Peter Capaldi’s departure

So, for anyone who hasn’t heard the earth-shattering news, Peter Capaldi will be leaving Doctor Who after Series 10, to regenerate in the 2017 Christmas special. I wasn’t ready for the news to be honest, because it doesn’t feel that long ago that we welcomed Capaldi into the role. But, on the other hand, I was kind of expecting this. Peter’s not a young man, and the role inevitably takes its toll even on sprightly youngsters like Matt Smith and David Tennant. And three seasons, or four years, seems to have become the convention for an actor’s run as the Doctor these days. Anyway, here are some of the thoughts that have been running through my head since I heard the news.

On one level I’m disappointed. Peter Capaldi has been an absolutely fantastic Doctor and it was always going to be sad to see him leave. Although I admit it took me a while to warm to him after Matt left, over Series 9 I came to adore him, so much that I count him as my second favourite Doctor after Matt Smith, and Twelve and Clara have become my favourite Doctor and companion team after Eleven and the Ponds. Of course I knew that Peter had to leave eventually, but I thought (or hoped) that with Peter it would be different. I saw uniquely in Peter, unlike in Matt, the potential to become the next iconic Doctor Who, the show’s modern Tom Baker, if he stayed around for an extended run. I would have loved to have seen Peter establish himself in the role long-term. I would have loved to have seen his face and his name become synonymous with the Doctor, like Tom Baker was. Given how much Peter revered the show and loved the role, and given that he wasn’t a young actor like David or Matt with full careers ahead of them, I half expected him to do exactly that. But alas. It’s been a privilege to have had Peter at all, so I can’t complain that he didn’t stay for longer.

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Peter has undoubtedly been the best actor ever to star in the role. He brought compelling gravitas, intensity and passion to the role. His Doctor was utterly bewitching to watch. Unlike most actors who take up the role, usually up-and-coming actors or relatively small names, Peter was a distinguished and widely-respected actor when he took the role. It’s probably not exaggerating to say Peter was (and is) one of the most distinguished British actors of his generation. The role was, frankly, below him, but he took it up anyway because he loved the show so much and it was his childhood dream to be the Doctor. Do we realise how privileged we are to have had him? Without at all detracting from Matt or David or Chris or any of the other actors who’ve played the role, Peter’s performances were just of a higher calibre than any who’ve come before him, as the tours de force of Heaven Sent, Hell Bent, Twelve’s speech in The Zygon Inversion proved. You could see how devoted to the role he was by the way he put everything into his performances, and it’s made for some of the best Doctor Who ever (in my opinion).

When Twelve regenerates we’ll get a new actor in the role, and that in itself is exciting, as sad as it is to see Peter go. The speculation has already started (and I’m going to join in soon—watch this space!) What’s already clear is that the calls for a female Doctor are louder than ever this time round. I’ve shared my reasons why I don’t want a female Doctor before, but since the topic has come up again I’m going to write another post on the topic soon reiterating my thoughts. I’m not sure what I would do if, come Christmas, Twelve regenerates and the Doctor is a woman, but I think I would keep watching, albeit begrudgingly. I would give it a chance, at least, but I can’t see it working.

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In any case I think it’s unlikely that a female actor will be cast as the next Doctor. A new showrunner is taking over, and, with Peter (and probably Pearl, too) going at the same time, everything is going to be new. Like in 2010, it’ll practically be a reboot, and the show has to win its audience over all over again. I think, in those circumstances, Chibnall and the production team would consider that introducing a female Doctor would be too big a risk to take, because if the audience don’t take to a female Doctor and turn away from the show, the BBC might easily be tempted to make the decision that the show is finished and cancel it.

