After watching the first two episodes of Doctor Who’s ninth season, it has become clear Peter Capaldi is on his way to becoming one of the greatest Doctors, if not the greatest Doctor Who, of all time. Capaldi’s portrayal of The Doctor is truly inspired by the classic, original series (1963-1989), while still being completely modern.
Warning: This post contains information about the Doctor Who television series that may be considered spoilers. I have tried to keep as much specific detail about episodes out, but if you are not fully caught up watching there may be information that discloses plot details. Also, the article is written presuming the reader has some knowledge of Doctor Who. If you have never watched the show, what is wrong with you?
Doctor, heal thyself
When the Doctor Who television franchise relaunched in 2005, we witnessed a Doctor, over three incarnations, who was suffering from a crisis of conscience. We also witness Doctors, though burdened by the past, who seemed oddly disconnected from previous regenerations.
Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor was traumatized from the horrors of war. David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor suffered from survivor’s guilt and loneliness. Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor uses a facade of quirkiness, and almost cartoonish nature, to hide deep self-loathing.
Don’t believe me? Take a moment to rewatch the 50th anniversary special. John Hurt’s War Doctor perceives the tenth and eleventh incarnation of himself as somewhat pitiful and inferior. Over the course of the special, the War Doctor realizes his future selves suffer from what he had done to stop the Time War, but his initial reaction was to almost detest their mediocrity.
The Doctor’s many faces
Since 1963, there have been 13 incarnations of the Time Lord known as The Doctor. Each fan has their favorite, and I realize new fans may be partial to the modern era. However, we can certainly identify the most favorite thanks to a 2013 BBC poll:
- Tom Baker, Fourth Doctor. 1974-1981
- David Tennant, Tenth Doctor, 2005-2010
- Matt Smith, Eleventh Doctor, 2010-2013
- Patrick Troughton, Second Doctor, 1966-1969
- Jon Pertwee, Third Doctor, 1970-1974
Will Capaldi become a fan favorite Doctor? Many fans have strong ideas of what The Doctor should be. Many are often sceptical of new regenerations at first. However, the multiplicity of The Doctor is an essential part of his nature.
Newer fans may find their ideas of what a Doctor should be from the portrayals of Tennant and Smith. Those of my generation may favor Baker and Pertwee. All true fans inherently agree to accept change.
The return of a classic Doctor
There was no doubt Capaldi found inspiration from classic Doctor Who, specifically the first four incarnations. Over the course of season eight, I was personally reminded of both Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker’s Doctors. However, it looks as though we will truly see him become a classic Doctor Who in season 9.
Capaldi’s Doctor is a bit cold and distant, much like William Hartnell’s First Doctor. He needs Clara Oswald much like the First Doctor needed his granddaughter Susan. This Doctor has been described as abrasive, patronizing, and cantankerous—all of which can also be said of the Twelfth Doctor.
Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor may have the least influence, inspiring this new version, but the elements are there. This Doctor is known for being a calculating schemer and manipulator, who acted as a bit of a fool to get his enemies to underestimate him. We certainly saw some of that in the opening two episodes of the 9th session.
Though updated, Capaldi’s Doctor can be said to get his sense of style from Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor. Pertwee’s portrayal was authoritative, dapper, and energetic. Also, unlike modern Doctor’s, he had a more fatherly relationship with his companions, which he often tried to conceal with a mask of cold indifference. Capaldi has not adopted this Doctor’s flamboyance, but does have much of the sophistication.
Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor is the most iconic version of Doctor Who. Capaldi’s incorporation may not be as obvious, but I saw the similarities almost immediately with the way the Twelfth Doctor’s regeneration left him a bit off kilter. We are seeing parts of the Fourth Doctor’s whimsical charm, emotional depth, and a nature that is more alien.
The brilliance of Capaldi’s Doctor is an understanding that each regeneration is not a completely new person. The Doctor lives with and is shaped by all his past versions. He is not a reincarnated soul that merely remembers and is burdened by past lives. The regeneration process does create a physical, emotional and mental change, but this is all window dressing for a person whose current reality as shaped by actual experience.
The modern era Doctors—either by accident or design—seemed to turn their back on their predecessors. Each approached The Doctor’s regeneration more as a transmigration of the soul, than a self renewal. Yes, they did all carry the weight of past regenerations, but only Capaldi seems to understand that the Doctor is both the current incarnation and all others before him.