This season of Doctor Who has been pretty unimpressive so far, but if we’re being honest, most seasons of Doctor Who are unimpressive. It’s not that the show is bad, though it can be very much of the time. Rather, it’s always been a series so flippant about the normal rules of TV and sci-fi, and so willing to let every story be something completely different, that its hit-to-miss ratio has long suffered. People complain about Steven Moffat’s current run on the show, and it’s true he has problematic writing crutches, but look back at the Davies years and you’ll see just as much crap mixed in with the good. It’s the nature of the show, but it also leaves a lot of room for the show to surprise. One way it has surprised me this season is in the new interpretation of The Doctor as played by Peter Capaldi. He’s a jerk. An asshole. I, for one, am happy about that.
The new Doctor Who series that started in 2005 has dealt occasionally with The Doctor as a dark soul who could sometimes be a bit of an ass, but it has too often been in love with the character, unwilling to let the audience be put off by him. The Tumblr era only made that worse. Doctors got younger and younger, with an emphasis on the cute wildness of the character and an urge to make him swoon-worthy. The thing is, The Doctor wasn’t always like that. Looking back at earlier incarnations, including the popular Tom Baker era, the show had little problem allowing The Doctor to be nasty sometimes, and other times an outright jerk.
In fact, in his original incarnation, as an elderly man played by William Hartnell, The Doctor was regularly mean to his schoolteacher companions. It’s almost fitting then that the the Twelfth Doctor is mean to his schoolteacher companion Clara. Knowing Moffat’s affinity for classic Who, the choice has probably been deliberate. Swerve back to an older man, make him kind at heart, but difficult and a little mean on the surface. That return to form is actually quite refreshing to watch after several seasons of sad Tennant and silly Smith.
Moffat and Capaldi have gone a step beyond even the classic depictions of The Doctor, though, giving a scarier edge to his new manic rudeness. In the season’s best episode so far, “Listen”, Moffat told a surprising and touching story about the heart of the character while also making much of the episode’s sense of fear come from him as well. In this week’s episode, “The Caretaker”, The Doctor goes a little too far into well-meaning-but-regressive paternalistic mode, but his anger and callousness in the moment give a heightened edge to an episode that otherwise would’ve been predictable and lacking in energy.
It’s a smart move, and while I wouldn’t want it to go on indefinitely, as a temporary counterpoint the last eight or nine years of Doctor Who stories, it’s a welcome change of pace. On Moffat’s part it’s also a bold move considering the kind of fan-base the series has accrued over its modern run. I’m holding out hope that some better episodes will be coming this season, but as is I’m fully on board with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. Now if only Moffat could figure out how to write women in the Doctor Who universe…
Corey Atad is a staff writer for Pajiba. He lives in Toronto.