Ripping a page right out of classic DOCTOR WHO, Series 8 introduces actor Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor in a quiet, unassuming manner. Gone are the days of frantic frenzy and over-exuberant energy of the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston), the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) or the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith). Peter Capaldi’s introduction carries the weight of responsibility of returning the Doctor with a more stately performance. The Twelfth Doctor does not run or yell, in fact he is rather confused and uncertain as he steps into the now unfamiliar shoes and tries to figure out who he is all over again – and he is not the only one. Clara (Jenna Louise-Coleman) and the fans are uncertain too. Just who is this Twelfth Doctor? That will be carefully explored as Series 8 unfolds. Will Clara ultimately learn to accept this stately version of the man she knew or will his new persona be as confusing to her as it will be to viewers?
It has been literally three decades since viewers have accepted a more sedate version of the Doctor. In 1974, DOCTOR WHO closed the door on casting older actors in the role of the Doctor when it introduced Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor (who was 40 years old at the time, a good 15 years younger than the First Doctor William Hartnell and 10 years younger than his predecessor Jon Pertwee). Sensing that audiences were responding well to younger actors in the role, and after Tom Baker signed off in 1981, Peter Davison was cast as the Fifth Doctor (who was only 29 years old at the time). In subsequent years, the ages of the actors portraying the Doctor varied from 36 to 44, but each of their tenures were shorter than their predecessor and the show was finally boxed and crated into a back file room until it could be resurrected for a future generation.
Then in 2005, DOCTOR WHO was revived with the Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, who was at the time 41 years old. But Eccleston’s tenure was also short and he left after just one season, only to be replaced by David Tennant to portray the Tenth Doctor, who was only 34 years old. Tennant then occupied the role for 5 years before passing the mantle to his successor the baby-faced Matt Smith, who was only 27 years old.
So after the 5 years with David Tennant and 3 years with Matt Smith, a whole new generation of DOCTOR WHO fans were born – and for the first time in history, the Doctor became a sex symbol. Fans across the globe were clamoring for face-time with these young and energetic actors who had brought vitality and youthfulness to the role that had been classically known as a grandfatherly-figure.
As previously discussed in my article “How They Got the Casting of the Twelfth Doctor All Wrong”, it was risky casting a more mature actor and it does not necessarily guarantee that fans who reveled in the youth of the Doctor would be as delighted as more senior fans of DOCTOR WHO. For those who were around during the time of the “classic” DOCTOR WHO series, casting older is not significant. But for those who have only known the Doctor as a young man, welcoming Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor may require an adjustment period. Capaldi’s version of the Doctor will simply have to be tested over time to see if he can actually carry the weight of expectations of the fans.
Series 8 will not just be a test of a new Doctor, but a new actor who is literally 25 years older than the previous actor who helmed the TARDIS – and whether he can keep fans glued to their television sets. Fortunately, showrunner Steven Moffat knows all too well that he needs familiarity in the Doctor’s world in order to make the fans more receptive to welcoming Capaldi. So episode 1 of Series 8 will bring back the fan-favorite trio of the Paternoster Gang: Jenny, Madame Vastra and Strax. While there might be a new face, a new wardrobe and a new TARDIS, with Clara around as the Doctor’s companion and the return of the Paternoster Gang, hopefully that will reassure fans that this is truly the new Doctor.
But will DOCTOR WHO with Peter Capaldi ever be able to capture the imaginations and hearts of the fans as strongly as his predecessors? Will the more aloof version of the Doctor push fans and viewers away because he feels even more alien? Will Clara even recognize him as the man she saw as her best friend — the one who she has sacrificed herself over and over again throughout time?
It will be a huge hurdle to overcome. The good news is that long-time DOCTOR WHO fans are accustomed to the many changes as the Doctor regenerates every few years. We just hope to catch a glimpse of the soul of the man who we have known as our best friend – the one whose adventures that we sign on willingly and which we would happily run away with him the second he appeared at our door or out of thin air with that familiar blue police box, simply known as the TARDIS.
So here is to hoping that we see the Doctor we all know and love inside the new body he has regenerated into. It is a weighty crown Peter Capaldi has inherited. We hope he wears it securely. In the meantime, bring on the dinosaurs, Cybermen, Daleks, and even those terrifying Weeping Angels and let the magnificent adventures of Series 8 begin.
DOCTOR WHO returns with 12 new episodes for Series 8, starring Peter Capaldi and Jenna Louise-Coleman, on Saturday, August 23rd at 8:00 p.m. on BBC America. (Note: The first episode runs 80 to 120 minutes long depending on the number of commercials and will be followed by the premiere of the new series “Intruders,” starring John Simm and Mira Sorvino.)