This week Whovian Leap looks back on the Capaldi era and wonders if there could have been another way.
What if the Twelfth Doctor’s character had been written differently in Series 8? Imagine the writers had tried to make the post-regeneration Doctor funnier rather than grumpier.
Eleven had been a cuddly and loveable “boyfriend” Doctor, but also had his moments of darkness and sobriety. What if the scripted portrayal of Twelve had reacted against these and had Capaldi playing the role for laughs? He could have carried on from where the “not liking the colour of his kidneys” left off. Twelve could have won over the audience with a comedic charm offensive lasting the whole of Series 8. If the pendulum did swing too far towards silliness, it could have then been toned down the following series.
Regardless of the actor’s portrayal, most older fans would have always accepted Capaldi. Here was a Doctor who resembled those of the Classic Series, played by an actor of the highest calibre bringing considerable respect to the role. However, a funnier Twelfth Doctor would have helped younger fans to get over the loss of Eleven. Twelve could have been a kind of “funny uncle” or “eccentric grandfather” figure for them.
As it was, the Doctor Who production crew felt so confident after the success of the Fiftieth Anniversary that they believed the show was capable of anything, even making the lead role unlikeable. History was repeating itself. John Nathan Turner himself made the same mistake shortly after the Twentieth Anniversary celebrations. He green-lit the unpleasant characterisation of the Sixth and helped send the series plummeting in a downward spiral. If only the NuWho team had learned from their predecessors’ mistake.
Ratings and audience appreciation figures dropped between Series 8 and 9. Some might argue that this was due to changing viewing habits and the timeslot, but maybe Joe Public decided that after Series 8 they didn’t really like this new “trickier” Doctor as Steven Moffat once called him. Casual viewers changed channel and didn’t come back. By Series 9 it was too late to win them over with tanks, sonic shades and rock guitars, as they were no longer there.
What if the Doctor’s character in Series 8 had been that of Series 9? What if Capaldi had surprised audiences by exercising his comedy muscles right from the outset and played against his Malcolm Tucker stereotype? What if Madame Vastra, Strax and Jenny had stuck around a little longer? Twelve’s first series might have been far more accessible and a potential ratings hit.
The grumpy Doctor of Series 8 made the continued presence of popular companion Clara necessary. Many viewers now tuned in just for her. It must have pained them to see how the new Doctor treated their heroine so badly. I would suggest that Jenna Coleman’s popularity made it a no-brainer at the Beeb for the actress to stay on for Series 9, while a swift U-turn was performed on the Doctor’s character.
Series 9 might have been very different without Clara. The love story between Twelve and River could have been brought forward. A heart-broken Twelve would have been a more sympathetic character for audiences to identify with. Bill and Nardole could have been introduced earlier. Series 9 could have been the series we are currently enjoying. Who knows how an alternative Series 10 would have turned out? Maybe Peter Capaldi would have stayed on longer. We will never know.
But let’s jump back to reality. The current Series 10 is almost perfect. The first few stories have been stripped down to basics and are both easy to follow and enjoyable. The Monk Trilogy, though complex, is gripping and scary. Bill and Nardole have been a revelation. Pearl Mackie astounds with her acting ability and Matt Lucas possesses an unexpected and welcome gravitas.
With nothing less than Mondasians, the Master and a regeneration to come, it seems almost petty to dwell on the misstep that was Series 8. With Doctor Who thankfully back on track, maybe I should stop worrying about the past and just enjoy the ride!