Will an older Doctor Who be a more grown-up one?
Published 19/08/2014 | 12:16
Come Saturday at 7.50pm and I'll be glued to my TV set with the same anticipation as millions of other people around the world to watch Peter Capaldi in his first full episode of Doctor Who.
I could, if I wish, request the BBC to make the episode available to me in advance, as it does with its other programmes; somehow, though, that would spoil the fun. Doctor Who is one of those rare programmes that's best enjoyed as a communal experience rather than watched alone on a computer screen.
In an age of instantaneous reaction, when anyone can posit their opinion online within minutes of a programme ending, or even while it's still unfolding, reading the response of the Whovians, as the generation of superfans call themselves, to a new Doctor is always fun.
It usually ranges from frothing outrage, frequently conveyed at unendurable length, at how the people who actually make the series have messed it up to the blind "WOW, THAT WAS AWESOME!" school of criticism. True Whovians rarely do subtlety or shading.
To be frank, I'll also be watching Saturday's 80-minute special with a sense of relief that it's finally here after what feels like an eternity of build-up. From the moment Capaldi was revealed as the new Doctor in a cringe-inducingly awful live show that seemed to embarrass everyone present, but especially showrunner Steven Moffat, the hype has been constant.
Every time someone involved with Doctor Who so much as cleared their throat, it was written up in the newspapers. When the first publicity shot of Capaldi in his costume was released a few weeks ago, it inspired more discussion and dissection than anything going on in Gaza or Syria. Everywhere you turned, it was Doctor Who this and Doctor Who that.
Walking with my family into a shopping centre in Arklow last week, the first thing I encountered was a huge poster of Capaldi as the Doctor, advertising the simultaneous cinema screening of Saturday's episode in the adjoining multiplex.
Tiresome as the publicity overload has become you can understand why it's been so relentless. Doctor Who, which was considered a joke in its dying days in the 1980s, might be a worldwide phenomenon now, but casting Capaldi is still a risk. This is the first time since John Pertwee in the early 1970s that the actor playing the Doctor is the far side of 50 (Capaldi is 56). That's by no means old, yet to a generation of fans used to the boyish Matt Smith, who was just 27 when he took on the role, it must seem positively ancient.
Picking Capaldi feels like a conscious decision to return the series to its roots by moving away from the frantic, knockabout pace and increasingly incomprehensible plots of recent series in an attempt to re-engage with a more grown-up audience.
Doctor Who started out in 1963 as a series for children, but the often clever writing, particularly during the Tom Baker era (and the writing had to be clever to overcome the cheap-as-chips production values at the time), gave it wider appeal.
The impression that Moffat wants to give the series a partial reboot was reinforced yesterday with the surprise news that Jenna Coleman, who plays the Doctor's current assistant, Clara Oswold, whose character had a flirtatious relationship with Smith's Doctor, is leaving in the Christmas episode.
Instinct says that Capaldi, a wonderful actor, will keep the younger fans on side and may well even pull in some older ones. But short of jumping into a Tardis and flying to the future, we'll just have to wait until Saturday to find out more.
Doctor Who begins on BBC1 at 7.50pm on Saturday August 23.