Tuesday, March 26, 2019

We Should Have Seen the Writing On the Wall

Before Peter Capaldi would agree to play Doctor Who, he first wanted to sit down face to face with show runner Steven Moffat and have a talk about the direction that the show was going to take. In [an approximation of] his words, he wanted to be sure that the show was going to be “the kind of Doctor Who that he wanted to play.”

Aside from the knotty issue posed by returning companion Clara Oswald (Capaldi, who has a daughter that age, wanted no part of a May/September flirtation, and hinted that this was a sticking point with the showrunner) we can assume that Moffat and Capaldi saw eye-to-eye and delivered a show that both agreed was the Who they wanted to deliver.

Hold that in your thoughts and flash forward three years. Moffat announces that series ten will be his last as showrunner — capping off a six-season run on the series that, despite the inevitable missed targets here and there, stands as a renaissance period for Doctor Who. Meanwhile, the BBC leaks that they have offered Peter Capaldi the option to stay on as The Doctor. Capaldi is silent. He remains silent throughout much of series ten, until he has the opportunity to do the same thing that he did three years earlier: to sit down face to face with incoming showrunner Chris Chibnall. He makes no statement on the subject, but  we can safely assume that his purpose is once again to learn what the new showrunner has in mind as he begins his tenure: to find out again if this iteration of Who is “the kind that he wants to play.”

We have no details of that meeting or how it went: Neither Capaldi nor Chibnall ever revealed what was said. But almost immediately after the meeting took place, Capaldi did a radio interview in which he casually dropped the bomb that series ten would be his last.

With twenty-twenty hindsight, and looking down the abyss at the deeply anti-intellectual, show-wrecking pile of preachy, social engineering tripe that was series eleven, it’s easy to guess that Capaldi took one look at Chibnall’s plans and immediately bailed out of the TARDIS, with or without a parachute.

Given how much press Capaldi’s avowed love of the show has gotten before, during and after his tenure, the implication is quite clear: the future of Doctor Who had been laid out before him, and much as he loved the gig, this was not a Doctor Who that he wanted any part of. It wasn’t a question of a single sticking point like Clara Oswald that could have been amicably resolved: the entire plan was wrong for him.

Fans that we are, who all love the show, we collectively went into immediate denial. Because we wanted the show to be good. Ignoring every sign of impending disaster, we applauded the announcement of Jodie Whittaker’s casting; as details began to leak and doubts began to creep in, we ignored those doubts and waited patiently with open hearts and minds:

… and then the Train Wreck happened. 

My argument here is that we should not have been surprised. Peter Capaldi loves Doctor Who and loved being Doctor Who — had Chibnall’s plans aligned in any way with his own feelings about the show, it’s nearly certain that he would have stayed on. And when the ultimate Doctor Who fanboy decided that it was time to abandon a sinking ship, we all should have seen what was coming.


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