The BBC has announced who will play the Twelfth Doctor and has chosen Scottish actor Peter Capaldi. Now Capaldi is undoubtedly a fine actor and supposedly a fan. Nonetheless, I think it’s a horrible decision. Part of the reason for my opinion it’s personal, because I simply don’t like Peter Capaldi. Fine actor or not, the man just grates on me.
Secondly, Peter Capaldi already appeared in two different parts in both Doctor Who and Torchwood. Now there are several precedents for companions and Doctors who first appeared in different roles in Doctor Who. The best known example is Sixth Doctor Colin Baker, who appeared as a Timelord guard in the Fifth Doctor story Arc of Infinity. New series companions Freema Agyeman and Karen Gillen as well as Naoko Mori from Torchwood also appeared in different parts in Doctor Who before they became members of the main cast. And Capaldi’s previous Doctor Who appearance in the fourth season episode The Fires of Pompeii wouldn’t disqualify him from being the Doctor, since it was only a supporting role in a single episode five years ago.
However, what does disqualify Peter Capaldi from playing the Doctor IMO is his part in season 3 of Torchwood a.k.a. the Children of the Earth miniseries. Now I have a difficult relationship with Torchwood. I absolutely loved the first season and hated the remaining three. But I hate no season of Torchwood more than the Children of the Earth season, not even the American travesty. And a large part of the reason is Peter Capaldi’s character.
First of all, Capaldi wasn’t just a supporting character in Torchwood, but the main villain of season 3 who was not just in all five parts, but also got top billing right next to the (already reduced) main cast. So this is the equivalent of casting a former Master or Davros as the Doctor. And while some people inexplicably feel sympathy for Capaldi’s villainous politician character in Torchwood, I found his character loathsome on a level usually reserved only for the likes of Tywin or Cersei Lannister. After all, Capaldi’s villainous politician character not just tricked the Torchwood team and – going by memory here, since I’m never going to watch that again – was at least indirectly responsible for the death of Ianto (spoiler whiteout just in case anybody still doesn’t know after five years), he was also willing to hand British children over to evil aliens and in the end murdered his own two daughters (who had been infected with some kind of alien virus) and killed himself. And some people mistake this for a heroic act, usually the same people who also think it’s totally okay that our hero Captain Jack Harkness killed his own grandchild in the same season of Torchwood (same episode even). Indeed, Children of the Earth was basically a show about killing children – in a spin-off of a family show popular with children ironically, which interestingly seemed to bother none of the people who got upset about the mild sex scenes and occasional swearing in Torchwood season 1. Quite the contrary, the fans of the gritty and grimdark in SFF unanimously love Children of the Earth. But have no fear, cause abortion is still wrong (and Gwen’s disgusting husband Rhys prvents her from having one) in Children of the Earth, only the killing of children already alive is condoned. Oh yes, and if all of that wasn’t horrible enough (and trying to sum up Children of the Earth usually makes me shake my head and think, “I can’t believe this is a real TV show”), the actress playing Gwen was pregnant in real life and another actor had just lost a baby, while they were shooting a show about killing children.
Now I suspect that the BBC is trying to forget that Children of the Earth or indeed Torchwood itself ever existed. After all, they buried Children of the Earth at the height of summer and broadcast it over a single week in the clear hopes that no one would watch the darned thing. Unfortunately, it rained that week in the UK, so people did watch, since there was nothing else on. And after Children of the Earth, Torchwood was only resurrected as its own show with American money and hasn’t been mentioned on the parent show, at least as far as I know, since David Tennant left.
But trying to forget Torchwood and Children of the Earth unfortunately doesn’t erase their existence (and the BBC has stopped wiping old programs, more the pity). Nor does it change the fact that the guy who plays the new Doctor played a child killing villain over five episodes of the spin-off. Now Peter Capaldi isn’t the only Doctor to have played villains. Colin Baker’s character in Arc of Infinity was a minor villain. David Tennant’s last role before playing the Doctor was playing Barty Crouch in Harry Potter. Christopher Eccleston has played unlikable characters and outright villains in lots of films and TV shows pre Doctor Who. Nor is this in any way Mr Capaldi’s fault, since it obviously takes a lot of talent to play a character as loathsome and memorable as his Children of the Earth character. Could I accept him as the Master or the Valeyard? Sure. But I can’t accept him as the Doctor, sorry.
