Adventurous, but light-hearted. Death-defying, but whimsical… such dichotomy has always existed with the BBC’s most famous sci-fi space traveler, the Doctor. Embodied within a character that boasts an almost child-like youthful quality, this outer essence of adventurous frivolity serves only to wrap the exterior of an ancient, troubled soul that has long existed within.
Doctor Who represents a program that has managed to bridge an incredible number of genres; appealing to the ancient alien mythos (as I’ve discussed before), as well as the realms of gothic horror, steam punk, history’s mysteries, and futurology, it has managed to craft an everlasting trans-generational appeal. And while the character’s changing faces represent the facade of an alien that has the ability to “regenerate” himself with every life-threatening injury, the brilliance of having a hero that must change his face every few years has ensured the longevity of the character’s real-world franchise just as well. How many other programs revolve around the excitement that builds every time the role of the lead character is recast?
Within just a few days of the time this article goes live, the latest incarnation of Doctor Who will premiere on television and in theaters worldwide, with excitement and speculation about the way the role will be portrayed by actor Peter Capaldi, the thirteenth actor to play the character on television (he’s number fourteen, actually, if we include Peter Cushing’s portrayal of the character in two 1960s films, Doctor Who and the Daleks and Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D.).
In contrast to previous incarnations of the character–most recently Matt Smith’s quirky-but-lovable “bow ties are cool” fashion–Capaldi describes his own take on the Doctor as “sardonic and elusive,” which aren’t the first two words that generally come to mind with the mention of Doctor Who.
In a recent trailer for the upcoming premiere, Capaldi poses the question, “Am I a good man?” to Clara Osborne, the Doctor’s previous companion from the end of Matt Smith’s tenure, as portrayed by actress Jenna Coleman. In keeping with the troubled thematic representation of Capaldi’s Doctor, she responds, “I don’t know.”
Indeed, pre-screenings of Capaldi’s debut, as well as the multitude of trailers that have appeared in advanced of his premiere this weekend, have already shown an older, more sober and refined character, who even jokes about regenerating into an older body so he would “stop coming on to my female companions”, though the Doctor seldom shows anything more than platonic affection toward his sidekicks (actors Paul McGann and David Tennant were notable exceptions, which a few fans have criticized or likened to “breaking character”). Capaldi’s Doctor also seems to wrestle with his age: not so much that of the 56-year-old actor, but of the 2000-year-old Time Lord whose adventures throughout the universe have not been without consequence.
“I’ve lived for over 2000 years,” Capaldi is heard saying in the television trailer. “I’ve made many mistakes; it’s about time I did something about that.”
In other words, Capaldi’s “Dark Doctor” means business.
Granted, we’re certain there will still be a lot of continuity between the new incarnation and his predecessors. New York Times reported today that Capaldi had consulted with Matt Smith about the role, and the transition of the character between the two of them over what was bound to be an interesting lunch:
“I took Matt to lunch and he came in on crutches,” [Capaldi] recalled, “and I said, ‘What happened to you?’ And he said, ‘This show.’ I thought: ‘My God, you’re 30 years younger than me and you’re on crutches. What’s going to happen to me?”
Fortunately, the wears of playing the part of a 2000-year-old alien haven’t yet claimed Capaldi’s present regeneration:
“I survived without any injuries,” he said. “It keeps you fit. It’s great to wake up in the morning and think, I’m Doctor Who.”
And with little doubt, the character, though, darker, more brooding, and perhaps more serious than ever before, will live on just as well. Speculation will continue about where Capaldi’s interpretation role will lead, as audiences warm up to this new presentation of the longest-running sci-fi character in television history. But few are concerned about whether it will be a good one; anticipation thus-far about Capaldi’s new Doctor, along with the few clips we’ve seen in trailers to-date, already has many of us convinced that he may be one of the most intricate incarnations to ever appear… and perhaps one of the best, too.