It’s been more than a year since Peter Capaldi was announced as the Twelfth Doctor in the beloved British sci-fi series Doctor Who, and fans now have six entire episodes filled with fine Scottish banter and threatening eyebrows. Capaldi, an Oscar-winning writer as well as a brilliant comedy actor, has very different ideas for this incarnation of the Doctor compared to the last few regenerations.
The current Doctor’s companion, Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), who first appeared in “Asylum of the Daleks” in 2012, was a prime example of such inaccurate female depiction. Clara was the “Impossible Girl.” She kept cropping up and then dying without explanation. For nearly an entire series, she seemed to serve no purpose except as a puzzle to be solved. And to flirt with the Doctor when the opportunity arose. The traits that made her human were downplayed or often ignored altogether.
I, like so many fans of the show, hoped that this would desist once the Eleventh Doctor regenerated. Matt Smith’s Doctor was fantastic, of course, but let’s face it. He was a shameless flirt. We’ve all known someone with similar bad habits. I expected that that aspect of the Doctor-Clara relationship would change once the genius Time Lord took on the form of a graying Scotsman.
And change it did. The Doctor regenerated from puppy-eyed, 31-year-old Matt Smith into harsh-browed, 56-year-old Peter Capaldi. In “Deep Breath,” the first episode of the current series, Madame Vastra, a Victorian lizard woman who befriended the Doctor in earlier episodes, accuses Clara of judging the Doctor for his aged face. “I have never had the slightest interest in pretty, young men,” Clara protests. “Just because my pretty face has turned your head, do not assume that I am so easily distracted.” Although this seems to disregard Clara’s earlier flirting, at least Moffat is attempting to make Clara a human being rather than a teasing machine.
In addition to changes in character, there have been barely-noticeable adjustments in genre. Moffat loves horror, and he’s good at it. Ever since his Doctor Who writing debut in “An Empty Child,” Moffat has managed to insert an element of suspense and fear into the minds and endocrine systems of the audience. Adrenaline is a norm for any brave enough to face Moffat monsters. From the Weeping Angels, who only move when you’re not looking, to the Silence, who can only be remembered when you are looking, Moffat creations are terrifying, even if they aren’t always explained.
In the new series, Moffat has done it again. “Listen,” the fourth installment of the Twelfth Doctor’s adventures, opens with Capaldi (apparently) by himself in the TARDIS. “Question: Why do we talk out loud when we know we’re alone?” He blows out a candle and pauses for dramatic effect. “Conjecture: Because we know we’re not.” Moffat possesses an uncanny ability to take something normal, like being by yourself, or looking at a statue, and logically make it out to be the most petrifying situation in existence.
Even in somewhat less frightening episodes, such as “The Caretaker,” which concentrates mostly on the budding relationship between Clara Oswald and fellow schoolteacher Danny Pink, an element of gore and horror is present. In the episode intro, a man is blasted to death by a war machine, leaving only his charred hand behind. Moffat is definitely taking the idea of Doctor Who as a family show quite liberally.
And with Capaldi’s somber disposition, it’s bone-chillingly exhilarating. Capaldi, still just as oddball-ish and clever as other Doctors, brings an element of mystery and wisdom to the role, which matches perfectly with Moffat’s tendency to terrorize. The unknown is always scarier when the person to guide you through it is also an unknown.
This latest Doctor Who series, though still a little rough when it comes to plot holes and wasted story lines, is looking up. The characters are getting their fair share of development for once, and the atmosphere is changing from one of kooky adventures to one of true terror. The series finale, titled “Death in Heaven,” is sure to be exciting.