I guess it wouldn’t make much sense for me to not have some comment on the choice of actor for the newest incarnation (regeneration) of Doctor Who. I am a long time (1981?) fan of the series, and have talked about it extensively on this blog in the past. Here’s the thing. The new series has kind of lost me. No, I’m not one of those ‘you can’t do anything new; why can’t it be like it was?’ kind of fans. I like that they really shook things up in style and tone with the relaunch of the series in 2005. And overall, I’ve liked this new run. Christopher Eccleston was wonderfully eccentric with a nice balance of child-like wonder and sadness. David Tennant overstayed things a bit, but was quite good for his first two seasons. I warmed to Matt Smith shockingly fast. But the writing. The writing. There have been problems from the beginning, with deus ex machinas flying around like skivvies at a college party. But in the last two seasons, those problems have become far more acute. The writing has become…well, just lazy. Very, very lazy. It’s become a series of impossibly huge problems with absolutely no way to get out of it and the fate of every Human on Earth resting in the balance…only to have the Doctor say a couple of pithy lines, maybe a speech about the wonder of the universe or how much he likes Humans and how special they are, then the sonic screwdriver comes out and he miraculously saves the day. Forgetting of course, that along the way he’s let lots of other people die or be horribly ruined, even his friends. When things are only mildly bad, or deadly for one or two people (or more accurately, easy for the writer to use in creating false emotional resonance) the screwdriver only works as a simple tool, but when there’s absolutely no hope, suddenly the screwdriver can do whatever is needed to solve the problem (remember that episode at the beginning of this past season where a third of the people on Earth just died…then he waved his magic wand-I mean sonic screwdriver and everyone just got better?). It’s become the weekly equivalent of Superman flying around the world so fast he turned back time, one of the all time unforgivable cheats in cinematic history, up there with ‘it was all a dream.’
So as far as the casting goes, Peter Capaldi is a great choice. I was leaning toward Sean Pertwee or Colin Salmon personally, but Peter Capaldi is a fantastic actor. Going back to his young semi-hippie performance in Lair of the White Worm, through more recent roles on Torchwood (and Doctor Who) and In the Loop. I’m very happy that they went for someone a bit more mature this go-round. Having two very young Doctors in a row was weird. I will chime in on a topic of much contention within internet fan circles, too. Look, I know gender is a touchy subject these days. And I think anyone who really knows me knows that I am 100% pro-women when it comes to heroic roles, action leads, etc. In fact, I’ve frequently complained that the Doctor’s female companions have been too often relegated to the role of love-sick puppies. Martha is probably my favorite of the new companions, but she spent much of her time pining after the heartbroken Doctor. Donna was the most independent, but I can’t stand the actress in the role. Where are companions like Leela, Ace, or Romana (I&2)? The sad thing is that Rory became one of the most compelling companions in this new run, and he was a monumental sap (Jack was pretty good, but once he moved to Torchwood, he pretty much sucked). And as far as making the Doctor a woman this time round, that just seems like pandering. There has never been an indication that Time Lords switch gender, and every indication that they don’t. And the only reason to do it now would be to appeal to some sort of ill conceived sense of woman empowerment, but which would in fact be nothing but condescension. It’s like adding the black character for no other reason than producers feel there needs to be a black character (not because the actor who was best for the part happened to be black). The Doctor has always been a very male figure, and there’s nothing wrong with a male figure. What there is something wrong with is the lack of compelling and strong female figures to accompany him on his journey. Or for that matter, strong and compelling characters of any sort. He needs a Leela or an Ace, an independent, self-motivated woman who doesn’t give a toss about him romantically, but loves the opportunity for adventure and knowledge. And if romance is in the cards, he needs a Romana, an equally powerful and wise counterpart, not a wide-eyed child wowed by his expensive gifts and aloofness. And maybe we could finally have a return to weird companions. No more 20 something girls from today’s London. Let’s shake it up with an alien, or someone from the future or the past. A cyborg, a supergenius, or Hun. What about that Silurian who showed up in the Victorian era? Something other than another cute little girl. On that topic, for crying out loud, let’s have a woman, not a girl.
So, here’s to a new actor and maybe some new life breathed into the show. But more importantly, here’s to an immediate and massive shift in writing. Let’s get away from operatic melodrama, and get back into ideas and adventure. Enough impossible astronauts and bad wolves. Enough with everything having hidden meaning, but nothing meaning much of anything. Enough with the human race being on the brink of extinction every other week. Let’s have some good old fashioned interesting settings, interesting stories, and interesting characters. Let’s have some fun again. Take us places. Show us things. Make us think and wonder. Come on Doctor Who. Be as cool as we all think you are.