Now that Peter Capaldi's second series has come to an end and we have to wait until the end of the year to see those terrifying eyebrows again, I thought it would be fun to fill the wait by considering his performance and growth as the Doctor in the last few years.
I was a huge fan of Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor and was sad to see him go, but at the same time incredibly excited for Capaldi when he was announced. The man's a brilliant actor after all, and would bring something new to the role. But though there were some great episodes in there, I just didn't enjoy Series 8. But somewhere in his first series, the character just didn't feel like the Doctor. Now I don't place this blame with Capaldi. I didn't enjoy the main story of Series 8 and I had problems engaging with Clara and Danny Pink's relationship, which I found was probably key to the story. To me, this was a writing problem and a misplaced idea to make the Doctor darker and less likeable. Nice idea, not really what I wanted to see. I know that what I want isn't everything, but this is my blog so my opinion goes until someone else comes and shoots me down.
On paper, I liked the idea of the more alien Doctor, one who struggles a little more with people in a different way than Eleven did. When Eleven didn't understand, it was goofy and charming. When Twelve didn't understand, he was a bit of dick. Which still would have been entertaining if he'd been given enough moments to be the Doctor. Too often, the script forced him to act in ways that just didn't fit the Doctor, no matter how different he may be with each incarnation. His actions were too dark, too unforgiving. The Doctor is a man who forgives and shows mercy, but we saw the Doctor making harsh decisions more in line with the War Doctor. And his treatment of Danny Pink, along with others, was often uncomfortable.
To me, he became the Doctor in Series 9. From the first episode, there was a change in Capaldi's Doctor, as if he was finally allowed to be the character he had wanted to play all along. He was a little lighter, a little sillier, but still with that amazing intensity that Capaldi brought to the role. Capaldi's a tremendously hilarious actor, and this series allowed him to play to that. Watching him able to switch in a single moment from humor to seriousness brought a new level to his Doctor. What I just described as his struggle to understand people was played out just differently enough to make it a joke the audience could join in on, such as Clara's cue cards.
His appearance does a great deal to make him less intense. His costume is more casual, scruffier and designed to be comfortable rather than visually impressive. His previous haircut in Series 8 was short and made his face seem much more aggressive. Now that he has grown it out and allowed to become more unruly, it softens his look and reminds me more of the previous Doctors. It also makes him seem a lot more like a mad scientist, which goes well with the whole 'mad man in a box' identity. The whole look makes him less intimidating and easier to watch.
This series proved that all you need for a successful Twelth Doctor is to simply let Capaldi act the hell out the scene. The man is a tremendous force, and it becomes obvious how much he was held back in Series 8. He brings layers and layers to his performances alongside Missy and Davros in the opener, showing the deep complexity of their relationships in a compelling way. In his battle against the Fisher King, he displays the same edge and cold tactics that he used in Series 8, but this time the choices feel more in line with the character of the Doctor. His allowance of the potential death of one of the team to test his theory reminded me of David Tennant's Doctor in 'Midnight' back in Series 4, where he was called out on finding the monster too interesting. Though not the same situation, it felt like the same character.
'Heaven Sent' proved Capaldi could carry an entire episode on his own, to the extent that many wondered if he even needed a companion next series. Indeed, his relationship with Clara veered from strength to weakness throughout the series. It was great to see them bond, in comparison to last series, but there were occasions where their relationship threatened to derail the Doctor. He placed her above all else, allowing the risk of the death of others to die to save her. This evoked Tennant's Time Lord Victorious for the wrong reasons, since that was very much a bad thing. The culmination of this obsession appears to be the idea of the Hybrid, and in that way it almost works. Unfortunately everything with the Hybrid all felt very half-baked and tacked on to the finale to give the series some kind of arc. The pay-off to this arc though, with the Doctor wiping his own memories of Clara was a great twist on a companion send-off, the reverse of Donna Noble in Series 4.
Capaldi had already won me over during this series but the moment for me when he truly become the Doctor was during 'The Zygon Inversion'. As a story, the two-parter was quite average. A decent-executed plot, with interesting characters that skewed a little too close to current affairs for some. But that climax. Despite part one being full of action and adventure, The Doctor won the day by talking his enemy into submission, for a solid ten minutes. Everything about that performance was incredible, showing us so many layers to the character as he just keeps on trying. He tries to be funny, he tries to appeal to her better nature, shows forgiveness and breaks apart ideas, insults and begs and finally loses his composure as he rails against the horrors of war.
From that scene alone, Peter Capaldi cemented himself as the Doctor to me. He did a marvellous job this year and pretty much made up for all the problems I had with Series 8. I still have my issues with some of the writing and structure of the show, but those are thoughts for another day. Capaldi has gone on record saying he is closer to the end of his Doctor than the beginning, but I can only hope that he changes his mind and stays on for many more years. I'm not ready to say goodbye to Twelve just yet.