A New Age

And so, a new Doctor. In less than six months, another incarnation will spring from the amber flames of Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor, and our favourite Time Lord will be physically and emotionally reborn.

The casting of Peter Capaldi the past weekend has certainly provided a lot of press, a lot of fan conversation. By far it seems the greatest issue fandom is currently wrestling over is the perceived age of the Doctor – that is to say (if it ever needed saying), Capaldi’s actual age, 55. Capaldi is, as has been pointed out variously, the same age as William Hartnell was when he assumed the mantle of Doctor and defined the character in doing so. The Doctor has always been an old man, but we live in a time when age – youth in particular, is power, and the advancement of age is treated with suspicion and, in some quarters, derision.

I wish Capaldi a smooth ride. Criticisms of an actor’s age and their ability to portray a lead are for the most part blinkered and simply unfair – Sir Ian McKellen is 74, played Richard III at the same age as Capaldi is now, a title role which would kick-start his Hollywood viability with tremendous force. Clint Eastwood was playing action roles well into his fifties, while Capaldi’s fellow Scot Sean Connery (the same age as Eastwood) was, at Capaldi’s current vintage, shooting Highlander – and this is to number a few male actors of a generation back, Capaldi’s critics might well note that Liam Neeson is 61, and Sean Bean and Paul McGann are not far from Capaldi’s age at 53. What matters to new Who‘s more recent fans is perhaps that since 2006 the role has been filled by young men, and the character has shifted with this perception. Vitality, virility and vivacity are all hallmarks of the Doctor in his latter years – so where does a leading man confidently striding his way past middle age take such a role, and where also does Steven Moffat, the man who cast him and steers the character in equal measure?

It’s an intriguing prospect, hinting at some significant gear-changes to the character of the Doctor and the nature of the show. A more seasoned-looking Time Lord might carry a new authority where he previously had to punch above his weight (an aspect teased at with the first of the Young Doctors, Peter Davison), and presumably presents new challenges and nuances. Are we to make of this that the Doctor will be once again an outwardly older soul, like his earlier incarnations? Can we expect that the physical demands of the role will be reduced out of necessity (both Tennant and Smith played on through back injuries, it should be noted) or passed to a younger – maybe male, companion as under Hartnell? Will the companion-Doctor dynamic, remodelled and ret-conned post-2005 to something akin to romance – requited or not, change again? And to that end, would the through-line of this relationship – for some fans the essence of the series and their identification with its leads, be removed or dramatically changed, and in having been changed become a storyline in its own right?

For the first time in a long time I’m eager to find out, and if online chat and conversations with friends and workmates indicates for the moment, Peter Capaldi’s casting seems to have woken a new interest in the series and the character. Doctor Who is a show about change, with the character’s Protean nature at its heart; under Steven Moffat the Universe seems to have been subjected to increasing change, revision and reinvention.  Would it be too much to ask of those among the Doctor’s fans mourning the departure of a ‘young’ Time Lord embrace this latest change as well?


One Response to “A New Age”

  1. Al Says:

    I’ll join you in wishing Capaldi a smooth ride, but given his vast experience in a notoriously hard industry (to say nothing of Glaswegian heritage) I’d confidently predict he’ll take whatever comes his way without even breaking stride. Certainly, the fact that he acquitted himself so well under the massive pressure, and potential horror, of Who’s first (and hopefully last?) foray into reality TV, this week, bodes extremely well for the future. ‘Young Danny Olsen’ has gained so much gravitas and charisma over the decades – I’m excited about the programme for the first time in far too long.

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