PETER CAPALDI - Doc Brown, Willy Wonka and House all rolled into one!

As we reach the half way point of Doctor Who Series 8, Dominic Fellows casts a critical eye over the recent episodes and Peter Capaldi's portrayal of the Time Lord.

During my last piece on the subject, I speculated that fans of Smith were perhaps unlikely to respond to Capaldi’s Doctor. In response to that notion, the large number of people I have come across since who totally disagreed with me was very encouraging. So we’re another three episodes on and how have things developed?

First up we have ‘Listen’. I had mixed feeling about the episode itself as I am instinctively reticent about any episode that shows us The Doctor’s childhood. It’s just not something I feel I need to see and depending on your point of view, it was either a story of the most terrifying monster in the universe or it was… erm… not actually about anything at all. But despite these reservations, I enjoyed the episode and I enjoyed discussing it afterwards and for one major reason – you guessed it – Peter Capaldi. It’s hard for any actor to come into a show and take over form another. It’s even harder for said actor to have not only had eleven predecessors but to have directly followed two of the most popular. At this point we are a mere four episodes in and not only has Capaldi more than held his own but there are moments when it’s hard to imagine anyone delivering the lines anywhere near as well. His words to Rupert Pink about ‘fear being a super-power’ is the sort of thing that usually makes this grouchy old cynics eyes roll but Capaldi delivers the speech in a way that is re-assuring but also slightly unnerving which added to the suspense of the whole scene. At this point, I feel that is what is key to his Doctor. He’s not the man that is going to take you under his wing and say ‘it’s going to be ok’ he’s the sort of man that will tell you ‘it’s going to be ok’ when it blatantly isn’t. 

Second in we have ‘Time Heist’ Perhaps the weakest of Capaldi’s run for me so far, being a bit of the throw back to time-bending (I refuse to say that popular adjective that has become synonymous with Doctor Who in recent years) storyline common in the last several years. This kind doesn’t seem to suit Capaldi. Don’t get me wrong he played in brilliantly as always, and made the episode never less than entertaining but he is clearly more suited, or dare I say more comfortable, in the episodes that have a slower pace and even more sombre tone which brings this round of episodes to a close with ‘The Caretaker’, an episode that in my opinion would force anyone who has criticised the writing of late to eat their words.

Say what you like about the overall episode but the writing is hard to fault, providing us with a monster of the week but also a very dense character drama in which we come to accept Clara’s relationships with the men in her life. She is at the centre of this story, which is very reminiscent of the later McCoy episodes and subsequent ‘New Adventures’ novels. If there is a villain here, it’s not the weird alien robot (whose name escapes me but reminded me very much of the Raston Warrior robot) but The Doctor himself. Let’s face it, the alien menace of the week is hardly the most unstoppable force The Doctor has encountered, no, the enemy here is The Doctor’s single and bloody mindedness. Being callous can be forgiven when the fate of the world is at stake, but the way he treats Danny blurs the line between alien aloofness and downright snobbery that reminds one of the First Doctor’s early days. There are past elements at play here. He is constantly chiding Danny for being a soldier (turned maths teacher in a beautifully subtle nod to ‘Mawdryn Undead’) but as we all know some of The Doctor’s best friends are soldiers and he has been accused of it himself. To this end, Capaldi is managing to channel his predecessors into his performance with what seems like consummate ease. Without listing them all (that’s another story for another time) Capaldi’s ability to change his style depending on the situation, be himself, be similar yet completely different to other Doctors and mange to do it without seeming schizophrenic is nothing short of remarkable and something that has not been present in the character since the days of Tom Baker. And it’s not just former Doctor’s he embodies, my own brother said to me ‘he's Doc Brown, Willy Wonka and House all rolled into one’ I find it hard to disagree. 

Going back to Danny Pink, the similarities between him and The Doctor were evident as they bickered as mercilessly as the best of Doctor team-ups. In fact, having seen ‘The Caretaker’ the events of ‘Listen’ are given more weight. It seems unusual to me at the time of writing that throughout the whole episode the TARDIS was focusing on Danny and yet in the last few moments we went into the Doctor’s past. Is there perhaps a stronger link between the two than we realise? One suspects that Danny, Missy and the search for Gallifrey could be connected in some way. Could Danny be The Master? Or a future Doctor? What’s been wonderful about this series (due in no small part to Capaldi) is that I don’t actually want to know how it ends, I’m enjoying the Journey far too much. 

So six episodes in and watching Capaldi is like meeting up with and old friend. The spirit of the old is very much there, yet it feels new. And despite being a cynical grouch in a dreary world, for forty-five minutes, every Saturday for twelve weeks I once again get that feeling being an excited little kid. Roll on the next six!

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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