On the subject of Series 11, though, even though I would have loved to have seen Peter continue as the Doctor under Chris Chibnall and see a new showrunner’s interpretation of his Doctor, I’m also excited by the prospect of a 2010-style (soft) reboot. A totally clean slate. That means, I guess, Pearl would have to go, too. I realise it might be uncharitable to Pearl to advocate for her to leave before we’ve even seen her, but I have a feeling that she’s only staying around for one series anyway, since Series 10 is Moffat’s final series. Maybe Chibnall would have preferred to have some familiar faces around him when he started, maybe not, but the opportunity to totally reinvent the show, with a completely clean slate, is too good to pass up. I think Steven Moffat’s total overhaul of the show in 2010 was immensely successful in breathing new life into the show and ushering in an exciting new era. I’m looking forward to seeing how Chibnall recasts Doctor Who in his vision.

Now, let’s start preparing ourselves for another emotional regeneration. What am I saying? You know you’re going to cry, you may as well accept it. At least we’ll get to see Twelve with Clara again… *lip quivers*

Thoughts on: Hell Bent

Warning: spoilers.

In the week before Hell Bent aired, I had prepared myself, along with many, for a barnstorming, ambitious finale of grandiose scale — the Doctor’s spectacular, long-anticipated return to Gallifrey and his epic face-off with the Time Lords. Indeed, for the first fifteen or so minutes, that was what the episode looked like it was doing. There was the Doctor strutting back into town, channelling Clint Eastwood, facing down Rassilon in something like a Time Lord Western. It was all wonderfully atmospheric and intense. But, ultimately, for better or worse, this wasn’t a Time Lord Western or the Doctor’s legend-making homecoming to Gallifrey. The Doctor’s face-off with Rassilon was dealt with quickly, and the episode became an intimate, character-driven piece about the Doctor and Clara Oswald. It was about an ecstatic, passionate, but dangerously flawed friendship, and the terrible lengths to which the Doctor would go for Clara.

It took me a couple of attempts to see this and to really appreciate it. I think perhaps my preconceptions and expectations had something to do with my equivocal first impression. I had prepared myself for one thing, and when the episode took a turn (or a couple of turns) I didn’t expect and turned into something completely different, I was thrown. Making an effort to put aside my preconceptions, though, it was only after a couple of viewings that I came to appreciate the episode for the involving and emotional character piece that it was. Whether an episode centred on the Doctor’s return to Gallifrey would have been better is a relevant question, but, assessing the episode for what it was, and what it was trying to do, I think it was a success, though not without its faults. Watching the Doctor, completely devoid of self-awareness, hell bent on saving Clara at any cost, and witnessing the lengths to which he would go to save his friend, was a compelling and exhilarating story in itself. As a personal, character-driven piece about how far the Doctor’s emotion and grief would take him, it was very powerful and involving.

That said, I do think there is a fundamental problem at the heart of this script that saw the episode leave me (at first), along with many others, with a queer taste in our mouths. It’s that this finale, to an extent, tries to be two things at once. It tries both to be the long-anticipated return-of-Gallifrey episode, and Clara’s exit episode. Gallifrey didn’t need to feature in Clara’s exit. The Doctor didn’t need the Time Lords to meddle with time and save Clara. At the same time, the Doctor-and-Clara plot rather crowds out Gallifrey’s return, something which surely merited its own episode (if not two). The result was a finale that felt, to me at least, rushed (even for a 65-minute episode), disjointed and unfocussed. It took some concentration to keep up with everything that was going on. You think it’s going to go in one direction, but without warning it changes tack and veers in another. Sometimes this sort of thing works, but here I found it disorienting. You’d be forgiven if, somewhere along the way (especially since the narrative was heavily dialogue-reliant), you lost track of what was going on. I didn’t, but I struggled, more than I should have, to keep up.

