By Alasdair Wilkins
Earlier this afternoon, the BBC unveiled Peter Capaldi as the new star of “Doctor Who.” Capaldi’s 12th Doctor will make his brief debut when Matt Smith regenerates in this year’s Christmas special, but we won’t really see the new Doctor in action until series 8 in 2014. While we won’t learn until then just how the “Thick Of It” star is going to play the Doctor – although we’re feeling very confident that the role is in safe hands – we do have some initial reactions to the news. Here then are five questions we have about Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, along with our totally speculative answers:
1. Will the show address the fact that the Doctor now appears older?
Capaldi is 25 years older than Smith, by far the biggest gap between ages of consecutive Doctors (only Tom Baker and Peter Davison’s 17-year difference comes close, and that was going in the opposite direction). “Doctor Who” has a longstanding tradition of incoming Doctors critiquing their new looks, so there’s no way this won’t be addressed. The show will probably limit this to a few good-natured jokes, but perhaps the Doctor’s radically different appearance will somehow tie in as an aftereffect of the craziness of the 50th anniversary special. If nothing else, Capaldi’s casting likely (hopefully) will roll the sexual tension in the TARDIS back to at most Christopher Eccleston-era levels, with one major exception – assuming she comes back to the show, River Song’s reaction to the 12th Doctor should be one for the ages.
2. What does this mean for Clara?
In the announcement special, Jenna-Louise Coleman mentioned she hopes the new Doctor is Clara’s best friend. This should probably be taken as a joke, but there’s probably some truth to it. Regeneration is a transformational moment for the companion as well as the Doctor, and his regeneration into the 10th Doctor definitely brought him and Rose closer together. (Some would say too close.) Then again, depending on how traumatic the experience is and how drastically the Doctor’s personality changes, his renewal could have the opposite effect; going back to the classic series, it took the 6th Doctor and Peri a long time to repair their friendship after his unstable behavior in “The Twin Dilemma.” Steven Moffat has suggested that, after her experiences in “The Name Of The Doctor,” Clara knows the Doctor better than any companion ever has before. But how well will she know this new Doctor?
3. How is he going to differentiate the Doctor from his “The Thick Of It” character, Malcolm Tucker?
While “stop swearing” is a vital first step, it still could be a bit of a challenge for older viewers to get used to Capaldi playing such a radically different role. The obvious solution is to go in the complete opposite direction, playing his Doctor as a lighter, even goofy sort of character… but then that runs into territory already occupied by Matt Smith’s Doctor, and Capaldi has to separate himself from Smith as well. None of this is really a cause for concern, especially with an actor of Capaldi’s caliber. Indeed, this is a big reason why I’m particularly excited to see how Capaldi interprets the role. Though this does raise another question…
4. Is the 12th Doctor going to be Scottish?
Capaldi is the third Scottish actor to play the Doctor, joining Sylvester McCoy and David Tennant. McCoy’s natural accent is fairly mild – it was most apparent when the 7th Doctor rolled his r’s – but Tennant affected an Estuary English accent for the 10th Doctor. Capaldi can do a perfectly good English accent, which he used for the Roman Caecilius in “The Fires of Pompeii,” and it would be a quick and easy way to distinguish his Doctor from Malcolm. That said, I’m hoping Capaldi uses his natural accent for the role, as I think the universe is ready for a Scottish (sounding) Doctor. Plus, this ties in nicely with a deleted line from the 10th Doctor’s first appearance, in which he explained his new accent as the result of his past incarnation spending so much time with Rose. A Scottish-accented 12th Doctor would be a nice, sly tribute to Amy Pond, the 11th Doctor’s most important companion.
5. Is he going to be a relatively short-term Doctor?
Capaldi is one of the biggest stars to take on the role – only Peter Davison and Christopher Eccleston were comparably famous when they were cast – and he’s tied with William Hartnell as the oldest actor to take on the role (even if there is a vast difference between being 55 in 1963 and 55 in 2013). Taking those facts together and considering the show’s legendarily punishing production schedule, it’s possible Steven Moffat and Capaldi don’t envision the 12th Doctor’s run lasting as long as his predecessors (although hopefully longer than Christopher Eccleston’s). For his part, Moffat has previously indicated he’s closer to the end of his tenure than the beginning, and it would make some sense for star and showrunner to leave at the same time to clear the way for a new creative team. I’m setting the over/under for both their runs at 2 more seasons.
Then again, no matter how long or short the 12th Doctor’s era is, we’re pretty sure this is going to be something special and, hopefully, something different from anything we’ve seen before. After all, that’s rather the point of “Doctor Who.”