Dr. Who Recap: And the 12th Doctor Is...
By Edwin Davies
August 5, 2013
And because The Doctor was so central to the show, the stories being told would fit the tone of their performance, as well as accounting for the changing tastes of the audience and the way in which television was made - compare the multi-part serials of the early days and the self-contained single episodes of today to see just how much the show has changed to keep up with the times. The only TV series that have been on for comparable amounts of time would be soap operas, shows that essentially repeat the same dynamics over and over with different casts as the years pass. Doctor Who is unique in that it has been able to remain hugely popular and relevant - barring the 16 years when it was off the air - as the world has changed around it.
Probably the most important impact of regeneration is that it has allowed the show to develop a unique relationship with members of its audience. If you talk to people who grew up watching Doctor Who, the phrase "my Doctor" will inevitably surface. It's not merely a case of which actor was playing the character at the time, but one of who was their own personal Doctor, the one who defined for them who the character was and what Doctor Who as a show could be. Different generations, from the children who watched Hartnell's Doctor and are now grandparents to its current audience love the same show, but their ideas of what the show is might be wildly different, and are intimately tied up with the question of who "their Doctor" was.
It's a uniquely personal relationship between character and audience that has allowed the show to thrive as a cultural phenomenon; it feels as if there will always be a Doctor, and even if you might not like what the show is doing now, a horde of new viewers will. It's become a living, evolving entirety whose fan base remains so passionate because of their connection not just to the stories, but to the different people who helped tell them. It's this reason why a regeneration is not just part of the ongoing story of the show, but a major event; each new actor means that the show is going to change as well, and the audience is going to have to determine whether they like the new Doctor as much as they did the old one. Only 11 men have played The Doctor before (if you discount the film versions from the '60s, in which he was played by Peter Cushing, and dozens of radio series in which other actors have taken on the role) and the addition of a 12th is rare and special.
In terms of the man who fills that role, Capaldi is a brilliant choice. Not only is he a great actor (seriously, people, watch The Thick of It, In The Loop and Local Hero) but he's a lifelong fan of the show and is no stranger to genre fiction; he played the Angel Islington in Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, guest starred in Torchwood and Doctor Who itself (in an episode with Karen Gillan, before she became a companion). More important, he's a markedly different talent from Matt Smith, who I've loved as The Doctor but whose performance was initially just a slight variation on David Tennant's interpretation. Capaldi's an older, more intense actor than Smith, but he's also got a lightness and a twinkle in his eye, suggesting that he could both intimidate the fuck out some Daleks and handle the humour of Steven Moffat's scripts. It's been years since there's been an older Doctor, and I for one can't wait to see what Capaldi's experience will bring to the role, even if he has to cut down on the inventive swearing.
The Doctor is dead! Long live The Doctor!