Who Marathon: Peter Capaldi
When they announced that Peter Capaldi was to be the next Doctor I had a very legit concern that they were going to change the gender. That had been talked about a lot. Capaldi got an entire TV special to announcing his casting. He came out on stage, pulled a William Hartnell by grabbing his lapels, and was instantly the Doctor for me. Even before he filmed anything, he worked. While I in no way disliked Matt Smith or David Tennant, I always preferred my Doctors to be a bit older. Not like 80 years old old, but more a bit more seasoned. Capaldi had that – big time.
Peter Capaldi was someone I had known before he was cast as the Doctor. He was in Doctor Who previously (in David Tennant’s Fires of Pompeii) and he was in the third series of Torchwood (Children of Earth). So when he was announced I was very excited because I knew him from other stuff, and liked him there. Matt Smith’s first story is the poster child for how to do a first story right. I didn’t feel Capaldi’s worked as well. It wasn’t bad, but I didn’t get the “This is the Doctor” vibe that I did with The Eleventh Hour. Deep Breath was OK, but I felt like I needed an episode or two before I bought Capaldi fully. That’s not in any way bad, it’s like that with nearly all of them – Matt Smith was an aberration there.
I’ve often said that Capaldi is the perfect modern Doctor. That’s because he acts like a classic series Doctor, but has modern series production values. He has the aloofness of say Smith, but he doesn’t look like he would act that way, so I adored that about him. One of my favorite bits he did with emotion was he’d be super happy and smiling, something wouldn’t go his way, and he’d shift into a frown or a furrowed brow and the visual expression of that change just worked so well for me. I grabbed a shot of that out of his final episode where he goes from big smile to furrowed brow in one second. I love this look on him. Here’s a GIF of it.
The problem I’m having here when writing about Capaldi is I like him so much, I’m actually finding it difficult to write – because all I want to say is “It’s just so damn good – watch it, you’ll get it”. As I did with all of the Doctors before this, I gathered a bunch of photos to use during this summary. Looking through all the stories for photos reminds you of all the cool bits I watched during the marathon, and there were a lot of great ones. The problem is I’m finding myself at a loss to write about specific bits. Which is odd, as I really love Capaldi’s Doctor.
He’s also the only modern Doctor I’ve met. At conventions in the 80’s, I met all the classic era Doctors except William Hartnell who was already gone by the time I started watching the show and it caught on in the US. But Capaldi is the only modern series one I’ve met. Part of that is conventions now are a different beast than what they were like in the 80’s. In the 80’s you could take pictures and get autographs just by getting in the line. Now it’s a cash cow – they charge you ($100 or so?) to be able to take a picture with them. They make a crap ton of cash on these things, so Capaldi is the only one I’ve taken the time to go meet. Posted here is a picture I took with Capaldi at said convention. The sonic screwdriver prop he’s holding is mine, I gave it to him for the photo. You don’t get much time to talk with them as it’s a conveyor belt – and they push you along, but I did get about 30 seconds with him. In that short time, it was nice talking to him. I told him I wished he’d break Tom Baker’s record for 7 series in the role. He chuckled and said “I don’t know about THAT – Tom is a legend”. Which of course he’s right about, but I did get to shake his hand and exchange a few quick pleasantries. Wasn’t cheap, but I enjoyed the exchange.
One thing I will say is his stories tended to be fairly serious. There weren’t a ton of “light” stories in his era – they tended to be either more serious in nature – darker plots, or things that had a lot of heavy acting. When you got a “light” Capaldi one, even those tended to have serious moments in them. Part of that I think comes out in the fact that the 12th Doctor played the electric guitar. This of course is something Capaldi himself brought to the role as he was in a number of bands when he was younger (including one with Craig Ferguson). The guitar was mostly just there, he was shown a few times just talking to himself in the Tardis while playing the guitar. It mostly wasn’t a plot point, but it was a character quirk.
This bore itself out once in the “The Magician’s Apprentice” episode, where the Doctor came out playing the guitar while standing on top of an actual tank. It’s one of my favorite 12th Doctor moments, it’s so silly and over the top, I thought it worked perfectly. His defense of himself was he was invited to an “axe fight”, so out came the guitar. I adored that moment, big time – I almost made the tank/guitar moment the overall photo for this article, but felt it needed some setup too.
In one episode (Before the Flood), this carried over into the theme tune, because the pre-titles part ended with 12 playing his guitar, and it morphed into a rock version of the Doctor Who theme, which I enjoyed a lot. That version of the theme is still on the BBC Youtube channel. Go check it out.
Speaking of Capaldi’s theme…
It’s the one thing from his era I don’t care for. His theme tune. The title sequence is OK enough, but the tune I didn’t care for. It’s got this super whiny high note sound. My daughter thinks I’m nuts. I love Capaldi’s era. Just not his theme tune. I’ve embedded his theme song here. The bit I’m talking about is the ooo-ee-ooo at 0:13 in the video below. It’s borderline fingernails on a chalkboard for me.
