Lately, it seems like a franchise is not truly a franchise until it’s gotten its gritty reboot. Superman had Man of Steel, Batman had the Christopher Nolan trilogy, and Doctor Who now has Twelve to bring some dark realism to a show about a man who travels around space and time in a mysterious flying police box. Previous seasons have seemed to mix the show’s campier, sillier side with a few serious moments, but the first full trailer for Peter Capaldi’s time at the helm of the TARDIS promises a season that is decidedly darker than Matt Smith or David Tennant’s runs.
But Doctor Who is not a show that has exactly shied away from darkness before. Between the horror that creatures like the Weeping Angels or the Silence bring and the show’s many tragic deaths and departures, not to mention the ramifications of the Time War that haunted the Doctor for years, there has always been plenty to temper the more ridiculous aspects of the show. However, this time around, the show seems to be re-focusing on the darker functions of the Doctor’s story, with goofier elements like dinosaurs rampaging through London taking a backseat to questions about the Doctor’s morality.
In fact, this darker edge seems to be the selling point for the new Doctor. That’s most likely due to the fact that Capaldi is an established dramatic actor, and we as an audience are used to seeing him play darker moments or roles. Even his most famous character, the aggressive and very profane Director of Communications Malcolm Tucker was arguably more of an anti-hero than a straight-forward good guy. Though Capaldi is often funny, both on and off screen, he’s better known for being brash, mean and sometimes evil.
Doctor Who started to take a darker turn towards the end of Smith’s tenure, with much of his happy-go-lucky façade slipping to reveal the guiltier, tortured side he hid underneath. Bringing in Capaldi gives the show a better opportunity to explore some of those more serious elements, as Eleven always needed to hold on to his goofier side. Twelve, however, is a blank slate, which allows the writers to properly delve into the grittier side of space and time travel, and being responsible for the fate of an entire planet. And since the anti-hero is so popular right now, it makes sense for Doctor Who to hop on the tortured male lead bandwagon with someone who is adept at playing that role.
Of course, no matter how good Capaldi will be as Twelve – and given everything we’ve seen him in thus far, it’s likely to be a fantastic performance – it remains to be seen how well Doctor Who as a whole will be able to pull off its gritty reboot. Recently, the show’s darker moments have been somewhat hit-and-miss, so it would be a challenge for the writers to maintain such a serious tone for the entire season. Recently, the show has struggled to ensure that its serious moments have the right amount of impact, thanks to show runner Steven Moffat’s disregard for continuity and love of resurrecting characters from the dead. A tone like this requires consequences in order to be effective. Audiences need to be worried about the fate of Clara and the Doctor, scared by their actions or the actions of the enemies they face, and since Moffat doesn’t seem to be the biggest fan of lasting consequences, it doesn’t bode well for the new season.
However, if Doctor Who is able to maintain its balance between camp and drama, it should be able to ensure a memorable run for Capaldi. The goofiness will offset some of the tension, allowing audiences time to relax, breathe and enjoy the time they’re spending with these characters, as well as taking some pressure off of the consequences of the show’s darker moments, while the grittier elements will be able to raise the show’s stakes as well as allowing them to explore new territory with the Doctor, both in terms of location and character development. Although, if they really run out of options, they could always just have Twelve verbally eviscerate the Daleks. That should help them find the ideal blend of comedy and darkness.
The eighth season of Doctor Who premieres on August 23 on BBC One.