Peter Capaldi Finds His Doctor Who

I must admit to being fairly critical of Peter Capaldi’s work in the British sci-fi series Doctor Who – having been a fan of his “fuck-the-fuck off or fuck-the-fuck in” belligerence as Malcom Tucker in “The Thick of It” – but I have been pleasantly surprised by the programme’s most recent episode, “Heaven Sent “, easily the best of the last two seasons and possibly of the 2005 reboot. After some dreadfully uneven and at times painfully atonal storylines this was very much a back-to-basics episode, great writing coupled with great acting, and a well-thought out premise. The idea of the Doctor repeatedly reincorporating himself, in extremis, is both wonderful and chilling. Though I’ve seen the motif or versions of it used elsewhere in SF literature and drama this interpretation was particularly well done (two obvious examples are the suicide-regenerations of the character, Father Paul Duré, in the titular first book of Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos and of course the torture-bleeding of Captain Jack Harkness in the fourth season of the BBC’s “Torchwood”, a short-lived Whovian spinoff).

This was the first time I observed Capaldi inhabiting the role of the Doctor with a distinctiveness of his own, aside from the fairly facile “grumpiness” or lack of empathy that was played-up by the writers as his only distinguishing feature until now. A screenplay tick-box of personality quirks is not a substitute for character emerging through drama. In terms of the episode’s technical features, a two-parter with next week’s “”Hell Bent””, great sets, both stage and location, suitably low-key special effects, and imaginative direction made for an above-average experience. The music in particular, with echoes of George Frideric Handel’s “Sarabande”, was the best I’ve heard for quite some while. For a more in-depth look at last Saturday’s episode the “m0vie” blog carries an excellent review that contextualises it within the show’s overall history. It is well worth a read.

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10 comments

  1. I’ll be the first to admit I was never a huge fan of the show, I just didn’t get it, but you’re absolutely correct, that episode drew me in.
    Perhaps, on reflection, it was Capaldi at his best; let loose on a fine script.

    1. I think so. He’s a far better actor than the scripts he has been given since taking up the role of Doctor Who (a few exceptions aside). Hopefully this is a sign of renewed vigour in the show. It has become very lacklustre over the last few years, too wrapped up in its own self-adoration and self-reverence.

  2. Good review. I didn’t have much of a problem with Capaldi, but my wife did; she’s been a rabid fan of the show for ages. Hopefully this will draw her back to it.

    1. I like him as an actor, and some of the DW episodes/stories with him were good but the show has lost a lot of its vim and vigour. And its far too in love with itself. There is a sort of cloying self-reverence that is suffocating it. The final appearances of Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor were pretty poor. Yes, it’s a kids’/general viewing show but a little bit more adult sensibility wouldn’t go amiss. What I would like is some properly, sweary adult sci-fi.

      Doctor Who meets Game of Thrones would be something to watch! 😉

      1. Totally agree with the swearing. It needn’t be over the top, but it would make the show a little more…realistic? Poor choice of words for a sci-fi show, but you know what I mean!

        1. Absolutely. Doctor Who is what it is but it would be good to have similar for older audiences. Then again the Wachowskis’ siblings gave us “Sense8” which is unwatchable, so maybe I should be careful what I wish for! 😉

      2. Well, Clara did tell the Doctor to get up off his arse on Saturday. Surely, in Dr Who terms that amounts to swearing.
        Great acting, chilling atmospherics, good directing, excellent writing – and that music – a remarkable episode, I thought.

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