Faces of the Doctor: Peter Capaldi – the quixotic, unknowable anti-authority figure?

AS we finally approach the beginning of Series 10 and with the end of the 12th Doctor’s era now hard upon us, I thought now be a good time might be too reflect what he’s brought to the role, what he might give us for his final year as the Doc and where he leaves the show.

To use a current buzzword, Capaldi seems to have been ‘divisive’ as a Doctor. The Guardian is running the usual Moffat is awful/ratings are down/how can they stop the rot? articles that they tend to when a new series is nigh. I’m not going to dignify them with a link but I will point out the usual caveats that the TV industry has changed mightily in the past decade, that ratings are a much more complex business than they were – it’s no longer about who had their backside parked on front of the telly on Saturday evening – or that Who was much more a of global multimedia phenomenon than it was even at the time of the reboot.

However, there is one point that I suspect can’t be too quickly dismissed. Has Capaldi been a successful Doctor? He certainly doesn’t seem to have been as universally loved as his predecessors and one does get the feeling that merchandisers and perhaps the top tiers of the Beeb have been uneasy at having their flagship show being steered by someone, well, a bit old and unsexy.

And yet, it started out with such hope. The announcement of Capaldi’s casting seemed to be met with far more widespread approval than, say, Matt Smith’s. And yet, with two full series under his belt, there seems to still be some enduring puzzlement, if not ambivalence, to his Doctor. I’m pinning my colours to the mast and saying that I consider Capaldi to be a brilliant Doctor, easily surpassing Tennant and Eccleston and possibly tied in a dead heat with Smith. He’s been simultaneously confounding, endearing and exciting and I’m very, very sorry to see him go, although I suspect that he’s timed his departure correctly.

blackboardThe Twelfth Doctor doesn’t seem to be quite what anyone was expecting but this in itself is a good thing. Capaldi was not exactly an unknown quantity than either Smith or even David Tennant were at the time of their casting. Christopher Eccleston was, of course, a bit more of a name but part of me thinks this did work against him in some ways. I enjoyed his brief tenure, but mostly because of the rush of having Who back on our screens. And I did like the deliberate rejection of typical Doctor-ish trappings — the leather jacket, the PTSD angst, the focus on Rose, all demonstrated a willingness to avoid what had by then become time-worn tropes of the series and the careless indulgence of which had strangled the McGann movie at birth.

Much of the press surrounding Capaldi’s casting demonstrated a key challenge the production team was going to have to overcome. It was next to impossible to find a story that didn’t have Capaldi’s name prefaced with the words ‘best known as foul-mouthed spin doctor Malcolm Tucker…’ The Thick Of It was going to loom large over his Doctor, at least initially. (Not unlike the comedic assumptions that were made about Jon Pertwee’s Doctor back in 1970.)

This assumption seemed to be one also held by the early writers for Capaldi, with even Moffat not immune. Both Into the Dalek and Robin of Sherwood suffer slightly from creeping (moderate) Tuckerism and it’s not really until Listen that we really see Twelve’s Doctor start to solidify into something much more unique. But you can understand the temptation. Tucker is Capaldi’s most known role and his clear ability with an acidic put-down is probably too tempting for many writers to resist. It still does surface now and again but it soon became clear that Twelve’s character is not half as ‘in control’ of himself or others as a Tucker-esque Doc would require.

Capaldi is probably the Doctor who has continued to raise and then confound expectations. This seems to at least be slightly deliberate. Some of the costume choices seem to deliberately flirt with a Pertwee look, which in itself is no bad thing, but which, going by the Guardian threads, led some of the more traditionalist Whovians to expect a more patrician Doc in the style of Pertwee and early Tom Baker. And this is what’s led to some of the more rabid gnashing of teeth from them later.

costumePersonally, I don’t think an authoritarian, even one who is loosely so, Doctor is possible in this day and age. Our relationship with authority has changed dramatically since the 1970s. Especially in the current political climate, we challenge, we question. We are less and less inclined to automatically defer to a so-called ‘superior’. The gasping Jo Grant/Brigadier hanging on the Doctor’s every pronouncement trope has probably gone forever. And it’s possibly the reason why, at the moment at least, Pertwee’s Doctor to my mind is the one who has aged least successfully. (It is also perhaps the reason why Colin Baker’s Doctor did so badly. It was an attempt to recreate an assertive Doctor in an age that had lost its patience with such didacticism.) And I do think much of the criticism of both the Capaldi era – and Clara – particularly on The Graun, stems from (an occasionally suspiciously sexist) nostalgia for a subservient companion and a finger-wagging patrician-like Doc.

Certainly, I was no more immune to making assumptions about Capaldi’s Doctor than anyone else. Rather than Tucker, I think I was hoping for something perhaps closer to his portrayal of Uncle Rory in the TV dramatisation of The Crow Road. Every since seeing this scene:

I’ve been of the mind that Capaldi would make a great Doc, although his actual portrayal hasn’t approached the level of thoughtful wisdom that he brought to Rory.

Instead we get something else. Something actually quite difficult to get a handle on. Throughout interviews in his first series, Capaldi constantly reiterated that he hadn’t quite got a handle on his Doctor yet. It’s a brave admission and I think it showed somewhat in the stories. The throughline of Series Eight is a questioning Doctor — “Am I a good man?”. It’s not until the season finale that he gives himself a definitive answer. And indeed it’s not until Flatline, well into the series, that we get an assertive “I am the Doctor”. This was an interesting move, but I fear a possibly self-defeating one. I suspect both Tennant and Smith benefited from a strident declaration of ownership in their opening stories that set them up for whatever followed. Capaldi (like Davison) started on a more deliberately hesitant note and this has repercussions for how we view the character in the future. Maybe this kind of stridency is a necessary component of any modern regeneration.

You can argue that what we’re getting here is a series-long regeneration crisis. A long, dark night of the soul as to what to all intents and purposes is a completely new Doctor, and not just a new incarnation, undergoes a period of stark self-examination. It’s an attempt to do the regeneration crisis idea — surely a very tempting one for writers to tackle — but avoiding the ham-fisted failed attempt of the Colin Baker era.

But while I can understand the temptation to go down this road, on reflection I think it was a mistake. I have a theory that one of the most important aspects of a regeneration story is that it ‘imprints’ a new Doctor upon the audience. If you get it wrong and the Doctor comes across as weak, or unlikeable, or, worse, insane, then you’ve fumbled it and you don’t get a second chance. Neither Peter Davison’s nor Colin Baker’s Doctors really recovered from their bad regeneration stories. They were always thereafter the ‘weak’ Doctor and the wanker one.

smith 2The Eleventh Hour to my mind is the best regeneration story the show has ever done and by the end of it you’re in no doubt about who his Doctor is. He’s hit the ground running. From “fish fingers and custard” to the triumphant stepping through the hologram of previous incarnations, it didn’t set a foot wrong.

Deep Breath, by contrast, is deeply flawed. Not that it’s not entertaining. There’s lots of great stuff here, much of it featuring (apparently) the final appearance of the Paternoster Row Gang. But there is to my mind just a bit too much ambiguity in the portrayal of the twelth Doctor.

This is not necessarily in the portrayal of regeneration trauma. Both Smith and Tennant had their moments of post-regeneration vulnerability but the prevailing note of their first stories is still the sharp definition of who their Doctors actually are. In the BG show, both Davison and Colin Baker suffered from being hobbled by their post-regeneration angst. (And similarly both McCoy and McGann became successful Doctors because their essential characters were foregrounded from the start, despite their regeneration stories being essentially duffers.)

Deep Breath’s problem is also one of its most distinctive aspects — that it leaves us with a Doctor who we don’t really trust or know. It’s not an error, of course. We’re being put into Clara’s position — and Clara’s arc from here to her departure is her learning to put her trust in this new Doctor. This journey is not one I dislike. I’ve very much enjoyed the ride of the last two series but it is one that creates a definite ambivalence and which altered the essential dynamic between Doctor and audience.

This ambivalent relationship is not wholly new, however. If anything, it’s perhaps reminiscent of the very early Hartnell Doctor, before he was made a bit more bumbling, cuddly and trustworthy. And for all the Pertwee assocations, I’d argue that Capaldi is to Hartnell what Smith was to Troughton. This, I think, is reflected in everything from Capaldi’s costume to some of his performance choices. (And the return of the Mondasian Cybermen this year also seem to bear that out.)

