Monday, August 5, 2013

Peter Capaldi and the New Fans/Old Fans Thing

So, we have our 12th (13th?) Doctor for Doctor Who. Peter Capaldi.

Me? I am OVER THE MOON with this choice. Capaldi is certainly the best all-around actor to take the role since Christopher Eccelston. Make no mistake, I have enjoyed both David Tennant and Matt Smith, they have given valid, fine performances, but they have never, for me, reached a depth that Eccelston found. One that made the moments when he flew into a run of hyperactivity poignant compared to the deep sadness his hurt, traumatized Time Lord was carrying with him.

Tennant started out well, but I truly believe he overstayed his welcome. His final "season" of Holiday specials, if you remove the wonderful Waters of Mars, is really underwhelming, all the way to outright crap. His regeneration sequence, as well, marks the creative nadir of the revived series. Exchanging poignancy for outright schmaltz and downright horrid overacting from Tennant. I can't even watch it. It's too awful.

Smith came on like gangbusters, and I was very taken, right out of the gate. However, two factors began to wear on me. One, Smith's portrayal, and I'm not the only one to notice this, was just a bit too close to Tennant's for me. Two, Stephen Moffat's direction for the show has trudged, more and more, to being a "fairy tale." This actually didn't bother me when we were exploring Amy Pond's first year, when Moffat positioned The Doctor as Amy's imaginary friend worked. Then Amy leaves, and you're parking the TARDIS on a cloud.

Which is possibly the dumbest thing I've ever seen on Doctor Who. I've also been a fan since the mid-80's...I have seen a LOT of dumb shit on Doctor Who. That, however, was the first time I said, "are you kidding? What the fuck is THAT!?" out loud to the TV. It's one thing to be low-budget sci-fi, and trying to do big ideas on nothing, and another to have shit-tons of money, and use it to execute something that far outside the accustomed tone of the show.

(I do believe the format is wide-open and flexible enough to encompass a whole lot of different styles and tones. I will go pretty much anywhere, but that bit just seemed to far outside the, science way beyond our kin, but still science, tone that I associate with the show.)

Connected to that, is that the single most exciting thing, for me, with each regeneration was not knowing who The Doctor would turn out to be. Which is why, in hindsight, I'm very disappointed with the production team following Tennant with Smith. Again, neither one was bad, but there was a consistency of energy, and a "hey, look how goofy I am!" quality that, while endearing, was also kind of a violation of the single most exciting thing about regeneration as a plot element. The constant of change.

And, yes, I am an "old-school" fan. Capaldi feels, to me, like the kind of Doctor we haven't seen in a long, long time. A callback to the early days of the show. Physically, he conjurers thoughts of William Hartnell, and there's records of him writing fan letters during Jon Pertwee's tenure. He also, very specifically during his formal introduction as the winner of the role, did a variation of Hartnell's famous gesture of holding his lapels and twiddling his thumbs...which was such a lovely nod to those of us who "got it." If Capaldi can find a way to mix elements of those two readings of the character, he'll probably be able to knock Paul McGann out of my top three.

Ultimately, what is most exciting for me is that this casting...just on a pure demographic level, if nothing else...somewhat signals a desire to change things up. I think it's time for that. Eccelston's (far too short) run felt connected to the old show, but modernized and energized. Tenneant opened those floodgates to a lot of concepts and dramatic twists that, flat out, having an attractive young man at the helm of the TARDIS made possible...

But I'm sick of them.

I am sick of sexual tension between The Doctor and his female companions, for example. Ever since the doomed love affair between the 10th and Rose, this has just always been an issue. Sometimes sub-textually, sometimes right out in the open. I admit, the early days of Amy Pond's outright lust for 11 were amusing, but consider that Tennant's best and most memorable companion wasn't Rose, it was Donna. It was also, hands down, Tennant's best season on the show. That was in no small part to the fact they killed any hint of romance between them right off the bat.

Likewise, I want a return of male companions. Rory was sublime, and Arthur Darvill probably created the single best male companion the show has ever had. However, yet again, as with Mickey in the Rose years, the role of that male companion had to be defined in a romantic sense.

Love? Affection? Commitment? Protectiveness? Absolutely, but I don't think I need to see a companion pining for The Doctor, or worse, The Doctor pining for a companion, again for a very, very long time. An older Doctor (probably) eliminates all of that. It takes him back to the father-figure mode, which is where I think the character operates best.

Also on my list?

Pull a Davison and destroy the damn sonic screwdriver, because it's become WAY, WAY too easy to use it as a "magic fix everything stick." Make the Doctor rely on his wits and cunning, rather than the sonic.

Ease up on the Daleks. We don't need to see them every, single season. Hell, Davison only encountered them once in three years. The last few Dalek episodes have been...."underwhelming" is kind. They used to be surprising and unexpected. I love them, but wait until you have a really good story to use them in, rather than have a "new season? We need a new Dalek episode" mindset (Don't deny it, it's obvious).

(Obviously, the 50th Anniversary episode HAS to have Daleks, at some point...I'll give you that one).

So, I'm really excited. Davison is my favorite Doctor, ever, and he was the youngest at that time, so I'm not against a younger Doctor, but this change is all for the good. It's the most I've been excited about the show at least since Donna came on board, and probably since Eccelston's season, honestly. Peter Capaldi is EXACTLY the kind of actor I wished for, and I cannot wait to see him in action.

Not everyone feels that way. 

Now, what saddens me about that article, and the comments I have personally read, is that it jibes with personal observations I've made regarding the way Doctor Who fandom has changed since the series was revived in 2005, and especially since Tennant came on board in 2006. I can only point to the VAST difference in it's presence at San Diego Comic-Con today, with thousands of screaming fans trying to get into Hall H to see the stars, versus my 2006 Con trip, where the presence was minimal. I realize that fandom, as a whole, has changed over these past 7 years. Becoming more inclusive and mainstream.

But Doctor Who fandom specifically, I feel, has become more personality-driven. That really isn't a bad thing, and there's always been some element of that. Everybody has "their" Doctor, but this explosion in the show's popularity, along with the relative "sameness" of the last two actors, really made me terrified that the BBC would just find another young, pretty guy. Letting demographics and marketing drive creative choices. The fact they didn't makes me far more hope about the future of the show.

Because I have had a lot of bad feeling about the future of this show. The general turn to the "fairy tale" aspects, the seemingly one-note casting. I was going to give whoever got this role a few episodes, but if it was another round of "spazzy puppy" Doctor, I was going to drift away.  I have old episodes I can watch, and that works for me.

I feel a sense now that somebody, maybe it's Moffat, maybe higher up at the BBC, realizes the true strength of the show. That it should surprise, and that each actor who finds himself throwing switches on that console ought to feel fundamentally different from the last. All while keeping the sense of adventure and excitement, of course.

Some of the fanbase won't see it that way. They'll see Capaldi as "too old," or "not sexy," or whatever, and they'll drift away. Frankly, to my mind, those aren't real fans of Doctor Who. They're fans of Matt Smith, or David Tennant, and that's a fine thing. They found a home with the show for a few years while the actor they liked was on board, and then they moved on. That's not good, or just is.

This choice, however, makes me very, very hopeful. How long will he stay? Who'll come after? Will they directly deal with the 12 regenerations limitation, or sweep it under the rug? (I so hope the former)

And if the next Doctor is back to the youthful, hyperactive routine, so be it...because they've given me the variation I longed for. I trust the people pulling the strings are willing to surprise, and I'm in for the long haul.

No comments:

Post a Comment