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*

Ideas for the next companion

So Clara’s gone. That happened. She flew away in a stolen Tardis with Maisie Williams, and the Doctor’s memories about her were deleted. You know, it took me a long time to warm to Clara, but now she’s gone I know I’m really going to miss her. She and Twelve became one of my favourite ever Doctor-Companion teams; I thought they worked so perfectly together, and it was a gut-wrencher having to see them parted. But times change, the show moves forward, we move on, and a new companion is on the way.

No announcement has yet been made about who will be playing the new companion, but I think we should expect some details quite soon, given that filming for Series 10 is supposed to be starting in April (or at least it was, before Moffat threw a spanner into the works…). I’ve had some ideas, though, on possibilities for the next companion…

A teenager

maisieinthetardisI’m not sure why I’ve become so enamoured by the prospect of a teenager accompanying the Doctor on his travels, but a teenage companion is one of my favourite possibilities for the next companion. Perhaps it’s the interesting contrast a teenage companion could pose to the companions we’ve had in New Who so far, which, with the notable exception of Donna, have all been ordinary, well-adjusted, twenty-something year-old British women. There’s nothing wrong with ordinary, well-adjusted, twenty-something year-old British women, but it’s starting to get a bit repetitive and tiresome.

A teenager, though, presents very different, and unique, possibilities. Teenage years are a formative, difficult, confusing, sometimes terrifying, sometimes perilous, but also vibrant and ecstatic, and beautiful, time of life. One is almost always a very different person as an adult, even a twenty-something adult, to when one was a teenager, and twenty-somethings who dispute it have forgotten what it was like to be that age. There are possibilities and directions in a teenage companion that aren’t realistically available with an older companion, and the Doctor’s dynamic with a teenage companion, if the companion is actually written well, promises to be very different from any Doctor-Companion dynamic so far in the modern show.

A Tardis Team

tardisteamA Tardis Team, as I define it, is a team of two or more companions who are equally important as characters in a narrative sense. Examples from the show’s history include the companions who travelled with the First and Second Doctors, who both liked to travel with more than one companion at a time, including the very first set of companions: Susan, Ian and Barbara with the First Doctor; also, notably, Jamie and Zoe with the Second Doctor. In addition, the Fifth Doctor for most of his time travelled with at least three companions at a time, at first Adric, Tegan and Nyssa. New Who has never had a (regular) Tardis team; the Eleventh Doctor travelled with Amy and Rory, but Amy was clearly the principal companion.

For a shake-up, I’d welcome a new Tardis Team. I don’t think it would be a good idea to go for three permanent companions, as it would get far too crowded (not to mention expensive), recreating the difficulties of the Davison era, but a two-companion team could definitely work. The drawbacks of a Tardis Team are that less time can be afforded to developing characterisation for each main character, leading, perhaps, to characters that feel less fleshed-out, but the main areas of potential are variety in characters and a unique group dynamic. It’s the potential for group dynamic that really intrigues me about the idea of a Tardis team, as it would present such a stark contrast to the Twelve-Clara dynamic, which took the personal, one-on-one Doctor-Companion relationship to an extreme. A group of companions would be something completely different, and I’d be interested to see Twelve operating in such a contrasting character setting.

My favourite idea for a Tardis team is a male and female set of companions, who aren’t necessarily romantically involved (at least at first; I could get on board with a blossoming romance between the companions). I call to mind Ian and Barbara, Ben and Polly, Jamie and Victoria, Jamie and Zoe, as useful precedents. I can see Twelve as the madcap grandfather zooming about in time and space with his companions, who are like his adoptive grandchildren. There would be a very warm and engaging familial and paternal dynamic.

Someone not from Earth

romanadvoratrelundarI’m using “someone not from Earth” as an umbrella term to include all manner of companions of non-terrestrial origin, including both non-human aliens and humans from elsewhere in the universe (presumably from the future). The reason I’m attracted to a non-terrestrial companion is much the same as the reason I’m attracted to a teenage companion: it would make for an interesting change; it would be different. Maybe I’m just desperate at this stage for a new companion who doesn’t conform to the conventional profile, but I do actually think there are very interesting possibilities in a companion who comes from a radically different society, civilisation and culture from ours. It would mean a wholly different perspective, especially with regard to ourselves: there are great opportunities, for the willing writer, for commentary on our society from the point of view of an outsider.

I’m particularly attracted to the idea of a Time Lady as a companion. Now that Gallifrey’s back, a Time Lady companion is now eminently possible. Romana (both of her) was my favourite companion from the classic series, and I think Four and Romana were a brilliant Doctor and Companion team. That said, I don’t necessarily want another Time Lady companion to be Romana 2.0 (and the writers would have to be careful not to make her so). I like the idea of a young (for a Time Lady, so 100 years or so), energetic, relatively inexperienced, immature Time Lady, who, like the Doctor, doesn’t fit into oppressive, stultified, hidebound Gallifreyan society, and wants to escape and explore the universe. She has more energy and wanderlust than experience and prudence, and needs the Doctor as a mentor and guide of sorts. There’d be a master-and-apprentice dynamic. There’s also the potential for a spinoff that doesn’t involve Arya Stark in a flying American diner. But I’m rambling — the point is, a Time Lady companion would be brilliant.

