Run You Clever Boy, and Remember: How Peter Capaldi’s Doctor Was All About Remembering
Peter Capaldi’s run as the Doctor is coming to a close. With Jodie Whittaker poised to take over in the Christmas Special this December, it is time to say goodbye to Doctor number 12. But first, I want to take a look back at a detail of his run that I don’t think a lot people have talked about.
Throughout Peter Capaldi’s entire run of Doctor Who there has been a theme of remembering. At first, I thought that was a problem with the series, because his first episode started with him not remembering who he is, as illustrated in these clips from the show: first, when he initially regenerates, and again when he first appears in his first full episode, “Deep Breath.” He asked Clara, “Am I a good man?” He doesn’t seem to remember his previous regenerations, he doesn’t even seem to remember that he faced the clockwork droids when he was the 10th Doctor. And I still think that was a misstep that they didn’t explore that further in his first season. This concept of him not remembering or having to relearn who he is.
I mean, it makes sense, given that this is a brand new regeneration cycle, and Capaldi’s Doctor is the first Doctor in that cycle, it makes sense that he is disconnected, to some extent, from his previous selves, even if that connection can be, eventually, repaired. And while “Deep Breath” was a fantastic episode (and one of Capaldi’s best), what they set up in it- the Doctor not remembering who he was before- never seemed to get its due in the following episodes. Even by the end of that episode, he seemed to remember what he needed to. And that was something that I felt was a weakness in his first series, that they had this cool concept and then they just dropped it after his first episode.
But looking at Capaldi’s entire run, and even the impending Christmas Special, I realize now that his entire run of Doctor Who has been about remembering, to some version of that idea.
Let’s look at a few big moments in Capaldi’s run that support this. Obviously, there’s his introduction, and there’s Clara’s presence (“Run you clever boy, and remember.”), as the 11th Doctor requests she help 12 remember who he is, and Capaldi relies on her to tell him if he is a good man or not. But of course, Clara’s fate really pulls us back to this theme with a dramatic twist.
If you look at the climax of Series 9, the whole thing comes down to the Doctor and Clara, where one is going to remember and the other is going to forget (in a way mirroring Donna Noble’s fate), and it ends up being that Clara will remember while the Doctor forgets. And earlier in the series, when we first meet Ashildr (Me), and the Doctor remembers why he gave himself Capaldi’s face, a face he had seen before, a face he’s been trying to remember since he regenerated (“Who frowned me this face?”). He realized he chose the face of the man whose family he saved in Pompeii. He was reminding himself that he’s the Doctor and he saves people (which is also a reference to a Donna Noble episode). It is his past self telling his current self to remember who he was, to remember that, even if history says no one lives, he is the person who saves people anyway.
But on that whole theory of Capaldi’s run being about remembering, we have to look at Missy… or the Master… in the final episode of Series 10. Missy tells John Simm’s Master that she doesn’t remember anything that’s going on in those episodes because there’s two versions of herself/himself in the same place at the same time (wibbly wobbly timey wimey, similar to why David Tennant’s Doctor and John Hurt’s Doctor wouldn’t remember the events of “Day of the Doctor.”). Missy tells the Master that she doesn’t remember meeting him… and I think she’s lying. First off, she’s Missy. She’s the Master. She’s the Mistress. She lies more than the Doctor lies (rule number one). Of course she remembers everything, or at least most everything, that is going to happen. She certainly remembers that she’s going to die soon, because when she stabbed the Master in the back, she knew full well that it was going to happen, because she remembered being him, being stabbed by her (just like she remembered meeting a crazy woman who told her to carry a spare part for her T.A.R.D.I.S.). And I think that likewise she remembered that she killed her future self. And I think that could go a long way to explaining her sort of odd arc through Series 10, the fact that she’s on some sort of redemption path, even though that seems to be a path set forth by the Doctor, not herself. It definitely seems that she’s aware that she’s coming to the end (much like the Doctor has felt he’s coming to the end), because she knows this is her final form, that she kills herself in this form (in the same way River Song knows she’s the final form of Melody Pond). So I think Missy definitely knew the whole episode, probably the whole season, if I had to guess, that she was coming to her end. That’s why she was going through her whole “I am Doctor Who” phase. It also bookends well, with Missy’s first attack against the Doctor (creating Cybermen on Earth) reflects John Simm’s Master’s final attack against the Doctor.
The theme of remembering is going to follow through into Capaldi’s final episode, with the presence of the First Doctor. I’m imagining that the entire episode will be taking place inside the Doctor’s head, during the regeneration cycle. I don’t think he’s staved it off, like we saw in the final episode of Series 10. I think he is in full regeneration explosion, and this Christmas Special will take place entirely in his subconscious, allowing him to reflect with the First Doctor. Allowing him to literally remember his past self and conversate with him. I mean, notice how the T.A.R.D.I.S. just seems to pause when he stops his regeneration. It’s like that moment in time has frozen. But no matter whether I’m right or wrong about that, we are in for a very interesting character study, having the Doctor interact with his original self, and that runs so deep within the theme of remembering.
I’m sure there are plenty of other moments throughout his run that speak to the theme of remembering. Little moments, here and there, and honestly every Doctor is going to have those moments. It’s bound to happen when a show has run for fifty years. But if every Doctor has a theme that ties their run together, Capaldi’s, to me, is definitely remembering. Starting with his regeneration, his new face, and Clara, and ending with Missy and the Master and the First Doctor, the fact that Capaldi’s Doctor is always trying to remember, or needs to remember, his past is always present.
I’m sure remembering will continue to play an interesting part in Jodie Whittaker’s run as the Doctor. Obviously, she will be bringing something new and unique to the role, something we haven’t see before, but any good Doctor will always remember where he, or now she, has been before. And it is always good to remember what came before you, let it inform you, but continue to move forward to new and better things. As Matt Smith put it best:
“We all change, when you think about it, we’re all different people; all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good, you’ve gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this, not one day, I swear. I will always remember when The Doctor was me.”
Extra Tidbits: I’m thrilled to see what Jodie Whittaker brings to the 13th Doctor. That said, looking back on those clips I added of Donna Noble (it has been a long time since I’ve gone back and rewatching anything older than Matt Smith), I realize Catherine Tate would have been a great choice to play the Doctor, too. It would be keeping in the theme that the Doctor is using faces that he’s seen before (as it was hinted in “Day of the Doctor” that he may be revisiting a few old favorites). Of course I always thought Jenna Coleman could do good in the role, as well. Regardless, I feel the future of Doctor Who is in safe hands. Good luck, Jodie Whittaker!
In the theme of remembering, did you know that the fake face Capaldi wore in “Deep Breath” to blend in with the clockwork droids was actually a mask of Matt Smith? Check it out: