A forecast on Capaldi’s Doctor: The Frustrated Optimist

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Guest contributor Christopher Ritchie provides some thoughts.


Many Whovians are asking themselves, ‘what will the Capaldi era be like’ and how will it be different from what has come before’? Forecasting and speculation, despite being a rather futile and fruitless exercise, is nonetheless thoroughly enjoyable, particularly during the current lull as we await the beginning of Series 8. Any worthwhile prediction is one which is informed by history; one which looks to the past. That is a good place to begin.

Since the return of ‘new Who’ in 2005, we’ve seen the Doctor’s character develop over his ninth, tenth and eleventh personas. Eccleston’s Doctor was defined by survivor’s guilt, post-traumatic stress and self-loathing – a result of a mistaken belief that his previous incarnation, the War Doctor, had committed a double genocide during the Time War, bringing about the destruction of his own people and the Dalek race using the doomsday device or weapon of mass destruction known as ‘The Moment’. It is only as a result of his therapeutic relationship with Rose Tyler that Eccleston’s Doctor slowly comes to terms with his dark past.

Tennant’s Doctor, through a much more emotionally intimate relationship with Rose Tyler, is able to further his psychological healing process. The very humane tenth Doctor is characterised by his relationships, friendships and thirst for life. Tennant’s Doctor experiences moments of ecstatic energy which are ultimately overshadowed by feelings of regret and loneliness. During his tenure, the tenth Doctor loses Rose, Joan Redfern, Astrid Peth, Jenny, River Song, Donna Noble, the Master and Adelaide Brooke. The Doctor’s personal losses serve as reminders of the greater loss of Gallifrey. As the man who is trying to run from a shameful past which is, ironically, inescapable, the volatile tenth Doctor is a tragically doomed figure.

smith-dwl-promoOn the surface, Matt Smith’s Doctor is much more alien and manic than his ninth and tenth incarnations. Yet, his youthful appearance, flamboyance, physical elasticity, aloofness and often strange ways of interacting with humans mask the wise old man and cunning strategist inside. As the successor to Eccleston and Tennant’s Doctors, and having a comparatively much longer life span than his immediate predecessors, it is fitting that the eleventh Doctor is characterised as the man ‘who forgets’. To him, the Time War is a distant memory. If Tennant’s Doctor is distinguished by his romantic relationships, then Smith’s Doctor is characterised by his place within the family unit. River Song is his wife, and his relationship with Amy and Rory is that of a father figure. Smith’s Doctor is the pater familias, and his new ‘family’ is an opportunity to start again.

After losing Amy and Rory and knowing that his time with River Song is limited, the Doctor again descends to a dark place. Tarnished by the recurring pain of personal losses, it is not surprising that it is the enigma surrounding Clara Oswald – ‘the impossible girl’ mystery – rather than Clara herself, which serves as the Doctor’s motivation to stop his brooding, come out of retirement, and once again travel in the TARDIS. Like Tennant’s Doctor, however, Smith cannot escape his past. He is prone to being roused to anger such as in The Beast Below, and his desire for revenge can get the better of him as seen in A Good Man Goes to War and Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. His tenure is littered with insinuations of his past actions: that he is a ‘trickster’, a ‘warrior’, and ‘a nameless, terrible thing soaked in the blood of a billion galaxies’ – reinforced most poignantly in The God Complex and A Town Called Mercy.

day of the doctor batch b (19)With The Day of the Doctor, the Doctor is presented with a situation which allows him to rewrite his past, undo the most defining event of his recent history, and shed the connotations of ‘warrior’, ‘loner’, ‘villain’ and ‘victim’ which have come to define him. It is a chance to remove an immoral act, which, despite being the only option at the time, he has come to wholeheartedly regret and despise. It is an opportunity afforded to him with the benefit of hindsight, with the assistance of his other selves and in the company of companion Clara. No longer is it a decision made in isolation. In short, it enables him to become, once again, purely ‘The Doctor’, but not without ramifications – the War Doctor, the ninth and tenth incarnations will still have to live with the belief that they have destroyed Gallifrey, rather than attempted to save it.

The Day of the Doctor changes Smith’s Doctor dramatically. He is given a mission – to find Gallifrey; to return home. He truly becomes ‘the optimist’, ‘the hoper of far- flung hopes’ and ‘dreamer of improbable dreams.’ Reconciled with his past, Smith’s Doctor is acquiescent towards his imminent death atop the clock tower in The Time of the Doctor, and later, in the TARDIS, having been being fortuitously granted a new lifecycle by the Time Lords, is accepting of his impending regeneration.

capaldi-series-8-costume-hiIt is clear that the Doctor’s past will define the new Doctor played by Peter Capaldi. In short, I believe the twelfth incarnation will be the frustrated optimist, and within this, there is enormous character and narrative development potential. The quest to find Gallifrey is, for the Doctor, a higher calling of sorts which he will approach wholeheartedly – something that he has never had before. He has always been the outsider, the wanderer and the perennial traveller. Because of this new undertaking, Capaldi’s Doctor may initially be characterised by buoyancy and exuberance. He could be dynamic and excitable, even a bit child-like. But in terms of the show’s longevity, and the latest narrative direction established by Steven Moffat, it would be unwise if Gallifrey is brought back too soon. Realistically, we are unlikely to encounter it during Capaldi’s time in the TARDIS. Rather, what we may see is the crumbs of Gallifrey scattered across coming seasons, with it being reintroduced to the audience in gradual steps – the return of the Master and the Rani, the rise and fall of Romana, the emergence of Omega, or even the Doctor battling with his darker ‘Valeyard’ repressed persona. Consequently, Capaldi’s Doctor may become quite a mercurial Doctor, bounding between hope and annoyance. His frustration at being unable to locate Gallifrey may see him becoming increasingly impatient and prone to occasional outbursts. He may direct his aggravation on his enemies, making him a dark natured and feared Doctor. Like Homer’s Odysseus who longs to reach Ithaca, the Doctor will ultimately make it home, but the journey will be fraught with danger, evil, personal loss and tragedy.

When we are finally reintroduced to Gallifrey and the Time Lords, it would be a wise decision on the part of the producers to make them far more vindictive and vengeful than the Daleks. Throughout the show’s history, the Time Lords have been characterised as ‘decadent, degenerate and rotten to the core’. During the Time War, the Time Lords developed into the most heinous creatures of war, indistinguishable from the Daleks in their brutality and infamy, and willing to pursue any ends to achieve total victory, even if it meant leaving the universe standing on a brink of an apocalypse. It should always be remembered that the Time Lords have the blood of countless innocent victims on their hands, and that in the last days of the war, the High Council had plans to abandon their physical form to become creatures of consciousness alone, and thus immortal. The home that the Doctor returns to should stand in stark contrast to the romanticised Gallifrey of his dreams, thus erasing any feelings of nostalgia. The Doctor should be forced to reassess the decision he made in The Day of the Doctor, and not be beyond reproach as to the moral dilemmas and ramifications of saving Gallifrey. The Doctor needs to be defined by his defeats, shortcomings and poor decisions as much as his victories.