Last night, speaking on BBC Radio 2, Peter Capaldi announced that season ten of Doctor Who will be his last in the TARDIS and he’s set to regenerate in 2017’s Christmas Special. For some, this announcement won’t have arrived a moment too soon. That’s probably how the BBC feel anyway, merchandise sales have plummeted with Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. However for myself, and I’m sure millions of other Doctor Who fans across the world, this news is a source of sadness, that arguably the best actor to reprise the role will leave after just three seasons, with his potential so far, unfulfilled.
I for one was delighted when Peter Capaldi was cast as the Doctor back in 2013. His two second cameo in The Day of the Doctor was quite an entrance to the show and the change in the Doctor’s character was welcome. For eight years we had enjoyed David Tennant and Matt Smith youthfully fumble and stumble about. That era of the show was great, but it couldn’t last for ever. Capaldi offered something different, something darker and something more mysterious. The casting felt like a throwback to William Hartnell. Old, wise, grumpy but with a famous twinkle. And in season 8, that’s mainly what we got. Admittedly it did take Capaldi a few episodes to find his feet, but by the time season 8 was over, he’d established himself as a very good Doctor indeed.
Season 9 came round a year later and it seemed that Moffat wanted to try and change the twelfth Doctor back into the eleventh. He was sillier, he wasn’t anywhere near as dark or grumpy and he was penned so many daft little lines that didn’t suit him. The sonic sunglasses and the rockstar persona worked to an extent, but in the end just became annoying and overused. Despite all this, where many talented actors would submit to the script and their characters would lose their edge, Peter Capaldi rescued his Doctor with a string of exceptional performances throughout the season. There are so many memorable episodes where he delivers performances that are just perfect, despite some dubious scripts. His verbal battle and mind games with Davros were acted out superbly by he and Julian Bleach. Towards the end of the series he further excelled. His War Speech in The Zygon Inversion will live long in the memory of Doctor Who fans, and human beings alike. It was so powerful, that it was widely shared across social media in the wake of the British Government’s decision to bomb Syria. His farewell with Clara in Face The Raven showed a more sensitive side to Capaldi’s acting, something we hadn’t really seen before during his time on the show. Along with a terrific script from Sarah Dollard, it led to one of the most heart-wrenching companion exits of the modern era. And he carried this on into Heaven Sent with another strong and unique performance. If Heaven Sent was written for any other Doctor than the twelfth, then I don’t think the concept would have worked. But Peter Capaldi, with all his talent, managed to perform solo for forty five minutes and carry the episode impeccably.
I previously mentioned how I felt the scripts and gimmicks had held Capaldi back, and despite his top performances, I still believe that to be true. I don’t think any other Doctor, apart from Colin Baker, has been dealt such a poor hand by the BBC and others who are responsible for the show. Peter Capaldi looked like a Time Lord in season 8. He looked like a Time Lord in The Husbands of River Song. In fact he looked superb in the latter, so why has he been alternated from a majestic looking knee length velvet coat, to a hoodie? Why has he been made to do things like slide down a chute in a play park, fly Santa’s sleigh and refer to himself as “Doctor Disco”. Some might argue these are just little bits of fun, but in season 8, the Doctor still had humorous lines to say. When a character is meant to be dark and grumpy, you script his jokes so that they can be delivered in a grumpy way. The jokes and quirks he’s had to work with in more recent times have led to him breaking character way more often that he should of, and it’s chipping away at his character and will ultimately chip away at his legacy.
Peter Capaldi still has thirteen episodes left. That’s a third of his era to go. There’s still time for the writers and producers to get it right for him. There’s no doubt Peter Capaldi has done all he can to try and mould his Doctor into the most mysterious and brooding incarnation possible. In season 10, there must be no reminiscing or inclination that the Doctor remembers Clara. That ship has sailed and the show must move on. David Tennant’s Doctor was compromised in season 3 by the constant reminders of Rose, so the writers should learn from that and not let it happen again. Let Capaldi and new companion, Pearl Mackie, create their own chemistry without ghosts from the past hanging over them. For Peter Capaldi’s Doctor to be remembered as one of the best, his final season must be one where he’s allowed the freedom to take the character where he wants. Season 8 was a season where Capaldi had some amount of say in his costume and his Doctor’s traits. I want to see him go back to this while maintaining the high levels of performance he showed flashes of throughout season 9. Please Steven Moffat, for your own legacy’s sake as much as Peter Capaldi’s, let him do what he does best.