Gravitas

08.07.14

Doctor Who’s ‘Deep Breath’: The 2,000-Year-Old Time Lord Grows Up

He dresses in black, doesn’t flirt, speaks with a Scottish accent, and is, well, a bit of a jerk. Peter Capaldi’s incarnation of Doctor Who is the darkest yet. Warning: spoilers.

It’s time to ditch the woolly scarves, bow ties, and comic sexual tension, Doctor Who is back and he’s not messing around. Peter Capaldi took his bow at the London premiere of the new season on Thursday and his incarnation of the Time Lord is the darkest yet.

Deep Breath, the feature-length first episode, sees the Doctor and his sidekick, Clara, struggling to come to terms with his tough new image. “Where did he get that face?” she wonders, mourning the boyish charm of Matt Smith, Capaldi’s predecessor.

Capaldi, 56, is not just older than the recent Doctors, he is meaner. In the early scenes as he studies his own regenerated image in a mirror he concludes with relish: “These are attack eyebrows.” If the series has become increasingly camp and comic in recent years, the new Doctor wastes no time emphasizing that this is a strict break from the past. “I need clothes, and a big long scarf,” he says as he comes round from the regeneration. “No, I’m over that. It looks stupid.”

The 2,000-year-old Time Lord has finally grown up.

So the Doctor is more mature, but so is the way the new season is shot, with longer scenes, a slower pace, and more emphasis on conversation and characterization. Speaking at the premiere in London, Steven Moffat, the showrunner, said it was about time he updated the tone. “There was a danger we were getting faster every year and soon the episodes would be over in four minutes—and I thought we have to do something else,” he said.

In choosing Capaldi, who made his name as the foul-mouthed and furious Scottish spin doctor in The Thick of It and In the Loop, Moffat also added gravitas. “I sort of realized we couldn’t just go for another Matt Smith-type. We didn’t want another quirky young man with interesting hair. People would start styling their hair in improbable ways in the hope of being cast,” he said.

David Tennant, the Doctor before Smith, was another Scot but he adopted an English accent for the role. The new man has made no such adjustment. “I’ve gone Scottish!” he declares on screen. “That’s good, I can complain about things.”

Capaldi says he never considered changing his voice. “He’s had an English accent for years so the idea that he doesn’t have an accent is ridiculous,” he said.

For Clara (Jenna Coleman), the new Doctor’s abrasive character, and face, comes as something of a shock after she often had the upper hand over Smith. “From the moment Peter turns up she realizes she’s in terrible trouble,” Moffat explained.

Coleman said she would describe the new Doctor as “enigmatic, mysterious, complex… and what’s the word for unmannered?” Capaldi helped her out: “Rude!” 

“I’ve gone Scottish!” he declares on screen. “That’s good, I can complain about things.”

She certainly didn’t mention the word “sexy” and the flirting, which reached James Bond levels when Tennant was in the role, has been axed completely. In Deep Breath, the Doctor wonders aloud whether he has deliberately regenerated into an older body in order to stop him from coming on to his companion. “It’s like I’m trying to tell myself something,” he says.

As well as being less flirtatious, Capaldi is far less of a dandy. His Doctor is dressed simply and predominantly in black. He said this was partly so that kids could dress up like the Doctor without spending a lot of money but also because of an image of the character in his own head. “I always saw Doctor Who in dark colors—but that’s because it was in black and white when I was growing up,” he laughed.

Capaldi is a self-confessed Doctor Who geek, who was obsessed with the show as a child and makes no effort to conceal his glee at assuming the role. Asked what he would say to his 8-year-old self if he was granted use of the Tardis. He replied: “I would say to him, ‘Don’t listen to what they say about you. Wear your anorak with pride.’”

Doctor Who returns on BBC One and BBC America on August 23.