Musings on Capaldi’s Doctor – Not too dark, hopefully?

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Guest contributor Martin Backman on his hopes for Capaldi.


Many people have said time and time again that they hope Peter Capaldi’s Doctor and his tenure will be “darker” somehow. Steven Moffat has also seemingly implied this to be the case, such as when he commented that this Doctor would be angrier than Matt Smith had been, more of a “snarling beast”. I agree with this sentiment to a point, because I would actually want the whimsy and silliness to be toned down from what we’ve seen in the past few years. But I don’t want the light-heartedness to be skipped entirely or for the show to suddenly become very grim and depressing. There is also much risk in trying to give an established franchise a grim and gritty reboot because it can easily backfire, as seen in the comics industry.

Personally I don’t feel that the problem has been that the show is supposedly too light-hearted or too childish, but that the moods have often been divided into extremes: Either extreme whimsy or extreme sadness. I’d want Capaldi’s adventures to be more balanced in tone, with roughly equal amounts of humour and family-friendly moments, as well as whatever dark mature themes they would want to include in the Doctor’s adventures. It’s deeply subjective how you interpret the tone of something and I’m only expressing my own personal opinion of it, but I considered the RTD-era and Series 5 to be more balanced with their tonal shifts compared to Series 6 and 7. That is why I’d hope for Capaldi’s tenure to strive for a tone closer to the seasons before Series 6. Series 5 is in my opinion still Steven Moffat’s best season, which is why I’d hope Series 8 would be more reminiscent of that season and the RTD-era.

Before Capaldi’s casting was announced, and even way before Matt’s departure was announced, I had hoped for an older actor to be cast for the next Doctor. Matt Smith has been more than fine at portraying the Doctor as an old man trapped in a youthful body, because of his very expressive face, but I’m not so sure that most other young actors in their mid-twenties would have been able to pull it off. That is why I am glad that someone older than 30 was cast as his successor. During the speculation of who would be cast, I found many of the suggestions for the role to be too youthful or downright pretty for me to want these guys to play the role of the Doctor. I was glad that an older man was cast, because I have a strong feeling that Capaldi can offer his Doctor a respectable sense of authority and give his performance a certain gravitas brought on by experience and age.

As an example of how I believe that the Doctor’s characterization can benefit from an older actor, I ask you to compare the two versions of the song “Hurt”, originally by Nine Inch Nails and later covered by Johnny Cash. The original version sung by Trent Reznor is about the self-loathing of a young man who still has his entire life ahead of him, which makes it sound as if the singer hadn’t gotten over his teenage-angst and was wallowing in it. When Johnny Cash recorded his cover of the same song he was far older than Reznor and slowly dying from illness and heartbreak after the death of his wife. Cash projected his sense of loneliness into the cover which changed the meaning of the song and made it instead to be about the many regrets of an old man at the end of his journey, after having outlived so many of his loved ones. Capaldi has been through some rough spots during his long career and played many different character-types, so I hope that his portrayal of the Doctor will project similar sentiments as Johnny Cash did in his cover of “Hurt”. The Doctor has been through a lot of painful things in his long life, so I feel it would be appropriate.

day-of-the-doctor-capaldiBut I don’t want Capaldi to be too angry or bitter either. I wouldn’t mind moments of righteous fury and anger, like he did with his role as Malcolm Tucker, because that would fit with some of the grumpier and more serious previous incarnations of the Doctor. But I hope that Capaldi will get to portray the Doctor as less vicious than Tucker is mostly seen as. As seen in “The Day of the Doctor” Capaldi’s eyes can appear very frightening and threatening, but he can also show incredible kindness through his gaze. Even though Malcolm Tucker is best known for his temper and a hilariously foul mouth, I would say that Tucker’s defining characteristic is his kindness towards those who deserve it. So I hope they give Capaldi’s Doctor plenty of avuncular or grandfatherly moments with other characters, which is what I actually want to see the most from an older actor in the role of the Doctor. I want to see a kindly older man when the Doctor interacts with children and I hope for a more paternal relationship between him and his companions.

For the most part I’d like Capaldi’s performance to be closer to the Doctors of the Classic show, generally reminiscent of older heroic archetypes. I’d even like him behave like a more old-fashioned type of adventurer, a bit like a cross between rugged tough-guys in old Westerns and a quintessential British gentleman of the Victorian era. Among all the Doctors I have a particular soft spot for Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor, who was in many ways a more genuinely heroic version of James Bond, but with a similar collection of gadgets and cool vehicles, as well as the same flair for adventure.

Beyond Pertwee’s resemblance to James Bond (both as the Doctor and in real life), there is another fictional character that all Doctors resemble to a surprising degree: Scrooge McDuck. Scrooge is already the richest duck in the world and doesn’t really need any more wealth, plus that he could easily hire someone else to search for his hidden cities of gold and sunken pirate treasure. But he chooses to do so himself, because he values the adventure far more than the money. Like Scrooge McDuck the Doctors travel through space and time, visit exotic locations and engage in insane pursuits of adventure, mostly in the company of younger people. That is why the Doctor’s approach to history and archaeology is close to Indiana Jones and the pulp-heroes that inspired him, because the sense of reckless danger makes it more fun than doing research the safe way. So as with all previous incarnations, I want Capaldi’s story to still be about fun adventure, with plenty of danger and excitement. But on an aesthetic level I want the adventure to hark back to hardboiled pulp-stories, Victorian literature, as well as over the top spy-fiction.

In a nutshell, I’d like to see the whimsy toned down, but only slightly, without the Doctor suddenly becoming very grim and dark after Eleven regenerates. “Balance” is the keyword I would use for the tone in future adventures of the Doctor. I want him to still be recognisable as the same man he’s been for the past fifty years, but also allow Capaldi to portray the part as he sees fit. But I wouldn’t mind in the slightest if at least some of the things in my personal wish-list were to become true.