Doctor Who Season 8 Premiere: Capaldi’s Take on an Iconic Character

Last night was the premiere of Doctor Who, Season 8 on BBC America.  My daughter Amy got me hooked on this series last year, in spectacular fashion: I watched just one episode, with Christopher Ecclestone as The Doctor, and I became obsessed.  This was less than a month before the big Christmas episode when Matt Smith’s version of The Doctor was set to regenerate and leave the show, so I had a lot of catching up to do.

I binge-watched the entire series–hundreds of episodes–in just 3 weeks. Not something I would recommend doing, by the way. Yes, the show was enjoyable, but every spare moment was spent with my laptop nearby, running an episode of the show. Cooking dinner, watching Doctor Who. Wrapping gifts, watching Doctor Who. Doing laundry and cleaning, watching Doctor Who.  It was challenging, but did give me a certain sense of accomplishment when I was able to watch the Christmas special in real time with my daughter.

The one side effect, however, was that I found myself not fully investing in any of the current incarnations of The Doctor, because I knew they were destined to regenerate and leave in order for Capaldi to come in. I knew I shouldn’t get too attached, so that when it came time for the actor to leave the role, I wouldn’t feel a sense of loss.

The fans of this show, known as “Whovians,” are often quite passionate about which Doctor is their favorite.  I always leaned towards preferring Ecclestone’s version, perhaps because he was my first exposure to the character.  I also liked the way he played it: very calm and capable, even amidst the chaos.  He lended a self-assurance to the role, which some fans found a bit abrasive, but I found charming. I thought his arrogance was authentic to a character who was said to be hundreds of years old and experienced in travels and adventures across space and time.

When David Tennant came in, I wasn’t so sure about him.  He played it rakish and boyish and far more casual than Eccelstone, and the character’s tendency towards shameless flirtation and womanizing was a bit off-putting.  My daughter thought he was adorable, of course, but I guess there was a bit of a “Captain Kirk chasing the after every green woman he sees” vibe that I couldn’t get past. When he said, “I don’t want to go” it didn’t tug at my heart strings or affect me the way it did most Whovians. I was ready for him to go so that we could move along to Matt Smith’s version of the character.

Matt Smith was so young when he took on the role, and played it even more boyish child-like, almost to the point of being bumbling.  It took awhile for me to warm up to him, but eventually I did. Still, I longed for the maturity and quiet confidence that Eccelstone had infused in the role during his one season as The Doctor.

Enter Peter Capaldi last night as The Doctor.  I know that many younger Whovians were aghast at the idea of an “old man” playing their beloved Doctor, especially those who enjoyed the chemistry between Matt Smith’s Doctor and his young companion, Clara.  I wasn’t sure how it would work, and wasn’t surprised when I heard that Jenna Coleman, the actress who plays Clara, plans to leave her role during this year’s Christmas special.

I enjoyed the episode, and was surprised at how quickly I warmed up to Peter Capaldi’s version of The Doctor.  He exuded an air of maturity and a sense of responsiblity for his actions past and present that I don’t think we’ve seen from prior incarnations, and it suits him. He also plays the character as far more serious, introspective and intense than the past two actors did, with a quick, wry sense of humor that I loved.  Favorite line of the night: after unexpectedly plucking a hair from Clara’s head, he delivered this deadpan response to her objection: “It was the only one out of place. I assumed you wanted it dead.”

What did you think of Capaldi’s take on Doctor Who?

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