How Series 8 Was All About Growing a Hero
Guest contributor Scott Wallace on how he eventually warmed to Capaldi through Series 8’s careful crafting.
I had a tough time with Peter Capaldi’s portrayal of the Twelfth Doctor. I’d gotten very used to the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors personalities, which for all their differences had many more consistencies. This is evidenced most importantly in the ‘Day of the Doctor’, where they appear basically as brothers flip-siding the same coin (with their cranky grandpa in tow). That Doctor is the funny, generous, emotional outer shell with a core of cold iron that can come out only when it is required. Ten and Eleven were heroes out of the gate. “Run!” they’d say. They were kind, yet fierce individuals who didn’t stand to see suffering and would do everything in their power to see it stop. I’d gotten used to that portrayal. So when Capaldi appeared and was not even remotely that, I stumbled. I had a lot of days where I wondered about the show in general. I pondered if I could accept the Twelfth Doctor who didn’t seem like a hero, and actively asked his companion if he was indeed a “Good Man” at all.
Now, as a person who grew up watching Classic Who, I’m no stranger to regeneration jitters. When Tom Baker (my First Doctor) became Peter Davison, young me was confused. Thankfully, young me was far more elastic in his sensibilities and he graciously rolled with the Doctors. By the time Davison gave way to Baker who gave way to McCoy I was an old hand at this change up game.
I should have had no more trouble accepting Capaldi than I did Smith after Tennant. It didn’t turn out that way at all. It wasn’t until I’d finished Series 8, and started to re-watch it that I glommed onto the genius of what Moffat had actually done with this new incarnation, and I thought I’d lay it out for you fine readers as I’ve seen it.
The Twelfth Doctor is gruff, hard, sarcastically funny, and can be very cold. He only shows the slightest emotion in fleeting moments in those earlier episodes. Is he a hero? Not really. At least not as we’d know him from our previous incarnations. Not yet. In fact, most of the early episodes all have what I would call a “Ten/Eleven Allegory” as a secondary character to fill that void, while the Doctor goes about being harder and more analytical.
In ‘Deep Breath’ it’s the Paternoster Gang, in ‘Into The Dalek’ it’s Journey Blue, in ‘Robot Of Sherwood’ it’s Robin Hood, in ‘Listen’ it’s actually Clara, in ‘Time Heist” it’s both Saibra and Psi, in ‘The Caretaker’ it’s Danny Pink. At this point we reach the dead middle of the season and this is where things start to slowly change. In ‘Kill The Moon’ we are meant to see Captain Lundvik is the heroic allegory and we even do that for most of the episode, until the very end when we find out that the Doctor is filling that role as he saves the moon and the creature inside it.
Things then continue on that upswing for the rest of Series 8. ‘Mummy On The Orient Express’ features a Doctor not only willing to be the hero, but one that is now even willing to put himself in harms way to defend the human “pudding brains” around him. In ‘Flatline’ this last feature of a sacrificial Doctor is exacerbated in that he is basically in harms way for the entirety of the story and yet he never stops being himself. This is also the first episode where he gives a shouty Ten/Eleven style Doctor speech about just WHO he is and what he does. It also contains one of the first moments of Twelve expressing joy (his little dance move in the TARDIS). In ‘In The Forest Of The Night’ both Danny and Clara have now moved to a secondary position in the hero spectrum behind the growing Twelfth Doctor. They lose their field trip kids, and can’t manage them, but the Doctor does so easily.
In the two-part finale we see the now heroic Doctor on full display firing on every single piston in his arsenal. He’s attached to Danny and Clara now on a level he may not understand, but he’s not afraid to do everything in his power to help them and the human race. Hell, he even dives out of a plane in midair and sails down into the TARDIS like a damned extreme sports junkie. It’s brilliant on every single level, and is the culmination of a season-long character growth arc. Not to mention that the whole shebang starts out with him proving to Clara he’s a “Good Man”, by showing her that even her largest, and most brutal transgression (which is almost a full-on betrayal) doesn’t affect his feelings for her or their bond one bit. It’s the first time you get to look at him and think, “There he is. That’s him right there. There is the Doctor”. This is not to imply that he’s not Doctor-y before this, but it’s the first time I had been able to see him how I needed to see him, and it prompted me to relook at the series with a more critical eye towards what they’d been doing.
So we have this new Doctor, on a whole new set of regenerations and he’s really different out of the gate. He’s basically the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors flipped completely inside out. His exterior shell is hard, cold, and unyielding, and his inner self is the funny, emotional, caring person. It takes him time to realize this. It takes him time to use those around him to look inside and find that personality and how to best use that. It takes Clara time to break through it that external shell. It’s so poignant, that when Twelve salutes Cyber-Brig at the end of ‘Death In Heaven’ you realize that he’s got you wrapped around his finger. It’s more than just a fitting tribute to the Brig, it’s been arranged into the story to be a watershed moment for this new Doctors acceptance of himself in all his glory, faults and all.
This all culminates in ‘Last Christmas’ where this freshly minted, fully realized Doctor can stride onto the scene and blow us all away with just who he is, and why he’s the hero of the piece. Moffat played the long game (again) here, but this time he did it with the Doctor as opposed to the companion. No Impossible Girl. No fairytale for Amy. This time it was a Doctor who didn’t know himself, and he spends a whole season growing into someone I can not only get behind, but may be one of the greatest incarnations of the Doctor yet.
I had a tough time with Peter Capaldi’s portrayal of the Twelfth Doctor, but in the end that was my own impatience. I was looking for someone only slightly altered from what I’d been getting. Moffat and Capaldi spent the time and energy to give me someone so much better than that.