Sunday, 6 December 2015

I'm finally convinced that Peter Capaldi is the Doctor

For a long time, I wasn't convinced by the twelfth Doctor. It wasn't that there was anything wrong with Peter Capaldi's performance, it was just that he didn't seem very Doctorly. There was Ecclestone for a bit, then I got used to David Tennant, and then I got used to Matt Smith, and Capaldi seemed like too much of a change. He was too grumpy, too cold, too Scottish, and I didn't see the same character in him. It's not like I could compare him to any of the pre-my-birth Doctors, because I'm just not going to watch any of that (sorry). I can only judge these modern-era Doctors, in the new version of the show that's not that new anymore. And the good news is that at the end of a season that's been sometimes quite good but too often meh, there are two episodes that have completely and utterly convinced me that Capaldi is the Doctor. And he might be more the Doctor than any others I've seen.

The problem with this season has been its strange addiction to two-parters. These days the idea of a two-parter can seem strange, when there's so much good stuff with running storylines. Doctor Who is the rare show that can pull off doing a different thing every week. It can do anything it wants, and if you don't like one story, there's another one next week. Except this year there wasn't, and if you didn't like something you were kind of stuck with it for a bit longer. There were Zygons doing a world invasion thing, which is difficult to do on a small budget. There was an immortal girl who never really seemed immortal (Maisie Williams is very good in Game of Thrones, though). And there was some other stuff that isn't really relevant to the point I'm trying to make: the penultimate episode 'Heaven Sent' is amazing. I don't know what pure Doctor Who is, but this is where it is for me.

There's just him, the Doctor, trapped in a puzzle box, chased by death, choosing to punch through a diamond wall and die over and over again for billions of years instead of giving in. In this episode time is weighty and terrible, and the Doctor is the master of it. I don't think it would have been as good with Smith or Tennant. Here Peter Capaldi really looks, and sounds, like an intergalactic wizard. He is dark and powerful and seems to belong in a never-ending castle of doom. The whole episode was very clever, but not in the overly complicated way that sometimes causes problems. Its simplicity allowed it to focus on the things that really work: hunting for clues in a Gothic space prison, a creepy death monster chasing him, and punching through a diamond wall for billions of years.

Maybe it's all down to the coat. In this episode he is wearing a red velvet coat that is self-consciously more Doctory than what he normally wears. If he is the minimalist Doctor, that coat is what completes the picture. They even make a point of him not wearing it in the next episode. In the finale, he takes it off and becomes even more of a badass by taking over his home planet from a hut. It seems that he would rip the universe apart to get his companion back. It's something he's probably done before, but he's never taken such a long, long road to do it. These two closing episodes are season-saving stuff for me, and it helps that they're unusually well directed. I'm not saying that Doctor Who isn't well directed, just that I don't usually notice. Here I didn't have to try to believe it and forgive the cheap bits or the parts that are obviously in Cardiff. I was there, I was on Gallifrey, and I didn't question it. And I was also, for the first time in a while, back with the Doctor.