So, interesting choices abound in Capaldi’s first series but not universally popular ones, I suspect. It seems the production team felt the same way because the following year we had what seemed to be a soft reboot of the 12th Doctor. Gone was the austere, buttoned-down Doc, who seemed to me to have a slightly funereal air about him, and instead we had a be-hoodied Doc, replete with sonic shades and electric guitar.

Again these trappings were met with howls of protest in some quarters. (It strikes me that there’s a mercifully small contingent of Whovians who only seem willing to tolerate the character when it doesn’t veer from an unambiguously Patrician figure, dressed in pseudo Edwardiana, and wagging an arrogant finger at stupid (often female) humans.) Personally, I really liked this looser Capaldi look — and have adopted the hoody and Crombie look myself. (Eminently practical for Scotland and not as conspicuously hipsterish as a bow-tie and tweeds.) And Who works best when it’s riffing off current trends — you have to define Pertwee against Jason King and John Steed, Troughton against the Beatles, Tennant against Cocker-esque geek-chic, Smith against hipsterdom etc. The most successful Doctors are not out of time, as some might argue, but offer a commentary on the time in which they are (originally) broadcast. And the hoody-and-guitar works because it is modern and yet anachronistic because we’re now (just) living in a time where the rock star has become a historical out-of-time figure. It wouldn’t have worked giving even Eccleston or Tennant an electric guitar, for instance, but it does now.

gallifreyAll this chat about costume might seem a little frivolous and Hadley Freeman-esque but I think it’s an important aspect of the show. The wild speculation about costume — and the rise of cosplay make this clear. But its significance can only really be understood when it is handled incorrectly. The textbook example of this is the JNT years. Casting a merciful veil over the Colin Baker atrocity, JNT’s main error was removing the organic nature of the Doctor’s costume and turning it into a uniform. It was, in the end, too restricting for the character, with Davison’s Doctor especially suffering the cricket-jersey straitjacket. And this is not something confined to the BG series. Matt Smith, I felt, started off with a great costume, with suggestions of Indiana Jones’ academic clobber, and perhaps a touch of Bletchley boffin. It was also organic enough to evolve (coloured bow-ties anyone?) but by his final year that had been ironed out for a stylish but overly co-ordinated burgundy outfit (possibly reminiscent of Tom Baker’s final outfit?) that looked spiffy but rather than looking like something thrown together from a hospital changing room looked as if it had originated nowhere but a TV costume department.

It’s a wise move that Capaldi has a series of interchangeable looks — hoodies, straight Crombie, Doctorish velvet jacket. It helps emphasise how complex his character is. He’s the hardest to pin down of any Doctor since the first. The 12th Doctor of the just-ended series was, I think, significantly different than the one of Into The Dalek, say, especially by the time you get to the two-part finale. I’ve noticed recently that Steven Moffat has been rather down on the series’ opening two-parter too but I did and still do think it’s probably the strongest series opener of the show and a bold statement of intent.

Doctor-WhoBut we’re no closer to answering our initial question. Who is the 12th Doctor exactly? I’m not sure that I’m any the wiser than I was in Deep Breath. That ambiguity is built deep into the character. But I’m also not sure it’s altogether a bad thing. We’re approaching his third year but by that time both Tennant’s and Smith’s Doctors were starting to feel played out to me, and that I was ready for them to move on. I don’t feel that with Capaldi’s Doc. Rather I feel that there’s still quite a bit of journey to go with this midlife-crisis unreliable Dad of a Doctor. Now that we know that he is going, and we know (roughly) how many episodes he has left, I’m very much looking forward to see how this journey ends and whether we will (or even need to) come to some conclusive ideas about this fine, memorable Doctor.

Perhaps Capaldi will, in the end, be remembered as the one who put the Who back in Doctor Who.


  1. This is spot on and brilliant.

    I really feel this Doctor needs another year, at least. Can’t they ever change their minds?  Why can’t the BBC or stars just say, “Just kidding, we changed our minds?” That would be a welcome surprise.

  2. @Kharis  Why can’t the BBC or stars just say, “Just kidding, we changed our minds?” That would be a welcome surprise.

    It would; but Capaldi may be telling the simple truth when he says he decided to go, although they’d asked him to stay.  The thing is — his work with Moffat has been, IMO, spectacular.  Would Capaldi really want to take the chance of a season or two with Chibnall being just as plodding as the Broadchurch thing (though I haven’t seen #3)?  Chibnall is a seasoned writer with a lot of experience and a lot of middling work behind him.  Moffat is a brilliant, if erratic writer, with big successes and big failures.  What actor who’d worked closely with Moffat would want to go from that to *that*?  Best to go out on a high with your co-creator, rather than hang on and end up *wishing* you had.

    Of course, if Chibnall hits it out of the park when his turn comes, I’ll have to eat my words . . .

  3. @ichabod You’re right, as usual.  I’m just not ready to let go of this regeneration of the Doctor, and it’s even more worrisome that we lose Moffat at the same time. It’s extremely trendy to whine about Moffat, but I’ve never understood the whiners on The Guardian or any other predictable grumpy publication. We always know what they are going to say, what they are going to complain about regardless of how the episode really went.

    My concern is the BBC doesn’t understands that the ratings systems are more complicated now, like @jimthefish pointed out, and the journalists don’t speak for the majority.  After being put through the last election here in the States I tend to be paranoid that the majority follows what they read like sheep, plus assume it’s a fact if it’s in an article or on the news, when most of the time it’s just opinion.  When I ask why a friend hasn’t watched the new Doctor they often say because they’ve read he isn’t as good, when I ask why they didn’t watch season 9 (which was brilliant) because they read it wasn’t​ very good writing and that’s why the fired the head writer.  Season 9 was incredible writing and arguably one of the strongest seasons in the show’s history in my opinion and they are missing it because they’7+re sheep.  Grrrrrr, so frustrating, I wish people would form their own opinion without the taint of some smug and grumpy journalist’s rant forming it for them.

    Okay, needed to vent, it’s just so unnerving how easily a great deal of people let others think for them. If more people would think and research themselves we wouldn’t have had the terrifying and embarrassing election we just went through, and I feel in some way we may have kept Moffat and Capaldi longer. In the end though I know you’re probably right and Capaldi was just smart enough to leave at the right time.

  4. @kharis   Yes, I get that pressure to explode and somehow blow some *brains* — independent ones — into some of the jerks who show up with their slack, mindless burbles putting Moffat down, or just blowing off the show because of some stupid column on the show.  We live in mindless times; when world events are as unstable and scary as they’ve been lately, I think most people rely on the armor of conformity to give them some sense of security, which is exactly the wrong tack to take — but that’s how people are.  Can’t fly away, can’t figure out how to fight effectively, so freeze in place and parrot the common line.  I keep thinking of those Chinese terra cotta soldiers: each one has an individual face, but there they are, all lined up, going nowhere.  Except that we are going some where, all the time.

  5. @ichabod Exactly.

    This is brilliant and with your permission I’d like to repost this to others on my personal media: “We live in mindless times; when world events are as unstable and scary as they’ve been lately, I think most people rely on the armor of conformity to give them some sense of security, which is exactly the wrong tack to take — but that’s how people are.  Can’t fly away, can’t figure out how to fight effectively, so freeze in place and parrot the common line.  I keep thinking of those Chinese terra cotta soldiers: each one has an individual face, but there they are, all lined up, going nowhere.  Except that we are going some where, all the time.”

    Boom, sums it up.

  6. @kharis  Please, be my guest!  And thanks for the compliment, I do appreciate it.  I only wish I could reach a cheerier conclusion.  But on the other hand, this isn’t a conclusion, is it?  From here, in the tense and fitful present with its looming problems so much bigger than who’s got the biggest missile, we travel inexorably onward.  Or we drop out of the picture and everything else moves on.

    Thinking about Time; the Doctor’s lecture, and Burdick’s chapters on “now”, and the way our brains “recalibrate” time as we go along so that things we *think* should be happening simultaneously do appear that way to us, even though due to the differential arrival times of sensory input from all the elements of an action, our brain receptors do not receive all those inputs simultaneously.  I always have a weird inner recoil from the idea that Time happens all at once (except in the God’s eye view, if there ever is such a thing), or branches out into an ever-increasing thicket of alternative timelines every time somebody decides something important (but who?  Why that person’s decision not to brush their teeth this a.m. because they’re late rising, and not my decision to try this vinegar drink that’s reputed to help with allergies, or somebody else’s decision to take a sleeping pill last night that made them logy this morning and they fell asleep at the switch — any switch?  There are so many decisions, micro and macro, made at every instant by so many people, intersecting with so many reactions from outside themselves, that you’d just end up with an impenetrable tangle of craziness).

