The Name of the Doctor is… Peter

Peter Capaldi in Doctor Who
The 12th Doctor, Peter Capaldi, as Caecilius in the 2008 episode of Doctor Who, The Fires of Pompeii

So the excellent actor Peter Capaldi is to play the 12th incarnation of the Doctor. Perhaps with the 50th anniversary of the programme approaching Steven Moffat just couldn’t resist casting another middle-aged Scotsman as his alter ego. And at the very least, the regularly floated and supremely absurd idea of a female Doctor has been knocked on the head for another few years. Capaldi is a lifelong Doctor Who devotee. He had a fan letter published in the Radio Times in 1973, and made a guest appearance playing the character of  Caecilius in the 2008 episode, The Fires of Pompeii. He also had a major role in Doctor Who spin-off, Torchwood: Children of Earth, playing John Frobisher in five episodes.

I am pleased, and surprised, that the BBC has gone for an older actor this time, especially after the controversial, and entirely successful, decision last time to go with the youngest Doctor ever, Matt Smith. I had thought Doctor Who had been given over entirely to the youth vote, so its nice to see the character reverting to the middle-aged 900-something he has been for most of the last 50 years. That the actor playing the Doctor is older than me for the first time since 1996 has nothing to do with it!

I do however have a problem with the relentless hoopla spun around the announcement that Capaldi is the 12th Doctor. There was a time, not so long ago, when the audience didn’t know that the current actor was leaving until the next regeneration sequence began. I can still recall the delicious, unbelieving shock when John Pertwee turned into Tom Baker, and then when Baker in his turn became Peter Davidson. Even as recently as 2005 we had no idea that Christopher Eccleston had only signed up for a single run of 13 episodes. That was drama and Eccleston’s regeneration into David Tennant was all the more powerful for being completely unexpected.

Peter Capaldi as John Frobisher in Torchwood
Peter Capaldi as John Frobisher in Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood: Children of Earth

Now all the drama goes into the big reveal as to the identity of the next actor to embody the role, not into the regeneration episode itself. Such is the hype that by the time we get to the actual regeneration it will seem like ancient history. Revealing all before stems from the same mentality which drives film companies to release countless extended trailers and clips, giving almost everything away before the film is even in cinemas. It is the sort of thinking which makes TV stations reveal everything that is going to happen in soap operas ahead of time, which at least does have the advantage of making watching them even more pointless and less worth watching.

It is a mentality which means that finding out first is more important than watching the film or programme when it finally arrives. But then in a world in which identikit fast food franchises have taken over the planet surprise, originality and the unexpected seem to be regarded as a Bad Thing. The mass audience wants to know exactly what it is getting. All the time. Which is why our high streets and malls are filled with fast food outlets and shops which are all exactly the same, and why cinemas are dominated by franchise movies which are all…ditto.

Peter Capaldi officially becomes the new Doctor
Peter Capaldi officially becomes the new Doctor

Of course I see the BBC’s problem. In these Internet days it is almost impossible to keep secret the fact that an actor is leaving a popular programme. Especially when filming must begin with a replacement before the last episode with the previous actor is broadcast. So, presumably executives think, why let the tabloids grab the headlines? Why not capitalise ourselves?

So, in a new height of ludicrousness, that’s exactly what the BBC did on Sunday night. They devoted 30 minutes of peak time TV to a live programme announcing that Peter Capaldi is to play the Doctor. It was done like the results edition of a dancing or talent competition – the winner wasn’t announced until almost the end – complete with studio audience. This monstrosity of a programme was presented by Zoë Ball, who has no connection with Doctor Who.

Zoe Ball
Zoë Ball: now I really need to see the Doctor

I had to look her up to find out what she does. It turns out she is a DJ who has presented TV dancing shows. Which is fine for her and her doubtless many fans, but could the BBC really not find anyone associated with a programme with a 50 year history to host this fiasco, or was everyone too embarrassed? Well Peter Davidson and Bernard Cribbins did turn up as guests on the obligatory chat show couch, Matt Smith video-phoned his praise in, and Peter Capaldi performed with dignity. Still, I half expected Simon Cowell to make an appearance. Or Lord Sugar to tell Capaldi ‘You’ve been hired!’ It feels like a precedent has been set. Perhaps when the queen finally dies the BBC will run a similar show to announce the identity of our next monarch.

