So for those who don’t have the most annoying kind of Facebook friends (i.e. ones like me), you may not know that Matt Smith’s successor has been named. The role of the Doctor in Doctor Who will be passing to Peter Capaldi at the end of the Christmas special this year. I haven’t really gauged fan response much yet, because I value my sanity too much. But one major departure is that Capaldi is 55 years old, the oldest actor to take the role since William Hartnell did it for the first time fifty years ago.
In a somewhat dismissive story over at AV Club, it’s stated that it’s something of a safe choice, neither going for a Doctor from a minority, nor making the part female. No, just another white English guy. While I would definitely be interested to see either one (or both) of those things in a future regeneration of the Doctor, I question the general narrative that there really needs to be a minority or female Doctor. It feels more like a manufactured need, generally stirred up by people who have a passing knowledge of the show and just want to see them do something different for its own sake. I fear that any move to drastically alter the Doctor in that way might come off as tokenism, which doesn’t do anyone any favors. It’s not like this announcement wasn’t already gimmicky enough, with its half-hour broadcast to basically give a 15-second photo op.
And anyway, Peter Capaldi’s age is actually pretty revolutionary for the modern incarnation of the show. Most modern fans only know the Doctor in a young and energetic form, as he was played by both David Tennent and Matt Smith. Even Christopher Eccleston cranked up the adrenaline from what it had been in the original series. Capaldi might not have been a bold step forward, but I suspect that he might be an attempt to return to the roots of the show. My hope is to see a return to the stuffier, more arrogant Doctors, like William Hartnell, Colin Baker, or one of my personal favorites, Jon Pertwee.
Would that jive with the increasingly circuitous plotting that Steven Moffat clearly loves? Eh, maybe. No doubt it’ll take some time to find its feet. It’s also very likely that a huge number of fans will give up in disgust. But if there’s ever been an ironclad law of Doctor Who, it’s that any given concept is loathed by about fifty percent of the fans. I’m optimistic myself, just because the change in age represents such a big shift from what the series has been in its newest incarnation.