Probic Vent Ood For Thought

5Aug/130

Eccleston, Tennant, Smith… Capaldi

"Yes!"

That was my first reaction up hearing the announcement. I actually punched the air, much in the same way that I do when celebrating an Ashes wicket in England's favour. A combination of relief that Moffatt hadn't simply cast another kid with a funny face (I say that while acknowledging how good Matt Smith was), joy at such a good actor being cast - especially one as good, as right, as Capaldi - and the fact that Moff had done what was genuinely thought impossible (by myself as much as anyone else) in casting someone so relatively old and away from the sought-after demographics that have made the revitalised Doctor Who such a mainstream hit.

My second reaction?

"Risky."

I had put the casting rumours surrounding Capaldi down to the usual mixture of fandom wishlists, tabloid character-actor profiling and fairly established use by the production team of red herrings. I was very much of the opinion, last time around, that Paterson Joseph was in on the whole thing of him being accidentally named as the next Doctor, just as I thought Rory Kinnear might have been until his rather irritable denials. I was utterly of the opinion that Capaldi was this time around too - I even thought it was quite likely that the production team was manipulating the bookies, just to keep the surprise going until the end.

But Capaldi it was. I was genuinely very surprised - and very happy. And then, some doubts.

I have no doubts surrounding Capaldi's ability: from The Crow Road to Neverwhere to The Thick Of It to his wonderful performance in Torchwood. He's enigmatic, dependable, charismatic, funny, rather odd and vaguely sinister. He'd make a great Master. A great Doctor too, but I can't help wonder if he is a little long in the tooth.

I didn't agree with RTD that the Doctor couldn't be aged over 45. But I do think it's become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. There would have been no issue with starting the show with an older actor (though it's a fair question as to whether it would have been as successful), nor with the Tenth being older. But I think Tennant's imprint on the show made it very difficult to move away from an area that had attracted a big part of the show's audience. Girls.

Tennant and Smith were very fanciable young men - and the series went out of its way to play to that. The Doctor was lonely; the Doctor was vulnerable; the Doctor had crazy hair; the Doctor fell in love with his everyday, chips-and-beans girly companions. Doctor Who actively courted this audience - and this audience is now very unhappy.

I'm pretty chuffed about this turn of events, to be quite honest, but I do think it will reduce Doctor Who's overall viewership. Maybe it will regain some of the more traditional audience - or a totally different one.

One thing I am fairly certain about is that Doctor Who will surely change a lot on the basis of Capaldi's casting. I really can't imagine him doing any of that stuff that Tennant and Smith did when they got all excitable. Rather like with Eccleston, I suspect he'd just look rather uncomfortable and wrong doing it. And I can imagine Capaldi - a man who's been a fan for nigh-on 50 years, is at the top of his profession and has won a FUCKING OSCAR - having some firm ideas about what he does and doesn't see his Doctor doing.

So, a darker Doctor? Perhaps. I'm going to find The Twelfth Doctor's relationship with Clara interesting, though sadly I do expect to see River Song return to see if she can create a bit of chemistry with the third actor they've tried it with. I do expect a Chesterton-style character to do some heavy lifting too.

I just can't imagine a lot of the last five years of Doctor Who as played by Capaldi. Does that mean a significant shift of emphasis? I do hope so, but I think this amounts to a huge roll of the dice. DW has been box office for the last few years thanks, in no small part, to a casual female demographic of Doc-fanciers. Well, Moff just stuck two fingers up at them.

Fuckety-bye, squee brigade.

26Apr/130

Caves and Twins: Hide

I liked Hide. Like last week's Cold War, it wore its influences on its sleeve but, unlike Gatiss' effort, I thought it added to them and was more satisfying.

Another similarity to last week was an elevated level of fear and threat. Only on very rare occasions – usually in Moffat's early episodes – has Doctor Who been scary in its new iteration. Off the top of my head I'd nominate The Empty Child, The Girl In The Fireplace, Blink, Midnight and The Time Of Angels as really trying to be unsettling.

There have been many CGI monsters in the new series, shot unimaginatively and looking never less than convincing while, of late, Doctor Who hasn't really seemed to try very hard to be scary – or has seemed to deliberately undercut any drama or uncanny with Matt Smith waltzing around being a dork.

doctor-who-series-7-hide-promo-pics-4

I'm not sure if this has actually been deliberate or not, but the outcome has been much the same. Doctor Who has never less seemed less in touch with that old behind-the-sofa chestnut since Season 24, when it was barely in touch with its senses, nevermind anything else.

In Hide there was a definite attempt to shit the kids up in a couple of different ways. First off the ghost – a clear red herring and quite obviously a riff on The Stone Tape. I say 'riff', what I mean is 'direct lift'. But all that haunted-house mise en scene was pleasant enough and played with conviction by Jessica Raine and Dougray Scott.

But there was something else lurking in the house, shot in a jerky stop-motion kind of style that reminded me of the Silent Hill and Resident Evil series of video games, with their twitching horrors. The pocket universe side-step was interesting, creepy and extremely good-looking – the sense of threat ramped up and a creeping horror emerging.

It was a bit disappointing that the TARDIS came to the Doctor's rescue, despite the cuteness of the TARDIS sniping at Clara. But really that resolution was as weak as the TARDIS switching off the plot in The Parting Of The Ways – and the time-travelling side-steps felt exactly like what it actually was; padding.

The coda to it all was, inevitably, that love saved the day – with the two women's blood ties enabling the link and the two creatures merely wanting to entwine their twisted forms around one another. I'm quite ambivalent about this, as the series seems to be doing this to death. On the other hand I liked the fact that the two monsters were genuinely hideous, voiceless and – largely – not CGI. It harked back to an old trope of the series, that horrible creatures weren't necessarily horrible.

Doctor Who … Dougray Scott and Matt Smith in Hide.

However, it was another run-out for another Moffat stand-by, namely an apparently-straightforward story performing a 90-degree turn at the end, subverting the initial narrative. The Curse of the Black Spot – a tiresome pirate runaround – became an incoherent mess when it detoured into Michael Crichton territory at the end and became about a malfunctioning robot nurse, or something. Similarly the promising God Complex went from a surreal nightmare-in-every-room pysch-out to a dreary comment on the nature of Gods.

In the first case it at least turned the most predictable television in some decades into something marginally more interesting; in the latter case it almost ruined an enjoyable story. In Hide the pocket universe swerve injected some life into a familiar tale; in the case of the latter revelation it felt like much of Moffat's proselytizing – the sort that only be written by a sentimental middle-aged man with a young family, dribbling at the wonder of it all.

No doubt I'm saying this because I'm a ming-mong, but I can't empathise with this 'love is a many-splendoured thing' mode of storytelling; not because I can't appreciate what a wonderful emotion it is, but because I don't buy it. It's corny, phony and smacks more of trying to paper over the cracks in the plot than anything earnest.

I'll give Hide a pass on that score, because it was a superior pastiche and because the plot-swerve added something to the overall story. With Clara's identity just-about retaining the interest, JLC's strong performance and two excellent guest stars – particularly Raine – Hide represents the most successful of Season 7's episodes thus far. The characterisation of the Eleventh Doctor continues its slide into Tennant-style self-parody however; let's hope someone notices soon and sets Matt Smith back on the right track.

Hush child stop addlepating me!

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