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  1. The live show certainly was a bit loud — and I could have done without the inane tweets and texts rolling across the screen — but I didn’t mind it quite so much, because surely a large part of the new series’ success since 2005 has been about its shrewd knack of garnering the headlines.

    I was surprised they had gone for someone as old as Capaldi (he turns out to be older than I would have guessed, too). He’s a fine actor, and it’s a brave move,since it pretty much kills the romantic/sexual tension that has been some sort of presence ever since Eccleston. It should please Peter Purves, who was complaining recently about that sexual element when he was chatting about the show on Radio 4’s The Reunion!

    1. I hope you’re not saying that people in their 50s are too old for romance! I know what you mean though, in that Capaldi’s Doctor and Clara together would raise eyebrows, especially in a family programme like Doctor Who. River Song is perhaps more age appropriate. Things have got so convoluted I have no idea if her story is supposed to be finished now, or if she might return. If they don’t bring in an older love interest for the new Doctor I expect they will introduce someone for Clara. I doubt we will see a completely romance free Doctor Who.

  2. Moffat did say that the next Doctor could be a woman but now wasn’t the right time.

    Despite all the complaining now, fans will buy into this new Doctor just as they have all the others. I never really felt a great connection with Matt Smith’s version, but since I loved Amy, Rory, and River Song, that didn’t push me away from the series.

    As to the show, it was ridiculous, but it was a way to reveal the new Doctor on their terms, not through some jerk nerd who tells all.

    As an American, I would have preferred that they have added some information below the names of the non-WHO actors to give us some idea who these people were. And, thank God, they showed Peter Capaldi’s name on that letter, or I would have told friends that Peter Capote was the new Doctor.

    As to the man who got the info wrong, isn’t he the actor who played Rory’s father?

    1. I suspect that Moffat saying the Doctor could be a woman in the future was just about leaving all options open. Who knows what might happen in decades to come? And he wouldn’t want to alienate those viewers who think a female Doctor is a good idea by ruling out the possibility. I think one of the biggest mistakes new Who has made is killing of all the other Time Lords. If RTD hadn’t don’t that then there could have been female Time Lords a plenty. I’m hoping we will get to see the Time War soon and the Time Lords will be back, with all the possible complications and intrigue that implies.

      I haven’t seen anyone complaining about the choice of Peter Capaldi, but perhaps I’ve been looking in the wrong places. Everyone I know has been saying what a great Doctor he has the potential to be. Depending on the scripts and the direction the programme takes now.

  3. While it was quite exciting to have the new Doctor revealed live on television, it also served as an indication of how over commercialised the series has become, and also a desperate measure to avoid leakage and spoilers in internet age, where anything except for a new David Bowie album can be kept secret.

    How I miss the days of old, when, as the above post suggests, you didn’t know the actor was leaving. Nowadays it feels like more work goes into the media hype surrounding the shows than the actual plot lines, but that aside, the casting of Peter Capaldi was a pleasant surprise. Good face, good hair. Perfect choice right away, and high time that a more mature actor was given the keys to the TARDIS. I’ve been saying for a while that Doctor Who needs to return to its roots to a degree, and this could be just the ticket, if Peter’s Doctor gets the originality and story lines that have been absent in recent years.

    It was also a pleasure to see the other Peter, in this case “my” Doctor, Peter Davison making an appearance on the show. But aside from the Peters, the show itself was a dire embarrassment – whoever chose Zoe Ball to present it was clearly off their rocker, and the goon who got all of his facts wrong (whoever he was) was a truly cringeworthy moment. It’s a shame that the BBC decided that the series needed such tacky pomp to unveil its new leading actor – but at least it is a choice that most fans seem to agree with and gladly welcome.

    It’s time for change.

    1. Next we’ll have “Dancing with the TARDIS”, a show which will place numerous wannabe Doctors into absurd competitions with each other in order to pick the next Doctor.

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