    I love thinking about Time; having our Time Lord lecture about Time is so sweet . . . even though I disagree with him.  Just and uppity mere human, me.

  7. @jimthefish I enjoyed those very perceptive reflection very much indeed, and find myself in agreement with just about everything you say. It is a very good point about an authoritarian Doctor not working in this day and age, and yet, I am not entirely sure that I would fit all the older (Hartnell to McCoy era) Doctors into that framework. Neither Hartnell or Troughton, for me, were the patrician authority figures that Pertwee or Tom Baker were.

    I always felt Hartnell was more of the grumpy old man, usually dismissing the sage advice of Chesterton in order to wander off an get everyone into trouble. Troughton was the trickster, and I felt he and Jamie (and to a lesser extent Victoria and Zoe) were a real team. It is with Pertwee that “authoritarian” Doctor is in full flower, with the impossibly young Jo hanging off his every word, and spending a lot of time screaming. He was, indeed, a product of his time, as you say. As an aside, that was why I was sad to see the departure of Caroline John as Liz Shaw, who was smart and assertive and stood up to The Doctor.

    While Pertwee’s Doctor related to Jason King, Tom Baker, also an authoritarian Doctor, was more in the mold of a 1970s university professor who would sleep with his attractive female students. I agree with everything you say from Davison on.

    I agree with you on Capaldi. Is is ironic that the finest actor to play the Doctor hasn’t really managed to realise a truly unforgettable Doctor. I think the reasons you give about how they handled his post-regeneration is spot on. When we watched “The Pilot” a couple of days ago, Mrs Blenkinsop turned to me at the end and said: “That was excellent. Why didn’t they do that when Capaldi first appeared, instead of all that boring ‘Am I a good man’ stuff?” This leads me to another reflection on why Capaldi’s Doctor hasn’t worked as well as it might. Matt Smith’s Doctor worked from get-up-and-go in part because he came with a brand new companion, and the chemistry between his Doctor and Amy worked. Matt Smith’s Doctor started to become less interesting with Clara, because, I think, the show in many respects became more about Clara than anything else. And it remained that way after Capaldi arrived. I also have another theory that one of the factors getting in the road of Capaldi’s Doctor was the constant emphasis on death during the Clara years, but I have clearly been typing for way too long. Anyway, an excellent blog on Capaldi’s Doctor.

  8. @blenkinsopthebrave

    Neither Hartnell or Troughton, for me, were the patrician authority figures that Pertwee or Tom Baker were

    No, I agree. Hartnell was certainly more of a rebel and Troughton the, as you say, Trickster but I’d still argue that they both had a modicum of authority, of an air of superiority, that those around them deferred to. Your definition of Baker is dead right though. I always thought of him as a more family friendly version of Howard Kirk.

    When we watched “The Pilot” a couple of days ago, Mrs Blenkinsop turned to me at the end and said: “That was excellent. Why didn’t they do that when Capaldi first appeared

    Totally agree. If The Pilot had been Capaldi’s first story just imagine how hyped we’d all be. I think the ‘am I good man?’ post-regeneration angst was an interesting choice but I think it hobbled Capaldi’s doc for rather a long time.

    Matt Smith’s Doctor worked from get-up-and-go in part because he came with a brand new companion, and the chemistry between his Doctor and Amy worked

    Yes, I think so too. That seems to the dynamic that works best. I think part of the problem was that SM wanted someone for the Doctor to regenerate to, rather than, like Tennant, regenerating alone. The problem then is that you’re stuck with one familiar face while you’re getting used to another. Of course, some companions come into their own with a new Doctor. Ben and Polly were a much better fit for Troughton than Hartnell, Sarah Jane fitted far better with Baker than Pertwee. But I think the ‘clean slates’ of Rose, Eleventh Hour and The Pilot show that in the modern series that that’s the best way to go.

    Also agree re. Clara. I did very much like her at the time and Jenna Coleman was never anything less than fun and engaging but I think her character was in the long-run misconceived and she did stick around for too long. She should possibly have been the ‘impossible girl’ and her last story should possibly have been The Name of the Doctor. Certainly I think Capaldi would have benefited from a new companion. To have had Bill a couple of years earlier would have been great.

  9. @jimthefish this is one of your most interesting blogs.

    The reason being the reference to ‘groups’ and how groups reason or consume a particular stocked item -in this case the Doctor.

    I’d put it to you this way. What if it was just you and other individuals not connected by social media, not reading the Graun after each episode? Would you feel the same way?

    A hyper-developed cognitive capacity has (perhaps) brought us to conclusions that a Doctor, any Doctor, has to hit the ground running. We sit in echo chambers of alternate theories where, crucially, we ‘cooperate’ with strangers (sometimes family -though increasingly rare), receiving considerable benefit but with a commensurate vulnerability for misinformation and 3rd party dogmatism. Communication through even the most trusted of media -a show like Doctor Who, in its current format – turns into something we distrust, perhaps through prudence. Because it’s different. Mainly though, when we speak about something like this we mislead and do so deliberately.

    I’m speaking of this period of time in which we live where distortion, omission and exaggeration helps us, the individual, to influence another’s judgement that is better suited to our personal way of thinking. But it’s not explicit.

    I think that’s happened with the current Doctor. Seemingly, thousands of people were “meh” (to use a bit of slang talk!), uttered their suspicion (shared their influence) and within days this became “how the Doctor was perceived.” Had such influential groups not existed, had we sat with a few people around a television, we may well have overcome an initial lack of trust. Reticence is wise but we miss something valuable: that first glance at something truly different but wonderful, still.

    Only further research can bear this out. And I think it will bear well. Unfortunately we watch something (or read something) and immediately reach out to see the justifications and arguments by people partial to a certain method of reasoning without assessing the quality of such argument. I sense that how Capaldi is or was ‘liked’ had a lot to do with group reasoning -but those groups didn’t have a common goal. We might assume they did – “we don’t like how Capaldi is unsexy” when, possibly, it’s more plausible, to believe they just started with this: “my view is right. Believe it.” This led to “MY view is right” followed by others and still others. A opinion poll, or a writer takes those singular statements and crafts them into something like: “Capaldi is unsexy.”

    The ‘first’ individuals then sigh with relief: “yes, that’s what I meant.”

    Groups and people, I tell ya :)

    Great blog, Jim. Thank you.


    PS: on another thread, you’d said you’d been “wittering on” about the Doctor and I thought, “I’d missed something.” Indeed. I should’ve checked the Home Page.

  10. @kharis read what I wrote. Then check out this: Institut Jean Nicod, Ecole Normale Superieure.

    You’re not alone.

    Apologies people. This has gotta be a record: 18 post splurges. I’ll break this site soon. <running>

  11. I think you have got sucked into what I call the Wikipedia Problem. The thing with Wikipedia is that it is occasionally accurate, and therefore useful, entirely by chance – because the defining feature of Wikipedia is that arguments are won by the people who just. won’t. give. up.

    The same is true of social media (and Guardian BTL is social media) and the reason we all abandoned it to come here was that we got sick up to the arsehole of that. But the problem is that, in a place like the Graun, the impression then arises that the Nays Have It. And unlike Wikipedia, social media creates a narrative.

    It’s kinda like the 48% being written out of history, only less nation-destroyey.

    To be fair, Dan Martin has tried to hold the line, but (say) Sam Woollaston lives of that shit like a vampire.

    But back to us, the fans. Even HTPBET (RIP) for all his fascinating back story, was pig-headedly stubborn and unimaginative about what constituted Proper Who, and was often beyond reason. Those left on the Graun are the thick versions of him without the life story or erudition, plus witless trolls and a few fighting the good fight.

    Eastenders used to routinely get 15-20m in the overnights. Now it barely gets 7. By contrast Doctor Who (8-10m down to 4-6m) has held a markedly higher share of its overnights (2005-17, their patterns are strikingly similar). There still a completely useless metric. At this moment, The Pilot is still in the top 10 on iPlayer.