I don’t think I’m necessarily unjustified in making this (admittedly subjective) point: Steven Moffat mentioned in an interview that, for a while, he thought he might be retiring as showrunner this year. He thought this might be his last finale. Understandably, he would have wanted to tie up his Gallifrey arc before he left, perhaps sooner than he might have if he had known he would be staying on for at least another series. Thus this messy and not completely coherent script. The return of Gallifrey really did need to be its own story, preferably a two-part story, while Clara’s exit story, in my opinion, would have benefited from doing without the intrusive culmination of the Gallifrey arc. All that said, though, I think the script just managed to pull it off. The script just managed to tie everything together — Gallifrey, the Hybrid, Clara’s exit — in an engaging and satisfying way and construct an eminently watchable joined-up narrative out of it all, deftly avoiding deteriorating into an incoherent mess. There are few writers who could have done that, but Moffat, evidently, is one of them.

Moffat by now knows how to push all the right emotional buttons in the event of character exits. While I still think I might have preferred Clara to have died, as tragically and traumatically as possible, this inversion of Donna’s situation is really very tragic and heartbreaking in its own way. It was really quite clever how it was done. I’m sure every fan watching thought to themselves “Oh Christ, we’re doing Donna again,” before the episode once again upended expectations and made the Doctor forget Clara. And, bloody hell, wasn’t it painful? Right in the feels. I think the only thing worse than a companion forgetting the Doctor is the Doctor forgetting his companion, especially a companion he was as passionately close to as Clara Oswald. The sight of the Doctor in the American diner, trying in vain, like a doddering, senile old man, to remember his forgotten friend, who was standing directly in front of him, was what really got me. The way Clara looked at him at that point, wistfully, teary-eyed, was almost too much to handle. Also, “Run you clever boy…” Welp. Going to cry now. In a sense, though, it’s a good thing Clara was written out in this way: it’s horrible to think that the Doctor won’t remember Clara, but at least it’ll make for a clean restart with a new companion — there’ll be no lingering regret and angst for Clara overshadowing the next companion, à la Martha, which is good.

As for Clara’s exit itself — I think I surprised myself at how much it didn’t bother me. I was one of those who, while expecting and hoping that Clara would make another appearance in the finale (I predicted correctly that the Doctor would meddle with time to save Clara), ultimately wanted Clara to stay dead. I thought, for a companion as important to the Doctor and as close to the Doctor as Clara, and given Clara’s worrying addiction to her dangerous, adrenaline-fuelled lifestyle with the Doctor, that death would have been the only appropriate and fitting end for her. Anything short of death would have felt anticlimactic, I thought. But I didn’t consider that Clara might be given her own Tardis and companion and carry on doing what she loved, that she’d actually do what she’d always been threatening to do and become the Doctor (in a sense). I really like that. I mean, I’m disappointed that the show didn’t have the courage to kill off a companion for good, but I’m not disappointed by this way of writing out Clara, as I thought I’d be if her exit amounted to anything short of death. I quite like the idea of Clara romping around space and time with Ashildr in a stolen borrowed Tardis, just like the Doctor.

Some final thoughts. I’m not sure how I feel about the lack of definitive resolution to the Hybrid arc. In the end it didn’t really matter, because the Doctor and Clara may as well have been the Hybrid, given how far the Doctor was prepared to go for Clara. Somehow, though, I don’t expect we’ll ever get an actual answer to what the fabled Hybrid of Time Lord prophecy is. Peter Capaldi’s Time Lord Victorious act was chilling. I think this is the first time we’ve seen the Doctor genuinely unhinged since The Waters of Mars, and, although I think the Doctor was scarier in that episode, that’s not to diminish Peter Capaldi’s performance by any means. I was glad to see Maisie Williams back, more enigmatic than ever as the now-billions (trillions?) of years-old Ashildr. She emphatically convinced as an impossibly old enigma, and I’m glad that her taking up with Clara means that we may yet see her again in the show. Also, it was so gratifying seeing the classic-style Tardis. Completely unnecessary, gratuitous fanservice it was, but when was that ever a bad thing? Finally, that final scene, the Doctor donning his velvet jacket again, catching his new screwdriver, snapping the Tardis doors shut, the hero theme playing in the background — it was a wonderfully uplifting, exhilarating end to the series and the beginning of a new era. Just superb.

Rating: 8/10.


