I caught the big unveiling extravaganza the Beeb broadcast around the world, and had to chuckle at the thought of everyone outside the UK blinking in confusion after the big reveal. Which is by no means a slam at either our new Doctor or the somewhat dismayed US fans. It’s a British show, folks. Of course we probably weren’t going to recognize the new guy. There are plenty of fine British actors recognizable to American audiences, but none of them were likely to sign on for a few years as the headliner on a BBC television show. (I thought all the buzz about switching the Doctor up by making him female, black, gay, nonhuman, etc. was rather tedious, even if the mythology of the show could accommodate it, but it would have been interesting if they went with someone of Helen Mirren’s or Idris Elba’s stature and accessibility to American fans.)
At this point, it’s probably a bit daring to make the Doctor old. His latter-day incarnations have all been youthful and photogenic. I’m still a die-hard Tom Baker man myself, but the new younger Doctors have all done a fine job. I’d have loved to see more out of Christopher Eccleston, who doesn’t get nearly enough credit for resurrecting “Doctor Who” after its long hiatus. (One does have to wonder why the regeneration process would cough up a body that wasn’t young and vigorous – that seems like a bit of a design flaw. But maybe that’s appropriate, because a key element of the Doctor’s wisdom is that all designs are flawed.)
I’ve been a “Who” fan since my college days, and I love it warts and all. Part of the love is because of the warts. In the old low-budget days, it was often amazing what the show could accomplish with resourceful production designers and a lively script. There’s something so offbeat and appealing about a hero who never does anything the easy way, including a general reluctance to simply beat the crap out of his enemies. Tongue-in-cheek humor is built into the concept from the ground up, making the Doctor a lovable, self-effacing character with an intoxicating sense of his own absurdity. (It’s a perhaps accidental running theme, throughout the decades of this show, that the Doctor’s enemies are largely defined by their insistence on taking themselves too seriously.)
I’ve always enjoyed stories about coping with immortality. The Doctor does it with gentle good humor and an evergreen sense of childish wonder at everything he encounters. That makes his darker spells even more unsettling. I wonder if our new Doctor will capture that as well as David Tennant did. Tennant managed to be funny and likeable 90% of the time… and truly scary the other 10%. He did some really breathtaking acting in his farewell episode. Matt Smith has a high bar to clear in his curtain call, and he gave us an enjoyable different crackpot take on the character (“Fezzes are cool!”) so Mr. Capaldi also has a high bar to clear.