Marc Alan Fishman: I’m Now A Who From Whoville!
Well, it took me a while to make my way through it, but I’m pleased as punch to report I watched an entire season of Doctor Who. And no need to bury the lead: I’m a fan. Peter Capaldi made me a fan. As for the rest of the Whoniverse, not so much.
For those loosely following my journey to TARDIStowne, this has been a long and bumpy road. When I’d noted my friends had started to watch (somewhere between the 9th and 10th Doctors) I gave the show a tepid try. Because I’d not been privy to any Who lore – be it actual storylines, or knowledge of the production itself – I initially found the show to be too low-budget, and too in-jokey for me to care. As the world around me anointed their arms with tally marks, whispered “Don’t Blink,” or went on and on about something called Bad Wolf, I remained ever-snarky. And then, when a weekend left me with nothing to do but catch The Day of the Doctor with my wife and son, I’d openly declared my desire to jump on the bandwagon. And thus I programmed the Capaldi Who to Season Record. Cue the theme music.
It’s not that surprising – to me, at least – that Capaldi was the hook that grabbed me. My love of Gregory House would be the telltale heart there. At their cores, Greg and Twelve (can I call him Twelve?) are problem-solvers. And they are both likely to use their tongues as the tool to save the day. Unlike House though, Capaldi’s Who was never outright rude for rudeness sake. He was curt, yes, but always when danger or a mystery seemed to be afoot. Tie this into the season’s overarching question – Is the Doctor a good man? – and you have the conflicted lead taking charge each week as the universe finds new ways to unravel.
And whether Capaldi was debating a dying Dalek, scoffing at Robin Hood, or giving dimension to flat foes, he presented it all with a nuanced performance that I believed was deep. Unlike the current James Gordon on Gotham, the gravitas of the Doctor felt lived in. And given I personally knew nothing of the decades-long history of the character? Well, that sums up Capaldi’s talent and my fandom pretty easily.
As with the original Star Trek, Firefly, or any number of other science-fiction shows I would eventually find an affinity for, the key to my kindness has always been strong characterization. Beyond Capaldi, I must give credit where it’s due. In spite of being plucky to the point of annoyance, Jenna Coleman’s Clara did eventually win me over. And her beau for the season, Danny Pink (“P.E.”!), while being a bit too much of a nondescript archetype when action was required, did eventually find his place. Funny then right as I was enjoying his grounded nature… that he (SPOILER ALERT) got smashed by a random plot device… err… car. In any event, the companions of this season were built to show us sides of the Doctor that were necessary in an introductory season. Now, a dozen or so episodes later… we know Twelve is not a leader of men, a lover of the ladies (though he creepily sorta dug kissing his arch, no?), or anything beyond an admitted “idiot with a box and a screwdriver, passing through, helping out.”
Long before I enjoyed the show, I’d considered Doctor Who to be as much (if not more) about the universe the he inhabited versus himself. But Capaldi’s season proved to me that to be untrue. While the episodes throughout the season were chocked in references that scooted way over my head, the most potent moments were never about anyone or anything more important than the Doctor himself.
Obviously tied to the aforementioned Good Man motif, it was clear even in the more lackluster or frustrating episodes (Earth taken over by trees, I’m looking at you…) that the definition of this iteration of the Doctor was at the heart of the show. And even in the face of his newly reformed nemesis, with the entire Earth under the threat of annihilation, Capaldi’s grimaces and line delivery sucked every scene into his orbit.
If I were to be critical, it’d revolve mostly around the specific adventures themselves. I found the show to be at its best when the plots were small and specific. When the Doctor had to handle a murder mystery on the space-faring Orient Express, or dealing with an unknown flat threat targeting a small town, there was a wonderful balance between the threat and the solution. When the show went big, with Earth-swallowing fairy tale forests, or the season finale’s masterful plot, things tended to get out of hand. Heady concepts are the bread and butter of the science fiction serial… but in a season that is built around a introspection, these few-too-many universe-shattering melodramas felt like loose Star Trek plottos, not quirky BBC fare.
With a dozen adventures now under his belt, I’m excited for the future. With the prospect of a new companion to roam all of space and time with pending, as well as litany of returning alien allies and foes, I expect a second season of Capaldi to move outside of the reactionary into something more proactive. Let’s see where this Doctor really wants to travel.
That is of course, unless his new companion Bogarts the TARDIS for their own agenda. Either way, I’m on for the ride…
Eyebrows and all.