DOCTOR WHO - Stand By Your Doctor - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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DOCTOR WHO - Stand By Your Doctor

Dominic Fellows has a message for Doctor Who fans new and old... Stand by your Doctor.

We are three episodes into Peter Capaldi’s debut season and it’s disappointed me how many damning comments I’ve read. I think I know why, but I’ll come to that later. A few weeks ago I wrote a piece debating that Capaldi could be our new ‘Definitive Doctor’. Now you may argue that it’s not been long enough to decide if I was right or not, but so far I stand by everything I said.

As an introductory story, ‘Deep Breath’ was pretty flawless. It easy for us to take for granted what the purpose of a debut story is. Quoting Doctor 6 himself ‘If you’re trying to introduce a new Doctor it’s probably a good idea not to have him eclipsed by the greatest story ever written.’ By no means was ‘Deep Breath’ the greatest story ever written, but I certainly found it to be the most enjoyable for a good long while. The slower pace was reminiscent of the ‘classic series’ which many seemed to object to, personally I liked it as it allowed, in one instance, Capaldi to have a decent slice of screen time but also, in another instance, allowed the story to develop around him. Both these approaches had been utilised in ‘The Christmas Invasion’ and ‘The Eleventh Hour’ The former giving Tennant very little screen time and thus leaving him with the most protracted debut in the shows history whereas the latter made Smith its focus, which is seemingly fine but in hindsight didn’t allow for much development later on and left the actual plot of ‘The Eleventh Hour’ wafer thin (I’ve heard it said that the Smith era never got any better than this particular episode but that’s another tale for another time). ‘Deep Breath’ may not be as dense as War and Peace but it did allow a little room for Clara to guide the action. Speaking of Clara she was afforded more development in this one episode than all of her previous outings combined. ‘The Impossible Girl’ story arc left her as little more than a drawn out plot point than an actual character and were it not for the wonderful Jenna Coleman I doubt if I would have warmed to her at all. Even Madame Vastra was given something a bit meatier to work with and the scenes between her and Clara discussing The Doctor’s change were some of the most compelling.

Going back to Capaldi, this structure allows him to explore the character in a way that at least feels natural, his scenes with the tramp being a particular highlight. A favourite moment of mine being when he not only left Clara with the droids but wouldn’t even leave her the sonic screwdriver, quipping ‘I might need it’ it’s very hard to imagine any of his predecessors (except early days Hartnell) playing this as convincingly. There’s a genuine doubt here that The Doctor will return, not only raising the jeopardy levels massively, but letting Clara shine as a result. Capaldi’s Doctor is dangerous, unpredictable and fallible. Something I have always disliked about modern era Doctor Who is that he had become untouchable. In any given situation he was always right about everything, frankly I find this is boring. A Doctor who gets things wrong is far more interesting to watch as you come to realise you can’t trust everything he says, not least because it may not even be correct and brings a greater dimension to the character than the lazy and tiresome ‘The Doctor lies’ which is exposition, not character development. What is refreshing about Capaldi is that you don’t necessarily like him. Personally, I am fascinated by him and feel compelled to watch him, but I don’t know if I like him, which takes this over-grown fan boy back to the days when I first started watching with Sylvester McCoy. And I love that, yes it was taken to extremes in the early Colin Baker days but here there seems to be more thought put into it.

Speaking with a friend on the subject, he offered up the opinion ‘Capaldi is the new Troughton, the quality of what he is in doesn’t matter, he will make it good’ I agreed with this sentiment. Okay, ‘Deep Breath’ was no classic, ‘Into The Dalek’ was essentially a remake of ‘Dalek’ and ‘Robot of Sherwood’ was a daft romp, all of which I would have disliked had they been made without Capaldi but he really makes a difference, bringing a gravitas to the proceedings that has long since been missing. Let’s not pretend every Troughton adventure is a classic. There are some Troughton episodes which are frankly dire, however, they were elevated simply because he was in them and for me this has been the case in every episode featuring Capaldi so far. ‘Into The Dalek’ featured yet another turgid monologue from the Doctor at the stories climax but Capaldi made it work. He made it work because he played it not as an impassioned speech but a ramble of desperation.

I must confess, I went into ‘Robot of Sherwood’ with low expectation. The title was silly for starters (I have a great dislike for literal titles) and I had been warned it was ‘a romp’ but I was pleasantly surprised. Yes it was lightweight but once again, Capaldi brought a sense of severity so even though what I was watching was inherently silly I still bought into it. It’s not just Capaldi though, granted he is a major part of it but the writing has improved. Judging by what I have read many will disagree with me, but I believe it has and I can sum it up in one word; villains. Ever since Doctor Who returned there have been an absence of new individual villains, I am open to correction but I cannot think of a single villain from the new series (excluding returning classic villains such as The Master, The Great Intelligence, Rassilon etc) that has not been part of a monster race, when a villain is christened with a name as woefully unimaginative as ‘The Sycorax Leader’ you already know they are not going to be endowed with too much character. Three episodes into the latest series and we have already had The half-face man, The Sheriff and a Dalek that has achieved the seemingly impossible and become ‘good’. What’s remarkable about the half-face man is that he is presented as ‘just-another-droid’ but he is awarded more screen time than many of his contemporaries and becomes a character in his own rite and not just a monster-of-the-week. Equally The Sheriff was not just ‘an advanced robot’ but a character with ambitions and desires. As an aside note I loved the fun they had with this character by playing on the sci-fi clichés of the historical man that meets with aliens as Clara pre-empted everything he said. It had to be there for expositional purposes, but it is such a tired concept, it was great to see Gatiss have a bit of fun with it. And then there was ‘Rusty’ the good Dalek. Need one say more?

And amongst all this we have Missy, clearly being set up as the series primary antagonist but in a way that is not intrusive. Her scenes so far barely even qualify as subplot, literally taking the form of cutaway scenes that the regular cast are unaware of. As an audience, it’s nice to be in on this for two main reasons; 1. We like to think we know more than the regulars do and 2. Said regulars know nothing about it and so are not constantly asking ‘so what’s the mystery this series?’ which, in my opinion, is often a detriment than an advantage. There are mysteries here, but unlike previous series which may as well have come with a neon sign saying ‘Try and figure it out! I bet you can’t! This is a mystery that says ‘let it happen, the answers will come’ which for me makes far more entertaining TV than constantly trying to work out what is going and how it will be resolved before realising I don’t actually care anymore. Yes I like TV to be challenging, but I like to enjoy it as well, it’s a fine balance and one that seems to be coming into check now.

What is characterising this latest series is how different it is from the previous. It is well documented that Tennant and Smith are very similar Doctors, in Capaldi and Smith we have two Doctors who could not be more different, and for many I think that is the problem. If you like Smith, Capaldi is unlikely to be to your taste. Likewise I know fans who positively detested Smith but are loving Capaldi. So I say this to the distinguished Smith fans around the globe, you will probably never like Capaldi, I hope the next guy is more to your taste. And I say this to the legion of fans Capaldi is now amassing; relish every minute, you’re in for one heck of a ride!

Dominic Fellows is an actor and writer from Birmingham in the UK. He is also producer of the group Stripped Down Theatre (find them on Facebook). His shows have had more than one or two ‘geeky gags’ in them.

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