DOCTOR WHO: The Golden Age - Stories for an older Doctor - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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DOCTOR WHO: The Golden Age - Stories for an older Doctor

Tony Fyler says you’re never too old to play the Doctor – and highlights the kinds of stories that may lay ahead in Capaldi’s era.

You have to love Doctor Who fandom. When Matt Smith was cast in the role, vast swathes of it were up in arms, crying ‘Moffatt’s gone mad! This whipper-snapper’s too young to be the Doctor!’

When Peter Capaldi was cast to follow him, entirely different but these days no less vast swathes of it were up in arms, crying ‘Moffatt’s gone mad! This codger’s too old to be the Doctor!’

While Moffatt may very well be mad, each of these cries misses a fundamental point.

The Doctor is not human. His outward physiognomy is actually irrelevant, because it doesn’t conform to anything we ascribe to it. Him looking younger does not mean he is younger. Him looking older doesn’t mean he’s actually travelled the slow path and aged those extra years. If the ever-present dangle of rumour were ever to be fulfilled and there was a female Doctor, she wouldn’t be “too female” for the role. To whinge that an actor is ‘too something’ to be the Doctor is to miss the core value of the show almost completely. He’s never too anything to be himself – any more than you or I are too white, too black, too tall, too short, too fat or too thin to be ourselves. It’s his character that defines him, not any aspect of his body. Any actor can play the Doctor, provided they can tap into that character, and ideally show us both a consistency with the past and a little something unique to them to take the character on and evolve it. There are stories for every ‘kind’ of Doctor you can possibly imagine out there, just waiting to be told. The only difference is what stories are best told by which Doctors.

So now we have an older Doctor again. What sorts of stories can you tell better with an older Doctor than a younger one?

Stories With Children
With absolutely no intended disrespect to Matt Smith, there’s a reason why his stories with children – The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe, Night Terrors, Nightmare In Silver etc – are among his most forgettable. To some extent the same is true of David Tennant (Fear Her, anyone?). Young, sexy men trying to relate to children in fiction in the 21st century have a tendency to come off either as infantilised themselves or as trying too hard to be liked – note the Doctor’s excessive excitement at the prospect of the Spacy Zoomer, or his whirlwind tour of the modifications to the house in Wardrobe, ‘I know’ing to everything unsaid about the children’s approbation. Imagine any other Doctor trying to get away with that – even Peter Davison’s relatively youthful Doctor back in the day. Imagine Jon Pertwee trying it? William Hartnell? Even Colin Baker? No. That’s because older Doctors immediately assume a different role with children – a paternal or grandpaternal role of trust, rather than a striving to be just like them. There are exceptions in Smith’s repertoire, but only when there’s enough else going on to shift the focus from his interaction with the children: The Eleventh Hour’s scenes with a young Amelia Pond are brilliantly engaging, for all they are essentially there to showcase the new Doctor’s personality, and set up a relationship with the older Amy. His scenes with a young Kazran Sardick likewise tread the line of infantilism extremely carefully, and bridge the gap to a relationship with the older Kazran. Older Doctors can deal more easily with children because they’re not trying to be them.

Stories Requiring Impersonation
Classic Who fans have frequently made the case that the old show never needed all the gimmicks of the new to get the Doctor into his adventures. In one particular case, that may well be true with older Doctors – the psychic paper. The first four Doctors were forever being mistaken for figures of some authority and going along with the mistake purely on the grounds of the faces and the attitudes they carried – when Jon Pertwee swanned about all over Peladon as the Earth Ambassador, if you didn’t know he was the Doctor, it could quite easily be a show about the Earth Ambassador. When Tom Baker claimed to be from Galactic Salvage in Nightmare of Eden, the claim was greeted with suspicion, but not disbelieved. The recent reliance on psychic paper to give people ideas about who the Doctor is might not be necessary in the Capaldi era. A newly-regenerated Matt Smith complained of having ‘one of those faces that nobody listens to. Again.’ Under Capaldi, that’s unlikely to be a problem (and yes, it’s still delicious to think of a Capaldi Doctor arriving on a planet and giving the full Malcolm Tucker to some hapless guard or other, isn’t it?)

Slow-Drip, High-Tension Stories
Are we falling into the lazy stereotype of saying ‘Oh well, an older Doctor won’t run around as much, in case he breaks a hip?’ No, absolutely not – part of the fun of having an older Doctor will be seeing him still in manic, energetic, save the universe or run away really fast modes. It’s more that an older Doctor will feel more in control of his body, more in command of his faculties, so why not go a little intense? Bring the performance right down and right in, and feel the beads of sweat run as a base under siege plays out. Have high-stakes battles of words to defeat enemies. Have a Doctor who’s loaded the bases, and already been round the back and disarmed your disintegrators. The joy of an older Doctor is that it’s easier to sell extreme cleverness coming from a position of authority, and that’s something an older Doctor will carry with him in his bearing and in his face.

Psychological Thrillers
A fellow contributor recently posed the idea of a match-up between Capaldi’s Doctor and 80s psychological serpent-king the Mara. This was a fantastic suggestion for what to do with an older Doctor. In the same vein as the intense base under siege, battles of will and mentality will suit an older Doctor better, as a function of the same idea – control over his body, his face and his energy. By bringing it all in and down, the amount of tension an older Doctor can wring from a psychological thriller is immense. Compare, for instance, Tom Baker’s battle of wills with Morbius to Peter Davison’s battle with the Master for control of Kamelion. All the intensity, and much of the believability, is in the first performance.

There are undoubtedly more examples, but the point is made. Look forward to all the kinds of stories that can be told better with an older Doctor, and make your mind up to the fact that this is what the Doctor is now – until the next time the ‘all change’ button of regeneration is pushed and the fruit machine of story potential pays out a different hand. Enjoy all the Doctors – there’s something for everyone in all of them.

Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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