Regeneration is always a traumatic process. Not only for the Doctor but also for the audience. When “Doctor Who” metamorphoses into something new and totally different from the show which has gone before, viewers may experience a rather bumpy ride, because sometimes changes to the format – to quote recent episodes – are not ripples, but tidal waves.
In this month’s DWM Peter Capaldi is quoted as saying that each actor who plays the Doctor reacts against the actor who goes before him. Matt Smith’s Doctor was open and friendly and quite understandably Capaldi tried to be different. It was a bold, courageous move as radical as Patrick Troughton taking over from William Hartnell.
It is fair to ask, however, if you make the Doctor “trickier”, as Steven Moffat famously described the Twelfth, don’t you run the risk of alienating the audience? Is it possible to like a show if you don’t also like its hero? Surely we all tune in to enjoy the Doctor’s company as he travels through time and space? Some found the new darker Doctor of Series 8 quite difficult to come to terms with.
Fans had been ecstatic when an actor as talented and personable as Peter Capaldi was first announced as the Doctor. We all remember “Doctor Who Live” and how charming and witty the new incumbent was. We looked forward to seeing these traits in his portrayal of the Doctor. In the end, however, the Twelfth Doctor may have looked a little Pertwee Mark II, but when it came to grumpiness he gave William Hartnell and Colin Baker’s Doctors a run for their money. Dare we ask if this is why audience appreciation figures have fallen?
I am relieved to see that seemingly urgent measures to remedy the situation have been taken in Series 9. Right from the start the Capaldi charm offensive was launched. In “The Magician’s Apprentice” the Doctor gave a cool yet wacky performance on his guitar. His severe haircut of old was now conspicuously absent. With his new longer locks, it really seemed that the Doctor both in reality and figuratively was at long last letting his hair down. He adopted a scruffier, almost Troughtonesque look. What’s more, he wears shades now. This new appearance clearly symbolises a mellowing of his character. He has become our funny uncle.
The new Twelfth smiles. He hugs. And he cares. This is abundantly clear from the recent Caecilius flashback scene – this Doctor saves people. What’s more he is sensitive and last night even told Clara that he missed her.
Moffat is famous for wanting to shake up the viewers for fear they get bored with the show. So has he been playing the long game with us? Are we now at the end of a high risk strategy? I suspect our payoff for putting up with a grumpy Doctor has now arrived. At last we have the loveable Doctor back and it feels good.
Once the general public realise that this new Doctor is a nice guy after all, hopefully appreciation figures will rise and all will be well again in the Whoniverse.
The real Capaldi era starts here!