    Capaldi and Coleman suffered from the unmistakeable stench of ageism and sexism, respectively. To me the biggest real problem both suffered was the miscasting of Sam Anderson, who only truly convinced as Danny Pink as a dream, in Last Christmas in is “the rest of you got lucky” moment. But both Capaldi and Coleman, from day one, were stellar in their roles.

    My memory is that the Capaldi intro was panned for being overblown and silly (which it was) rather that “full of hope”. And please, there were a couple of Tucker references chucked in for a laugh (shut-it-ity-shut-it-ity-up-up-up). Nothing wrong with that.

    But the overall problem, is that this type of shit CAN have an impact on the show. Veronica Mars got badly compromised because Rob Thomas fell in love with the self-absorbed fanboys at TWOP (possibly the most up itself site in the history for the internet), and even Whedon shoehorned in some quite painful fan service for Spuffy shippers.

    It would be a true shame if we allowed, even for a moment, that those who can’t hold more than one idea in their head at a time might have a point.

  12. @pedant  Ageism and sexism squared, cubed, and drenched in vitriol.  What a spectacle . . . edifying, in a sad, sad way.  To have come so far, and still be so far behind in such basic matters.

    Personally, prefer the way they did it — start with a jangled kalidascope of a man trying flying off in all directions in a state of (intermittent) high anxiety, drive him to the limit, and then let us see him recovered, re-focused, gentled by being ridden very hard, now bright-eyed and bushy-tailed again.  I’m happy with that, and I think that rough course to more traditional waters (of plot and tone) will make the Moffat/Capaldi years stand out strongly as it ages.  Viewers will come round, I think, in future — particularly if Chibnall plods along for a few years with DW.  I hope for much better than that; but I’m not expecting it.  Which is not to say that the general fan base wouldn’t enjoy some safely seat-belted and helmeted puttering, after the dark and light fireworks we’ve got from Moffat and Peter Capaldi.

  13. @kharis @blenkinsopthebrave @jimthefish

    @Ichabod @pedant

    Agreed. There is no need, retrospectively, for anything “to hit the ground running” other than pests.

    To purloin the internet’s inherent (because it is inherent, unfortunately) dislike of someone crawling on all fours in order to mature and focus is regressive. It isn’t rational. A few individuals loved Leonard Cohen -or David Bowie. Eventually what they wrote and how they performed was respected: when everyone took a big step back and started thinking for themselves, by themselves, as individuals.

    Kindest, Puro (being a pest!)

  14. @pedant

    I think you have got sucked into what I call the Wikipedia Problem

    Hopefully not. I agree that there’s a general tendency for social media of various kinds (and The Graun’s BTL spleenfest definitely counts as social media) to create an often false narrative that drowns out all else and which is ofen hopelessly skewed and leads to things like, say, snap general elections. Part of the problem is, however, is that these things are picked up, are given more credence than they really should. I suspect that production and publicity types at the Beeb will pay more attention to what is being said on the Graun or on Twitter than on, say, here or Den of Geek. And I suspect it does feed back into the series, makes the creators more nervous about what they’re doing, leads to tone meetings based on a false premise and so on…

    However, I’m not really basing my doubts about the initial approach of 12’s tenure on the media (mis)perception but on my own rewatches of s8&9. Like @ichabod, I enjoyed the ‘rough course’ that 12’s regeneration has taken on the intellectual and the fan level but I think it did make for a somewhat overly subdued s8. The highpoint of s8 for me is Listen and I find that I don’t even want to return to that one much, despite the great performances and the wealth of ideas it contains. Having such a doubting, passive Doctor is interesting but it does lead to a finale like Death in Heaven where you get a Doctor who seems to do little but stand about while a full blown invasion team-up between the Master and the Cybermen goes on around him. And I think this was recognised in s9 by the loosening up of 12’s character.

    It seems to me that there’s a ‘sweet spot’ that modern Who has to hit between the intellectually empty but kinetic powerhouse episodes of RTD and the ideas-rich but potentially casual-viewer alienating ones of Moffat. And I think SM largely gets it right — as Eleventh Hour, The Pilot etc. My personal feeling on revisiting s8 that it lost this momentum and that it undermined Capaldi’s Doctor to some extent.


    both Capaldi and Coleman, from day one, were stellar in their roles

    Torally agree. I think Capaldi has become my favourite Doctor of the entire series, both AG and BG, eclipsing even Smith. (And I agree with @ichabod that the Moffat era in general will ultimately be looked back upon as something of a golden age, especially if we get, as I fear we might, a Chibnall/Kris Marshall combo that will resemble RTD-lite by committee era after it). And Coleman was always great as Clara. I just suspect that Clara stayed just a bit too long and that her character, as it was designed, didn’t really work longterm. As I said above, Capaldi’s doc would have benefited greatly from a companion without quite as much baggage. But it’s no reflection on the actors’ performances, or even in the writing in terms of character beats, but in the basic conception of them. Not sure I agree that Sam Anderson was miscast. I thought he did pretty well but that if there was a ‘weak link’ in s8 it was Danny Pink. I suspect he was a bit underwritten and also that he didn’t have enough screen time to make enough of an impact. By the time it came for him to ‘die’ and be cyber-converted, I still didn’t know him enough, and certainly didn’t like him enough, to particularly care.

    Eastenders used to routinely get 15-20m in the overnights. Now it barely gets 7. By contrast Doctor Who (8-10m down to 4-6m) has held a markedly higher share of its overnights (2005-17, their patterns are strikingly similar). There still a completely useless metric. At this moment, The Pilot is still in the top 10 on iPlayer.

    Totally agree. It’s irritating when you see ‘ratings doomed’ flagged up in articles, especially when it’s done ATL by people who should really know better in terms of being a professional journalist if nothing else. It’s also a curiously Brexit-ey argument, working on assumptions of a pre-digital era and one where only domestic audiences (and ones watching it live and on a ‘proper’ TV) are the only ones that count.

    It would be a true shame if we allowed, even for a moment, that those who can’t hold more than one idea in their head at a time might have a point.

    I agree and most of the time it’s simplicity itself to expose these people as stuck in the past — and often sexist — reactionary nostalgia-nerds. But it’s not particularly that I do think they have a point. Their arguments are the same old ones that were used to hammer the Smith era with and it’s the work of a moment to dismantle them. But I do feel there’s something slightly lacking in s8. At times it feels as if Capaldi is almost scared of the part, maybe even has too much reverence for it. Now this is probably just the tonal decision to have a self-doubting Doctor. The problem with this is if you’re going to have three-year life spans for your Doc then you only really have less than 40 episodes for their whole ‘story’. I felt that s8 was slightly wasted in a way it wouldn’t have been if, say, The Pilot had been his opener. I just can’t help but feel that Capaldi’s Doc didn’t really hit his stride until Face The Raven and that’s pretty late in the day. (Of course, this is just my roundabout way of saying that I’m really not ready for him to go yet.)

    As to the ‘servicing the fans’ issue (urgh, what a disgusting phrase), I don’t really see a problem with it as long as it’s done sensibly — and the one thing that both RTD and SM have done to their credit is to do this really well. Fanfics, fan art, fan interest, fan passion, they’re all an important part of the show, especially today. One of the things I’ve really liked about the Moffat era is his willingness to listen to fans, meaning we get cool innovations like the Capaldi opening titles, which are to my mind the most innovative and cool since the Tom Baker ones. Not to embrace this stuff is to create a false division, an ‘Us’ (proper grown up professional types) vs ‘Them’ (the fanboys, the dweebs) and that’s a division that doesn’t exist, especially these days. RTD, Moffat, Chibnall, they’re all still fans, even if their day jobs are now making material for the fans of the future. Yes, it can get silly, but for most of the time it doesn’t and it’s an important, and symbiotic, relationship.


    Agreed. There is no need, retrospectively, for anything “to hit the ground running” other than pests.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s true. See, for example, Firefly. Unfortunately, there’s a layer of executive management that is increasingly jittery these days and can kill a show before it really gets its stride.

    Besides which, I was talking in terms purely of regeneration stories and I still think the examples of Castrovalva and especially The Twin Dilemma when compared with Eleventh Hour, Rose, Spearhead from Space etc. suggest that you have to get it right straight out of the gates or the (false) narrative as identified by @pedant above has a chance to take hold and that makes ongoing progress that much more difficult.


