In an announcement that mixed all the anticipation of a papal election with the hype of LeBron James’ decision to play in Miami, Peter Capaldi is taking his talents to Gallifrey as the next Doctor on Doctor Who. While most of the nearly seventy-five people crammed into my local sports bar to watch the announcement seemed unmoved or even a little stunned by the casting, I think it’s dead solid perfect. And probably for the very reasons some of my fellow Who fans weren’t all that excited about it.
A big reason behind this recent renaissance of Doctor Who is fans — particularly young female fans — identifying with the idea of a dashing young man appearing out of nowhere to whisk a young woman away from her dull, ordinary life off on a series of fantastic adventures. A man who never lets her down, who’s always there for her, who unerringly does the right thing. There’s a lot of wish-fulfillment going on there. And naturally, many fans expected an actor of a similar age to David Tennant and Matt Smith, someone who could believably continue to make that dream come true. Now here comes Capaldi, who’s the same age William Hartnell was when he originated the role back in 1963. That’s grandfather age, not the age of someone to run away with.
Which is why I’m so much in favor of this. The dynamic on the show has for so long been one of sometimes subtle, sometimes overt attraction between Doctor and companion. And it’s gotten a little stale. The later episodes with Amy and Rory veered away from this by depicting them as a committed couple (and making that commitment integral to several stories), but once they left, the show seemed to be going back to that well with Clara. Now, unless the producers want a May-December kind of thing going on, that idea is right out. And while that might be distressing to some who grew attached to the fairy tale romance aspect of the show, it’s just the breath of fresh air the show needed.
Plus, according to the lore of the show, the Doctor only has thirteen regenerations. Counting the newly revealed John Hurt incarnation, Capaldi would be that final regeneration. So I imagine many of his stories will deal with the weight of age and experience on the Doctor. There’ll be a sense of ending, of culmination, of inevitability, that simply wouldn’t play as well with a younger actor. The producers made the wise decision here of not going with the actor that would get the most swoons, but who was best for the role as it is to be written from here on out.
We’ve got the better part of four months until Capaldi appears as the character, and even then, coming as it will as part of Smith’s final episode, it will likely only be during the final moments. We could be nearly a year until we actually see what Capaldi’s Doctor has to offer. Which will give everyone plenty of time to dissect why they love or hate this decision. But I remember the cries of distress when Christopher Eccleston, Tennant, and Smith were cast, and the show has prospered. I have enough faith that this was another smart decision.