Quote of the week:

“I was a completely different person in those days. Eccentric, a bit mad, rude to people.”

Thoughts on: Face the Raven

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Warning: spoilers.

I’m glad she died. No, not like that. I’m glad that she went the way she did: death, as opposed to something short of death, as has been the pattern in modern Doctor Who. That’s not just because I feel that it’s about time a companion died, as opposed to succumbing to some faux-tragic ending. I feel that death was the only appropriate way for Clara to go. I feel that death, a really tragic, pathetic death, like the one she got, was the only fitting, logical conclusion to Clara’s story, and that an exit for Clara that fell short of death would have been anticlimactic. The Doctor and Clara together have been through so much. Clara has been more important to the Doctor than arguably any companion before. Clara and the Doctor are inseparable, on a cosmic level, and it seemed inevitable that the only thing that should separate them would be death. Clara couldn’t just walk away like Martha did — it would kill her. Clara couldn’t have been trapped in another dimension, like Rose, or in a paradox, like Amy — the Doctor would have stopped at nothing to bring her back. She had to die.

Moreover, it’s been clear for some time that Clara’s recklessness, her thrill-seeking and disturbing flirtation with danger would ultimately end in tragedy. As far back as Series 8 the show has been dropping ominous hints about the way Clara is becoming more and more like the Doctor. Remember how she couldn’t keep away after she stormed out in Kill the Moon? In Series 9, the hints that Clara’s recklessness would lead to her untimely death have come thick and fast. When she was finally faced with her death, she asked the Doctor, in response to his regret over allowing her to become so reckless, “Why can’t I be like you?”, more a plea than an argument. In those poignant words, layered with plaintive longing and wistfulness, she reveals herself. She reveals how much her dangerous, fantastic life and her association with the Doctor has consumed her as a person. How much of a dream, an unreal fantasy, her life has been for so long. It was inevitable: it was all going to come crashing down sooner or later, the question was only when.

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All that said, I regret that I have to say that the actual scene of Clara’s death left me somewhat cold, or at least a lot cooler than it should have. The whole episode was leading up to this scene, and I suppose I expected something more momentous. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t feel it. I’m not just griping for the sake of it — my regular readers would know I’m the last person to engage in that kind of cynical, self-regarding analysis. I really, truly, viscerally wanted to be moved by the scene. This show’s capacity to make me feel for characters to whom I have an emotional connection is a big part of why I watch it, and these infrequent moments, and the way they make me feel, are what I remember most vividly from watching this show. I remember how intense the feeling was when I watched Donna’s, Ten’s, Amy’s and Eleven’s exits for the first time. This time, I regret to say, it didn’t work for me. I know that it did for many others: my Twitter feed for hours after the episode aired was filled with hysterical bleatings after Clara, and I must have read at least a dozen accounts of people who were left in tears by the scene. Obviously it was effective; it obviously did its job, at least for some.

Is it me? Has excessive reviewing rewired my brain and numbed my capacity to feel in respect of this show? I really hope not. All the elements were there: the emotional farewell between Clara and the Doctor, Clara facing her death so bravely, “Let me be brave”, Clara screaming silently with that maudlin music playing in the background. I should have been moved to tears by all that. But in the end, the only time I felt genuinely emotionally involved in the scene was when the Doctor was raging at Ashildr, which I found really bracing and exhilarating to watch. What does that say about me, I wonder. One substantive criticism I will make about the scene, though, that might’ve affected my engagement with it, was that Clara’s exhortation to the Doctor, moments before she was about to die, to try to cope after she was gone, felt a bit unreal and seemed to reduce Clara in the moments before her death to a narrative device to move along the Doctor’s emotional state. I don’t know, but that was the moment I felt most disconnected from the scene. I did find it very poignant, though, when the Doctor walked back into the room, looking totally forlorn and broken, oddly incomplete without Clara by his side.

