Is it possible that the darkest force for evil has taken over the true force for good? Last Sunday it was announced live world-wide that the most important role in the universe would soon be played by Peter Capaldi. Yes, I am talking about Doctor Who, the international sensation of a telly show that has become Britain’s biggest export since smug satisfaction. But like the show, there may be something more sinister afoot …
Since the announcement, fans have clamored to learn more about the man. It turns out he was a “super-fan” as a kid who annoyed the BBC staff so much they wished the Daleks would ex-term-inate! him. The head of the fan club promised to “sort him out”. But what did get through was a letter to the Radio Times praising a recent show and mourning the death of the first man to play the Master, Roger Delgado. Young Capaldi was not just a fan of the show, he was also a fan of the Master?
Could it be that this appointment is nothing more than the culmination of a 40-year plot by the Master to take over the Doctor’s regeneration cycle through a cultivated minion?
Of course it isn’t, but the ‘net lives for sensational stories. Why not start one here? Capaldi is a very well known actor in the UK, but the show is far bigger than that today. 8 million people watch the soon to be 50 year old show at the same time in Europe, North America, and Australia – with up to 100 million with a short delay. Where Capaldi is a veteran BBC actor, known most recently for his role as Malcolm Tucker on “The Thick of It”, the rest of us aren’t familiar with the show. It was a comedy about modern politics, and Tucker was the “spin doctor” who swore (even when it wasn’t scripted!) and was generally rather despicable. Heck, I think he’d gladly support Prime Minister Harold Saxon.
If you aren’t a fan of the show, you’re probably wondering why anyone should care. Doctor Who is more than early Sci-Fi, it has always crossed over into fantasy and other genres fluidly. Its success in the mid 1960s made it easier to sell “Star Trek” to NBC, and that show eventually became a beacon of hope for a generation. It told a Cold War world that we might not eventually blow it all up, and that technology could lead us to the stars. Doctor Who deals more with emotional and political intrigue than tech, but the effect is the same. The message is that one world is not something to be feared and that cultural conflict can be resolved.
Like any good Sci-Fi show, Doctor Who can examine common worldly problems with enough distance to allow a fresh perspective and cool solutions. It also compels viewers to consider a universe of far more than 3.5 dimensions as a place far bigger than we are used to imagining. But tradition plays a bit part of its UK appeal for this very popular show.
Capaldi, for his part, knows that. His first act as “The Doctor” was to hold his lapels like the very first Doctor, William Harnell, possibly signaling how he’ll play the role. It’s exactly what this fan was hoping for. After the 50th anniversary this November and the playful antics of Matt Smith (reminiscent of the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton) it’s a great way to play the role – almost as a reboot on a show that is capable of constantly re-inventing itself.
But will he turn it a bit to the dark side? It’s doubtful that we’ll see too much exploration of the “Dark Doctor”, especially after the disastrous attempt when the sixth Doctor Colin Baker held the role. It’s largely credited with the show’s hiatus from 1989-2005. The best alternative is the snippier, more aloof Doctor who takes his role as a Time Lord seriously. That could seem like a Victorian British way to go, but the team of veterans running the show now should be able to steer it well.
Is it worth the hype and hoopla? The short answer is that yes, anything that brings together people from many continents is a good thing, be it sport or teevee or anything else. That this show expands the imagination and allows exploration of basic human relations makes it very much worthwhile.
Peter Capaldi will make a great Doctor, I have no doubt. The show will go off in new directions that I will chat about with people from all over the world who I will never meet but have a common interest with. It will be fun. What more do we really need, eh?