Indeed, this article at The Guardian makes a similar point: Fine actor, but wouldn’t he have been better as the Master (he’s even got the beard)? On the other hand, maybe Doctor No. 12 is the Valeyard. Shouldn’t he show up around now?
Finally, another white man to play the Doctor? How original, particularly considering that their have been precedents for both cross-racial and cross-gender regeneration set during Matt Smith’s tenure (in the whole River Song arc and Neil Gaiman’s The Doctor’s Wife respectively). Okay, so Peter Capaldi is older than the usual actor to play the Doctor and indeed the oldest Doctor since William Hartnell (not counting John Hurt’s character, whoever he is). But still, wouldn’t it be time for a female Doctor or a Doctor of colour? Or a female Doctor of colour?
Oh yes, and regarding people you’d least want/expect to see playing the Doctor, actor David Bradley, who last shocked the world as Waldur Frey in Game of Thrones, has been cast as William Hartnell, the man who played the First Doctor, in an upcoming “Behind the Scenes of early Doctor Who” BBC movie. So we now have not just one but two actors best known for playing villains as the Doctor. Though I must say that David Bradley would have bothered me less as the real Doctor than Peter Capaldi, because David Bradley did not play a villain in either Doctor Who or one of its spin-offs.
Sometimes I wonder if this is how long-time fans of the original series felt during the long slow decline of Doctor Who in the 1980s. Every time you thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse and then it does. Starting with the fact that the Doctor was a jerk pretty much throughout the whole new series (though it took me until season 3 to stop making excuses for him) via several downright offensive Nazi episodes (in a show originally distinguished itself by not stooping to offensive stereotypes and did not feature a WWII episode until the second to last episode of the whole original show) via the Doctor treating several companions abominably via the fact that the Doctor is a serial philanderer who falls for pretty much every young white female companion except for Martha and Jack (which tells you something about him right there and it’s not pretty) to David Tennant’s over-extended good-bye, which culminated in a two-part episode featuring the bloody cactus aliens from the Fourth Doctor episode Meglos (because resurrecting some of the silliest aliens from one of the worst episodes of the series is obviously a good idea – why not resurrect the sentient tinfoil while you’re at it), to Steven Moffat’s overcomplicated and often incomprehensible plots all the way to the ultra-creepy incest vibes of the Doctor/River Song relationship. If you’d told me ten years ago that Doctor Who would return and that it would degenerate into this in only a few years, I would have laughed into your face.
It has seemed to me for a while that we are witnessing the gradual transformation of the Doctor into the Valeyard. For the new series Doctors are basically misanthropes and occasionally racist, sexist, homophobic, ethnocentricist jerks, which is even doubly sad considering that the original eight Doctors were not just largely above such silly human prejudices (the very early episodes and the occasional jab about “Welsh imbeciles” notwithstanding) but also tended to poke fun at them. Hearing the Doctor proclaim how wonderful Britain is, while making disparaging remarks about other countries, grates doubly, if you remember the Third and Fourth Doctor taking the Brigadier to task for his own nationalist tendencies. And indeed what most annoys me about the new series and its long downward slide is not that the series has been bad at least from season 3 or 4 on (though many problems showed before), but that it taints the 26 years of the original series and a character who – even though he was always played by white men – was one of the comparatively few role models for everybody regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc… Why not just call the show The Valeyard and be done with it?
I haven’t been watching regularly for a while, though I still come back on occasion hoping that the show has miraculously become what it was, only to be disappointed yet again (or pleasant surprised by the occasional good episode. And I’ll probably watch the 50th anniversary special in November, if only to see what is up with the John Hurt character. But that’s it. I’m done with Doctor Who for good.