PreposterousProse followers will know that Peter Capaldi has never struck a chord with me. The Twelfth Doctor was meant to be a darker, morally ambiguous character but in execution if felt like Moffat waving the character in our faces shouting, ‘look, he’s mean, he’s bad, he can’t be trusted’. But it was entirely rhetoric and in the end, the Doctor always did the right thing, as viewers expected.
Blaming Capaldi is a tad unfair though. His acting is, on the whole, competent and entertaining. It’s Moffat’s writing that fails to persuade audiences that The Doctor is a dark and suspicious anti-hero. This is in part because of the insistence of using comedy, even when it diffuses tension but the biggest contributor obstacle is the Doctor’s pacifism. That’s why the existence of the ‘War Doctor’ is such a big deal. The Doctor has always been a fighter, who stands for his beliefs, but always without violence if he can avoid it. This is perfectly expressed in the third series two parter ‘Human Nature/Family of Blood’.
This season 9 opening two parter is rather less perfectly expressed. It just feels wrong for the Doctor to be threatening genocide over one companion, no matter how beloved that companion might be. Perhaps this is something The Doctor would struggle with if it did save millions, which he did in ‘The Day of the Doctor’, but for one person? That’s not something the Doctor would consider.
Some people will argue that fans just don’t want to believe the Doctor is capable of such a thing. But this isn’t creating depth, it’s defamation of character. It’s the equivalent of Batman, who has at times been a successful dark anti-hero, whipping out a gun and gunning down Gotham’s criminals to bring Jason Todd back to life. There is no incarnation of Batman to which that would be acceptable. And there’s no incarnation of The Doctor who could kill Davros in cold blood to save Clara.
The second part, ‘The Witch’s Familiar’ was more enjoyable. The scenes of Dravos and The Doctor acting their age and talking candidly of the end of their lives was heartwarming, even if we all seen that it was all a trick still. I’m against the twist of the protagonist going along with the villain’s plan unknowingly though. It makes the rest of the plot very superficial if the previous threat wasn’t actually as dire as we were lead to believe.
On the plus side, Clara feels like the writers actually remember her past this time. Having her control a dalek is a nice hark back to her first appearance in ‘Asylum of the Daleks’ and is suitably terrifying for both the character and the audience. Missy too is acceptably manic as The Master, even if she does go a tad overboard in the second part. I could do without her going from 0 to 100 with the Scottish accent mid-scene as well. But all in all, philosophical questions and bad portrayals of The Doctor aside, this two parter was a much more enjoyable and tense affair than the season 8 opener. It gave the series time to establish itself and it worked. I’m interested to see what’s to come.
Meanwhile there has been discussion, as there is every year, that ratings are lower and should Doctor Who be cancelled. While I wouldn’t say no to a new show-runner, and that’s not a swipe at Moffatt, I just think a fresh mind behind the steering wheel would invigorate the series, I do not believe Doctor Who needs to be cancelled out right. Reality shows and sports aside, Doctor Who is still one of the most watched shows on a Saturday night. And saturday nights, when most young people are out and about is no easy time slot. But Doctor Who still manages to attract attention. Furthermore, no show that’s getting a spin-off is in danger.