The BBC and BBC America have announced during a live broadcast that 55-year old actor Peter Capaldi will play the Doctor following Matt Smith’s regeneration this Christmas. This marks a departure from the fresh-faced, energetic years of David Tennant and Matt Smith.
Now that the face of the next Doctor is known, here are three implications for what this means for the future of the show and the future of the character himself.
1.) The Doctor won’t be a woman as long as showrunner Steven Moffat is around.
Capaldi’s announcement settles, not for the first or last time, the possibility that the Doctor will be played by a female actor. Doctor Who as a show is no stranger to this notion. Calls for a female Doctor can be found in articles all the way back to Fifth Doctor Peter Davison’s days, and probably further, and the question has come up fairly regularly since the show was revived in 2005.
Current show runner Steven Moffat has wrestled with the question (and Matt Smith has out and out said that a female Doctor would be fine) but he made a very telling remark while introducing the next Doctor. When taking into consideration the possibility of a female Doctor, Moffat said, “That would be like casting the role of the Queen with a man.”
The comparison to the British monarchy is telling. Moffat’s position seems to be one derived not on the merits of the possibility but on considerations of how deeply embedded Doctor Who has become in the firmament of British cultural identity. After 50 years, the show has become an institution, and Moffat seems keenly aware that he has to preside over a momentous anniversary for something that came before him and which will also possibly outlive him.
There is plenty to say about the pros and cons of such an approach, but aside from that it seems very clear that as long as Steven Moffat creates Doctor Who, the Doctor will be male.
2.) Peter Capaldi is the most interesting choice the show could have made. And we could be in for a Christopher Eccleston reprise.
I’ve been following the news about the frontrunners for the part in the weeks leading up to the announcement and this weekend the possibilities came down to three names: Peter Capaldi, Daniel Rigby, and Aneurin Barnard.
Rigby and Barnard, although talented and charismatic, evoke the Matt Smith mold of the Doctor pretty closely. Capaldi, however, was by far the most interesting choice.
An established actor, Capaldi is perhaps best known—and celebrated!—for playing the foul-mouthed Malcolm Tucker in The Thick Of It and In The Loop. In fact, why don’t we take a NSFW break for a second and watch him say fuck word after fuck word:
Heh. “Fuckity bye.”
Doctor Who viewers know him as the dad from the “Fires of Pompeii” episode (which also featured Karen Gillan’s first appearance on the show), where he plays a highly energetic Roman merchant and patriarch to an upwardly mobile family.
Intensely devoted Who fans also know him as John Frobisher from Torchwood: Children of Earth, where he essentially sells 10% of the Earth’s children to aliens in order to save the rest of humanity. The day is eventually saved, but there are no happy endings for anyone, and the fate of Frobisher and his family is one of the bleakest moments ever televised.
This man is the Doctor? The same one who told us not to blink, thought bow ties were cool, and sacrificed himself for us over and over again?
It certainly appears that way! And actually, if the next Doctor must be in the same racial and gender mold as the others, then Capaldi is at least the most interesting choice. This is a Doctor who can be pleasant, but carries Tennant’s authoritativeness and Eccleston’s dark edge. This is a Doctor you can imagine flying off the handle. This is a Doctor that worries you, and while Moffat, Capaldi and co. may not choose to go that route the possibility will be there, and that’s exciting.
3.) This could be the last Doctor.
Matt Smith’s regeneration into Peter Capaldi is coming this Christmas, only one month after we’ll have seen the Tenth and Eleven Doctors face off against John Hurt’s mysterious Doctor.
Hurt was introduced as a “lost” Doctor, and fans suspected that either he was the very first: the Doctor before he took up the name, or a hidden Doctor that came between the Eighth and the Ninth. The 50th anniversary episode footage screened at this year’s San Diego Comic Con pretty much confirmed that the latter is the case, that John Hurt is playing the Doctor who fought in the Time War.
The show established in its initial run that Time Lords get 12 regenerations total, resulting in 13 incarnations. John Hurt’s presence now makes Matt Smith the Twelfth Doctor, and Peter Capaldi the Thirteenth and final Doctor incarnation. It seems we’ve reached the beginning of the end for the Doctor’s adventures.
Or have we? Doctor Who is a British institution, as I’ve noted, and it employs thousands of people and provides momentum and visibility for a good chunk of the BBC’s television programming. The likelihood of the BBC sacrificing all of that in order to remain faithful to a decades-old line of dialogue is pretty much nil. Unless the show tanks again, there will be Doctors after Capaldi.
But it will be interesting to see if the show addresses this or if it dismisses it with an offhand joke (the way Russell T. Davies did in Sarah Jane Adventures ep “The Death of the Doctor”). Grappling with it as a plot point could have its appeal. What if the Doctor believes this is his last life? How would that change the way he approaches problems and adventures? If you take away the Doctor’s reckless abandon, is he even the Doctor anymore?
And what if he eventually sacrificed himself, came to his journey’s end, and then...to his utter surprise...regenerated anyway?
It doesn’t have to unfold quite like that, of course. This is just a way of demonstrating that what seems like a fault of the show could actually become a virtue that illuminates new aspects of the Doctor’s character. And an actor like Peter Capaldi, who can swing from filthy, to dark, to sweet in the space of an instant, could pull this kind of drama off with aplomb.
In the end, while Peter Capaldi is not the choice I personally would have gone for as the next Doctor, he at least promises to be interesting. Will they bring back the Master to test this Doctor? How will he get along with Clara? How epic will his speeches be? Here’s hoping season eight follows closely after Christmas!
Watch the reveal of Capaldi here:
Chris Lough is the production manager of Tor.com and just between you and me is really tired of the BBC announcing exciting new things over the weekend.