Some people have already seen “Deep Breath,” the feature-length premiere of the eighth series of Doctor Who and the first to feature Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor. I am not one of those people and will likely be watching the premiere on Saturday, August 23rd, just like everybody else. But already from the trailers and interviews given by the cast and crew, it’s pretty clear that Capaldi’s take on the millennia-old Time Lord is darker, angrier, certainly less nonsense-taking, even though he’s also been said to have a sense of fun and excitement about traveling through time. Just from these little bits, it seems to me that the Twelfth Doctor is a bit of an amalgam of the First Doctor, the Third Doctor, and what the Sixth Doctor SHOULD have been, which is what the actor who played him wanted in the first place.
When Colin Baker took over the title role in 1984, following three seasons with the popular and incredibly likable Peter Davison, he was meant to be a complete departure in every way. The Sixth Doctor was in a volatile regenerative crisis and spent the whole of his first adventure, the quite-terrible “The Twin Dilemma,” going back and forth between whining, complaining, self-aggrandizing, and even at one point famously turns violent toward his companion, Peri, nearly strangling her to death before catching a glimpse of himself in a hand mirror and recoiling in distress. It was a confusing and pretty disconcerting story and ended the 21st season of the show with people questioning what was going on.
But when the show came back, despite not being homicidal toward his friend anymore, the Sixth Doctor remained largely as pompous, arrogant, unfeeling, and quarrelsome as he had been in his first story. They barely changed him at all, and kept him in his ridiculous, eyeball-offending costume meant to represent his volatility. But Baker himself has since stated that he wished he’d gotten to dress more like how Christopher Eccleston did, with a personality still edgy and un-Davison, but much “cooler” and quietly intense. He didn’t get the opportunity, sadly, bit it seems that much of Baker’s wishes for his own interpretation of the Doctor have been incorporated into Capaldi’s.
Naturally, because of his age and overall stern demeanor, and perhaps because he’s the first in a new cycle of regengerations, the Twelfth Doctor is getting compared to the First Doctor, and that seems to be pretty apt. Mostly. In the very first Doctor Who story, “An Unearthly Child,” the Doctor is cold, dismissive, bemusedly above it all, and even has moments of contemplating violence – very different to the Doctor we all know, but if we look at him as being young, brash, afraid, and wanting to remain quiet, he seems, if not justifiable, at least understandable. He softened over time as he became more of a father figure and less of an unknowable monolith. It was his interactions with human teachers Barbara and Ian that helped him to become less frosty, and I think it’s no coincidence that we find out Clara Oswald is now a teacher at that same school. She’s going to, as the clip has stated, be his “carer,” the one with the heart to keep his otherwise ambivalent attitude toward things in check.
The Third Doctor, while not at all mysterious and at times quite warm, was one of the most outwardly defiant of all the Doctors. I guess being stuck on Earth for an indefinite period of time will make anyone a big testy; it’s the Time Lord equivalent of being grounded for a week. Still, the Third Doctor’s contempt for authority figures (almost always bureaucrats and government red-tape men) comes across as a more than a little petulant. He’s also the only Doctor who seems to have no problem engaging in combat on a regular basis, with his Venusian Aikido. Whether Capaldi’s Doctor will be a punching person is yet to be seen (I doubt it), but he does seem to be able to ride around performing action bits like the Third Doctor, and looks much more at home doing so than his direct predecessor.
If we mix all three of these older Doctors together, I think that will give us what the Twelfth Doctor will be, at least at the beginning. An older statesman, someone who doesn’t have time for the petty problems of humanity but will certainly solve problems if presented, and one who, like Hartnell, Pertwee, and Baker, does not shy from exclaiming disapproval and dismay. I could be entirely wrong about this, but from where I’m sitting (a weird old recliner covered in images of pasture lands and barnyard animals), I think the Twelfth Doctor will indeed be the darkest, standing in the shadows of three of the most distinct and hard-to-like Doctors in the Classic Series. He’ll challenge us to love him, and that’ll make it all the more rewarding when we inevitably do.