  15. @JimTheFish

    Thanks for this; it has helped to crystalize much of my thinking about Capaldi’s Doctor and about the mutable nature of the Doctor in the history of the show.  Your last sentence

    Perhaps Capaldi will, in the end, be remembered as the one who put the Who back in Doctor Who.

    pins down the essence of what, for me, makes his portrayal so quintessentially The Doctor; a being who should always have that air of ambiguity, of alien otherness, whilst at the same time manifesting values, humour and a sensibility to which we can relate.  Deep Breath may not have been the most successful introduction of a new incarnation, but I don’t think that the basic concept was misjudged. The confusion and manically erratic behaviour of the character in that episode, and his uncertain sense of identity in subsequent episodes, made sense in terms of what we had seen in The Time of the Doctor when, after centuries of remaining sedentary in one place, resigned to ultimate extinction without ever seeing his home planet again, he had undergone a totally unexpected regeneration into a very different body. If Capaldi initially had difficulty in getting a handle on the character, as he has said, it seems more likely that it was because of the uneven tone and mood of the episodes which followed in Season 8, although for this viewer, at least, none of them were entirely without merit and some were, individually, very good indeed.

    In contrast, what you say about Pertwee’s Doctor is also pertinent, because even at the time I found that suave, sometimes arrogantly superior and decidedly authoritarian persona unsympathetic, with far too much similarity to the heroes of The Avengers and the like – which is not to say that they did not appeal in their own way.  Furthermore, he did not seem sufficiently different and alien, and in that respect it did not help that for so much of the time the stories were confined to the earth and the present.  Nor, from my point of view, did it help that I found the character of Jo Grant hugely irritating, though that is beside the point.  In hindsight he is perhaps my least favourite Doctor, since I didn’t really give either Colin Baker or Sylvester McCoy a chance at the time.  All Doctors should at times display the authority which comes of age, experience and intellect, but they should not be authoritarian, if I am right in thinking that there is a difference.

    As for the nay-sayers and their oppressive influence, the internet and the world wide web has enabled a meeting and exchange of ideas and information which was unimaginable not so long ago in my perspective, but it has also fostered the extension of the kind of group-think which would once have been confined to small social circles.  In this particular case the ARSE brigade, those who have cast-iron views on what the show should be, whether this was forged in their earliest experience of it or formed by other prejudices, are often those who have the loudest, most forceful and most persistent voices, because they are the ones who have no doubt whatsoever that their views are unarguably correct, and they influence all those who by nature or nurture are followers, not trained or encouraged to think for themselves, unable or unwilling to examine more subtle arguments and so swayed by those who sound confident that they know what is what.  As @ichabod  has already pointed out so cogently, it gives them the sense of security and of belonging to a community that they need in these – or any – uncertain times, but it is horribly depressing and disheartening to observe from outside that cosy and self validating community.


  16. @jimthefish

    I understand the point. I see it as this: it could “hit the ground” running.

    And I can see Firefly did just that but my point was, “should it?” or “should it always?” And, I suppose what is: “hit the ground running,” anyway?

    I think a contiguous piece of writing across several episodes can deliver something more potent. And I believe that happened in Series 8. I wonder whether the internet, as a vacuous hub, most of the time, insists we look back and see it as “unreasonable on Moffat’s behalf ” to write the character this way. Capaldi’s doctor was “built” and “formed” just as we are, over the course of decades. His growth lends gravitas to our own presumptions about ourselves.

    Over at The Deep Breath thread the comments were jubilant! Yes, there were three trolls and two “underwhelmed” but the comments were more associated with how Capaldi “nailed it” or “hit it out of the park” which suggests that even though the Doctor was virtually insane, reforming before our very eyes, he provided the necessary astonishment (it has to be something visceral:  shock; terror;  love; compassion). Only later, through internet echo chambers do we start doubting our initial gut reactions.

    I think those gut reactions are necessary. As are our individual reasoning processes. If Executive Management gets nervous it’s likely from the various ‘hub’ reactions -often negative when provided with something so utterly different; so “unusual” or, as many labelled Deep Breath,  so “dark.”

    It’s AT the executive level where the jitters need to be addressed with a cup of tea and a deep breath. That way trust lies. Otherwise we end up with what we’ve always had:  a Doctor fully formed before our eyes. There’s a place for that: you can see it in Mat Smith’s opening gambit with Moffat or in The Pilot but Deep Breath wasn’t those. And I loved that.  And I think many millions loved it too. Their voices are cramped down unfortunately, Jim, and that’s the problem.

    Kindest, Puro

  17. @mudlark

    Yeah, tends to agree about Pertwee. There’s just something about his performance that’s slightly off-putting/dated. I’ve said this before but my first introduction to Who was through the Target novelisations, most specifically the Pertwee era ones and the Third Doctor comes across better in print than screen I think. Terrance Dicks etc. imbue him with more of a vulnerability or at  least deflate his ego a little in a way that’s possibly harder to do on screen.

    @thane15— Hey, Puro, great to hear from you. Yes, it would be nice if exec jittery reactions weren’t knee-jerk (and I think they’re far less so here than in the US) but, let’s face it, that’s unlikely to happen. It should also be noted that Who now seems to now come under the aegis of BBC Studios, which is a wholly commercial entity. It’ll be interesting to see how this affects the show and whether it’ll be even more susceptible to corporate jitters than it is now.

    As to the internet reactions, bollocks to them. As I said above, I’m not massively interested in siding with the ARSE brigade and my feelings on this are informed largely by rewatches and an attempt to contextualise Capaldi’s run to date. I’ve never found his performance to be any less than thrilling and I like the concept of the regeneration angst arc. And as @pedant and I and others have pointed out on many occasions, the ratings aren’t actually plummeting or cause for concern. Rather we’re going through a paradigm shift as a culture in who we consume art, especially TV.

    And yet, and yet. There’s just something lacking in s8. I think @mudlark is right and it’s a result of the variable quality of the episodes. Overall s8 has a static, somewhat glum, feeling that makes me less inclined to revisit them in the way that I do revisit pretty much all of the Smith era. Now, a change of tone is fine. Darkness and light and all that. It’s not just that Smith benefited from having a fully formed Doctor by the end of the Eleventh Hour but that his first run of stories is extraordinarily strong, with not a duffer among them. Capaldi wasn’t quite as lucky.

    I think Who can tackle dark. It can tackle thoughtful. The Smith era did all the time, as did the RTD eras but perhaps in a less sustained, less intense, way. But it also always needs a sense of fun, a sense of momentum and I think s8 failed to keep that in mind, to the point that its finale is probably the weakest in the AG show’s history. It also meant, for me, that the attempts of the first half of s9 to lighten up the Doc felt a little forced and that series only really came into its own in the second half when the drama of Clara’s ‘death’ and the vengeful Doc carried it along.

    I’m not saying I haven’t enjoyed s8 and s9 — a look back at the threads for them probably show me being quite enthusiastic — it just hasn’t lingered in the memory or enthused me to go back and revisit them in the same way. Really, the only eps I rewatch are Listen, Heaven Sent and Hell Bent. The Pilot, I think, has that sense of fun, that lightness that I think the best Who has. And it does feel a little that the regeneration angst arc, while interesting, has hobbled the potential for Capaldi’s overall run a little I think.

    But to emphasise, it’s not that I think of the last two series as a ‘failure’, just that an interesting dramatic choice has maybe had long-term consequences for Capaldi’s era (aside from Deep Breath itself, we have essentially seen two season openers now that were soft reboots and that does feel a little faltering on some level). I think ultimately the Capaldi era will be fondly remembered but perhaps more for having ‘difficult’ or challenging stories, like Listen, Kill The Moon, The Zygon Inversion, Heaven Sent etc.

  18. @jimthefish

    No, I agree. There is a tonal shift that’s different. It’s painted in shades of grey. Then again when I see Listen and Murder on the OE, I’m watching something quirky and stunning, cinematically. Perhaps what it signifies to me  -and speaks to me personally -is the momentous experiment that was 13 crashing around before he stepped, fully formed into the Doctor. Somehow, after Smith and Tennant it felt “right” -had it been like The Pilot, the first go-round, then I wonder how this “new man” and his growth would’ve been pitched?

    With every stumbling monologue, every furious look in the mirror I could feel a re-birth and I thought it a marvellous and phenomenal thing. There’s an episode in The West Wing where Leo comments about Sam Seaborn, “when he tries something, you gotta love that he crashes thru walls, like there’s a Sam Seaborn cut-out.”

