Three episodes into the new era of Doctor Who, I do not yet care for the latest incarnation of the Doctor. Typically, this would not be much cause for concern because I did not initially care for either the 10th (David Tennant) or the 11th (Matt Smith) Doctor. In fact, I didn’t much care for the 9th Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) — upon whom I lost my Gallifreyan virginity — until the third or fourth episode. There’s an adjustment period.
But this is slightly different. I wasn’t previously familiar with the actors who played the last three Doctors until Doctor Who, but I was quite familiar with Peter Capaldi. I adored him from Skins and The Thick of It. For the first time as a Doctor Who fan, I came in excited about a new Doctor instead of sad about losing an old one.
While I’m reluctant to say this, and certainly leave open the possibility that my mind can change in subsequent episodes, Peter Capaldi doesn’t suit the character. Each of the three Doctors before him had their own spin on the character, naturally, but there was a through-line for all of them: They all had a certain goofy charm underlying their personalities, tinged with whimsy and optimism.
There’s nothing goofy or whimsical about Peter Capaldi’s Doctor.
The problem seems to be compounded for me by the fact that Steven Moffat and the gang continue to write the episodes for a Doctor with a certain goofy charm and whimsy. They feel like Matt Smith eps.
Then again, the writing hasn’t been particularly good in a while.
Indeed, despite the presence of the older, wiser, and gruffer Capaldi, these episodes lack substance. The show has been missing its gravitas for a while (arguably, since D10, but certainly since the arrival of Jenna Louise Coleman). I like to think Capaldi was brought in to reinfuse the series with that gravitas, but the writing isn’t doing him any favors. While Matt Smith did a remarkable job in retrospect to obscure a lot of Moffat’s weaknesses as a writer and showrunner, Capaldi so far actually seems to highlight them.
Doctor Who is in a creative rut. The combination of Moffat, Capaldi, and Jenna Louise Coleman is not working. In fact, for a few seasons now, the show has felt a little like the fourth season of Community: A series that returns to the well of fan favorites a few too many times, until once beloved things in the Doctor’s universe (the weeping Angels, Daleks) are exhausting things about the Doctor’s universe. The show needs new characters and villains, not just slightly different iterations of old ones.
More than that, Doctor Who needs a shake-up beyond a simple another new Doctor. While I think Coleman, Capaldi, or even Moffat could thrive in a new incarnation of the series, I don’t think the show can succeed creatively while those three co-exist, and I think we all know that Moffat should be the odd man out.