Farewell Twelve: A Look Back on Peter Capaldi’s Run as Doctor Who

“I don’t understand? Are you kidding? Me? Of course I understand. I mean, d’you call this a war, this funny little thing? This is not a war! I fought in a bigger war than you will ever know! I did worse things than you could ever imagine, and when I close my eyes… I hear more screams than anyone could ever be able to count!” -Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor, The Zygon Inversion

Doctor Who has been a long-time fav orite of mine. Ever since I caught a marathon of Christopher Eccleston’s 9th Doctor on Syfy (then spelled correctly). Of course, as his series came to a close, and David Tennant’s face replaced his, I swore I wouldn’t watch any further, as I didn’t think I’d like watching the Doctor with an entirely new actor (at that time, I didn’t know that was the norm…).

Of course, David Tennant was outstanding, and by the time his era ended, I once again found myself swearing that his replacement wouldn’t be able to live up to him (you can see how this is going).

Enter Matt Smith. Anyone who knows me knows that Matt Smith became my favorite Doctor very quickly. Definitively, Matt Smith is the Doctor for me. He had some of the best stories, the best companions, and the best mix of humor and seriousness. And, for such a young actor, he embodied the centuries-old Time Lord as if he were born with two hearts. And if it broke my heart to see any of these actors leave, it was when Matt Smith left.

But as tradition dictates, the Doctor doesn’t stay dead. No, Peter Capaldi came in like the crack of a whip with a jarringly fast regeneration, and a dismayed reaction to the color of his kidneys. And what followed were three… interesting seasons.

Peter Capaldi’s portrayal of the Doctor has been one of my favorites. And I’ve loved him because he’s been so different from the last couple of regenerations. That was a bold move, to break away from the style of Smith and Tennant, but he really worked for me. He harkened back to the older (in appearance) Doctors like Hartnell and John Hurt. He was angry, more like Eccleston (and even Dr. House), and he was gruff, and, at times, crotchety. I loved every minute of his performance.

The same, unfortunately, can’t be said for his episodes. Capaldi’s first series, through no fault of his own, was very hit or miss. Coming off Matt Smith’s strong season 7, plus the 50th Anniversary Special and Smith’s emotional farewell in Time of the Doctor, Capaldi’s first episodes suffered from bad writing. Moffat, who has been one of my favorite writers for Doctor Who, seemed to have run out of gas. For every good episode (Deep Breath, Listen, Flatline, Dark Water), there were episodes that just sucked (Into the Dalek, Robot of Sherwood, Time Heist, Death in Heaven). And even when his first Christmas Special ended up being equally poor, I really felt that the magic of Doctor Who might be over, which really made me sad, as I loved Capaldi’s portrayal of the lone Time Lord.

Series 8 was full of good ideas, which made it more frustrating when they didn’t follow through on them. For example, the Doctor started off by not remembering pretty much anything about his previous versions (despite Smith’s last words being “I’ll always remember when the Doctor was me.”). And that was an interesting concept, and looked to be fun to explore with Capaldi (I particularly liked when he realized the villains in Deep Breath were the same ones he faced in Girl in the Fireplace, except he couldn’t recall why he knew them), except they didn’t stick with it at all. Meanwhile it seemed that they were struggling to find a use for Clara since she’d continued beyond her original arc, and while Danny Pink was a great character, their story just didn’t click right. Culminating in the Master’s amazing return as Missy (her reveal sent chills down my spine), only to make her next episode almost nonsensical.

Mercifully, Moffat and the writing team came back to form with Series 9. Not only do I think Series 9 is Capaldi’s finest run of episodes, it is one of my favorites as far as the entire Doctor Who show is concerned. With only one really weak episode (Sleep No More), this series really showcased the best of Capaldi and Jenna Coleman. The 2-parter style was also a welcome change of pace, which allowed stories to be much more fleshed out. And, probably the greatest strength of the writing in this season was how each part didn’t feel like it was leading into a two-parter until it ended. Series 9 is Capaldi’s shining moment as the Doctor, and nothing says it better than his speech to the Zygon Clara in The Zygon Inversion:

Series 9 ended up being everything Series 8 lacked. It was Capaldi’s best performances as the Doctor, it had an emotional story to follow with Clara, and it went out with a bang (those last three episodes were spectacular). I loved it. I absolutely loved it.