The main pitfall of a non-terrestrial companion might be that the show would be too inaccessible to the audience, especially if the companion is a non-human alien. The narrative role of the companion is, strictly speaking, an audience avatar, and it’s obviously less possible for the companion to play that role if she or he is just as alien as the Doctor. That is, definitely, something the writers need to have at the forefront of their minds if a non-terrestrial companion is settled upon.

Someone from the past/future

victoria2I’m just going through all the possibilities now for a companion that isn’t an ordinary twenty-something British woman. The opportunities presented by a companion from the past or the future are similar to those presented by a non-terrestrial companion, in particular the different perspective a companion from another time would bring to the Doctor’s adventures. We’ve had companions from the past (Victoria, Jamie, and Victorian Clara; and Leela may as well have been from the past), and the future (Vicki, Zoe, Steven, Jack Harkness).

For my own part, I’m more drawn to a companion from the past. A companion from the future would still be very interesting, but I feel that the wonder and the novelty of space-time travel and advanced technologies and civilisations would be more emphatically conveyed through the eyes of someone from Earth’s past. I’m also a huge history geek, so I love the idea of plucking someone from ancient Rome (or better yet, the Middle Ages, where most people’s whole worlds were two-by-two square miles) and taking them on adventures in time and space. A historical companion might come with the drawback of the Doctor needing to explain what a mobile phone or a touchscreen or indoor plumbing or Twitter is every five seconds. That danger could be avoided with skill, though, as the show did with Leela.

Someone the Doctor knows

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Read: Susan.

#BringBackSusan


What do you think of my ideas for the next companion? What are your ideas?

On Steven Moffat’s departure

Save your #moffatmustgo tweets, Moffat haters, because you’ve finally got your wish: Steven Moffat is retiring as Doctor Who showrunner after Series 10, to air in Spring 2017 (Autumn for we antipodeans), to be succeeded from Series 11 onwards by Chris Chibnall. I don’t mean to be resentful: it’s fair to say that Moffat’s era and style of Doctor Who hasn’t been received with universal adoration by the fandom — Moffat has had his legions of ardent fanboys and fangirls (like me), and conversely, a sizeable contingent of dissenters for whom Moffat’s interpretation of Doctor Who rubbed them the wrong way and who’ve never stopped clamouring for him to go. I know personally someone, a good friend and devoted Whovian, who will be delighted by this news. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with either perspective.

For my own part, I’m both saddened and gratified by the news. Anyone who reads this blog would know that I’m a huge Moffat fanboy, an unabashed Moffat partisan who will defend him and his era to the death. I think he’s by a substantial distance the best writer ever to contribute to the show, the best showrunner Doctor Who has ever had, and, I would propose, one of the best things ever to happen to Doctor Who. His era is easily my all-time favourite; he created my two favourite Doctors, Eleven and Twelve; and my favourite ever companion, Amy Pond. I became a fan of the show during Moffat’s tenure. Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who, in short, is my Doctor Who.

At the same time, I’ve been of the opinion for a long time that it’s about time for Moffat to go. As much as I’ve loved Steven Moffat as showrunner, Doctor Who thrives on change and renewal and reinvention, and the show should not ever become synonymous with one person’s creative vision. I don’t think Moffat had begun to run out of ideas at all — Series 9 has been the most creative and pioneering series in years, I would suggest since Doctor Who came back, in terms of pure boldness of vision. It suggests Moffat is still brimming with interesting ideas for Doctor Who. I’ve no doubt that Moffat could, if he wanted to, go on indefinitely directing Doctor Who and producing a high-quality show. But, by the end of Series 10, Moffat will have pretty much reached the limit of how long a single showrunner should be in charge of the show. If Moffat were to continue on after Series 10, it would be too long for the show to have been stuck in a familiar style, directed by a familiar vision employing familiar tropes and motifs. A new voice is needed. Which is why I’m glad about Moffat’s departure, even if I’m going to miss the man enormously. It’s, frankly, the perfect point for him to leave.

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As for Moffat’s chosen successor, Chris Chibnall, this isn’t an announcement about which I’m not without reservations. To be sure, I’ll be glad of a fresh vision guiding the show, but Chibnall would not have been my first choice (that would have been Jamie Mathieson, although I realise that was a pretty optimistic hope). Chibnall has commendable showrunning experience in producing Broadchurch, an absolutely fantastic show which is a huge credit to Chibnall’s ability to make high-quality television. He was also showrunner of a lesser-known BBC period drama called Born and Bred, which is also an exceptional show, and one of my favourite ever dramas (I highly recommend watching it). It’s his work on Broadchurch and Born and Bred that makes me very excited about the thought of Chibnall as Doctor Who showrunner.

