The Twelfth Doctor – reactions

In it’s fiftieth anniversary year, Matt Smith announced he was stepping down from his role as the lead on Doctor Who, the longest running science fiction television show in the world. Media speculation ran riot, and finally a front runner emerged, the Scottish actor Peter Capaldi, who has previous links with both Doctor Who, appearing opposite David Tennant and Catherine Tate in The Fires of Pompeii, an episode which also featured the first appearance of Karen Gillan prior to her casting as Amy Pond, and also Torchwood, where he appeared in the Children of Earth miniseries. Here, the Geek Chocolate team offer their opinions of the casting of Capaldi, where the show currently stands, and their hopes for the future.

Alaster Philips – Okay, first I must get a BBC rant out of the way…

I love the BBC, but I hate the way they went about a whole load of ceremony with the reality TV flavours-of-the-moment and barely remembered has-beens fawning vacuously over their favourite Doctor, villain, whatever.

They should have stuck to the usual way, five minutes on the BBC Breakfast couch, making it easy to forget and then be pleasantly surprised when we see the new incarnation for the first time rather than months of speculating on what Capaldi will be like….

That being said, I’ve read that the new Doctor will be much darker and cold, I reckon he’ll do well, but I wonder if we’ll half expect a “full Malcolm” rage at some point?

Capaldi doesn’t have big shoes to fill, he has massive ones to leave behind.

Matt Smith was emotional, dark, and a tired old man played brilliantly. But as I always say, the current Doctor is the perfect one, you barely remember the previous incarnation.

What do I want to see next year? Good writing, twists I don’t see coming, just more of the same really.

Kevin Gilmartin – This is exciting, isn’t it? Just a few weeks after John Hurt shows up at the end of the season we get Peter Capaldi in the role of Twelve. I’ve been saying for years that Peter Capaldi would make a brilliant Doctor, and now I’m absolutely delighted that he has the chance to prove me right and I hope he lasts for years and years.

I disagree with Al about the live broadcast. I thought it was just a nice wee half hour show to sit down and watch on a Sunday evening; all this crap about disrespecting the core fanbase is just that – crap. In a world of blogs, instant information sharing and social media this was the only way Moffat could ensure a spoiler-free reveal to core fans the world over. Of course, I would prefer not to know who the new Doctor is until the regeneration episode is aired, but I doubt that will ever happen.

Matt Smith, I loved. I think he has the full range of talent required for playing the Doctor – he’s a silly little kid when he needs to be, cold and ruthless on demand and for a guy in his early 30s he plays the universe-weary old man beautifully. I’ll miss him, I think, more than Tennant.

Next year I’m hoping Capaldi’s age will dictate much of what we see, or don’t see, i.e. a lot less running to fill up minutes, less action more thinking and twisty, turny, twisty-turny things. Go dark, back to the tone of Ecclestone and McGann and….bring back Jack. Controversial, maybe, as he bumped off a kid in Children of Earth for the greater good, but he’s a great character and I think he has more to contribute outside of Torchwood.

Finally I want to have a wee rant about the PC lobby who are decrying the fact that it wasn’t a woman or a black or Asian actor.

Firstly, the role has previously been offered to, and turned down by, a black actor. This from Neil Gaiman who was told in confidence by the actor in question. The job of the Doctor should be given to the best actor based on talent, not race, not the colour of his skin. If a black or Asian actor aces the auditions and screen tests then give him the job, absolutely. But do it because he’s the best actor or the job, and for no other reason. I’m pretty sure any actor of colour would agree too.

We don’t know who Gaiman’s actor friend is, or why he turned the job down, but I suspect it was a matter of self respect. Who wants to be given the role in the knowledge that you probably weren’t the best actor on the day, but your skin was just the right shade satisfy some inclusion policy?

As for a female Doctor. Well, throw me to the feminists but I’m really not on board with that idea. Yes, Time Lords can change gender on regeneration but that doesn’t mean they should. I’m sure there are women out there who would do a great job but I would need a LOT of convincing.

The season in the run up to the regeneration would see the Doctor face a powerful enemy, sometimes they beat him back, sometimes he stalls their plans, but he never fully defeats them. Then in the last two episodes he does something great and terrible and stops them, but in doing so paints a giant target on his back. He ditches his companions for their own safety, goes on the run from the Big Bads and, much like when he became John Smith to hide from the Family of Blood, he regenerates early and changes his appearance so radically that even his gender is altered. There are kinks in that to iron out (the distinctive TARDIS, for one, the whole “last of the Time Lords” is the other”) but it would need to be something major like that.