(SPOILERS for Series 10 and beyond to follow)

Series 10 just ended a few minutes ago. And let me tell you, I’m having as hard a time as Twelve himself is at letting go. After quoting his predecessors (“I don’t want to go,” “I’ll always remember when the Doctor was me,” ironically two quotes I posted on Facebook yesterday), Capaldi’s Twelfth resigned to the decision that he would not change again. And as he did so, I found myself right along with him: I’m not ready for Capaldi to be done. Though he only has ten fewer episodes than Matt Smith had (which, admittedly, is almost a full series-worth of episodes), it feels like we haven’t had nearly enough time with him. Perhaps it was because it took his Doctor a whole series to get to good writing, but I just don’t feel like we’ve had enough of him.

His Series 10 wasn’t quite as good as Series 9 (that’s like following The Dark Knight with The Dark Knight Rises, in my opinion), but it was still a fun series. The addition of Nardol as a regular was welcome, as was the introduction of Bill, who is a fantastic companion to this old Doctor. It was fantastic to see Capaldi get to go through the introductory motions with Bill (which he missed out on with Clara, as she came from Smith’s run). Bill herself was a breath of fresh air, with the show introducing us to a companion who doesn’t have some sort of major connection to the Doctor (as Clara and Amy had), and who was free to just be a passenger on the Doctor’s adventures. Of course, Bill didn’t stay a passenger for long, and she became a great inspiration, not only to the Doctor himself, but to viewers.

Episodes like Smile, Oxygen, and the three-part Monks story were some of my favorite stories, as was World Enough and Time, the penultimate episode. I do wish the Tennant-era Master’s return wasn’t shown in trailers, as it would have been such a payoff when he showed up at the end of the episode, and we realized he was orchestrating everything. And, while I enjoyed the series finale, The Doctor Falls, it shares some similarities to Missy’s first two-parter, in feeling not as well thought out. Instead of having a Master/Missy team up that the Doctor must escape, pitting him against his biggest foe, twice (one of whom may be on his side), we are instead plunged into a war with the Cybermen that the Master created. Don’t get me wrong, the episode is good, and it has some great episodes, but I can’t help feeling it could have been much better. But overall, Series 10 was a great ride, and a good close to Capaldi’s Doctor.

Of course, all good things must come to an end. In the background, Steven Moffat is stepping down and letting a new writer take over the show (Chris Chibnall of Broadchurch fame). Which means, on the forefront of the series, most likely none of the characters will continue further. Having seen the final episode of Series 10, we now know that Missy is dead (but is the Master ever really dead?), Nardol is watching over the people on the ship slowly being overrun by Cybermen, and Bill, who was turned into a Cyberman, has… moved on? passed on?… to be with the girl from her first episode, out to explore the galaxy. And Capaldi? Like I said, he’s in the middle of a regeneration, and refusing to go. But regeneration has begun. We know what comes next.

“The original, you might say…”

So what comes next? This Christmas, Capaldi’s final episode airs. And while he’s already in mid light-cycle, it looks like we won’t be seeing his new face quite yet. Capaldi is in for an adventure with the First Doctor himself (played by David Bradley), one that, I’m sure, will include a lot of inward discovery for Twelve before he leaves us. And beyond that? Well, Series 11 will definitely be a new show. But hey, the last time the show changed Doctor, Companion, and Show-Runner at the same time, we ended up with Matt Smith. And you know how I feel about that.

Peter Capaldi has been a strong Doctor. A polar opposite to Matt Smith and David Tennant, but just as much the Doctor as they were. I’m going to miss him, and I wish there was more of him, but I’ll always remember when the Doctor was Peter Capaldi. You were a good man, Twelve.

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I am just clever enough to get into trouble…

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Joshua Beck

Joshua Beck

I am just clever enough to get into trouble…

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