, what does that leave us with?

Well, a bit of much needed gravitas I hope. Capaldi, as well as being everyone’s favourite Swearing Scotsman, is of course a cracking actor, so there’s no worry about the integrity he’ll bring to the role. In its defence, the Doctor Who behemoth – at least in its latter day reincarnation (I confess, I have never watched the original series so shoot me ) – has never cast a Doctor who couldn’t cut the performing mustard. Each Doctor, from Christopher Ecclestone and David Tennant even through to bendy faced Matt Smith, has never failed to deliver what the script required of them. Problem is, the scripts have veered off course almost as much as the Tardis is wont to do (when will they bite the bullet and get fucking SatNav?). It’s a long time since I lost faith in Doctor Who to provide anything more than regurgitated mush served with a side order of tedium. What’s that? The world’s about to end? Planetary genocide? The Doctor is the only entity in the universe who can save them? What’s that, he’s got a quip for the occasion? Woop di fucking yay.

The problem is, Doctor Who is a kid’s TV show, but it can have profound depth nevertheless. Authors such as Philip Pullman and J K Rowling show there’s no need to write sweet for the kids; and certainly Steven Moffat, in his glory days of Blink and The Library, pulled no punches on the psychological front. But the last few years saw what was once a brilliantly invigorated regeneration disintegrate into hysterical nonsense. If you save the world from certain death every week it just gets old. Smith was charming, Tennant debonair – but ever since Ecclestone left it has lacked the edge it used to have.

I am hoping Capaldi’s Doctor will pick up that baton again. He’s certainly got the face for it. The severity of Ecclestone’s demeanour erred perhaps too much of the side of intensity – but then Tennant always seemed too cute, Smith too hipster-ish. Perhaps with Capaldi at last we have found the perfect mix of harsh but hot: he will bollock those Daleks back from whence they came, but he’ll do it with a cheeky wink that reassures you, as long as you stay with him and pipe the fuck down when you’re told, it’ll all be alright.

I am of course biased in favour of the (somewhat) oldies since I do love me a silver fox – and Capaldi is, bar a few other prime specimens I might name, the reigning king of silver foxes. Well Doctor, is that a sonic screwdriver in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?

One thing I am earnestly hoping will be excised is the relentless flirtation between assistant and travelling Timelord who really should know better. Jenna Coleman’s Clara does nothing to buck the trend of hair swishing skirt-skimping sidekicks with a sexy pout – but at least if she starts to bat those pretty eyes at Mr 50+ she’ll have some answering to do. The BBC doesn’t sanction intergenerational relations anymore, remember?

So my hopes for the New Year are high. Can Capaldi redeem a lost ideal? Will his spell as Doctor cast a shadow over the Tucker Years? Will Steven Moffat ever write a decent episode again? I can’t help but feel that the great mind that gave us the Weeping Angels and the Silence got a little sidetracked with its other clever toy, Mr Sherlock – but woe betide the writer who shrugs off Malcolm Tucker to spend more time with a Cumberbatch.

As an adjunct peninsula to Fictional Characterworld, I also like to imagine that characters carry across their own writers when they migrate. A Moffat mix up with a sprinkling of Armando Iannucci – and maybe a bit of Chris Morris thrown in for good satirical measure: The Doctor Today In The Thick Of It: Episode One – K-9 Clarkey Cat. Now there’s a show for 2014.

Doctor Who

The long-running BBC TV science fiction series that started in 1963 and recently celebrated its 50th Anniversary. 2017 saw Peter Capaldi regenerate into the show's first female Doctor played by Jodie Whittaker. The Thirteenth Doctor's first season debuts in 2018, with Chris Chibnall replacing Steven Moffat as the current showrunner.

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