August 6, 2013
The New Doctor… Who?
On Sunday, the BBC broadcast a 30-minute special that was aired around the world, including on BBC America commercial free. This wasn’t to announce the first public outing of baby Prince George or even to announce a new Spice Girls reunion.
This was to announce who would be playing The Doctor.
Yes, it was about announcing which actor would step in — and out — of a blue police box, travel through time, battle various bad guys and save the universe. It was about announcing who would be the new Doctor Who.
This was rather big news for science fiction fans; big enough that it filled a half hour of Sunday night prime time TV — and actually aired live in the afternoon in the United States. Maybe this is something most Americans can’t understand. But Americans have never really fully understood the fascination with Doctor Who.
While Americans have had Star Trek since the 1960s, the British have had Doctor Who. Moreover, this November will mark the 50th anniversary of the first time viewers headed into that police box that was bigger on the inside.
It almost begs the question as why the show’s producers didn’t actually unveil this information at the recent Comic Con in San Diego. Given the attention that shows such as Game of Thrones and True Blood garner, this could have been a scene stealing moment.
But it goes back to the fact that unlike the American (as True Blood is) or Game of Thrones (which is truly international in cast and location), Doctor Who is still very much a British thing. Only one companion – as in the person who travels alongside the Doctor – has dared have an American accent, and the role was played by a British actress!
Here is the other part of it. The new Doctor will be played by Peter Capaldi!
Yes, that Peter Capaldi.
In other words, not exactly a household name to most Yanks, yet someone BBC viewers may know. He played another kind of doctor, a “spin-doctor” — one with a foul mouth, but is there any other kind — on the BBC series The Thick of It.
Again, not exactly a show most Americans will know. While some series from the BBC, notably Blackadder, Are You Being Served?, Red Dwarf and Absolutely Fabulous have successfully crossed over, many haven’t. Raise your hand if you know Only Fools and Horses or My Family. Even shows that have aired on BBC America such as Friday Night Dinner and Outnumbered haven’t exactly caught fire in the US.
Part of the reason is that some shows, including The Thick of It, would have to air on a premium cable channel due to the language and content. This could explain why when NBC tried to remake the British series Free Agents, it failed. Even when BBC America aired original episodes they were so edited for content and had so much dialog “bleeped out” that it was almost impossible to tell what you were watching!
Hence, The Thick of It might not be something most Americans have seen. Capaldi was also in the second season of the drama The Hour, which was about a news program in the early days of the BBC’s transition to TV and set against a backdrop of Cold War tensions in the 1950s.
With that in mind the Glasgow-born Capaldi could be just the right man for the job. Clearly he knows humor and he knows very serious – even dark – subject matter. The other thing is that the Doctor should not be too well-known of a name or a face. The Doctor should have mystery about him.
At 55-years old Capaldi will also be the same age as William Hartnell when he was cast as the role in 1963. We may see an old man in Hartnell, especially as he was somewhat gruff and had the white hair, but Capaldi will bring some of the energy yet maturity of subsequent “Doctors” such as Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker.
Of course, after 26-year old Matt Smith it will be a bit of a shock, and perhaps today it might not be so politically correct to have a middle aged man traveling around the world with 20-something women — with the exception of Katherine Tate, of course. Here it could solve a problem, too; maybe the Doctor would travel with slightly more “mature” companions — female or otherwise. In fairness, recent companions have held their own, and do a lot less screaming that companions of yesteryear.
Still with Doctor Who the nice thing is that change is part of the show.
The new Doctor will arrive on Christmas Day, during the show’s annual special. This will follow a 50th anniversary show that is scheduled to air on November 23, and which will reportedly see at least “three Doctors,” as Matt Smith will be joined by former Doctor David Tennant. Meanwhile, a “villain” or something in the guise of another Doctor will be played by John Hurt.
That’s a lot of Doctors to think about.