But it’s Chibnall’s work on Doctor Who about which I have reservations. In his Doctor Who scripts to date, he has never particularly distinguished himself as a writer. His best script, in my opinion, was Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, which is a delightful romp, and in my opinion the best episode of Series 7, but not really what I’d call the most memorable of episodes. In contrast, when Steven Moffat was announced as showrunner, he’d written four all-time classics under Russell T Davies: The Empty Child/The Doctor DancesThe Girl in the FireplaceBlink and Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. Chibnall has nothing like Moffat’s Doctor Who writing record under his belt going into assuming creative control of the show. That said, he’s written a few very good scripts for Torchwood: CountrycideAdrift and Fragments. But he was also responsible for Cyberwoman, one of a small handful of stories in the wider Doctor Who franchise that I can say without hesitation that I hate with a visceral passion.

On balance, I think the jury’s still out for me on Chris Chibnall as showrunner. I suppose I’ll just have to wait and see what he produces before I pass judgment. And, frankly, at the end of the day, I am very excited, as well as trepidatious, to see how Chibnall does. At the very least, it can be said that he’s a real Doctor Who fan, he understands the show, and he’s likely to have an interesting vision for the show, which will probably be quite different from Steven Moffat’s. He’ll also be inheriting probably the best stable of regular writers the show has had since it came back: Jamie Mathieson, Peter Harness, Sarah Dollard, Toby Whithouse, so he’ll be very well-equipped as showrunner. One thing I will say unreservedly in his favour, though, is that he seems to have tremendous skill and instinct for writing characters. This is unmistakable from his work on Broadchurch and Born and Bred (again, I can’t recommend watching this show highly enough), as well as his writing for Doctor Who; he did create the character of Brian Pond Williams, after all, for whom the only apt description is “amazing”.

One last thought, on the 2017 air date for Series 10. Of course, I’m greatly disappointed that we won’t get any Doctor Who this year apart from the Christmas special (what is this, Sherlock!!?!?!?), but I can agree that the extended wait might be worth it. It’ll give Moffat and the crew plenty of time to perfect and hone Moffat’s final series. Moffat will want to go out on a bang, and I can anticipate that Series 10 is going to be huge, especially if Capaldi also leaves at the end of Series 10 (which I think is likely). An extra 6-8 months should surely give Moffat et al. enough time to hone Series 10 into the best series it can be, and, above all, make it worth the wait and worthy of the showrunner’s swan song. At the same time, though, I’d have thought, at least, that we’d get some Doctor Who in 2016: at least a couple of specials (à la 2009), or a split series. In that case, though, Series 10 better be worth the wait. I’m just wondering what on Earth I’m going to write about for the next year.

Thoughts on: 42

This episode was… exciting, suspenseful, emotive and delightfully agitated. It had a brilliant concept for a Doctor Who story—a spaceship is going to collide with the sun and the Doctor has 42 minutes to save them all. It’s one of the advantages of the New Who format of single-episode stories that the show can do these fast-paced, exhilarating race-against-the-clock stories. Nevertheless, I felt that, even with a wonderfully hectic “42-minutes-to-save-everyone” premise, this episode involved a lot of padding in the form of repetitive running around. In that respect, it was a fairly standard runaround, albeit an exceptionally well-produced runaround—it was all seized with an urgency and desperation that made it wonderfully exciting to watch. The grungy, steampunk aesthetic was also very effective in this regard. The sun creature thing that infected the crew members was an effective villain and posed a genuinely menacing threat, especially when it infected the Doctor—you know that when the Doctor is threatening to regenerate then the monster is serious business.

Despite the thrilling urgency of this episode, its best moments were the quieter moments, such as that between Martha and Riley in the escape pod drifting into the sun, and between a distressed Martha and her mother on the phone. As we get a glimpse of the mother-daughter dynamic between Martha and her mother, we get an idea of what makes Martha want to be with the Doctor: her mother seems very controlling and their relationship less than perfect. We’ve already seen that her family is not altogether functional. Martha likely wants to escape the frustrations of an unsatisfying personal life just as Rose wanted to escape the tedium and dissatisfaction of her ordinary life. Indeed, Martha as good as admitted it when she was speaking intimately with Riley. I like that. The Doctor’s companions are all extraordinary in some way: they all have some reason to leave their normal life behind and live a romantic, unreal life of danger and adventure with the Doctor; it’s very few people who would leave their life behind like that, but the Doctor’s companions are extraordinary, in more than one way. I think it makes for a more interesting Doctor-Companion dynamic, because both the Doctor and his companion are running in some way, and shunning ordinary life for some reason. It’s one of the reasons why Clara, trying to balance her “real” life and her TARDIS life, hasn’t really worked for me (although the final moments of Last Christmas look promising).

David Tennant and his character were excellent in this episode. Tennant has been far more consistent and robust over the course of Series 3 than last series, and he positively shone in this one, displaying with finesse the breadth and depth of his range: now indignantly demanding the crew’s obedience, now impassionedly pleading with Martha to believe he would save her, now agonisingly trying to resist the sun creature inside him. I was in awe of the Doctor’s bravery and determination in venturing outside the ship to rescue Martha, justifying Martha’s unwavering belief in him. Martha herself was unfailingly amazing in this episode, surpassing herself in justifying the Doctor’s choice of her as companion.

Rating: 8/10.