Series eight of Doctor Who, which debuted back in August, has brought fans The Doctor and his twelfth face, one that may very well be one of his best. Peter Capaldi, the award-winning veteran actor who received the baton from Matt Smith last Christmas, is turning out to be giving one of the strongest performances audiences have seen from the Time Lord in a long time. The show has made a drastic switch to its origins with Capaldi. The new portrayal echoes classic versions of the character, something that audiences who only arrived eight years ago to the franchise were foreign to until now.
Thus far there have been nine entries into Capaldi’s tenure that began in late August with Deep Breath, which marked his full debut. He had briefly been shown at the end of Time of the Doctor when Smith regenerated, but audiences only got a very brief, very Scottish impression of their new Doctor. Throughout these nine episodes, Capaldi has proven to be a strong choice for the important role, especially in his ability to broaden the Doctor’s pallet of emotions in a subtle way, rather than in a remarkably extroverted fashion as Smith was known for.
The Doctor is still himself, but he has changed. He has a darker outlook on life and the universe, and does not ignore the unavoidable outreach of death as Smith did so well. Audiences have been increasingly shocked as The Doctor has allowed others to die, or rather, has been unapologetic that he cannot save them. In the fifth episode of the new season, Time Heist, The Doctor remained heartless to death, even utilizing a man as bait who he believed to be already dead, something that Eleven would never do.
The Doctor is darker, then. That has been established remarkably quickly in the new series. With that said, the softness of the character has not been eliminated, it has just been hidden, only to reveal itself in the subtly of Capaldi’s performance. On Oct. 4, Kill the Moon revealed the idealistic Doctor audiences were longing for with his sprawling speech on continuing life and humankind’s longevity as they soar into the stars forever and endlessly. This was the kind of moment to bring a tear to the eye of a true fan, eliminating any misgivings that The Doctor had gone to the dark side.
Perhaps the most important reason that the twelfth face of The Doctor is one of his best lies within the performance’s similarities to the classic Doctor. Audiences often forget that Doctor Who did not begin eight years ago. Rather, our favorite Time Lord was born in 1963, the eve of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Since then, he’s been traveling the stars with dozens of exceptional companions, almost always acting as a fatherly, or even grandfatherly mentor to them. The Doctor’s emotional attachment to them in the past only extended to deep friendships, with little room for romantic subplots. When the show was revived eight years ago, it became riddled with romance to draw in a younger demographic. The Doctor became a hip, young, even sexy symbol for fans.
Now he’s not. Capaldi is 56 and looks it. Fortunately, he has the tendency to switch between a mixture of megalomania, arrogance, and childishness to offset that. That is good, though. Doctor Who fans had seven years of younger men playing the Time Lord, and the audience has increased to astronomical proportions. Now that they are all hooked, it is the perfect time to bring the Doctor back home. He is not their boyfriend, as Capaldi candidate puts it to Clara Oswald, his current companion.
That may be why The Doctor and his twelfth face could prove one of his best. The darker, more mysterious, unreliable personality that Capaldi has embodied gives new texture and depth to deeply loved, always British, sometimes Scottish alien. Capaldi’s acting is top-notch, and the writers are continuously excellent this season under the supervision of long-time show runner Steven Moffat. In any case, the days of fish fingers and custard will always be precious to many. It is time to move forward, though, and the show certainly is.
Opinion by Brett Stewart