    Tennant and Smith were fantastic but 13 forged himself through fire and war -the war was on the inside and I feel (to use an overused word!) that it resonated with a different generation: one who’d experienced that very thing in their own lives. It wasn’t sweet liquid beauty, for sure, but alchemy. I think those initial episodes in Eight were stark, arresting and plainly beautiful as if the Doctor moved in front of us but we couldn’t quite find the stillness: as if the sky was rumbling, the ground rocking in a massive tectonic shift and our ground bubbling up with an alien substance. It wasn’t glorious, rather, but humbling. There was almost no dignity to this new Doctor. And that affected us. It caused us to look away momentarily. The Doctor was now aching and destabilised and that mirrored the great shifts in politics and society in 2014.

    Whilst it’s a product of a particular time I wouldn’t exaggerate its bleakness, either. I did feel a sense of potent hunger for growth, within the Doctor; it was gradual but it arrived.

    Perhaps one has to look internally for the answers. Why did I particularly like it? Because his madness was so plain, so raw and yet poignant? Should the Doctor even be this way? Is it unsettling, is that why I like it? Is it a mirror into our souls, or mine,  at a particular time? Interestingly, if I suggest I like it and a group of people say “it just didn’t gel for me,” how is that interpreted in Internet-High? It depends on those collating the ten word answers who then create a ‘riff’ which lasts. And if it’s negative the impact can be lasting.

    The Doctor’s bigger than 10 words (to paraphrase Sorkin -which I shouldn’t be doing!)

    I hope History sees it as ultimately a successful experiment. Not that even, but an exceptional achievement -precisely because it was an exception.  Not perfect but more than solid.



  19. @jimthefish

    Indeed, I agree, the Smith era “tackled the dark” very well. But less intensely as you suggest.

    In the end I feel Season 8 compels me -to look away, and look back, successively. Certain opportunities were exploited, other frugalities ignored, inferences made by us as individuals, which, when we look back, can coalesce into a vision of a stumbling series (eight) with certain exceptions or a wonderful series with …certain exceptions.

    How we track those opinions back ultimately corresponds to different types of inference, one being that we perceived Series 8 to be “difficult” or tarnished and that we may’ve reached such conclusions using untidy reasoning (I’m not speaking about any one in particular). It seems that reviewers and the general public, of which I’m happy to be a part, automatically and unconsciously, and even deliberately, in many cases, extract statistical irregularities and re-work them to enrich their own purposes. Something to look out for…

    Anyway, a great discussion. Which is one of several wonderful things this Forum does so well!

    Thank you,


  20. @thane15

    Yes, a fascinating discussion.

    I think it’s true that s8 is very patchy in terms of story quality but not that I didn’t like it. But it has had a knock-on effect on subsequent series — ones that it’s clear the production team feels that it’s had to work hard to escape from.

    Because at the end of the day Who is not The West Wing, it’s not BSG. Hell, it’s not even Buffy. It’s a quirky kids show from 50 years ago that’s managed to survive against the odds. It’s not suited for long-form angst and intellectual heavy lifting. It can have a bit of that, sure. It can thread that through the stories and it always has done, to varying degrees of success. But it also has to be fun. It has to have some bounce in its step. It’s not accident that you often heard the phrase ‘proper bonkers Doctor Who’ from SM. And he’s right. Bonkers always has to  be a part of its DNA. I think s8 to a degree forgot that and that the team staggered slightly to make up the lost ground, which, I’m happy to say, they’ve clearly managed to do.

  21. @jimthefish I ended my earlier, typo-infested, post with reference to what I saw as an emphasis on death and dying that I tend to think hampered PC in developing a truly memorable Doctor. Let me explain.

    There is a lot of emphasis on death in series 8 and 9. There is Danny, for instance. And the Nethersphere. And the Cybermen being (re)born out of the graveyard. Now this might not be an issue, but Danny was a character important to Clara, not the Doctor. Indeed, Danny really did not like the doctor at all—“officer class” said in a very derogatory way. Again, this wouldn’t necessarily be an issue either, except for the fact that Clara is deeply in love with Danny. Which goes back to my point in the last post that in the last year of Matt Smith and the first two years of PC the show seemed in many respects to be very Clara-centric. And PC had to find a voice in that context. So we had a character like Danny, who is hugely important to Clara, being antagonistic to this new Doctor. And then we have the death of Danny, and the Doctor cannot restore him to Clara. And yet we the audience haven’t really had time yet to embrace the new Doctor.

    And on the other hand, with this emphasis on death and dying, there are stories which are frivolous to the point of being featherweight, such as Robot of Sherwood, Tie Heist, The Caretaker, Kill the Moon. Yes, PC is given the opportunity to show off his comedic skills in these and other episodes, but again, it is within the context of the narrative arc, which is more about Clara and Danny.

    Then we move into S9. Clara is in the process of becoming more like the Doctor than a companion. She seems more in command than Kate Lethbridge-Stewart in the Zygon two-parter. And the emphasis on death continues. There is Ashildr, The Girl who Died. And finally, and most importantly, there is the death of Clara. Within this context, PC and the writers clearly try to inject more life and energy and humour into the Doctor. But, for me at least, I found it a little too much, or too jarring. I confess that I never really took to the guitar, or the sunglasses, or arriving on a tank in sunglasses, playing a guitar. It seemed to jar (for me) too much with the serious, thoughtful, and intellectual Doctor that PC was crafting in episodes like Listen.

    Peter Capaldi is a brilliant actor and he brings a depth and intensity to the Doctor that previous actors could not. His reply to Clara when she tearfully asks him why he allowed himself to spend millions of years trapped as he made his way to reach her: “I had a duty of care” is, for me, the most perfect moment in his tenure so far.

    Reading back over this, I am not sure I have adequately explained my point about the emphasis on death hindering PC in crafting his interpretation of the Doctor, except to say again that he was working within, and perhaps hampered by, a narrative context that was Clara-centric.

    To bring it back to The Pilot, I think his Doctor in it was pitch perfect, and I am hoping very much that S10 will give us a memorable and absolutely unforgettable Doctor.

  22. @thane15  – puro

    I am entirely in accord with you in considering that Capaldi established himself as essentially the Doctor in Deep Breath – which is, after all, the main objective in an introductory episode. When I referred in my post above to this episode having be ‘not the most successful’  in this respect, I was referring to the way in which it has been generally assessed. At the time I approached it with high expectations, often the prelude to disappointment, but by ‘see me’ if not before I was entirely convinced. Each of the ensuing episodes, viewed in isolation, had something to offer beyond mindless entertainment, whether it was the philosophical questions posed by Into the Dalek, the joyful silliness of Robot of Sherwood, the sheer cinematic beauty and retro glamour of Mummy on the Orient Express, the slick story telling overlying ethical issues in Time Heist, or the eeriness and not entirely resolved mystery of Listen. Each of the stories was intriguing in its own way and all had some degree of layered depth. The ones which worked least well for me were the pseudo science fiction of Kill the Moon and the allegory/fairy tale of In the Forest of the Night, for the reasons I expressed at the time, – and even in those I found plenty to appreciate and enjoy.

    Looking back and judging the series as a whole, however, I can see a lack of balance in the alternation of light and shade, and of the darkly serious and the light hearted and sheer fun, and I feel that this lack of balance impeded the growth of a general understanding and appreciation of this incarnation of the Doctor, which I think is pretty much the point which @JimTheFish has been arguing.

    It certainly was not Capaldi’s fault or any specific failure in the writing of the individual episodes, despite what the nihilists and the ARSE contingent persist in claiming. I note, incidentally, that many of those nay-sayers are quick to absolve Capaldi of any blame for the shortcomings they perceive. They blame Moffat, although their inability to distinguish good writing from bad is frequently on display.

    There were three strands in series 8 which made up a kind of arc: the running tease of the mystery of Missy, the post-regeneration existential angst of the Doctor, and the development of the relationship between Clara and Danny.  The latter element was, for me, the main problem, because I found it lacking in depth and conviction – a lack partially redeemed in the final two parter – and it just seemed at times an unnecessary distraction.  The Doctor’s identity crisis, though a valid concept, seemed to rise to the foreground or recede according to whatever mood of the particular episode demanded, so there was a certain lack of consistency, and I think it might have been better if it had been resolved at a much earlier stage.*  It would certainly have given Capaldi more scope and so, perhaps, have silenced at least some of the jeremiahs on the Grauniad.

