Warning: Spoiler Alert
Before I even started grade-school my parents would ship me off to the local movie theater each Saturday afternoon, mainly to get rid of me for a couple of hours. Although some of the movies were kid-oriented, more often than not the studios produced these pictures for an adult-audience, some of the biggest films of the early sixties as I followed along the best I could. (I clearly remember walking around the house for days, shouting “I Am Spartacus,” until my father threatened to duct tape my mouth shut.) As a side-effect of those excursions, I developed a love for movies that remains with me today.
Many of the movies I saw at that age have faded into the shrouded corners of my memory, sometimes evoked if I see the film again. However, one film and one character made a huge impression on me, “Dr. No,” the movie that brought James Bond portrayed by Sean Connery to the big screen. I left the theater that day awestruck by the movie, but more so by Connery’s performance as 007, a hero that personified the meaning of COOL. A man that could take a slug from his Vodka Martini take out the bad guy and make out with incredibly sexy women, without mussing his hair.
From that point onward for the next few years I’d see the new James Bond adventure the weekend the movie premiered, entertained by movies like “From Russia With Love” and “Goldfinger” among others. Although a boatload of stories remained to be told, Connery decided to quit at his prime and in my eyes “the magic” in the Bond films vanished. Roger Moore, paled in comparison and Timothy Dalton, wasn’t even in the same area code as Connery. Although I’ve enjoyed Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig in other vehicles, I’ve never seen them as 007. Mainly because I concluded long ago I’m not a James Bond fan, I’m a “Sean Connery As James Bond Fan.”
Not long after Connery started his run as 007, a television show debuted on the BBC, that went on to become a global phenomenon even thought it’s debut drew very few viewers. The series had the misfortune of premiering on November 22, 1963 the day that American President John F. Kennedy got assassinated, however it was rebroadcast the following Friday and entranced England. That series, “Doctor Who” with William Hartnell in the title role, became a British Institution and 51-years later, the show remains as popular as ever having gone through far more incarnations of The Doctor, than James Bond.
It would stand to reason that being a huge fan of science-fiction and fantasy genre, that I’ve watched the adventures of The Doctor for decades, however even with many friends being big fans of the series the thought of watching the show never appealed to me. Ironically, the same guy that stopped enjoying the James Bond movies, after the first actor to portray the super-spy left the role, it took the actor that show-runner Steven Moffat chose to portray the twelfth Doctor for me to start watching the series. So I can now say I’m not a Doctor Who fan, I’m a “Peter Capaldi as Doctor Who Fan.”
Peter Capaldi first appeared on my radar this past summer, portraying Cardinal Richelieu in the BBC series “The Musketeers,” a series we recapped. He captured the screen and dominated each scene he appeared in as the advisor to the King of France, a man who went to great lengths to see his own agenda become reality. Though a villain in every sense of the word, the Cardinal commanded respect and proved himself as a worthy adversary. So when it came to my attention that Capaldi would soon debut as The Doctor, I naturally chose to see him in the role that I previously knew of only by word of mouth.
To prepare myself to enter The Doctor’s universe, I watched two BBC Productions; the first an entertaining and poignant film entitled “An Adventure Of Space And Time,” which recreated the series creation and William Hartnell’s portrayal of The Doctor, from 1963-1966. I also watched the 5oth Anniversary Special, “The Day Of The Doctor” that featured three incarnations of The Doctor, Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt as the War Doctor. Though realizing it probably was an amazing episode for long time fans, and impressed by the special effects, the story most of the time lost and confused me. In retrospect, I’ve come to understand just how significant the tale is.
There were no such problems as I watched the first episode of Season Eight, entitled “Deep Breath,” perhaps the fact that it was an origin story made it easier to follow. However the main appeal of the episode to me, was the performance as The Doctor, a part as far removed from Cardinal Richelieu as possible. As viewers got to know the Cardinal, it became quite easy to realize which direction he’d take in any situation. The Doctor however is an incredibly mercurial character, he’s liable to go from one extreme to the other in a matter of seconds and Capaldi nailed it from the jump.
