Darker is a word that is thrown at every sequel within a teen fantasy movie franchise. It started with Harry Potter, continued with Twilight and is currently being used to describe the Hunger Games series.
If was also the word used by many Whovians when it was announced that Peter Capaldi had taken the role as the Doctor. As journalists scrambled for a caparison they immediately went for the original Doctor William Hartnell. In truth Capaldi’s version of the famous Time Lord has taken influence from virtually every one of his twelve (or more depends on which story arch you’re on) predecessors.
If you are looking for a comparison the darkness of Capaldi’s Doctor has more in common with Tom Baker or Peter Davidson. Tom Bakers Doctor is best remembered as almost a comedy figure. In fact the humour hid quite a calculated dark side. In one famous Baker story ‘Horror of Fang Rock’ the lives of the humans mean very little to him. He is just focused on killing the Rutan scout and stopping the invasion. One by one the humans die until none are left. Unlike the later David Tennant version Baker shows little emotion and ends the story with a big smile.
One thing Capaldi’s version has brought back is the grumpiness. This usually comes in the heat of the moment when dealing with someone who he feels either doesn’t deserve his time or just isn’t very bright.
Hartnell’s Doctor defiantly had this when he started. He would regularly get angry when his lead was questioned. Over time though, and mainly thanks to his granddaughter Susan, he mellowed. This mellowing of attitude continued with the next two Doctors. Patrick Troughton gave the character an almost lighter comedy touch and then, with his Venusian Aikido and time spend with Unit, Jon Pertwee gave the character an action spy like quality.
During Tom Bakers tenure the irritation at his decisions being questioned returned. This carried through each Doctor until the series ended in Sylvester McCoys era. He was there again in the Paul McGann episode and at the start of the Christopher Eccleston series. By the end of the first series of the modern Doctor Who, mainly thanks to his companion Roses influence, it had again mellowed.
The main quality I’ve missed in the modern Doctors is fallibility. Right from the start the Doctor sometimes got it wrong. Occasionally, because of his mistakes, people have died. He was never perfect, although he would sometimes give the appearance he was. There were also moments when he would admit his failings.
This has happened in the modern series but, to a much lesser extent. Tennant and Matt Smith especially gave a very strong impression of the Time Lord victorious.
So fallibility and at time almost a vulnerability is something, I feel, Capaldi has brought back to the role. To the point that at times, much like Tom Baker, he seems almost childlike.
Peter Capaldi has said that he has been since childhood a massive fan of the show, much like Tennant who was also a huge fan, this has influenced his characterisation. More than his age, the main topic of concern for some, this where he’s during the elements of darkness from.
Despite initial worries about a possible ratings drop Capaldi’s Doctor has proved a hit with the fans. Ratings have matched Matt Smith’s and actually improved in some countries, including America. It seems are favourite Time Lords future is in safe hands.