John Ostrander: Doctor McCrankypants
SPOILER ALERT: This week’s topic is Doctor Who. If you don’t watch the show, you probably won’t like the column. Also, if you’re saving this season to binge watch and haven’t seen any of the episodes yet, there may be some spoilers. Fair warning.
We’re several weeks now into the new season of Doctor Who featuring the latest incarnation of the Doctor as played by Peter Capaldi. While our own Vinnie Bartilucci has been doing splendid recaps/reviews here on ComicMix, I’d like to look at Capaldi’s Doctor overall and weigh in.
He’s not like the past several incarnations. Capaldi said he wanted his Doctor to be more of an alien and he’s succeeded. This Doctor also has something of an empathy problem and his social skills are rather lacking. David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor, was famous for telling people, “I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry.” Especially when something terrible was going to happen or did happen to them that he couldn’t prevent. I can’t imagine those words even occurring to Capaldi’s incarnation.
However, what distinguishes this Doctor most to me is – he’s cranky. He’s Doctor McCrankypants.
Start with the eyes. Our first glimpse of him showed an almost angry glare and fierce, fierce eyebrows. He scowls more than he smiles. Suffer fools gladly? This Doctor doesn’t suffer them at all. He doesn’t like being hugged and, when his companion insisted, did it very awkwardly. He almost looked as if he was in pain.
He is ruthlessly pragmatic. On “Mummy on the Orient Express,” the mummy appears only to those it is about to kill. They have 66 seconds to live. The Doctor insistently pumps one of the victims before their death for a description and any other information in an effort to learn what they are dealing with. He knows there is no chance of saving the terrified man and doesn’t try.
In the first of the new episodes, the Doctor and his companion, Clara, are fleeing automatons. A door comes down between them with only a porthole in it. “No sense in both of us getting caught,” says the Doctor and runs off, leaving Clara to survive as best she can. You can see her sense of betrayal. The Doctor does return with help and does later rescue Clara but his actions are very atypical of the Doctor.
There can also be amusing side-effects to the Doctor’s crankiness. He offers to take Clara anywhere she wants to meet anyone she wants and she asks to meet Robin Hood whom the Doctor insists never existed. They go anyway and, of course, the first person the Doctor sees is Robin Hood. Refusing to admit he’s wrong, the Doctor insists this is an imposter or a robot or a hologram or something but definitely not Robin Hood. Caught and thrown into a dungeon, the Doctor and Robin have a hysterical bickering session.
In a later episode, the Doctor goes “undercover” as a caretaker at the school where Clara teaches when she is not off traipsing through all of time and space. He pretends to be human and thinks he can get away with it. He is so tone deaf to his social ineptness that it really is very funny.
All of this makes him different from his immediate predecessors. He lacks the puppy dog verbosity of Matt Smith or the emo boyishness of David Tennant or the mannish, blunt charms of Christopher Eccleston. In fact, the only Doctor I can think of who has been as cranky was the first Doctor, William Hartnell. Maybe not even him.
I wonder how the fans who have only joined the show since Eccleston and Tennant will react to Capaldi’s Doctor? He’s older and, well, crankier. Myself – I like him. A lot. In many ways, I relate to him more. As I get older, I get – well – crankier. “Hey, you kids – get away from my TARDIS!”
So – here’s to Doctor McCrankypants. Long may he travel through space and time, alienating friends and enemies alike. Go get em, Doctor.