Last week, Doctor Who show-runner Steven Moffat quashed rumors that Peter Capaldi might be leaving the show after Season 9, telling Variety “Peter Capaldi is going nowhere.” After the The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion two-part story, this news should be met with rejoicing throughout the Whoverse.
Certainly the plot for the Zygon story arc won a lot of brownie points: It’s the first time in a long time Doctor Who gets blatantly political; where the fiction reflects reality just close enough to make us uncomfortable without quite breaking the illusion. The Osgood box(es) are a great paradoxical plot twist, and the storyline was just complicated enough to keep viewers guessing up to the end without needing too complex of an explanation. It was the first story in a long time — certainly the first of the Capaldi era — that felt relevant.
For all the success of the writing, without a doubt the real winner here was Capaldi himself. One of the litmus tests for any actor that’s ever picked up the sonic screwdriver is how believable they can make the inherently unbelievable character; lending credulity to dialogue that, by definition of the show itself, is going to skew towards the campy and absurd. Even if you didn’t dig the “can’t we all just get along” conclusion to The Zygon Inversion, you can’t argue that Capaldi absolutely owned the “cruelty begets cruelty” monologue at the conclusion of the episode. For a couple of minutes at least, a story about a time-traveler in a big blue police box stopping an invasion of radical shape-shifting aliens felt … authentic.
Eccleston was the Doctor who ran from his past, Tennant was the Doctor who tried to forget, while Smith was the Doctor who was forced to remember. We now have Doctor #13 finally reconciling the past and moving toward the future. While many fans (myself included) were concerned replacing the baby-faced Matt Smith with the 55-year-old Capaldi — amazingly Capaldi is the same age as the original Doctor, William Hartnell — the change is starting to pay off.
While Season 8 was definitely full of growing pains, Capaldi has finally made the character his own: an older, wiser, more contemplative, yet definitively less human Time Lord, finally coming to terms with his past and his future. If anything, Capaldi’s version has been the “midlife-crisis Doctor” complete with a TARDIS full of new toys and gadgets (here’s hoping the electric guitar and sunglasses will end up in storage once he’s able to work out the rest of his shit).
It’s been promised that Clara’s departure will “surprise, shock, and terrify” Who fans. Pair that with the Doctor finally closing the door on Time War guilt that has underpinned the Doctor’s narrative through the first nine seasons of the Moffat/Davies era, and it looks like the show is looking towards working with a clean slate for Season 10. With Capaldi finally hitting his stride as an older, less-fucks-to-give Time Lord, I would argue that starting fresh is just what … the Doctor ordered (see what I did there).
Worries about the show’s declining ratings have been well-documented, but Doctor Who is finally starting to feel like Doctor Who again. From the move to a more serial feel to the episode structure, to Capaldi’s new found confidence in the role, after a season and a half, fans are finally getting the Doctor they deserve.