Les Anderson – I have always liked Matt – he’s a very talented actor and was destined for a good career regardless of Who. However, despite his talents this last season has been particularly cartoonish and has seen the show go off the boil. I suspect there have been machinations behind the scenes and Moffat’s recent interview suggests to me that he has grown tired of the show in its present form and was perhaps keen to revamp it into a darker, more adult direction. Hence the alacrity with which the part was offered to Capaldi when Matt announced he was going.

Capaldi, if he doesn’t lose his nerve, should be the boost the show needs. The problem with an unseasoned young actor like Matt was is that they tend to do what they are told particularly if it is their Big Break. However a very experienced actor, writer and Oscar-winning director like Capaldi will come to the studio floor with much clearer ideas of what works and what doesn’t work and will probably boost the quality, not just by his acting abilities and his knowledge of the show, but by his collaboration with everyone around him. Having an actor of his quality leading the show will put everyone on their toes. Plus he’s been watching it since the very first episode!

2013_part_2_doc 6I think it’s time to replace Clara. She seems a one-trick pony and a mature Doctor needs someone different. Why not bring back a classic companion? I’d love to see someone like a middle-aged Ace in the mix. As for the future, the show needs to go back to the Pertwee/Baker era. Less convoluted arcs and more Doctor-as-adventurer. I’d also like to see an increase in production values. I’ve been rewatching some Tennant episodes and the show looked gorgeous then – check out Fires of Pompeii or the Shakespeare episode. RTD had a much better eye for onscreen quality. Now it can often look cheap – the painted cardboard sets lend to the cartoonish quality.

Am hoping for a few surprises from the 50th anniversary show – unfortunately Madame Beeb has seen fit to spend no more money on it than an average episode which does NOT bode well but here’s hoping. Considering the show is one of their tentpoles, they don’t half piss all over it. The only downside to announcing Capaldi’s casting now is it does overshadow Matt’s departure somewhat as the anticipation for the next season is now so high. And a return to regular programming is long overdue – a full season at the same time each Saturday for a contiguous run every year. No split seasons, no mucking about. Harrumph.

Maggie Symon – I haven’t watched any of the series Peter Capaldi is best known for so have no preconceptions about other characters bleeding through. Seasoned actor, could be very good, remains to be seen. I’m hoping for a Christopher Eccleston dark, moody and dangerous.

I wasn’t impressed by Matt Smith – I really didn’t like the slap-stick acting, which according to last Sunday was his choice. I still remember and cringe at the five minute death scene. On a sexist level his looks did nothing for me, give me David Tennant or Christopher Eccleston any day. I didn’t watch most of the last two seasons, mainly because the stories didn’t grab attention and pull you week to week. I’ve seen clips of Smith in other parts and I am sure he is a great actor but I didn’t like the interpretation in this.

I didn’t watch most of his last season, what I did see didn’t impress me, I largely blame the scripts and story-lines. And I couldn’t tell you ‘what’, because they were forgettable, and I have. With other scripts I might have liked him better. And Clara? Another companion there to save the Doctor/universe/etc. Yawn. Pertwee will always be my Doctor, but Tennant comes very close.

Russell T Davies may have got too big for his boots at times but it was a must watch, and that is for a committed original Star Trek fan. Moffat – well of the three seasons I watched the first one, gave up half way through the second and watched the last bit of the last one to see where it was going for the 50th. If I missed it I wouldn’t look to catch a repeat. I will watch the anniversary special but have no idea how I’ll feel about it. Or more accurately I don’t care what happens, I am so turned off.

Adam Dworak – I’m not a great Doctor Who fan as I only learned about his existence a few years back, and I always felt it’s a very weird television show, but in time I got used to it and learned to like it in a special way. I’ve seen a few good new episodes and a few bad old ones.

I like the energy and action brought to the show by a younger generation of Doctors and even I was never a great fun of Matt Smith, he was so over-expressive that at times if felt like it was Jim Carrey in the TARDIS. I can appreciate what he did with his character, he was much less methodical than earlier Doctors, much more emotional, and I liked that. I don’t know much about Peter Capaldi but he has huge shoes, or should I said trainers, to fill.

I don’t know much about Capaldi, about his previous roles and acting skills. But I can tell you what Doctor I want him to be: I want a sophisticated Doctor, more like James Bond but Roger Moore style, black suit and glass of martini.

