Sunday, August 14, 2016

Doctor Who: The End at the Beginning

 In last week's Doctor Who post, I posited the idea of what if Peter Capaldi does come back for Series 11 under new showrunner Chris Chibnall... but for only 1 episode?

Admittedly, that sounds counter-intuitive. The idea of the Doctor facing a life or death situation that leads to regeneration should come as the epic end of something. In the modern era, each Doctor has left at the end of a series, leaving the next Doctor to start from the first scene of the first episode of the next series. It seems like the most natural progression and it's worked so far.

But think about this for a moment. With Series 10, Peter Capaldi will have completed three series which is in keeping with the precedent set by David Tennant and Matt Smith which in turn is pretty much the average run from the classic era. (Only Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker pushed past that average with 5 and 7 years respectively.) Precedent aside, Capaldi was already the oldest person to ever be cast as the Doctor when he was announced in 2013. By the time Series 11 rolls around in 2018, he will be 60 years old. So age and the wear & tear that comes from a grueling Doctor Who production schedule need to be taken into account.

So the BBC wants to make sure eyeballs are still on Doctor Who when Steven Moffat hands things over to Chris Chibnall so they ask Peter Capaldi to stick around. If he were to come back but only for the first episode, that might make for a very effective hook to keep viewers around for the rest of the series.

There is precedent for this sort of step and it was established with the very first regeneration. William Hartnell appeared in the first 2 serials of Season 4 before Patrick Troughton took over as the Doctor in the 3rd story of the season. 

Such a transition was unprecedented in television so the producers were hedging their bets. Starting off the season with the familiar Hartnell and doing the transition a couple of stories into it re-established the pattern of families watching Doctor Who, a pattern that hopefully would continue when the Doctor switched bodies. Had this hand off occurred from one season to another, viewers may have seen such a change as a jumping off point for the show.

The most infamous occurrence of a regeneration at the beginning of a season was Episode 1 of Time and the Rani in Season 24 when the 6th Doctor regenerated into the 7th in the opening scene. Colin Baker had been fired from the role of the Doctor but was offered a chance to come back and film a regeneration scene. Colin (quite understandably) said no and the scene occurred with Sylvester McCoy in a Colin Baker wig before the Doctor morphed into Sylvester's own face.

Sylvester McCoy in position as the 6th Doctor
to begin the regeneration sequence.
At this point in the episode, McCoy's face was blurred
as part of the regeneration effect. 

The changeover from the 7th to the 8th Doctor also occurred at the beginning of a story. McCoy was still in the role of the Doctor in the first quarter of the 1996 Doctor Who movie before regenerating into someone who looked like Paul McGann. 

Publicity shot of Sylvester McCoy handing over the TARDIS key to Paul McGann

While there may be some points in favor of such approach, there are some downsides as well. The audience may see it as a bait and switch. Come in for one Doctor, stick around for a different Doctor. It may undermine the credibility of the next actor to play the Doctor to share even part of a season with the previous Doctor. There is something to be said for a clean break between seasons to allow each actor a fresh start and a chance to find and establish their own voice as the Doctor. While there are different people who have played different version of the Doctor, whenever any one of them is on screen, they are not A Doctor, they are THE Doctor.

Still, the idea of beginning a new Doctor Who series with a regeneration story is intriguing and would make sure people tune to Chris Chibnall's debut as the new writer/producer of Doctor Who. Having Peter Capaldi come back, even if only for one episode would do that trick.

A Doctor coming back to hand off the role to a new actor at the start of a series is a concept fraught with possibilities, both good and bad. But it's not the worst idea in the history of Doctor Who.

No, the worst idea in the history of Doctor Who is have a Doctor leave... early.

We'll address that in next week's Doctor Who post.

Meanwhile a new post on some thing or another will be up on the blog thing tomorrow. Until then, remember to be good to one another.


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