Why Capaldi’s Previous Appearances Shouldn’t Really Matter
Guest contributor Elliot James explains.
Since his casting, we’ve heard on numerous occasions that Series 8 will offer an explanation for the fact that Peter Capaldi has appeared several times before in the Whoniverse; as Caecilius in The Fires of Pompeii, John Frobisher in Torchwood: Children of Earth and now as the Doctor himself. When it comes to this ‘issue’, there seems to be two sides among us Whovians; the yes-we-absolutely-need-an-answer side, and the not-too-bothered-but-it’ll-be-interesting-to-see side. For me, I am on the latter side – I’m not opposed to a well-founded explanation, but I don’t really see the reason to make a big deal out of it, and in this article I hope to show you the reasoning behind my opinion.
“I remember this… Almost remember.”
Let us not forget that this has happened before. Colin Baker appeared in Doctor Who as Commander Maxil in the 1983 serial Arc of Infinity, a year before he himself took up the role of the Doctor. Karen Gillan also starred in The Fires of Pompeii alongside Capaldi, and then was announced to be the Eleventh Doctor’s companion in the year after. The actress Chipo Chung played Chantho, Professor Yana’s assistant, in the Series 3 episode Utopia before returning in the next series as the fortune-teller Donna encounters in Turn Left. Alexander Armstrong voiced Mr Smith in the Sarah Jane Adventures and the Series 4 finale of Doctor Who, before returning (although as a human this time) as Reg Arwell in the 2011 Christmas special. Julian Bleach played the ‘Ghostmaker’ in an episode of the second series of Torchwood, and then played the part of Davros in Doctor Who’s Series 4 finale, The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End, before making it a hat-trick and playing the ‘Nightmare Man’ in the fourth series of the Sarah Jane Adventures back in 2010 – equalling Capaldi’s ‘collection’ of three Whoniverse characters.
Now whilst all but the first are admittedly less of a problem as their facial appearances are different for each of the roles they played, these numerous coincidences, alongside Mr.Capaldi’s, prove that in the world of television and of Doctor Who, these things can be quite common and it is not unheard of for an actor to return as a different character in the same show.
“Don’t worry; I started a very long time ago.”
The fact that it has happened before isn’t the only reason why this shouldn’t really matter. Peter’s first appearance in The Fires of Pompeii was 6 years ago, and his appearance in Torchwood: Children of Earth was 5 years ago. Naturally, he would have aged slightly over the years, meaning that whilst he is still recognisably the same person, he won’t look like an identical image of the characters he has played before. Combine this with the fact that the Twelfth Doctor has a costume that is quite different from Caecilius’ robes or Frobisher’s glasses, suit and tie, and you can see that all three characters generally look different. Their respective costumes show that they are from different time periods and/or different places, to the extent that they can be seen by a viewer and be immediately recognised as separate characters.
We also know that Capaldi’s Doctor will be darker and less approachable, and whilst he hasn’t fully appeared on our screens yet, I think it is clear to say from what we have seen that all three characters will also have differing personalities and mannerisms. This, for me, seems to contradict the popular theory that all three characters are the same person (the Doctor), as they all behave quite differently and make different decisions and judgements of a situation. Despite not seeing the new Doctor onscreen yet, I wouldn’t think that Twelve, even if he is darker than we think he will be, would agree with some of John Frobisher’s decisions. Likewise, I don’t think Caecilius, with his bumbling personality, would have the mindset of the stricter, less caring Twelfth Doctor we will shortly meet.
“You forgot! Four hundred years, is that all it takes?”
My final point is perhaps my biggest point, and like the above paragraph, it’s also to do with the progression and effects of time. Not counting his cameo in The Day of the Doctor or the closing scene of The Time of the Doctor, it has been five years since his last appearance in the Whoniverse, and six years since his first. Had he have played a different character only last year, then I may not be writing this article; my previous point about his appearance wouldn’t really be as applicable and his previous role would still be fresh in the audience’s mind. Whilst us Whovians who were watching in 2008 and 2009 may remember back then quite well, five years is a fairly long time, certainly long enough for new viewers to come in and casual viewers to forget. Spending a decent amount of time going back into the history of the show may confuse and seem unnecessary to those viewers, and could also use up valuable episode time (and production costs) that could be better spent on new adventures. The show has a new Doctor, and a new direction, and I think that Moffat and the team of writers will be aiming to look forwards, not backwards, for Capaldi’s first series.
“What’s the mad fool talking about now?”
Okay, I’ll stop with the The Day of the Doctor quotes. Now, don’t get me wrong; like I said at the start of this article, I’m not opposed to the show coming up with a clever explanation for this, so long as it doesn’t seem forced or too massive. I’m actually quite interested in seeing what this explanation could be, but the point I’m trying to make is that I don’t feel that a big, detailed and timey-wimey explanation like some may want is really needed. I believe that we could get on quite fine without one – I think the reasons I’ve touched upon in this article are enough to dismiss this issue as a coincidence of the world of television, and not much else. As I mentioned before, I wouldn’t really want the explanation to be too much of a plot point in either an episode or to become a story arc, and instead a throwaway line or two that gives a good idea of an answer but not necessarily set it in stone would do quite nicely, in my opinion.
Of course, these are just my thoughts, you might be in agreement with all of this, some of this, or you might be resting your head on your keyboard in despair because I’m talking complete rubbish – regardless, let me know what you think in the comments!