They played with the titles during his era a bunch, too. They had snow on the Tardis for Christmas specials, and they had one episode where they briefly pretended that Clara Oswald was the Doctor. For that episode (Death in Heaven), they had Jenna Coleman’s name first before Peter’s, and they had a quick shot of Jenna’s eyes in the titles, where normally it would be the Doctor’s. that was a laugh when it happened.
Peter’s Doctor had a fairly standard look, although much was made of his “attack eyebrows” and his hair got wilder as his time progressed on the show. But the basic look of the 12th Doctor never varied much. Oh sure, it changed slightly depending on the demands of the individual story, but the basic look remained the same. When he first got the role, the initial press photos taken had a smoking jacket that looked insanely like one that Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor wore.
As I’ve done in the other sections, here’s a few words about the companions Peter’s Twelfth Doctor traveled with. But before I get to that, here’s some numbers on his series.
- Number of series: 3 (plus a couple of specials)
- Number of stories: 35
- Number of episodes: 40
- Number of companions: 3
Peter’s era had a full gap year in broadcast time. Series 8 ran from Aug – Nov 2014, then had a Christmas special. Series 9 ran from Sep to Dec 2015, plus a Christmas special. However, there was no series in 2016 – the only episode in 2016 was that year’s Christmas special. Just a single episode in all of 2016. Then Peter’s third series (Series 10) ran from Apr – Jul 2017, and it was followed by his final episode, the Christmas special in 2017. Never quite found out why we had that gap year in 2016.
Peter’s companion list is pretty straightforward. There was Clara who was a carryover from Matt Smith. She lasted for two of Peter’s three series, and for his last series there was Bill Potts & Nardole. Nardole actually was in two specials in-between Series 9 & 10. Some people count River Song as a companion, but I do not.
- Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) – Clara with Peter Capaldi is much different than she was with Matt Smith’s Doctor. With Matt, there was this “Impossible Girl” story, which took up her time there. However, once we got to the 50th Anniversary (just one story before Matt’s end), that was gone. From that point forward, and through the entire Capaldi era, she was more a traditional “friend” companion. She wasn’t afraid to call out Peter’s Doctor for his bullshit. It’s kind of hard to put into words – but she almost feels like a different companion with the different Doctors. In some way she’s like Rose Tyler – who was radically different with 9 vs 10. Clara is a character I’ve appreciated more after she left. I never actively disliked her, but she was just kind of “there” in the past. I feel much differently about her now that I’ve rewatched all her episodes as part of my marathon. I especially loved the story Flatline where she got to “be” the Doctor as 12 was trapped inside his Tardis. The Doctor getting irritated at her having fun with that role was one of my highlights between the two. Jenna has gone on to do a lot of other things – outside of Doctor Who she’s mostly known for being Queen Victoria in the series “Victoria“. She was planning on leaving the series after Peter’s first Christmas special, but changed her mind at the last minute, facilitating a rewrite as they were planning on bringing on a new companion. She has not returned to the series since departing, but I would quite like to see her again.
- Nardole (Matt Lucas) – Nardole is not human. He is (according to an official bio) “a humanoid extraterrestrial being from the 54th century with cybernetic implants, belonging to a humanoid colony on the planet Mendorax Dellora”. He’s the first non human companion of the series definitely in the modern series. If you count the classic series, you’d have to go back to Peter Davison’s era Kamelion as the canonically most recent non human companion, although Nyssa who started in Tom Baker’s era would be more appropriate. He started off as a companion to River Song in “Husbands of River Song”, but had a relatively minor role, and was definitely comic relief. In his second special (Return of Doctor Mysterio), he was less comic, more the proper companion – as he was the only companion. Once we got to Series 10 with Bill Potts, he was more a “tool” and the comic relief was gone. He was still funny at times, but that wasn’t his main reason for existing. In Series 10 he mostly tended to be the character who wanted to stay where he was and not go out on adventures. This fit in with the series arc of Series 10 and the vault. He was really goofy at the start, but ended up as a character I really liked. He left the Doctor to guard some humans on a spaceship, so he’s still alive. Would love to see Nardole interact with any other Doctor. Probably some comedy to be had there.
- Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) – This is a character that I thought had a way better ending than the bulk of her time on the Tardis. I didn’t dislike Bill. But there was nothing super exciting about the character to me. Stories were OK. Pearl herself was fine. But the character didn’t have anything special to me. Until she was killed. In the final Capaldi story Bill Potts was killed (explains the picture I chose here). She was physically revived, but turned into a Cyberman – an OG “Mondassian Cyberman”. I thought it was a great way for a character to exit – to be turned into one of the Doctor’s main enemies. That final two parter (World Enough & Time and The Doctor Falls) are some of my favorite Doctor Who episodes. Pearl’s acting at the center of it being turned into a Cyberman was awesome stuff. The character was I believe the first openly gay companion in the Tardis, but beyond that, there wasn’t a ton I wanted to say about her beyond her exit, which is f’in amazing as hell.
While not a companion in the strict sense of the word, I couldn’t write this article without talking about Michelle Gomez’ Missy. Was announced as a new female regeneration of the Master, she was perfect with Capaldi’s Doctor. I initially was against the gender change for the character, but you couldn’t not like what Michelle Gomez did with the role. While Roger Delgado will always be THE Master, Michelle did a great job with the role. She had the goofiness that runs through the Master’s character, with her own flavor. I LOVED whenever she would over emphasize a Scottish accent saying things “I’ve not turned GUUD”. Her redemption arc was fun to watch, but you never quite got the feel it was legitimate.
