Doctor Who: Critics split over Peter Capaldi

PETER Capaldi made his debut as the new Doctor Who with a series of digs at his own expense.
Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman pictured during a photocall prior to Capaldi's debut as Doctor Who. Picture: PAPeter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman pictured during a photocall prior to Capaldi's debut as Doctor Who. Picture: PA
Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman pictured during a photocall prior to Capaldi's debut as Doctor Who. Picture: PA

Glasgow-born Capaldi is the 12th actor to play the Doctor in six decades of the Doctor Who series. At 56, he is also the oldest since the first, William Hartnell.

Doctor Who fans saw a new complex Doctor and there were differing reactions on Twitter to the first dose of this darker, more prickly Time Lord. Capaldi, perhaps best-known as a foul-mouthed spin doctor in The Thick Of It, has taken over from his 31-year-old predecessor Matt Smith.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

As he spots different things about his new form, including his accent, Capaldi’s Doctor announces “I am Scottish I have gone Scottish”, which he says is good because “I can complain about things”.

Although the Doctor has changed, his companion has not. Jenna Coleman returns as Clara Oswald, who was also Smith’s sidekick.

At one point Clara also tells the new Doctor about his head of silver hair, saying: “If I got new hair and it was grey I would have a problem.”

The episode - called Deep Breath - also includes a dinosaur, robots who are turning into men and talk of getting to the promised land.

Smith pops back for a small appearance in a telephone call to Clara and he asks her: “Please tell me I didn’t get old - anything but old. I was young. Oh, is he grey?”

The new Time Lord’s introduction to audiences was memorable, according to some critics - but others were less impressed.

Peter Capaldi had emerged “brash, furious and very, very Scottish”, the Independent on Sunday’s Neela Debnath said.

The script, to match the Doctor, is “suitably darker and more mature”, she added.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Sunday Telegraph’s Michael Hogan said Capaldi “signals a conscious break from the Doctor’s boyish recent incarnations”, referring to the younger David Tennant and Matt Smith.

He said the “veritable elder statesman” is more reminiscent of the show’s roots, when it featured older men in the lead role.

But the new Doctor had not quite been able to “stamp his personality on things”, according to Phil Hogan of The Observer.

The reviewer said he had been left disappointed after the exciting build-up to the first episode of the new series, advising the new Doctor he will have to “get his brains in shape” for next week’s episode.

AA Gill, The Sunday Times’s TV critic, said Capaldi’s version of the Doctor was “not unlike Richard Dawkins (the scientist), madly science-fictive and theophobic, with selective amnesia and vague formless feelings of charity”.

David Stephenson, of the Sunday Express, liked Capaldi’s Scottish take on the Time Lord because the new character is “one of us; older, kindly, grumpy at times, and with regrets”.

He even predicts that he could be destined for greatness, declaring “once he gets over his post-traumatic regeneration disorder, this worldly Doctor could become a classic”.

But the Sunday Mirror’s Kevin O’Sullivan thought the whole episode was a “lacklustre affair”, from the plot to the dinosaur and robots who made an appearance.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He added: “Thrust into the thick of it, the new guy struggled with the Doc’s requisite irritating eccentricity and had zero chemistry with Clara. This odd couple are time zones apart.”

Despite giving the episode a drubbing, the critic still sees hope in the stories to come because Capaldi is “a fine actor” and the Daleks will be back.

A peak of 7.3 million viewers tuned in to watch the feature-length opening episode of Doctor Who, the BBC said.

There was an average of 6.8 million viewers across the whole programme and the show attracted 33 per cent of all viewers who were watching TV during that time slot.

The BBC said this made it the most watched series opener of Doctor Who since 2010 when Matt Smith took on the role.

Review: Capaldi’s debut fails to lift show out of familiar formula, writes Andrea Mullaney

EXPECTATIONS for this new series were perhaps highest among those who’d tired of the past few years of insanely complex, season-long mysteries: surely, some felt, the great saviour Peter Capaldi would sweep all that away, ushering in a new age of old Who? They’ll have been disappointed by this episode, which spent much of its time reassuring viewers that yes, this was the same man – and much the same show.

By its nature, the series has to re-explain its basic concept to new generations every few years. But Deep Breath went beyond that to answer – at length – questions that most may not have been asked, as it underlined in triplicate that the new Doctor is no longer anyone’s pretty young boyfriend (a word used so many times in the episode that I lost count).

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Capaldi was certainly game to embrace a script that dwelt on his apparently hideous old age and appearance. And his performance was assured, of course, rising above the silliness of much of the first half-hour (leaping around in a nightshirt, babbling to a tramp) and managing to deliver gravitas and depth in a late confrontation with the main villain. This “rubbish robot from the dawn of time” was his mirror image, endlessly replacing himself and moving on. But hints that there’s a reason the 12th Doctor (or is he the 13th?) has copied the appearance of a man from Pompeii he once met, seemed more like a strained effort to “fan-w***” away Capaldi’s previous role than a subtle character point.

Likewise, the Doctor’s shout of “Oi, big man, shut it!” seemed like a heavy nod to those jokes about Malcolm Tucker (Capaldi’s character from The Thick Of It) in the Tardis. Showrunner and writer Steven Moffat also had fun with the Doctor’s new Scottish accent, having him declare: “I’ve gone Scottish, it’s good. I can really complain about things now … I probably blame the English”. Sadly, we did not hear whether the Doctor is now voting Yes.

But in all this, there was no room for much plot, with the extra ten minutes’ running time devoted to Clara’s angst over his change rather than fleshing out the flesh-stealing baddies. Moffat’s annoying habit of defining his female characters by their relationships popped up again, with mysterious new villain Michelle Gomez appearing at the end to call the Doctor her “boyfriend”. Some things never change.

Capaldi, 56, became the 12th Doctor to appear in the show, taking over from Matt Smith, who played the title role for three years.

He co-stars alongside Jenna-Louise Coleman for the 34th series of the show.

Last night’s episode was also aired on BBC America, where the show has proven hugely popular.

The Christmas special last year achieved the station’s highest ever audience, with 2.4 million Americans tuning in.

Speaking on Chris Evans’ Radio 2 Breakfast Show before the episode aired, Capaldi said: “It’s difficult with a show that’s 50 years old, but I thought it would be nice to get some mystery back into it.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I always thought when I grew up Doctor Who was a slightly spooky, weird character who would arrive out of nowhere and take people off deep into space and give them terrible, terrifying adventures, and I wanted to evoke a bit of that.”