Some Theories on Capaldi’s Familiar Face
Guest contributor Jesse Funk provides some speculation.
Now that Peter Capaldi is taking the reigns one of the major sticking points with some fans is that he has previously appeared in Doctor Who as Caecilius in “The Fires of Pompeii” during David Tennant’s reign as the Doctor. More notably he appeared in Torchwood as a major plot character named John Frobisher during the short Series 3 run, “Children of Earth.” Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat have apparently had some sort of brain-trust on why it is that Capaldi can appear in the Whoniverse as other characters and the Doctor which is going to play into the upcoming series. Like all good fans we want to speculate on what this could be, so I’d like to humbly offer some possible theories of explanation as a fellow fan of both Who and Torchwood.
The majority of this post is going to center around Capaldi’s character John Frobisher in Torchwood, so if you haven’t seen the show and want to this is your point of no return as there will be spoilers in the upcoming sections. Personally I suggest going to watch the first three series of Torchwood to get caught up and returning to this post, but that’s just me. There will also most likely be minor spoilers for Who episodes as well if you aren’t entirely up to date yet. Additionally as a note about Torchwood, it is an adult-oriented show versus the family orientation of Who so some of the plot discussed from Torchwood may not be appropriate for younger viewers. I believe most people reading this will be old enough, but just to cover my bases I figured a little disclosure was needed. Read on as you will.
Theory #1 – The Doctor takes someone else’s face from history
One of the more easily placed theories I’ve heard about is that the Doctor’s faces have to come from somewhere so he takes them from people in history. After the 50th anniversary episode and the Series 7 finale we found out an important possibility about the Doctor’s regenerations. Simply put, that there is some degree of ability to choose the temperament of his next incarnation.
The Eleventh Doctor talks about his previous incarnations mentioning the Tenth incarnation and how he regenerated to the same face because he was vain at the time. Additionally the Sisters of Karn helped the 8th Doctor regenerate into a warrior to be the War Doctor so this seems to be enough precedent to say it’s a possible plot add on. Because Doctor Who isn’t entirely “hard scifi” i.e. doesn’t always obey the rules it lays down, anything could really happen here.
Supposing that the Doctor has the ability to take the face of someone from history rather than create his own face the next question is why John Frobisher and/or Caecilius? We know that the Doctor loves humans as fallible, hopeful, wonderful creatures. Given this I would suggest that he takes the appearance of Caecilius since we know they have met. Caecilius had an obvious affection for the TARDIS which may partially make him stand out in the Doctor’s mind over time. He may also remember that it was Donna that urged him to save Caecilius and his family so his friendly affection for the plucky girl from Chiswick could be affecting this incarnation.
I would posit that it’s unlikely that the plot would say he would take the face of John Frobisher. The Doctor never officially appears in Series 3 of Torchwood despite Gwen Cooper’s mention of him and the lack of his presence. Theoretically it’s possible that the Doctor would know of John Frobisher as the man responsible for interacting with the 456 on behalf of the human race. For me it would take some really good writing (i.e. finagling of the story) to get me to believe the Doctor is using his regeneration as a memorial for a man he never knew that met an untimely demise.
Theory #2 – Peter Capaldi is the Doctor in all instances of his appearances on Who and Torchwood
Now here’s the theory I would absolutely love to see the writers pull off. I have enjoyed some of the longer developing story arcs during the Davies era of Who so this would probably take the cake. In this theory I want to suggest that every time Peter Capaldi is on screen in both Doctor Who and Torchwood that he is in fact the Doctor. I don’t however want to suggest that he knows that he’s the Doctor when he’s John Frobisher and it’s just a workable possibility when he appears as Caecilius.
There’s an already set precedent for how the Doctor might not know that he is a Time Lord. In Series 3 episode 9, “The Family of Blood,” the Tenth Doctor has decided to hide himself as a human to avoid detection by a yet unknown person or persons chasing him. All of the Doctor’s Time Lord traits and solid memories are locked away in his fob watch so he doesn’t know who he is and doesn’t have any Time Lord ability unless the watch is opened.
If the Doctor, at some point in the future during the Twelfth Doctor’s incarnation, decided that he needed to go back into hiding it’s possible that he could take on the personality of John Frobisher. Since John is a middleman in the government it can be an ideal situation for the Doctor to hide in plain sight. Additionally, from our previous experience with a Doctor in hiding we know that some of those memories can seep through his consciousness from Time Lord to Human. This could make him a better candidate to be the guy in the room with the 456 since he already has experience with aliens (being one himself).
Some major obstacles to overcome are that the Doctor as John Frobisher has built a life. His oldest daughter appears to be at least 10 years old. It’s possible that his wife could miss that he doesn’t age during this time period, but beyond that would be stretching it. We see no onscreen companions wandering about trying to take care of him and make sure he gets to his fob watch when he needs it like Martha did so that would need to be accounted for as well. This is of course ignoring that we never see the watch onscreen, but it could easily be kept in a desk drawer at work or home in scenes we never even visit.
The bigger plot point to overcome however is that John Frobisher is supposed to be dead. At the end of Children of Earth, John decides to kill his daughters and wife rather than let them be abducted by the 456 to be used as drugs in an out-of-this-world alien drug market. We see him send his wife and children upstairs, then follows with his requisition .31 pistol before closing the door as he walks in the room. We as the audience stare at the closed door and hear 3 gun shots in succession followed by a pause and then a fourth. It would normally be acceptable to say that he killed his children and wife, then paused before shooting himself. However, I’m going to posit a slightly more twisty scenario.
We go back to the scene as Frobisher closes the door. The three gunshots are heard as he kills two of the people in the room and injures the third (I doubt he’s a master marksmen so this is entirely plausible). The pause is a moment of horror as he sees what he’s done and the last remaining person alive in the room with him is begging for him not to shoot as the fourth shot goes off and kills them. Frobisher remains alive and sick with grief. At some point he wanders to wherever his Time Lord pocket watch is kept safe. There’s something about it that makes him feel secure, at home, like he’s had it for a very long time. Sitting down wondering what he’s going to do about the impending abduction of 10% of earth’s children he flicks his watch open to see what time it is and how close they are to the designated time. Boom, Time Lord memories flood back into him and he returns to being the Doctor.
Normally we would see the Doctor rush in to the rescue of humanity against the 456, but this scenario is different now that he realizes he’s killed three innocent people that were his family. Ruined with contempt for himself and his scenario he gets in the TARDIS to travel as far away from that place as he can get. This clears up a dangling string of why Frobisher never returns to work to deal with the 456. Additionally it’s never said explicitly that Frobisher is dead, only that one of his long time co-workers will certainly miss him.
A similar watch scenario can be posited for the Caecilius scenario, or you could suggest that Caecilius is the Doctor just pretending to be human since he knows that he is going to save himself from the the volcano in Pompeii. What else is a Time Lord to do with all of his time aside from occasionally travel back to ancient Rome and become a master sculptor while raising a family on a volcanic island?
If some way Moffat decided to go with Theory 2 as an explanation for Capaldi’s previous appearances I would expect that there would only be vague references to the happenings in Torchwood with his family. The subject matter would be too graphic for the typical nature of Who in my opinion, although it would add a certain depth of underlying sadness to the Twelfth’s character after the timeline syncs up properly for our viewing. Only time will tell what Moffat decides to come up with as an explanation. I just hope it isn’t some timey-wimey copout.