Posts Tagged ‘plug for the book’

As they say in Rome, after a fat Pope, a thin Pope. Anyone wondering what the sound of thousands of men in early middle-age sighing with a combination of relief and joy is had the perfect opportunity to find out on Sunday night, as a generation of veteran Doctor Who fans were delighted to discover that their hero was now back to being older than them again.

There has been a colossal amount of coverage of a piece of news which boils down to seven words: Peter Capaldi is the new Doctor Who. More, in fact, than seems possible, or at least sane: but I suppose this is the modern reality of the show, which is a moneyspinning brand for the BBC as much as it is a fantasy drama.

What do you mean, you're sick of seeing this photo?

What do you mean, you’re sick of seeing this photo?

I mean, even I, who love and think upon the show more than is sensible, thought that devoting thirty minutes of live TV to the announcement was a little bit OTT. Possibly this is mainly because I have an allergy to the brand of brainless, manic enthusiasm which is Zoe Ball’s default setting – but I defy anyone to honestly suggest that the announcement programme wasn’t just twenty-five minutes of pap and filler leading up to a revelation which can’t have shocked anyone who’d been following the news last week.

Ah well. Peter Capaldi, eh? A good choice, surely; but also a very different one and thus a very interesting one. Before I dive into all that with some pointless, empty speculation of my own (everyone else is doing it), it is quite interesting to survey all the ways in which Capaldi’s casting is being analysed and deconstructed.

This is mainly down to the fact that the Doctor is yet again a white male – and back to being a distinctly mature figure (though a quick comparison of photos of William Hartnell and Capaldi will instantly show you that being 55 in 2008 is a very different thing to being 55 in 1963). The chorus of militants who, to judge from their utterances all summer, seem to think that having a male Doctor is a flaw in the programme, are still there, emitting the odd grumble, while the reliably contrarian Daily Mail, ever alert to age-related controversies, have managed to dig up some fans complaining that Capaldi is ‘too old’ – a particularly priceless comment being ‘Very very disappointed! The Doctor meant to be someone young (sic), both matt and David were very cute and funny doctors, and now they give us an old guy, no offence to the new guy he may be an amazing actor but he just doesn’t fit the part’. This was from ‘Fara23’. I am going to stick my neck out and guess that a) Fara23 is a young lady and b) her all-time favourite story probably isn’t The War Machines.

But you know what? I’m sort of reminded of Andrew Cartmel’s contribution to OUTSIDE IN: 160 New Perspectives on 160 Classic Doctor Who Stories by 160 Writers (still on sale at only $24.95), where he sat down to examine the racial politics of The Talons of Weng-Chiang but eventually concluded all the arguing and fretting about this was just refrigerator noise – the only thing that really matters about this story is that it is brilliantly written, acted, and directed (except perhaps for the rat). It’s the same with Peter Capaldi being cast as the Doctor – his age, accent, class, ethnicity, and so on really is very secondary to the fact that he’s a brilliant actor of exactly the right type.

Even so, and even given that we know virtually nothing about what he’s going to do with the part (it’s amusing that every fan seems to automatically assume that any new Doctor will be playing it darker than their predecessor – wishful thinking I suspect), adding to the refrigerator noise is irresistible. Capaldi’s not the first Scottish Doctor – and it’s easy to see why he wasn’t approached when David Tennant moved on, the two of them are a little too similar in appearance and energy – and it’s debatable as to whether he’s more or less of a household name than Christopher Eccleston was when he was cast. The real talking point arising from this announcement is, inevitably, that of Capaldi’s age.

As I said, 55 now isn’t the same as 55 in 1963, but he’s still at least 15 years or so older than every other full-time Doctor cast in the last 40 years, and the question is simply one of how much this will inform his performance and the nature of the show. On the face of things Capaldi looks like much, much more of an old-school Doctor than anyone else this century, and in an odd way this is actually makes him quite a radical choice.

I can’t imagine a Capaldi Doctor having the same quasi-romantic relationship with his companion that characterised David Tennant and to some extent Matt Smith’s takes on the character, and this will be a major departure: I suspect a lot of the new fanbase (the ones I probably wouldn’t get on with if I met them) really gets off on this sort of thing. Also, Christopher Eccleston famously found the schedule of making the programme gruelling; it made David Tennant ill – so how is an actor approaching 60 going to deal with it?

What I draw from this – and I may well turn out to be totally wrong, as usual – is that we may be in for a really radical shift in the dynamic of the series: rather than the dominant, central Doctor of the 70s series, with a single companion, could we be in for a return to a different style of storytelling – three or more regular characters, and a more equal division of screen-time between them? This would lighten the load on Capaldi, for one thing, and allow for the soapy nonsense to take place between the various companions.

It would be a bold step, but I think the series at present needs to take one, and it might even inspire Steven Moffat to raise his game a little and go back to thinking in terms of proper storytelling rather than gimmicks apparently inspired by fanfic and early-80s issues of DWM. He might even think again about doing longer stories, which I’m really starting to miss. But, as I say, it’s much too soon for any speculation to be worthwhile and so I shall stop. At the moment all we know is: Peter Capaldi is the Doctor! And I for one am very happy that he is.


Refrigerator Noise Update:

1. It really does seem to be a fact that everyone automatically assumes that any newly-cast Doctor is going to play it darker than their predecessor: a friend whom I didn’t have tagged as much more than a casual Who watcher came up to me at a party (yes, it was that night of the year) and basically said ‘So – Capaldi! Going to be darker, isn’t he?’

As I said, it’d be foolish to make predictions so very early, but I’d be a little surprised – there’s a limit to how successfully dark you can make the lead character of a Saturday night family adventure series. Also, it kind of presupposes that ‘dark’ is all Peter Capaldi either wants to do or is capable of doing: in short, it’s a form of typecasting.

But even so, why this default presumption of a dark Doctor? Is it what the dedicated fans really think they want, and if so, why? I think it really must be what the fans are after, but it would be unwise to assume a single reason for this, for there is not a single breed of fan. For the older fans, it may be that they still have the strongest memories of Doctor Who as the terrifying experience it was in their childhoods, an incredibly potent brew of monsters and menace. Naturally they are going to associate the best of the show with darkness. Many of the new generation are probably of that age where they still spend time in their bedrooms writing poetry revealing how unfair life is, and a brooding, dark hero would probably appeal to them too. I suspect that both groups are still a little sensitive to accusations that being a devotee of a fantasy adventure TV series is quite silly, and anything which gives the appearance of gravitas will be fine with them, too. I still suspect the twelfth Doctor will end up being a lighter shade than most people are anticipating.

2. Saw my first op-ed piece crowbarring the announcement of Capaldi-as-Twelve into a supposedly serious piece of political analysis (from the London Evening Standard). I don’t have it to hand, but the thesis was that casting a more mature Doctor may influence politicians into thinking that more seasoned patriarchal figures may be acceptable. On average, British political party leaders have got a lot younger over the last twenty years (not unlike successive Doctors, of course), but I am dubious as to whether my show (wonderful as it is) has quite enough clout to convince veteran politicos to revert to electing an older generation as their candidates to lead the country. If nothing else the piece shows just how massively newsworthy the show remains, which must on some level be a good thing.


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