Moffat’s described The Doctor as a restless sort, who bumbles into situations and reluctantly rectifies them. He doesn’t want the responsibility that a hero shoulders, but he ends up coming through in the end, most times. He’s got an extremely high opinion of himself and an ego to match, Moffat’s also said The Doctor’s perhaps a bit insane, or possibly stark-raving mad. Capaldi embodied those characteristics throughout the eighth season and he’ll display them again on Christmas night, as BBC America broadcasts the Christmas Special, “The Last Christmas.”
I remember at what point in that first episode, when I realized I’d be making The Doctor a regular part of my Saturday nights. The Doctor and his companion Clara, wound up in Victorian England, as The Doctor was coming to grips with his regeneration. He wore an old-fashioned men’s night-shirt and left the house of his host, ending up in an alley rummaging through the garbage that surrounded him. Suddenly he found an old broken mirror on the ground and tried to make it clear enough to see his reflection. At that point, a vagrant holding a bottle entered the alley and purposely made noise to alert The Doctor that he had company, that started the following conversation:
Doctor: It’s Bitey.
Doctor: The Air is Bitey, it’s white, mighty.
Vagrant: It’s Cold.
Doctor: That’s right! It’s cold, I knew there was a thing for it. I need um, I need clothes, that’s what I need. And a big long scarf. No, that would look stupid. Have you ever seen this face before? (pointing to himself)
Doctor: Are you sure?
Vagrant: Sir, I’ve never seen that face before.
Doctor: That’s funny, because I know that I have. You know, I never know where these faces come from, they just pop up. (Vagrant starts to distance himself from The Doctor) Faces like this one, look. (Grabs Vagrant by the arm and takes him to the mirror) Look, look, it’s covered in lines, but I didn’t do the frowning. Did you ever look in the mirror and say to yourself, I’ve seen that face before?
Vagrant: Well every time I look in the mirror.
Doctor: Yes, yes, but my face is fresh on. (Vagrant distances himself even further from The Doctor.) Why this one though? Why’d they choose this one? It’s like I’m trying to tell myself something, like I’m trying to make a point. But what is so important, that I can’t tell myself what I’m thinking?
Vagrant: Uh, uh….
Doctor: Well I’m not just being rhetorical here, you can join in.
Vagrant: Well, I don’t like it.
Vagrant: Your face.
Doctor: Well I don’t like it either. It’s alright up until the eyebrows, but then it goes haywire. Look at these eyebrows, they’re attack eyebrows. You can take bottle tops off with these!
Vagrant: They’re mighty eyebrows indeed sir!
Doctor: They’re cross, crosser than the rest of my face. They’re independently cross, they’ll probably secede from the rest of my face and set up their own independent state of eyebrows. That’s Scotch, have I gone Scottish?
Vagrant: You are definitely Scotch sir. I can hear it in your voice.
Doctor: Oh my, good I’m Scottish. Wait….I’m Scotch, Scotch, I’m Scottish. I can complain about things. I can really complain! Give me your coat.
Vagrant: (looking scared) No.
Doctor: But I’m cold.
Vagrant: But I’m cold.
Doctor: Well no sense in our both being cold, give me your coat. Wait, shut up, shut up. I’ve missed something, something that was here. (Rummages through trash, then grabs a newspaper, camera focuses on article about another victim of spontaneous combustion.) Here’s what I saw, spontaneous combustion!
Vagrant: What kind of Deviltry is this?
Doctor: They’ll probably blame it on the English.
It was a brilliantly acted scene and it displayed a lot of the qualities that Moffat said The Doctor possessed. The stories told throughout season eight, showed Capaldi reveling in becoming The Doctor and things like Daleks, Cyber-Men and the Tardis, became more than just meaningless phrases, that I heard from friends, or read about in articles.
I’m pretty certain, that I’ll remain onboard the Tardis, as long as Capaldi stars in the series. Whether I remain with the show after the actor gives way to yet another replacement, I’ll make that decision when that time arrives. At that point, I’ll determine if I’ve become a fan of the series, or remain a “Peter Capaldi as Doctor Who Fan.”
The Doctor Who Christmas Special, The Last Christmas, Debuts Christmas Night at 9:00 pm on BBC America.