Michael Flett – For many of us, Doctor Who is the show which first got us into science fiction, and so he has an irrational hold over us, an emotional connection which just cannot be defined, and more than that, in these days of antiheroes and compromise and making the best of a bad situation, he is the only character who still never lets anyone down, will always do the right thing, will always come up with an alternative which saves the day.

I was one of the few who knew who Matt Smith was when he was announced, recognising him from The Ruby in the Smoke and The Shadow in the North and was reassured that despite his youth because I knew he could act, and when The Eleventh Hour was broadcast I fell in love with his Doctor immediately. It was the perfect launch for a new Doctor.

When Matt announced he was leaving, with some of the names in the papers, I was prepared for a bad Doctor, Hell, I lived through the wretched Colin Baker years when John Nathan-Turner had given up any semblance of sanity, much as Russell T Davies did with his “year of specials.” Why do Doctor Who producers go so spectacularly wrong towards the end of their tenure? It’s like being a guitarist in Fleetwood Mac or a drummer in Spinal Tap. After Eccleston, Tennant and Smith, though the winning streak couldn’t continue? It’s kicking against the law of averages – somewhere there has to be a break.

Well, apparently not yet, because I think Peter Capaldi is an excellent choice. I’m delighted they’ve gone older, I’m delighted they’ve gone with a capable and experienced actor rather, someone who will generate interest for what he does rather than column inches for who he is. I’ve been irked by people complaining that “he’s not eye candy,” that it breaks “the rule of the Doctor getting younger with every regeneration.” Frankly, if these are the kind of people who are calling themselves fans these days, we’re better off without them.

But that’s been the problem with this season; Doctor Who is now a huge international brand, and the BBC have wanted to push it to that global audience in the 50th anniversary year, but as a consequence they’ve been treating it like a showhorse, jumping through hoops dressed up in ribbons, rather than letting the story do the talking.

The whole game show styling of the announcement was another example of this, and the fact that Capaldi had been the bookies’ favourite for over a week shows how redundant the whole operation was. The show itself was just a shambles, bad television by anybody’s standards. If they wanted to do it, it should have been done seriously, with interesting, informed people discussing the show, past Doctors, the new Doctor, the history and legacy of the show, possible new directions for next year. It should have been scriptwriters and producers on, not imbecile wannabe celebreties renting their backsides out to the couch. It was embarrassing. And not even a trailer for the 50th anniversary, even though one
has already been shown at San Diego Comic Con. Shame on you, BBC, but it fits the bill for their behaviour towards the show.

The “epic standalones” of the first part of the season were letdowns, and the second half of the season meandered. Despite the focus supposedly being the story of Clara, I really have no idea who she is – she ain’t no Pond, that’s for sure. While there have been references to previous adventures in the recent episodes, the namedropping feels forced, and none of it was explored – it’s like the BBC have realised there is no option but to acknowledge the earlier show, even though they would rather not.

I know a lot of people are blaming Steven Moffat for the failings, and certainly he is struggling to run two shows (even Joss Whedon admitted when he tried to run three it didn’t work, and Moffat is no Whedon), but I suspect a lot of the poor structural decisions were imposed upon him, though the blame for bad writing within the episodes lands at his door as the final creative decision maker. Every one this season required another draft; some required a top to bottom rewrite. Rings of Akhaten, we’re singing your song. Absolute, utter drivel.

2013_part_2_doc 11 closeSo what do I want with the new season? Serious storytelling. Mystery. Adventure. Danger. I don’t want to feel safe. I want the show to be challenging. Instead of playing to the cheap seats, Doctor Who should demand that the audience sit up and pay attention and talk about it; it has a smart core audience, it should be playing to them, the smartest kids in class, rather than making everyone work at the pace of the slowest. I want Moffat to focus on this show, or allow the BBC to give him a right hand producer who he trusts and who is capable and who he can delegate to, or for him to give it up and focus on Sherlock. And I don’t want a split season unless there is a very good reason. And none of these expectations are unreasonable.

In the meantime, I’m honestly more excited about Mark Gatiss’ An Adventure in Space and Time docudrama than the 50th anniversary show. After the disappointment of this year, which has completely let Matt Smith down in what should have been his best season, I have no faith at all in what we’ll receive this November.

Doctor Who’s fiftieth anniversary special starring Matt Smith, Jenna-Louise Coleman, David Tennant, Billie Piper and John Hurt will be broadcast on November 23rd, and Peter Capaldi will make his first appearance as the new Doctor on December 25th.




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