Thoughts on Peter Capaldi’s Tenure as The Doctor

Tomorrow we get the announcement of who will be the Thirteenth Doctor yet it seems like it was just a little bit ago that we saw Matt Smith’s chin give way to Peter Capaldi’s attack eyebrows but here we are again, on the cusp of of having to say goodbye to yet another Doctor and prepare ourselves to start the fan regeneration process all over again: grieve over the previous Doctor’s exit, resist falling in love with the new Doctor, ultimately fall in love with the new Doctor, feign shock and disbelief when it’s announced that the new Doctor is leaving, and round and round the regeneration cycle of the Whovian goes. An article looking back at the three seasons (plus Christmas Specials) of the Twelfth Doctor we’ve gotten may seem a bit premature as we still have one Christmas Special left to go but regardless of how Mr. Capaldi exits the show, in my mind, he has already cemented himself as a top tier Doctor.

THIS ARTICLE WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR ALL DOCTOR WHO EPISODES UP TO THIS POINT

Defining Moment

Every Doctor has a defining moment, where the are undoubtedly, truly, THE DOCTOR and Capaldi is no different.  While Capaldi had many fun moments (“Don’t be lasagna”, riding a tank whilst playing guitar, or asking the Daleks if anyone was for dodgems when he was in Davros’ chair) and many heavy moments (Enter the Raven, forgetting Clara, and saying goodbye to River [more on that later]) but I think, when the keepers of Whovian history look back at Capaldi’s run, it will undoubtedly be his speech on war to the Zygons and Kate Stewart that will be remembered as the Twelfth Doctor’s defining moment. It’s so good that I’m not even going to describe it here, just watch it.

That, in my humble opinion, is some of the finest five minutes of Doctor Who to date.  Capaldi gives the moment so much weight and emotion, pulling on the history of The Doctor dating back all the way to the unseen Time War during the end of the Eighth Doctor’s time.  Each of the “New Who” Doctor’s have had to deal with the Time War in their own way: The Ninth – still raw from the battlefield, The Tenth – the one who remembers and carries the pain, The Eleventh – the one who forgets and covers the pain with a boyish charm and runs from it, then comes The Twelfth – the one who has to remember that he is a good man, that he is the Doctor and he saves people.  All of that history, all of the emotion and pain, all of the story from that very first episode of the revival back in 2005, culminates in that singular performance.

Strong Performances in Weak Stories

One of worst things the the Twelfth Doctor’s run will be remembered for is, unfortunately, weak writing especially Series/Season 8.  Season 8 was, from what I can tell, hampered by not knowing whether or not Clara (Jenna Coleman) would be leaving the show at the end of the season and the writers had to write around that making for an overall weaker season. I distinctly remember being rather disappointed with the “Dark Water/Death in Heaven” two part finale that season, even if it did give us the Missy/Master reveal (which was predictable) and the idea that in times of crisis, the leaders of Earth relinquish power to The Doctor, making him President of Earth (which was and is a great idea). If I had to give Season 8 a rating, it would be about a 50%, an even split between good and bad episodes.  I will say though that after Season 8, Season 9 was a marked improvement (probably a 75% rating) especially the end of Season 9 with the “Heaven Sent/Hell Bent” two parter and the “Zygon Invasion/Zygon Inversion” two parter. And for Season 10, I would give it a 75-80% rating but because the overarching plot of Season 10 (Missy in the vault and her character’s change of spirit) was much more compelling and way less gimmicky than the Ashildr/Me story line in Season 8, that’s not a knock on Maisie Williams though, she was fantastic. Which brings me to my point, Capaldi always, always brought it as The Doctor even when the stories and episodes he was in were lackluster.  Unlike Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor, I never felt like Capaldi got too into the role, never got overly wrapped up or dependent on his quirks to sell his incarnation of the character. Whether it was delivering jokes like “attack eyebrows” or flirting with at T-Rex, or delivering speeches like when he remembered who “frowned me this face” and his final speech to The Master and Missy, Capaldi always brought his A-Game.

Quirks

Just like every Doctor has his defining moment or moments, each Doctor has their own individual quirks that are distinctly theirs like the Fourth Doctor’s jelly babies, the Second Doctor’s recorder, the Seventh Doctor’s tricks, or the Eleventh Doctor’s love of fez’s, each one has their own and for the Twelfth Doctor that was his guitar.  The first time we see The Doctor playing guitar is when he’s riding a tank into a gladiator ring in Essex in 1138 in one of the more truly bizarre yet awesome moments in Doctor Who history. The guitar was such a smart character addition because it gave the Doctor something he could do when lounging or the writers could use it to emphasize a plot point like in “Before the Flood” when the Doctor explains the bootstrap paradox using Beethoven’s Fifth as an example or when he is playing a somber piece at the end of “Hell Bent”.  And it was also a fantastic add because, you know, Capaldi can actually play so adding in his guitar playing is a natural extension of both the character and the actor.

One other item that could be considered a ‘quirk’ of the Twelfth Doctor would be his Sonic Sunglasses which came about as a replacement for his ‘lost’ Sonic Screwdriver. I know a lot of people didn’t care for the Sonic Sunglasses as a replacement for the traditional Sonic Screwdriver and I think would have to count myself among them.  I actually do like the idea of the Sunglasses and enjoyed how they were used in different ways such as recording video or reading email but I don’t care for them as a replacement for the Screwdriver and see the Sunglasses as more of an addition to the Screwdriver.

