A key scene from Deep Breath, which sees the Doctor come into his own.
Whenever the Doctor regenerates what we know is that his personality will change radically. What doesn’t always happen is that the whole tone of the show changes at the same time.
Certainly, that happened when Matt Smith took over the role, ushering in the ‘fairy tale’ era.
The fairy tale’s over. They didn’t all live happily ever after.
Deep Breath, the first episode of the eighth series of Doctor Who, got a world premiere in Cardiff on 7th August. Tony Fyler had been fifth in the queue for tickets the morning they went on sale. He wrote a spoiler-free review of the episode for WarpedFactor.com.
Peter Capaldi, the oldest actor to play the Doctor since William Hartnell.
You have to love Doctor Who fandom. When Matt Smith was cast in the role, vast swathes of it were up in arms, crying ‘Moffatt’s gone mad! This whipper-snapper’s too young to be the Doctor!’
When Peter Capaldi was cast to follow him, entirely different but these days no less vast swathes of it were up in arms, crying ‘Moffatt’s gone mad! This codger’s too old to be the Doctor!’
While Moffatt may very well be mad, each of these cries misses a fundamental point.
Just weeks before the oldest Doctor since the original takes to the Tardis to win the hearts of the world, Tony Fyler explained the different kinds of stories that could be told better with an older actor in the role, on the WarpedFactor website.
The lovely, geeky people at WarpedFactor.com have this morning run a news story all about the launch of this site, the novel writing project, and the plans of Tony Fyler to join the novelist community.
It should be said that for geeks of all fandoms, WarpedFactor combines the latest news, hot off the presses, and a very wide range of insightful feature pieces (some of them, though by no means the most insightful) written by Fyler.
If you have an inner geek, let it out, it’s probably suffocating in there. Let it dance, and sing, and revel in the pleasure of its own geekitude. Bookmark www.WarpedFactor.com and check back every day for new features, hot news and the best in cross-fandom opinion.
The countdown has begun to a new era for Doctor Who. Peter Capaldi, known for both his dramatic and comedic roles since the 80s, known as Malcolm Tucker, the William Wallace of filth from The Thick Of It, known for his Medusa stare and his Eyebrows of Doom, is about to become our favourite Time Lord. The news has divided the great and invincible fandom, with those old enough to remember the “Classic” series largely greeting the casting as overwhelming positive, and those more used to the stripling Doctors of recent years shrugging and saying “Well, I’ll give him a go, but…”
Capaldi’s already much-used publicity shot as the Doctor crystalises the divide around the question “Yes, but does he look like the Doctor?”
To some New-Whovians, no, he looks like the Doctor’s dad, poncing about and pointing at nothing. To the Classicists though, the answer is an emphatic yes. Tall, thin, imposing, dressed in no-nonsense clothes and looking not a little like he’s ready to kick the Daleks to death and tear the Cybermen’s heads off for dessert, he is, to all intents and purposes, the perfect fantasy Doctor for fans of a certain age. Not only does he reawaken the dream that they themselves are not too old to be the Doctor, or to act like him, the look carries with it the promise of perhaps a rather more grown-up and maybe even a slightly more serious tone to be taken in the Capaldi years.
It’s an impression that’s been encouraged by almost everything that’s come out of the production office of late – the intense stare crowbarred into the 50th Anniversary special; the initial teaser trailer, all dark and brooding and set against a background of an exploding Tardis; and the follow up, with talk of seeing hatred in the Doctor’s soul. All very dark and gritty and serious stuff.
There’s a danger in all this, inasmuch as it has a tendency to foster expectations of some new dark arc, some new realism, some new gritty edge to the show.
Within boundaries, this will probably be the case – each Doctor’s era has a tone, from Eccleston’s survivor-guilt coupled with the soapification of Who, through Tennant’s ‘one-chance’ chatterbox, that brought the fun back front and centre, to Smith’s fairy tale ‘thing-in-progress’ with a post office, a wife and occasional flashes of old-man rage. It’s to be hoped that Capaldi’s era will see the language of the Teletubbies retired (wibbly wobbly timey wimey byesie wysie?) in a post-War Doctor reaction to such infantilism, and a return to good honest pseudo-scientific gobbledegook (your fathers and grandfathers reversed the polarity of the neutron flow, dammit, and so will you – and you’ll like it!), but the boundaries within which the show can ‘grow up’ are very, very significant.
While the Classicists tend to complain about the relentless humour, the romance, River Song’s sexy banter and what they call a generalised “childishness” in New Who, it would be a huge mistake to think that the casting of an older Doctor is going to necessarily address all these things. The degree to which they can be addressed is actually pretty limited, because they’re fundamental ingredients that have hooked Doctor Who its largest worldwide audience – ever.
The point is that while it has always been a family show, Doctor Who’s core audience is a nation, and now a world of eight year-olds. And eight year-olds today are not the creatures they were in the 60s, 70s or even 80s – to which decades the Classicists refer when they claim that the show never needed all this modern stuff to be wonderful back then. Eight year-olds today exist in a world of greater equality, where anyone twisting an ankle while running away (irrespective of gender) would be thought of as a useless prawn and not a respectable companion. They live in a world more saturated with either explicit or implicit sexualisation in every ad break, and at potentially every click of a mouse. (This is not to imply anything Savillian or creepy, just that today’s eight year-olds know more about romance, about partnership, and about sex than eight year-olds generally in any previous generation, and they accept its presence in the world as the norm. They expect people who look like grown-ups to have complex relationships, and that includes hero figures like the Doctor). More than anything, they live in a world of speed: speed of thought, speed of talk, speed of decision-making. New Who reflects the world of New eight year-olds, just as Classic Who reflected the world of eight year-olds back then. It’s a very different place, and this modern world cannot be ignored if the show wants to retain and expand its armies of eight year-old fans.