She ended her time on the show in a “Multi Master” story with the return of John Simm as his incarnation. They didn’t quite gripe at each other like Multi Doctor stories did, but it was great to see them together. They both seemingly killed each other, but we know that never ends the Master. I’d love to see her back again with some other incarnation. Or bring Peter back with her – I’d be up for that.
Peter was a big fan of the show when he was younger. If you look at this drawing of a Tardis, it was something Peter did himself back in 1976 when he was 18 years old. As I write this, I’m not 100% sure on the next fact, but I believe it was published in a Doctor Who magazine around that time? Also below that is a picture of him when he auditioned for the role of the 8th Doctor in the 1996 TV Movie. Quite glad he didn’t get that, or we wouldn’t have had the 12th Doctor. :)
Peter’s tenure is filled with a ton of moments I could write about, but I’d have 5,000 words here, and that’s too much. So I’ll just bring up a handful of them as bullet points
- Flatline. I mentioned this briefly above, but I adored the scenes that showed Peter’s face wedged up against the door of the Tardis – I adored that so much I printed out his face and put it on one of my Flight Control Tardii at home, it looked hilarious.
- The Zygon Inversion – Peter’s speech about war was one of the most well acted things in Doctor Who – period. His rage and upset at everyone in the room effectively shut down every other character, he absolutely dominated that scene.
- The Husbands of River Song – There’s a lot to like in this scene, but Peter getting to do the “It’s bigger on the inside” himself was glorious. His expression of confusion is a great one. In addition the final scene with the Doctor and River which is basically the end of the line for her was super sweet. The look on the two of them in the waning moments is great, but they had several moments together that were great. Wish we got more of 12 & River than we did.
- Last Christmas – The line here about “There’s a horror movie called Alien? No wonder everyone keeps invading you” is absolute gold. (picture)
- In the Forest of the Night – Most people hate this one, but I don’t. I thought the way the 12th Doctor interacted with the kids in the story was well done.
- The Caretaker – This isn’t as much about Peter, but a general comment about that episode. They had an ENTIRE EPISODE set at Coal Hill School, and they couldn’t get William Russell in for 10 minutes to film a couple of throwaway lines as Headmaster sitting behind a desk? Major missed opportunity. Although Capaldi as a bumbling fool was amusing to watch.
- The Witch’s Familiar – The scene with the Doctor sitting in Davros’ chair in the middle of a dozen Daleks taunting them (“You’ve all had this nightmare”) with tea was hilarious as hell. His question was right – “Where’d I get the tea?” Adored this scene.
- World Enough in Time / The Doctor Falls – There’s a ton to love about this story, but my single favorite part was the return of my brother and I always called “The Sock Cybermen”, but the show officially calls “Mondassian Cybermen”. they only appeared once, in William Hartnell’s finale, “The Tenth Planet”, but they made such an impression on Peter that he wanted them to appear in his era of the show – that’s the entire reason we got them. Was glorious seeing them again after all those years.
However, the best individual story that happened in Capaldi’s era was very much “Heaven Sent“. This is a tour de force by Capaldi. 99% of the acting in this is him with nobody else. Jenna Coleman has two lines in one scene, and there is one other character in the story, but it’s non speaking. There’s a minor third character at the end, but almost every single line spoken here is Peter. He’s the only person in nearly the entire thing. It’s an absolute masterclass on how to do an effective story with a single actor. His expressions as time goes on in the story once things start cycling over and over again I adored. If you’ve never seen this, you really should go watch it. It’s absolutely brilliant.
That’s not all, as I said, I could write a few thousand words about individual moments and stories. But I wanted to jot down some, as there’s so much goodness with the 12th Doctor.
To date (early Nov 2023), Peter has not returned to the role. Granted, we’ve just had Jodie Whittaker since his time. The thing is Peter has come out quite clearly and said he doesn’t feel like coming back. Much in the same way Tom Baker did when he first left. I really hope Peter softens that stance, as he was a fan of the show his whole life, and would love to see him come back and get all Scottish with something. Heck, have a meeting between Peter’s Doctor, Sylvester’s Doctor, Amy Pond, and Ncuti Gatwa’s 15th Doctor – we’ll max out the Scottish big time.
Peter has not joined the world of Big Finish audios. That doesn’t mean the 12th Doctor hasn’t – they have Jacob Dudman doing the voice of the 12th Doctor there. That’s amusing as Dudman also does the voice of Matt Smith’s Doctor who also doesn’t do Big Finish. It’s not the one with the most appearances, but 12 has been included over at Big Finish.
I adored Peter’s Doctor, and his era. I was sad when he stuck with the tired tripe of “Three seasons than done”. Someone needs to break that c chain. I wanted more.
… next up – the biggest change in the show’s history. The first female Doctor. But first, a collection of photos of Peter’s Doctor I quite liked for one reason or another.