As Peter Capaldi faces up to the daunting prospect of a third year as the captain of the good ship TARDIS, could Steven Moffat's last series as showrunner prove to be the Twelfth Doctor's final bow? If he does exit stage left prior to the beginnings of the Chibnallian Era, he would of course be in good company- five of his predecessors chose three years & out in various permutations!
The first was Patrick Troughton, who copted to bow out in 1969 with The War Games after replacing William Hartnell at the conclusion of The Tenth Planet & in doing so lent his name to what has gone down in actors' shorthand as the Troughton Rule.
Having done the hard work of convincing viewers the series could carry on without old Bill at the helm of the then-modern day police box, it would seem he was best by concerns over typecasting.
"I regretted leaving it very much, but again you can’t stay in one job forever, not as a character actor."A fact which Capaldi seems mindful of, as he told the Daily Mirror.
"I sort of enjoy this position I am in with a kind of deep Scottish melancholy because I know it has to end one day. I will cross that bridge when we come to it, which may be sooner rather than later."Beating Tom Baker's record seven year stretch as the Fourth Doctor doesn't seem to have been on the minds of many of his successors. Three does seem to be the average, borne out by the tenure of the man who replaced Tom...
Peter Davison was next to take the three and out route, on Troughton's advice. Speaking to BBC News, he would say,
"I had to make the decision absurdly early. It was at the end of my second season. The producer asked about staying beyond a third year and I said I would call it a day because that had been my plan, as suggested by Patrick Troughton. Do three and get out, he said.Not content with stealing Davison's thunder as the youngest man to portray the Doctor, Matt Smith was the third & last man to follow the rule of three. It's tempting to ponder whether this was also inspired by Troughton, the man he'd come to love while preparing to take on a part about which he'd previously known comparatively little after a viewing of The Tomb Of The Cybermen.
I stuck with that. I had a chance to change my mind, but I thought that would be chickening out, and there were other things I wanted to do.
It's never easy because you're playing this iconic character."
As his story came to an end, Smith revealed that,
"It’s a very intense process to play the Doctor. The line-learning is really hard, and you have to live away from home for nine or ten months a year. I love the show, and it wasn’t an easy choice to come to, but it’s the right time for both of us.."Sylvester McCoy, would also in a sense conform to the Troughton Rule, appearing in everything from Time And The Rani to Survival across three seasons before handing over to Paul McGann at the beginning of the 1996 TV Movie. So it could then be argued that three is the magic number!
Another option for Peter is to not only stick to three years, but also time his departure to tie in with that of the man who cast him, as David Tennant did in announcing his own exit from the TARDIS, going when Russell T Davies moved on to other projects.
Using an acceptance speech at the National Television Awards, he declared that,
"When Doctor Who returns in 2010 it won't be with me. I love this part, and I love this show so much that if I don't take a deep breath and move on now I never will, and you'll be wheeling me out of the TARDIS in my bath chair."Tennant left after three full series, not counting his specials from The Next Doctor to The End Of Time, feeling the time was right to exit just as Pat, Matt & his father in law would & did in their respective cases.
"I think it's better to go when there's a chance that people might miss you, rather than to hang around and outstay your welcome."As something of a sad postscript we could also consider William Hartnell's three full series getting Doctor Who off the ground in the first place before illness took hold or he was pushed out, depending on point of view.
But the period from An Unearthly Child to The War Machines was most likely seen as his peak by producers, who eased him aside after just two stories of Season Four in favour of the man he's alleged to have recommended as his own replacement.
"There's only one man in England who can take over, and that's Patrick Troughton".Of course, since then another ten have had a good stab at it as well, but is it mere coincidence that half of that number opted to bow out at arguably the optimum time to do so? Setting the bar for New-Who at three series per incarnation of the Doctor?
But whether the current incumbent Doctor chooses to conform to this most recent of trends or not, the rumour mill will surely still be in overdrive come the start of his next/potentially final series.
Sources close to the programme have hardly helped, one reported as saying Chibnall will be given free rein over his own choice of who gives voice & body to the potential Thirteenth Doctor if & when the Twelfth bids farewell.
"Bosses are already discussing a fresh start when Steven (Moffatt) leaves. They’ve been happy with what Peter has brought to the role but some think it might make sense to give Chris his own choice of actor to play the Doctor. They hope he will be able to find someone who can have the same impact as Matt Smith did when Steven Moffat kicked off his run."This seems to imply that the race is on to find another younger man (or woman, if he opts for a daring/progressive route) in the not too distant future, with Peter Capaldi seemingly destined for three and out.
That old adage about the exceptions proving the rule springs to mind....