    * Though what do I know?  I’m not a creative writer, just a critic – and we all know about the latter :-)

  23. @blenkinsopthebrave

    totally agree with the death themes of s8 and s9. SM must have been undergoing a dark night of the soul when he was writing them. But on a more general note, I think yours and @mudlark‘s analysis of these series are both spot on.

    To bring it back to The Pilot, I think his Doctor in it was pitch perfect, and I am hoping very much that S10 will give us a memorable and absolutely unforgettable Doctor.

    And couldn’t agree more with this. My feelings precisely.

  24. @mudlark

    No, I understand completely. And I understand Jim’s point. It was inconsistent -to a degree. However, that teased me, a  bit. The Doctor seemed to rush about, from one thing to another, raving in his TARDIS, to sitting still above it and it was that inconsistent exposure of his personality which exercised my own belief in the world around me. I felt, however, confused, it was a thing, in and of itself: captured photos of his time converging here, forming over there, desperate or hopeful to ‘serve’ Clara; which in the end could have been his mistake. It never moved from A to B to C. It wasn’t linear and it was dark. Should television like Who, be lighter and linear? Possibly.

    Did I like that it wasn’t?  Absolutely.

    @Blenkinsopthebrave @jimthefish

    What else can we be truly certain about, except “death and more death”? :)  (D. Tartt).

    It is clear I like that which is unhinged, just a bit. *-_-*

    Believe me, I’m not attempting to convince anyone of too much. I did refer above to “why was it appealing to me, personally? Why did it speak to me, personally?” * I might add, though, that we come to these decisions thru a retrospective analysis which involved past series. I still wonder how we conclude that one is better, the other is less ‘painful’ or “nihilistic” (incidentally that’s one way of describing it -and it’d be correct). The Doctor, before our eyes was skirting time. And did we need “bounce” in Series 8, and was it NOT there, really?

    Either way we had it in spades, across time and across Real Years, in Hell Bent and Heaven Sent – a culmination of a forged Doctor and focussed one.

    But this is interesting*. As I read over my first analysis or post, I’m strident about this. Certain. Now, not so. The power of discussion, of group-think, or a weakness on my own behalf?

    There’s a mood here, a feeling within me of “I intuit this and such intuition licenses stubbornness.” It’s a sensible social strategy, I think, and it’s at the root of my initial conversation. We typically care about our reasons when our feelings, beliefs and intuitions are challenged by others or by continued experience. That’s happening right here: lots of “preciselys ” and “spot ons.” Our opinions are then further cemented….or we capitulate.

    I do ‘totally’ get what you’re all saying, I’m just chucking a fair thought into chaos, people.

    Am I being disagreeable?  Knock me over if I am! It’s a trait, f’sure.



  25. My fundamental problem with this discussion is that it is rooted in a false premise about ratings, and an equally false narrative about failure. Since the statistics have been dealt with elsewhere:

    So some elements of S9 didn’t quite work. But then, nor did Sleep No More in the otherwise majestic S10. And a lot of people (not here) got snotty about Maisie Williams.

    But let’s consider, more pertinently, farting aliens. And hybrid Daleks.

    …and talking paving stones.

    …season 5, peerless as it is, had the overlong Silurian two parter (hmmm…. who wrote that?) and the fun but very messy Victory of the Daleks.

    …and Tennant had Fear Her (oooh…10nant – can’t believe i never thought of that before).

    So – diversion, for analogy sake.

    When I was still chairing my local writers’ circle, Julie Mayhew (then unpublished, but if you see her books buy them immediately – she is a bona fide genius) brought in a short story to discuss. Our practice was for the author to read it out and, since Julie is also an actress, the reading was excellent. When she finished I started to crit it, beginning with:

    “I think it doesn’t so much read as a short story, but as a chapter”, and which point someone else jumped in and said:

    “Oh yeah, this should definitely be part of a novel”, followed by about 20 mins of animated chatter about what a fabulous novel it could be part of.

    I took no part in this, being a bit irritated. I really should learn not to pause for breath. Once it settled down and just as someone was about to say “Let’s move on,” I said:

    “As I was saying, it reads more as a chapter, and that is the problem,” outlining what I thought the issues were. It then transpired that she had brought that story because she had put it in a competition and was curious to explore why it had got knocked back.

    The point being, it is very easy to set a hare running. That doesn’t mean it is going in a sensible direction. Hares are tricky like that And so are memes (in the Richard Dawkins sense, not the silly pics on t’net sense).

  26. @pedant

    I took no part in this, being a bit irritated. I really should learn not to pause for breath. Once it settled down…. I said:

    “As I was saying…”….


  27. @pedant

    My fundamental problem with this discussion is that it is rooted in a false premise about ratings, and an equally false narrative about failure

    Actually, it isn’t. As has been stressed several times above. Questions about ratings and cookie-cutter ARSE-ry on The Graun and elsewhere are by the by.

    If anything has been borne out by the conversation is that s8 had fundamental issues that for the longest time I couldn’t quite put my finger on but which with the help of the insightful replies above I think I have a better handle on now.

    …season 5, peerless as it is, had the overlong Silurian two parter

    Your examples actually serve to illustrate the point. There is no series that doesn’t have its moments of misfires. For instance, the mini movie format of the split season has more than it really should have, for example. It’s not about the isolated moments (or even episodes) that don’t work. There’s plenty of those. It’s about something more fundamental. A misjudged editorial and tonal decision that impacted on an entire series and part of the one beyond and which, I’ suspect, put possibly unnecessary obstacles in Capaldi’s (and Moffat’s) way. (I’m not sure I agree about s9 being ‘masterful’. It’s half-great, I think it ends on an absolute high but I think I’d agree with @blenkinsopthebrave that in the opening episodes the attempts at Doctoral levity/wackiness come across as a little too forced and try-hard. It seems to me that the funereal tone of the previous series has been recognised now as an issue and there’s an almost over-earnest attempt to over-compensate that doesn’t really settle down for a good few eps.)

    You’re also right that there’s not much point clamouring for the s8 that we wanted in our heads (that way ARSE lies) but I don’t think that’s what’s being done here either. It’s discussing the episodes as they are but also identifying an issue that hobbled them. And just to reiterate once again, I don’t consider s8 a failure, merely flawed at the structural level, there’s still heaps to enjoy in pretty much every episode. We’re not talking about Trial of a Time Lord here, after all.

    But it is a relief to me that others seemed to have shared in that unease and I’m grateful to both @blenkinsopthebrave and @mudlark for their excellent articulation of what they perceive them to be. You might not agree but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong or on the wrong track. Discussion and occasional (cordial) disagreement is what we’re here for. (To add to your analogy, isn’t it possible that your friend might have found some of what you considered to be ‘animated chatter’ actually of some creative use?)

    On which note, @thane15 — you are, as ever, the furthest thing away from disagreeable. Nor stubborn.  It’s a joy to be having a discussion with you again. And indeed all of you.

  28. @jimthefish

    Who is not The West Wing, hell, it’s not even Buffy.”  **

    My reference to Sam Seaborn was of a desperate (read: hopeful) character churning through his mistakes. Apologies, my intention there was to highlight the stern and discombobulated character of 13, not the show(s) itself or themselves.

    I think one ought to be careful when stating “Series 8 was deeply flawed”  and then perhaps claiming why it wasn’t? Was it flawed, deeply, or not? :)

    The discussion seems to have elucidated a point which I find interesting, disturbing even. A set of written statements act as an acoustic event in the shared environment of us as the interlocutors. When we share someone’s belief what we mean is that we have beliefs of closely similar content. These are representations, sure, but of content, specifically. The abstract idea, though, is less concrete and could be written as: “dark, true, sombre, profound or confused” and this becomes a cultural representational thought rather than a nailed down object in time and space. For these abstracts to mature into real cultural progress they must be instantiated deliberately.

    So my involvement in this discussion bracketed the extent to which our cognitive mechanism is developed sufficiently for drawing inferences, beyond a feeling, a sense, an intuition of “S8 was dark-ish” and “hobbled the entire run.” We draw out this opinion repeatedly and we do so regressively; retrospectively and then we use this to state: “what Mr J was trying to say was this.” It’s a combo of mind reading, resistance and the doubled up concentration of what people tend to do when faced with an attempt at a priori reasoning. For example, “Mr B has a point when he says this…” and “Mrs M was spot on when she claimed this……” We attribute mental attributions to one another all the time; in the world of the internet it’s less diluted, virtuosic, even!

