With each new Doctor and companion, adjustments must be made in the minds of viewers. Tonight we get the thrill of being introduced to Bill. This comes along with the curiosity to discover what makes her tick. Personally, I have been holding out hope she’s a transgender character. I doubt that’s the case.
Doctor Who fans remember their first Doctor. For me, it was Christopher Eccleston. Not being English, I was clueless about the accent snobbery at the core of many Brits rejecting him in the role. My grandmother was a Yorkshire girl before she married a Canadian soldier during the war, so it was the kind of accent I was used to hearing. Christopher Eccleston drew me into the Whoniverse, but it was David Tennant who made me fall in love. I grieved the loss of his Doctor. Making room for Matt Smith was part of a bittersweet tragedy. Despite the feelings of loss, I fell in love with Matt Smith’s Doctor at first sight.
Then came Peter Capaldi. I bet you think I’m going to go on a Capaldi-hater rant. That’s not going to happen. The cadence of his speech was a huge adjustment for my Canadian ears, but his character spoke to me. While I haven’t watched every version of the Doctor, I have taken the time to watch the original. His arrogance was infuriating. It was sometimes difficult to like him, yet William Hartnell somehow brought the audience around to a place of grudging acceptance. Eccleston, Tennant, and Smith only revealed the Hartnell at their core in their darkest moments. Tennant had more of these dark moments than Eccleston and Smith.
Hartnell’s Doctor seems closer to the surface with Capaldi. He lurks in his expressions and reactions. The brilliant thing is that all the other versions are right there as well. I can’t say I’ve seen anything about his personality, up to this point, that could be described as new. I know many of you would dispute this idea hotly, so let me explain. More than any other Doctor I’ve seen up to this point, Capaldi makes you remember how many men dwell inside of him. He is lightness and dark, soldier and pragmatic abstainer, bold and insecure, man and child.
So far the main this he cannot be called is an object of lust that distracts the viewer from deeper questions. He is romantic when it comes to River Song, and is an attractive man, but his age makes it easier to set aside this as part of his defining characteristics. His apparent difficulty in distinguishing between male and female or old and young adds a sense of asexuality to his depiction. It tames the temptation of fans to ship him with random characters, as does the fact that he is a widower. Capaldi’s Doctor still wears his wedding ring, constantly reminding us of the loss of River Song. Removing the temptation to ship allows us to focus on bigger questions such as, “Am I a good man?”
In recent episodes with Maisie Williams, we’re given an unromantic view of what eternity would really look like. Unlike the Twilight version of immortality, where everyone seems to improve with age, we’re reminded what it would be like to watch everyone you love to blow away like dust in the wind. This reminder actually makes you fall more in love with the Doctor. Some of his decisions are flawed, but there is compassion at their root. The character’s real-time existence had spanned over fifty years. It started with him being arrogant and indifferent and has seen him evolve into a better man over several lifetimes. He might not see his own virtue, but we do.
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