The Divine Physician and the Doctor | John Herreid | IPNovels.com
…for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
—2 Corinthians 12:10
He’s back. My favorite recent incarnation of the alien Time Lord known as the Doctor arrived again this month, sonic screwdriver (or sunglasses) at the ready. Peter Capaldi’s portrayal of the Doctor is prickly, intelligent, standoffish, and alien in ways that harken back to the first decade of Doctor Who. It’s worth pondering that on a series fifty years old, sometimes a return to origins feels fresher than “new” directions, which often end up taking a show in the same direction all the other shows are going. In the opening two-parter The Magician’s Apprentice / The Witch’s Familiar, the Doctor once again faces Davros, the maniacal creator of the Daleks, in what may be the best use of the character since Tom Baker’s Doctor faced him when he was first introduced in Genesis of the Daleks (1975).
In these two opening episodes of the series, the Doctor is facing not only two of his oldest enemies: Davros and the Master (now regenerated into female form as the Mistress)—but also the question of whether his own weaknesses may be his ultimate downfall.
What some people call NuWho, the show since it’s revival after a long hiatus, has been hit and miss. But so was the original. The budget has increased vastly since the original run of Doctor Who, which at times had the homespun charm of watching a community theater production. I can remember as a child realizing that various monsters were made of such things as bubble wrap and tape. Unlike slick Hollywood productions, on Doctor Who the seams were all visible: a rampaging robot might brush a “metal” wall and make the whole set wobble. But the actors playing the various incarnations of the Doctor, Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker especially, had a charisma that could make you forget the low budget. As an adult, I began to delve further back into Doctor Who, back to William Hartnell’s crotchety First Doctor and Patrick Troughton’s Chaplinesque Second Doctor.
In the 1980s Doctor Who began to misstep. Stories began to be cynical and dark, and often complicated and confusing. Though Peter Davison, who played the Doctor in the early 80s, was a dashing figure, his replacement was Colin Baker, written as a garishly dressed (even by Who standards) and aggressively unpleasant Doctor. The show never really recovered from this, though Sylvester McCoy, who followed Colin Baker, starred in a series of episodes that showed a great deal of improvement. The television show was suspended in 1989. In the 90s an attempt was made to revive the series with a television movie co-produced by American investors, starring Paul McGann as the Doctor (very good) and Eric Roberts (wait, what?!) as his nemesis, the Master. It failed to jump-start a revival.
It was in 2005 that Doctor Who came back starring Christopher Eccleston and garnered a new generation of fans. Modern Whovians glommed on particularly to David Tennant, the Doctor from 2005 to 2010, whose portrayal of the Doctor was probably the most human of all the incarnations. He was followed by my son’s favorite Doctor, the Eleventh, played by Matt Smith, who departed in 2013. Which brings us back to Peter Capaldi.
My oldest son, who is on the autism spectrum, was upset at first when he heard that Matt Smith would regenerate into a new Doctor. He went so far as to write a letter to Smith, giving him the heads-up that “you will regnrat in to Petr Capaldy.” It was touching then, to see Peter Capaldi take some time to speak to another young fan with autism in the UK, reassuring her that it was okay with Smith that he was the Doctor now. Capaldi also filmed a special message for a nine-year-old boy with autism whose grandmother had just died, helping the boy process his feelings. It made me a bigger fan of his work than ever before.
The Doctor values humanity. He sees the rights of the downtrodden and steps in to aid them whenever he can. His gruff or frivolous or snarky behavior (depending on his incarnation) is just a mask for the deep generosity of his character. And it’s here that I want to go a bit deeper.