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Still Not Ginger: In Which We Express Cautious Excitement About Peter Capaldi

For hardcore Doctor Who fans, the show is like a cranky elderly relative. You love it because it's basically family. But you don't always like it. (Steven Moffat ... grumble grumble ... female characters ... grumble grumble ... what the hell did you do to River Song grumble grumble ...)

That being said, I think I could love Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor, even if the producers don't let him swear the way he did as Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It — spun off a few years ago as the movie In the Loop, for those of you who aren't British TV addicts. Though if that's what you're really hoping for, there are already the inevitable fan mashups circulating on YouTube. (Warning: The video at that link is decidedly NSFW.)

Yes, the news of Capaldi's casting does involve the inevitable disappointments — fans have been clamoring for a nonwhite Doctor or a Time Lady instead of a Time Lord, now that Gallifreyan gender-switching is officially canon. I personally cherished a vision of Tilda Swinton stepping up to the TARDIS console.

But Capaldi definitely does represent a change of direction for the show: He's 55, the same age First Doctor William Hartnell was when filming began in 1963. Following Matt Smith, who was the youngest Doctor ever cast — and my television boyfriend David Tennant — that's quite a swerve. It makes me think the show runners are turning away from the tragic-romantic, Lonely God, slightly funny-looking-heartthrob version of the Doctor we've been watching for the past seven seasons.

One of the biggest divisions in Who fandom — and I'm just going to assume everyone here cares about Who fandom — is over the Doctor as a romantic figure. Russell T Davies, who rebooted the series in 2005, had such an obvious crush on his main character that watching some of the Tenth Doctor's adventures with his companion Rose was uncomfortably like reading someone else's love letters. (Err ... not that I minded in the slightest.)

To more traditionally minded fans, that was just NOT ON. The Doctor can be avuncular, caring, mentoring, fatherly, loving in his own weird two-hearted-alien way, but would you date him? Lots of people would say no, not for a planetload of precious, precious Zeiton-7 ore.

So I can't help but think that with Twelve, and the approach of the show's 50th anniversary season, we're taking a deliberate step back in time toward classic Who. That makes sense, given the way last season was full of references to past adventures — Matt Smith's face coming out of the Time Vortex during the credit sequence! Be still my beating heart! That hasn't been done since Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy!

Wait, wait just one darn minute: The Seventh Doctor, as I recall, was an older, slightly grizzled Scottish eccentric ... so my point perhaps is proved. And I think it's going to be fantastic.

Some day, SOME day, this show will give us a female doctor. But until then, there's always Joanna Lumley in The Curse of Fatal Death.

And anyhow, Tilda Swinton actually IS a Time Lord, so she's probably busy.

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Petra Mayer died on November 13, 2021. She has been remembered by friends and colleagues, including all of us at NPR. The Petra Mayer Memorial Fund for Internships has been created in her honor.

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