So while there’s the potential with an older-looking Doctor to tell different stories to those you can effectively tell with Matt Smith at the Tardis console, it would be a mistake for fans of the Classic series to think Capaldi’s Doctor will ditch all the things about New Who they dislike – those things have become part of the core of the show in the 21st century. If we go into Series 8 expecting an all-dark, grown-up Doctor, with less “silliness” and banter, we could find ourselves in the peculiar situation where Capaldi’s greatest fans before he started in the role find themselves disappointed, and those who weren’t that keen on him deciding he’s not all that bad after all. The programme can never be made to principally appeal to the millions of 40 year-olds dressed up at Comic-Con – that would be Game of Thrones you’re thinking of. Who will continue to be aimed first and foremost at the eight year-olds and their families who tune in or download or stream it. Capaldi’s era may see the show grow up a little. But don’t expect it to take itself as seriously as the average adult fan.
Having a fascination for the UK TV show Doctor Who, Tony Fyler joined the bank of contributors to successful multi-fandom website, www.warpedfactor.com. his first piece for the site, an appreciation of the John Simm Master, was very well received – including by the John Simm Society, who retweeted the piece and gained it an additional thousand readers in the space of an hour.
There are two types of Master: there’s the natural Master, who comes by his body by the normal process of regeneration, and the unnatural Master, either disembodied or forced to steal an existence in order to survive. The first tends to play the role for character, the second, mostly for plot.
There’s also a loose correlation between the ‘type’ of Master and the success with which he has been historically played, and also with his ‘fit’ to a particular Doctor.
Roger Delgado, despite being in real life a very pleasant and amiable man, could have been born to play the dead-eyed gentleman psychopath of the universe, and he rarely, if ever, looked forced on-screen. He was chosen specifically to be the Anti-Pertwee.
The two ‘crispy critter’ Masters – Peter Pratt and Geoffrey Beevers – were not chosen specifically to play the Anti-Baker, and such was their emaciation they were forced to play the role largely on plot, to find their way back to a body. Anthony Ainley’s Master was not Doctor-specific either, and having stolen his body, he was forced from the beginning to be a Masteralike of Delgado’s version; it was more important that he looked like what had come before than it was to let him be his own villain. While little is ever heard from the CGI-snake Master, Eric Roberts (bless him, what did he think he was doing up there?) played the Master, again having stolen a body in his outing, purely driven by the plot to get more bodies, rather than as any kind of appropriate Anti-McGann.
When the series became a hit again in 2005, it was more or less certain that the Doctor would face off with his ultimate adversary again. But which Master would it be? Another re-tread of the Delgado Imprimatur, all beard and convoluted plans and gloating? Or someone new and naturalistic, someone that would be genuinely fearsome and scary and funny and dark and aimed squarely at providing the antithesis of whichever Doctor he encountered?
John Simm blew the doors off the part within the first five minutes.
Having had just about that long of Sir Derek Jacobi delivering the Anti-Hartnell, the Simm Master exploded on screen and began immediately matching David Tennant’s Doctor, trait for trait. There was the post-regenerative chattiness, there was the techno-skill, flying the Tardis with gusto, there was the glint of mad humour and the smile. And there – right there at the end of Utopia – was something new and modern. When the Doctor says “I’m sorry”, Simm’s spitting of “Tough!” is visceral and dangerous, it’s a boot to the Doctor’s face, and a note of the savagery behind Delgado’s suavity, Ainley’s chuckle and Roberts’s…whatever-that-was.
Simm went on to imitate Delgado not in any of the trappings of his Master (though the red-lined jacket was a nice touch), but in the fundamental philosophy of what a ‘natural’ Master was. This time, he was absolutely the Anti-Tennant, and the terrifying thing about the script of The Sound of Drums and The Last of the Time Lords is that it’s the ultimate version of the Pertwee scripts – disguise, hypnosis, cunning plans and world domination – but given a brave new twist. Simm’s is the Master who won. This is a devastating proposition, because the Master is no ordinary villain – he’s the philosophical opposite of everything the Doctor stands for, embodied in an equal, who can argue his corner and make the viewer question the Doctor’s position. It’s the combination of the scale of what the Master does to the Earth once he’s won it – “the only person to get out of Japan alive…”, and the unbridled glee with which Simm delivers his ‘stark raving bonkers’ Master, complete with dancing, disco and decimation, that make his Master something fresh and vibrant in those two episodes.
And then of course, the production team, having well and truly had its cake with a fantastic, energised Anti-Tennant Master, decided to eat it too, and gave us Simm as the body-snatching Master, the ‘other’ Master. And like disembodied Masters before him, Simm had no option but to play the character subsumed by plot, this time knowing his body was ‘born to die’ but multiplying almost endlessly and aiming to stop the drumming in his head. The End of Time is a busy script, but Simm manages to deliver the furious need of a disembodied Master more effectively in the burger-chomping scene than either Pratt or Beevers were allowed, because he keeps (largely) his own face and delivers the performance through his own interpretation of the Master as a creature propped up and kept sane by nothing more than ravenous consumption. Again, the Master is victorious in this story, though it feels (like the character himself) more hollow and reversible this time, and when events spin out of his control, the Master falls back on another old trope – the idea of joining forces with the Doctor to confront the greater threat. What is unique in the Master’s long on-screen history though is what Simm does in his final moments – he makes us sympathise with the Master, driven mad by ‘grown-ups’ who abused his mind if not his body; he is the child who never stood a chance, and grew up determined to be noticed. Simm’s exit might be a cliché, but it’s arguably the best and most worthwhile cliché in fifty years of Doctor Who.