The Companions

You can’t talk about any of the Doctor’s incarnations without talking about their respective companions as the way that The Doctor interacts with them often helps define who each particular Doctor is.  The Twelfth Doctor’s longest tenured companion was Clara but I also think she was probably the overall weakest and that isn’t the fault of the Twelfth Doctor but the fault of gimmick based writing courtesy of Steven Moffat. Clara, the main Clara anyway, was introduced with a mystery, how could this one person be replicated numerous times through out history?  So as the Eleventh Doctor investigated that, Clara became his companion and as that mystery unraveled, Clara remained an interesting and intriguing character.  But then we discovered what happened to make her appear to the Doctor several times and from there on, it seemed that the character of Clara was deflated a little bit as the central thing that made her interesting was resolved and in the rear view mirror. After that her story was just a mess in Season 8, the Danny Pink subplot just did not work at all, and she got some redemption in Season 9 with a really quality send off.

Next up are the Season 10 companions, Bill and Nardole, and quite honestly, I love them both.  As a character, Bill had a genuine curiosity around her, wore her emotions on her sleeve, and was a return to the times when the companion wasn’t romantically interested in The Doctor.  For me she was a great mix of the curiosity of Rose and the friendship of Donna (minus some of the sass).  She also served as a great ear for the audience, asking the questions new fans would have and helping Season 10 serve as a jumping on point for new fans.  As for Nardole, I really didn’t expect to see him past the “Husbands of River Song” Christmas special much less serve as a companion for a full season but I really enjoyed him.  He always felt just a bit left of human and that made for great banter between him and The Doctor. Also, being an alien and having traveled with The Doctor off-screen for a while gave the character a confidence and knowledge that other companions haven’t had and made him a great foil for Bill.

Now, my favorite Twelfth Doctor companion – MISSY. And yes I am counting Missy as a companion as she was heavily featured in all of the Twelfth Doctor’s three seasons and traveled with him in Season 10.  The arc that Missy takes over her three seasons and the way the writers built and changed her relationship with The Doctor is nothing short of astounding.  Like a few other items, this relationship really starts to take shape in Season 9 when The Doctor sends Missy his confession dial, basically his Last Will and Testament, and from there we start to see that underneath the evil, Missy and The Doctor share a kinship and we see their millennia old friendship resurface. In the first two episodes of Season 9, we get the feeling that Missy still cares about her old frienemy and is slightly worried about him (even if it is because she wants to be the one that kills him). It’s also very apparent that they have a special relationship in “The Witch’s Familiar” when they are using a short hand of sorts to talk with each other, speaking in incomplete sentences and inferences that are generally lost on the audience.  Then things really take off in Season 10 as The Doctor is put in charge of watching Missy as she is locked in a Vault for a thousand years and he has to guard the Vault for that entire time.  Of course, The Doctor being The Doctor, he bends those rules, routinely entering the Vault to talk with Missy and help pull her back to the good side of things and then in a time of crisis Nardole has to let Missy out of the Vault to help him save The Doctor and Bill and, amazingly, she actually helps and doesn’t betray any one.  Then at the end of the season, the previous incarnation of the Master, played by the amazing John Simm, resurfaces and we see just how much Missy has changed as the writers beautifully hold up a mirror to the Master so Missy can see herself as she used to be and see if she still wants to be that person. However, none of that amazing character work would have been possible with out the manic, electric, unbelievable Michelle Gomez.  Every time Gomez is on screen she is an absolute delight.  She’s like Mary Poppins from hell and I couldn’t be happier with her performance.

My Favorite Episode

Hands down my favorite episode during Peter Capaldi’s run is “The Husbands of River Song”. It is a beautifully written episode that is a showcase for the gut-busting humor and heart-breaking sadness that Doctor Who can bring. This singular episode is the culmination of years of character development and relationship building between The Doctor and River.  The moment in the dining room, where River is ranting about how The Doctor never loved her because how could a “sunset admire you back” only to find out that The Doctor is indeed standing right next to her.  I’ve watched that scene several times and each time the look of realization on her face and when The Doctor says “Hello sweetie” makes me cry. Each and every time.  The ending is so bittersweet though as we know that The Doctor and River spend 24 glorious years together but right after is when she heads to the Library and her ultimate demise.  The pay off to the years of watching River and The Doctor fall in love and banter with each other is so so beautiful. Not only does this episode pay off River’s story but it also deftly uses decades of Doctor Who lore and running jokes to it’s advantage.  The scene where River is stealing the TARDIS and The Doctor finally has “his go” at being ‘marveled’ at the fact that the TARDIS is bigger on the inside is so well done.  Yes, Capaldi plays it over the top and somewhat hammy but it’s exactly what the moment called for.

To put it mildly, I have loved and will continue to love Peter Capaldi’s Doctor.  His quick wit, sharp dialogue, and scathing, heartfelt speeches have defined him as one of the best of his fellow Doctor’s.  I know I have to say goodbye to him a lot sooner than I would like but that’s how Doctor Who works.

How about you?  What do you think of Capaldi’s run as the madman in the blue box?  Where does he rank amongst the other Doctor’s for you?  Let me know in the comments below.

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Until next time, Thank You for reading and…

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