When Peter Capaldi started his tenure on Doctor Who back in 2014, it was with no small amount of pressure. Of course, every actor who plays a new incarnation of the character is bound to face scrutiny — especially with the growing popularity of the series. There's high expectations for any actor putting their own particular mark on the show and its iconic lead.
But there was perhaps a bit more for Capaldi than there had been in the past. Matt Smith and David Tennant were both extremely popular incarnations of the character — and cultural awareness for the show was at an all-time high. The 50th anniversary had aired less than a year prior to great acclaim and success. And there was particular expectation in carrying on the legacy of the show, and also in successfully taking it in a new direction. Something that could — in whatever meaningful way — steer it into viable new territory.
Announcement of Capaldi as the next Doctor was received with great enthusiasm. While less-known outside Great Britain, those who were familiar with his work met him with great confidence. This version of the Doctor would be less of a "young chap who loves the human race!" and go in a decidedly gruffer direction.
Beyond that, there was also the obvious fact that he was considerably older than the previous modern incarnations. Moving away from the notion of a dashing young Doctor, and into accepting one who could be older, wiser, and worn by the experience of his years. It was as if acceptance of the events of the Time War in "Day of the Doctor" had finally allowed the Doctor to be the older man he truly is — and as he often was in classic Who.
Transitions within Doctor Who are always difficult for fans, even though it's embedded into the DNA of the show. The trio of 11, Amy, and Rory had been notably popular, and the arrival of the 12th Doctor also signaled the show finally moving onward, to the duo of 12 and Clara. They had a lot to live up to.
Capaldi has always been up for the task, game for whatever, and it showed from the moment he stuck his head out the door of the TARDIS and shushed Strax. Like Tennant and Smith before him, he used his very first episode to quickly establish just what kind of character he would be. A step away from the quirky Doctors of before, our new Doctor was brusque, and unfond of anything chipper. He was also decidedly darker than much of what had come before, as his premiere left ambiguous the question of whether he killed, or merely talked a clockwork droid into killing itself.
Beyond that, he similarly lacked the same loving relationship with the humanity — something the show would go on to mine for great comedic effect over the following seasons.
The gruffer approach to the Doctor offered an exemplary new look at the character — the jolt of new energy that the show needed. Smith and Tennant were both wonderful incarnations of the character, but there were still strong similarities between them. Choosing Capaldi signaled a new direction for the character, it re-established him as more alien — far removed from so much of what defines the nature of the human race. It reinforced his ongoing isolation, as the only Time Lord to be gallivanting about the universe. And it explored even further the Doctor as a dark god of justice — fully committed to the human race, and bringing swift retribution to any who dare cross him.
Capaldi brought his own joys and quirks to the role. The electric guitar, the highly controversial sonic sunglasses (that replaced the screwdriver for a season), and a level of mania that frequently bordered on insanity.
But beneath it all, he was still the Doctor. Something the show — and Capaldi himself — never forgot. Some of this was best represented in his relationship with Clara, particularly her last few episodes of the series. He doesn't share in mutual emotions of joy, he's not going to be openly affectionate, yet a person like Clara can come to mean so much to him that he may very well rip apart time and space to get her back. Attributes that make him equally empathetic and dangerous.
The 12th Doctor always found the human race far more exasperating than his predecessors. He's far more willing to put people in their place, with substantially less tact. He's not going to hold hands, or pat people on the back — and he lets the fools know when they're behaving like fools.
But at the end of the day, none of that ever stops him from trying to save us all, because he's still the Doctor. And just because he goes about it in a different way from his predecessors, doesn’t alter his role as the ultimate protector of the human race.
And one need only look to his speech about war in "The Zygon Inversion" to get the full breadth of this character, as well as the passion Capaldi put into the role. This was always a Doctor who cared, very, very much:
It's already been confirmed that the regeneration itself will occur in the Christmas Special, but it's hard not to feel this is the end all the same, as this will be the finale to Capaldi's final season. And he will be enormously missed when he's gone. His years may not have been as widely recognized as his predecessors, but he’s still put a mark on the show, and the character that will be almost impossible for anyone to live up to.
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