Doctor Who has the unique distinction of having the lead character, every so often, switch actors. This is a nail biting time for fans because there’s so much that can go wrong and that has gone wrong in previous incarnations. It’s unlikely that the actor simply won’t be good; I trust the showrunner and the BBC that much. It’s more that the character changes subtly as well and there’s more than a little possibility that the new Doctor just won’t work as well as the old one.
When we met the 9th Doctor, we were introduced to him in the middle of a crisis. He was almost overshadowed by his companion, Rose Tyler (played by the talented Billie Piper), but very shortly, we got to see what he was made of. I was flipping channels one night, having resolved to not watch the reboot, when I came across one of my favorite episodes, Dalek. I watched five minutes of exchange between actor and genocidal robot prop and I was blown away.
When Tennant came on board, they set him up rather quickly, lampshading the question of what sort of Doctor he would be by having him ask the same thing. In moments, he was swinging a sword and simply being bad ass. This lead to a brilliant run that made it seem like no one could follow, and yet, they gave us Matt Smith and made it work. There’s a moment in his first episode where they overtly juxtapose him against the images of all the other Doctor’s regenerations as he stares down a giant alien eyeball and, unarmed and without a plan, comes off as the most dangerous man on the planet. That was a good moment and cemented the rise of the 11th doctor, but it wasn’t when we fell in love with him.
That was the amazing comedy piece between the Doctor and a child ending in a fish fingers and a big bowl of custard.
When they transitioned to the 12th Doctor, they chose an older, seasoned actor for the part, Peter Capaldi. He is magnificent as an actor, no doubt. They gave us his intro and it had much of the confusion and curious nature of the introductions of Tennant and Smith but even as the end of a very good first episode ended, I felt something was missing. I wanted my fish fingers and custard and I didn’t get it.
Sure, they gave him some good lines. They also made him distinct and interesting. They had a great moment where his younger self vouches for his older self. But there was something missing.
Several episodes in and I’m still waiting for my mismatched treat. I like the performance. I like the stories. The most recent, Listen, was amazing in terms of script and finally letting Capaldi speak clearly and slowly, which his where his diction seems to work best. But what I’m not getting is that brilliant contrast, that hint that beneath the dottering and the brashness, there’s something deeper and wiser, something infinitely dangerous yet comforting. I’m waiting for the ingredients that shouldn’t work together to coalesce and produce a flavor, a unique presence, that I’ve not experienced before, making me fall in love with the character again.
I have faith in Steven Moffat, the showrunner and still one of the best scriptwriters. I have faith in the actors and the crew of the show. I know that what I want is on the menu and I’ll find it if I am patient.
But I wish they’d hurry up. It seems like a long time since I’ve tasted what I’ve craved and waiting isn’t making it any better.