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Sarah Dollard, the first of my countrymen to write for Doctor Who since the 1960s, acquits herself well in her debut script. It’s brimming with interesting ideas, and I can tell that, if it were a self-contained story without the burden of effecting a companion exit and major arc progression, it might have been an instant classic. Moffat did, after all, choose Dollard’s original, draft script (and a debut script no less) for Clara to go out on, so it must have been impressive. It’s just that, while there are clearly fantastic ideas behind it — trap streets and an alien refugee camp — and it was engaging enough while it was an unassuming story about Rigsy’s tattoo and trap streets, the superimposition of the series arc material onto Dollard’s pre-existing script somewhat compromised its integrity — it’s an awkward edit — and makes it all feel just a bit directionless and messy until the final scene. That’s not to say it wasn’t a good story, though. It was at least as good the episode that came before it (which I liked), it’s just that the awkward way Dollard’s story has been sacrificed for the purpose of progressing the series arc left the end result feeling slightly underwhelming.

Some final thoughts. My critique of the final scene above should in no way be taken as a slight against the acting of either Jenna Coleman or Peter Capaldi. Both were fantastic throughout this episode, and were given meaty material to gnaw into, which they did with gusto. Peter Capaldi, especially, was surpassing. Capaldi was frightening to behold when the Doctor was thundering at Ashildr. At the same time, he portrayed the Doctor’s wordless sorrow over saying goodbye to Clara sublimely. The man has awe-inspiring range. Rigsy was a wonderful addition to this week’s cast, and Joivan Wade’s character is truly a beloved member of the Whoniverse now, if he wasn’t already. Maisie Williams is impressive as always as the ever- morally-ambiguous, untrustworthy Ashildr, now over 1,000 years old. Something tells me we haven’t seen the last of Ashildr this series. Surely, if she’s in league with the Time Lords and accessory to their plot to abduct the Doctor, we’ll see her again in Hell Bent? I hope so.

Rating: 7/10.


Quote of the week:

“Clara, go back to the Tardis. Pick up all my most annoying stuff.”

Thoughts on: The Time of the Doctor

When I think of the Doctor, the image that comes unfailingly to mind is Matt Smith, quiffed, rubber-faced, grinning stupidly and sporting proudly that silly bow-tie without as much as a suggestion of irony. I never hesitate in answering the question “Who’s your favourite Doctor?” It’s Matt Smith. Always has been and I anticipate that he always will be. I became a fan of Doctor Who in the era of Matt Smith; he was my first Doctor. I fell in love with this show through being shown time and space by the bouncy, mercurial, gawkish Eleventh Doctor. Which is why his regeneration story was such a profound occasion for me, and why it still means a great deal to me as a fan, watching over it again and remembering how I felt when I first saw it. Regeneration stories are always big, momentous events, and in The Time of the Doctor I feel we were certainly treated to something that, on balance, constituted a fitting farewell not only to one of the best Doctors ever to inhabit the Tardis, but to a great, memorable era of the show as well.

There’s an awful lot going on in this episode. It ties up arc and plot threads that have been weaving and intersecting their way through the Smith era since Matt Smith first took the role in The Eleventh Hour. The cracks in time. The Silence. The first question. River Song. The fields of Trenzalore. Most recently, the salvation of Gallifrey. It all comes together here. It’s only now that, having continuously bewildered and frustrated you for the preceding four years, you come to appreciate Moffat’s meticulous, sweeping, grandiose long-term planning. It’s stunning to think that he had it all mapped out before he even typed the first words of The Eleventh Hour. This episode certainly runs like a story that’s been written to do a very big and important job. To an extent, at least, its big ideas are conveyed really effectively: I felt an exhilarating chill come over me upon the reappearance of the crack in time from Series 5, an ominous shadow from the past. But Moffat has left so much to explain and tie up in this episode that much of it also comes up in an undignified and confusing disgorgement of arc-revelation. It really isn’t an episode for the casual viewers, as you’d have to have a pretty clear idea of all the arc threads from the last four years in your mind to follow what was going on. It’s blink-and-you-miss it stuff, and I think the story really needed to be a two-parter, like The End of Time was, or at least a 75-minute special like The Day of the Doctor.

If there had been any more arc content to subject to exposition, this episode would have been nigh unwatchable. But, fortunately, enough space is left to develop a pleasing, engaging story about “the man who stayed for Christmas”, into which the arc stuff is woven. There’s something really romantic and appropriate about the Doctor, on his final regeneration, defending an undistinguished little village on some irrelevant rock in some inconsequential corner of the universe for 900 years. The man who never stays still, always running, never looking back, is shown ensconced in this little enclave, making that little place his entire life, for longer than he can remember. All I’d criticise is that it occurs to me again why this story should have been longer, given that 900 years of planetary siege warfare were passed over in the space of minutes. It really needed a whole additional episode to convey the impossibly long passage of time effectively: show the Doctor defending Christmas against more substantial threats than a solitary wooden Cyberman (a scarecrow basically); show the Doctor living this whole other life he made for himself at Christmas; make the Doctor’s life and times on Trenzalore a story in themselves.

The passage of centuries, at least, was convincingly personified in the Doctor himself. Matt Smith was in the form of his career in this story. The script played out rather like a “Matt Smith’s greatest hits” compilation, allowing Matt to showcase everything that defined his Doctor: the larking, childlike humour; the physical comedy; his brooding, mercurial side; the theatrical speechifying. Particularly, he manipulated the emotions of the audience masterfully, as he’s always been able to do. I’m thinking especially of the scene where the Doctor is forced to say goodbye to Handles. Matt Smith really makes you feel heartbroken over an old, rusting Cyber head through the Doctor’s own plaintive, wistful response. And, of course, his acting the part of the aged, decrepit Doctor was sublime. The Eleventh Doctor has always radiated the age of a man much older than his physical years, but at death’s door, not only did he finally look the part, he embodied more powerfully than ever before the weary, ancient creature that he is, although it also brought a smile to my face to see that the Doctor hadn’t lost any of his charm or humour after 900 years stuck in the same little village. “Is there a joke?” the Doctor inquired hopefully. Same old Doctor.

And we come to the moments this story has been leading up to. It’s almost heartbreaking to see the Doctor at the point of death. He faces his end with typical good humour, but with visible melancholy. “I’ve got nothing this time,” he mutters, almost ashamed. No doubt he feels for the people dying below him as the Daleks visit destruction upon them, the people he’s pledged himself to defend, but he looks upon the death and ruin around him as though barely seeing it. His thoughts dwell upon his own imminent death. “If you love him, help him,” is Clara’s teary, impassioned plea to the Time Lords as the Doctor prepares to face his end. One can only assume they were feeling as touched as we were as the crack snaps shut and a glowing substance consumes the Doctor. The Doctor interrupts the Daleks as he realises, an expression of manic animation on his face, what has happened. “Come and get it,” the Doctor taunts, before regenerating the Dalek fleet out of the sky. The Eleventh Doctor’s regeneration is overblown CGI nonsense, but even the most critical fan would have to admit they punched the air and their heart was pounding with exhilaration as they watched that. “Love from Gallifrey, boys.”

Matt Smith deserved a proper farewell scene, though, and, thankfully, he got one. Oh, I think I’m still reeling from when I first watched this two years ago. I will freely and unashamedly admit to being left an emotionally-devastated wreck when I saw it. Matt Smith produces something truly moving, conveying powerfully the Doctor’s emotional state in his last moments. Matt teases out real emotion from the audience in those moments. Crying at Christmas. He delivers that moving eulogy, and then he sees a vision of Amy, and, oh, for goodness’ sake, I can’t take this any more. It’s just sad to say goodbye. “I will always remember when the Doctor was me.” We will always remember you. will always remember you. You were a fantastic Doctor, Matt Smith. You were my Doctor. Thank you. Thank you for everything. “Raggedy man, good night.”

Rating: 9/10.