    Others, even, have stated, “well, considering what we have in front of us (Marshall/Chibnall era) these past series may well be seen as part of a golden time in television…”

    We continually re-tell, abstractly, these contrivances and they become wholly entrenched. For me, this discussion was more about why we think this way; how the series was seen retrospectively and why we retrospectively pile up additions to our abstract thoughts which can hinder the process of ‘diving in’ to something completely different or that which is latter seen as unsuccessful: such as “it has to have a lightness, it has succeeded in the past, because of such lightness. There was a lighter tone here, therefore it’s successful, now.”

    I’m attempting to communicate the abstraction in such thoughts and attach them to reasoning.

    The communal mind makes exchanges causing an imbalance in perception, is all.

    :)   ** Why can’t it be like Buffy?

    Kindest and thank you for your patience!


  29. @puro   . . . end up with what we’ve always had: a Doctor fully formed before our eyes. There’s a place for that: you can see it in Mat Smith’s opening gambit with Moffat or in The Pilot but Deep Breath wasn’t those. And I loved that. And I think many millions loved it too. Their voices are cramped down unfortunately

    Bull’s eye.  Deep Breath was the Doctor shaken, hard, into scattered, colorful fragments of himself like the view through a kalaidoscope, desperate to find them all and pull them together again (S8 was that situation as a string of diverse stories).  Using  a very confused, angry, and rather resentful human as his Pole Star both compounded and ramped up the struggle, to excellent dramatic effect.  I think you’re right — the first impression was thrilling; a regeneration that blasts him to bits, and the person who  should make it easier to recover is herself knocked for six and failing — wonderful!

    But — the Doctor-unmade like that scared a lot of fans who’d been using his previous, fully-formed versions, I think, as a security blanket.  They didn’t anxiety instead (who was this guy, and did he really give a damn about us?  Could he help, would he help, should he help?).  So things got more complicated in fandom.

    They can relax, I think; I doubt that Chibnall will do anything as bold as that when it’s his turn.  I’m expecting blandness, and hoping to be surprised.  But we’ll aways have CapDoc . . . eh?

  30. @puro  again — There was almost no dignity to this new Doctor. And that affected us. It caused us to look away momentarily. The Doctor was now aching and destabilised and that mirrored the great shifts in politics and society in 2014.  Whilst it’s a product of a particular time I wouldn’t exaggerate its bleakness, either. I did feel a sense of potent hunger for growth, within the Doctor

    Funny; I feel that buzzing hotly in US culture *now*, maybe because the gains of the 20th C are being dismantled before our very eyes, and that makes us feel starved for what *should* have been the next stage of cultural growth.  But this does seem to be how we grow, here: in erratic pendulum swings, Right, Left, Okay, Bad, Worse — a clamor for the re-taking of ground lost to knuckle-dragging Reactionaries currently in power.

    And: Perhaps one has to look internally for the answers. Why did I particularly like it? Because his madness was so plain, so raw and yet poignant? Should the Doctor even be this way? Is it unsettling, is that why I like it? Is it a mirror into our souls, or mine, at a particular time?

    Too soon to tell, IMO.  I know exactly what, in my own life, made S8, in particular, strike responsive gold for me, and that was a combination of circumstance and the age-cohort I’m in and what it’s been subject to in our time.  And I suspect that a large swathe of DW fandom simply hasn’t reached the point of going through those particular fires — yet (although there are lots of exceptions, as despite our best efforts at protection, young lives too get  walloped with tough demands and early losses).  S8-9 certainly worked as a mirror for me, a place to put feelings and understandings that I certainly wasn’t going to inflict on people close to me, who have their own demons to wrestle (and if not, let their happiness roll on).

    And again: I hope History sees it as ultimately a successful experiment. Not that even, but an exceptional achievement -precisely because it was an exception. Not perfect but more than solid.

    Just *doing* it, taking on that challenge, and driving it through to completion despite the spiteful niggling and jeering of doubters and haters, stands, I think, as an exceptional achievement.  And I have no use for “perfect”.  Logically speaking, as I understand it perfection = death.  Twelve lives, and, I think, will continue to do so.

  31. @blenkinsopthebrave  To bring it back to The Pilot, I think his Doctor in it was pitch perfect, and I am hoping very much that S10 will give us a memorable and absolutely unforgettable Doctor.

    Well, there we are: for me, seeing The Pilot crystalized my view that s8-9 did offer what is, for me, “a memorable and absolutely unforgettable Doctor.”  The Doctor of The Pilot is beautifully done, and I enjoyed watching the episode; but this Doctor is — so far at least, which isn’t very — is less so (for me, personally; he seems to be much better received than the fragmented Doctor of S8 or the dangerously obsessed one of S9 [as I see him]).  Of course, that can change.  I hope it does.  But meanwhile, I’m missing that darker Doctor that he was before; but I expected to, and I can roll with it.  I’m as eager as anyone to see what Capaldi can do with him that’s lighter and sweeter, and The Pilot is a great start.

  32. @thane15 @JimTheFish

    To add to your analogy, isn’t it possible that your friend might have found some of what you considered to be ‘animated chatter’ actually of some creative use?

    Speaking as one who was there, no (it’s almost as if we discussed it while wandering back to the car park).

    Anyway. Just rediscovered that this is the epigram at the start of Julie’s first novel:

    • History repeats itself. Historians repeat each other.”  Philip Guadalla, 1920 (repeating Dr Max Beerbohm, repeating Quintilian)

    That made me LOL.

  33. @thane15

    I think one ought to be careful when stating “Series 8 was deeply flawed”  and then perhaps claiming why it wasn’t? Was it flawed, deeply, or not?

    @pedant has just pointed out in his inimitable and only partially snarky style that this is getting circular (as these things inevitably tend to do) but just to add this, there’s no real contradiction here. s8 can have flaws and still be enjoyable and I think @mudlark nailed it better than I did. It’s not a question of ratings or perceived external ‘success’ of ‘failure’, but that ultimately, for me at least and it seems a few others too, that it was ultimately dramatically unsatisfying. A finale with a really rather static Doctor and a tone that the impression is of being fought against or ‘corrected’ But there are few stories that you can point to and say ‘that’s a bad story’. Only Time Heist (which would have been worked as an 11 and Ponds romp) and In The Forest of the Night are real duffers.

    But in the end my take-home from that series is of respect for the ideas but a feeling of dissatisfaction with the drama. It clearly spoke to you on a different, and as you say, personal level and that’s great. I appreciate that. I was left with the feeling of perhaps being in a restaurant and having a meal that I enjoyed but which had still left me feeling vaguely hungry. But the point here is not groupthink or to talk you out of your opinion or tell you that it’s somehow invalid (eh, @pedant?) but merely to offer one that might diverge in certain aspects.

    ** Why can’t it be like Buffy?

    I think ultimately because it doesn’t need to be. It just needs to be itself. Nor does it need to be BSG or Game of Thrones or anything else. It has its own strengths and pleasures. It’s also unique in its crazy patchwork quilt formation compared to pretty much any show.


    Speaking as one who was there, no (it’s almost as if we discussed it while wandering back to the car park).

    In my new(ish) life I find myself in a lot of writing workshops (sometimes it feels like too many) and, yes, there are tangents and digressions and, yes, sometimes people are ‘writing’ the piece that they want to see in front of them instead of what the person has actually presented (and that does have to be nipped in the bud always). But at the same time, I think most of the writers involved would agree that it’s seldom that the feedback offered is entirely without use. But really the only ‘take home’ I can glean from your analogy is ‘I don’t agree with you so shut up!’. Which is not massively helpful.

    But you’re right that I’m pretty much repeating earlier points now so I think I’ll leave this discussion. Thanks to all for an interesting exchange.

  34. @jimthefish

    no worries at all! No, the thing with Buffy, was more why can’t the ideals behind it “be like Buffy” not the show itself -but I didn’t express it properly. Also, it was more a “aw, why not?” type-of-thing. And it can’t be. What it is, is its self.

    An excellent and meaty discussion. Love it!

    Regards, Puro (it’s Saturday and tomorrow there’s another whole episode. It’s Christmas!)

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