Monday, 5 August 2013

The Actor Factor

Speculation may now cease. Normal service has resumed. The twelfth Doctor has been announced.

So, the sudden rumours naming Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor turned out to be true. Rather different to last time, when Matt Smith never even appeared on the bookmakers' charts and came as a complete surprise to most of us (there were apparently some mutterings on the day of the announcement, but they passed me by. Already, people have started presenting a revisionist account in which everyone knew it was gong to be Matt for weeks beforehand).

The rumours of Capaldi seemed too good to be true. A critically acclaimed, reasonably big-name actor, almost Ecclestonian in his reputation. "That would be fantastic," I said, "but it's never going to happen." Bookies' favourites in these matters are based on betting patterns, and those are often founded on rumours and hot air. Most of the fans I spoke to agreed - great idea, but it won't happen. Just wishful thinking. And yet, here we are, after a special half-hour programme designed to milk the announcement for all it's worth, simulcast around the world. After the BBC announced they were announcing and announcement, for goodness' sake. It was a whole lot of fanfare, but it was worth it.

Having watched the unfolding reactions over the evening and early morning, there seems to be a pretty even split between the overjoyed and the dismayed. On the Suicide Girls dedicated Doctor Who group, which I moderate, and across Facebook, it is mostly, though not solely, the American fans who are underwhelmed by the news. Capaldi isn't exactly a household name here, but he's well-regarded and well-recognised. He's much less known in the States. The British fans, on the whole, seem to be more excited by the news.

Some fans are protesting the fact that Capaldi has been in the series before. Pointing out that Colin Baker played a Time Lord during the fifth Doctor's run, less than a year before his announcement as Davison's successor, doesn't seem to wash with those of this opinion. It's different now, they say, and while I accept that previous casting information and rewatching is much easier now, I don't really see the problem. Capaldi's character in The Fires of Pompeii, Caecilius, was a fairly main character but hardly one who dominated the series. He was a one-off, single episode character, and while watching Pompeii might be rather odd once we've seen a few episodes with his Doctor, I can't see it being a major issue for me. His role in Torchwood: Children of Earth, John Frobisher, was a much bigger, more dominant part, and might cause more issues for those who enjoy both series. It's not something that bothers me, but it is clearly bothering many others.

As for non-fans and casual viewers, the reaction seems generally positive (when they give a damn at all, of course). Although my brother, a definite non-fan who has nonetheless been exposed to a hell of a lot of Who through growing up with me, isn't keen on the choice. Which is interesting, seeing that he likes older, snootier Doctors, and thinks Hartnell was by far the best.

At fifty-five, Capaldi is the same age that Hartnell was when he the series began; given that it will be at least a few months before filming, he may in fact be the oldest of the Doctors once it gets underway (with a caveat, that I shall return to). Fifty-five is hardly old, though, and I think many fans are colouring their perception with Hartnell's portrayal of the Doctor as a much older man. It'll be interesting to see if they come up with an in-story explanation for the regeneration making the Doctor older, or just ignore it.

I think it's about time we had an older actor in the role, so I'm very pleased. Most fans seem to agree. The expected fangurl backlash against an older man hasn't really arrived as much as cynical old bastards like me expected, although it's not entirely absent. And who says an older man can't be attractive? I think Capaldi's rather handsome. I'm also hoping he keeps his native Scots accent for the part.

The caveat? We have had older Doctors before, of course. Aside from those who returned to the role years after leaving the series, both Richard Hurndall, the ersatz first Doctor from The Five Doctors, and John Hurt, the seemingly missing incarnation who will star in the upcoming fiftieth anniversary special, were 72 when they stepped into the Doctor's shoes. And on the subject of the 'Hurt Doctor:' does this make Capaldi the twelfth or thirteenth? Neither, of course; he's the twenty-first. (Runs and hides and goes to watch The Brain of Morbius again.)

Capaldi's most famous role is Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It and In the Loop. Inevitably, this foul-mouthed character has dominated the fans' and media's speculation on how he will play the Doctor. Naturally, this is rubbish, and Capaldi's Doctor will be nothing like Tucker... but it is bloody funny.

Pleasantly, playing the Doctor might actually help Capaldi break away from typecasting as aggressive politicians. His acting range is actually very wide, and he has appeared in series and films too numerous to list. He's also, famously, a huge Doctor Who fan, and while this shouldn't really be an issue in his casting, it's a nice little bonus. Much like David Tennant, we know that playing the Doctor will be a dream come true for the man.

Complaints? Well, I has hoped they'd finally break away from the white male demographic. I really think it's time for a female Doctor, but I'm not surprised it didn't happen. There are any number of non-white male actors who would suit the role. Still, if we're going to have a white male Doctor, then Capaldi is a truly fine choice. There's always next time (they could cast Chipo Chung, and rile the anti-female, anti-black, anti-reusing actors camps all at once).

So, I am very much looking forward to Capaldi's tenure as the Doctor. If you don't think you can cope without Matt Smith, why not watch a bit of Doctor Puppet to help you get over the bad news?

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