The strength of Doctor Who has always been change. The show changes its locations and even its time period every episode. And every few years, it changes its star. There have been 11 leading men on the show so far, and a 12th—Peter Capaldi—makes his debut next month. Change has always kept the show fresh, explaining why new episodes are still being produced 51 years after its 1963 debut. Changing the actor who portrays the Doctor is part-and-parcel of the series now, and the casting of a new Doctor is always big news for sci-fi fans, especially in England where the show is a pop culture institution.
Whenever a new Doctor is cast, he is usually met with a certain level of resistance and skepticism. In some cases, with clear negativity and hostility. As far back as 1966 when Patrick Troughton replaced William Hartnell, there were people who forecasted doom for the show. From then on, whenever a new lead actor was cast as the Time Lord hero of the show, the cry of “I don’t like this new guy” was head. Even as recently as 2010 when Matt Smith replaced the popular David Tennant, there were angst-ridden cries across the internet saying “This show will die without David” and “No one can replace Tennant”. They said Smith was “Too young” and “Funny looking”. Of course, those same people soon fell in love with Matt Smith.
Personally, I have been watching Doctor Who since Jon Pertwee was in the TARDIS. I was 8 years old when I discovered the show. Since then, I’ve seen plenty of Doctors come and go, and I can attest that the new guy is always greeted with a vocal group of protestors who predict the cancellation of the show with each new lead actor. Therefore when Peter Capaldi was cast as the time-travelling hero of the story, I braced myself for the expected plethora of disapproving internet posts. I expected to see “He’s too old” or “He’s not good looking enough” or “the show will suck without Matt.”
But then something strange and wonderful happened. All the fans, and even the critics, got together with a nearly unanimous voice and gave a resounding cheer, praising the choice of Capaldi and predicting that he will be one of the best—if not THE best—Doctor of All! True, there was a minority voice of Tennant fan-girls who decried Capaldi for being too ugly, but the overwhelming majority of Whovians, casual fans and critics have given a big Thumbs Up to the newest Doctor.
As someone who has watched Doctor Who since 1974, I admit I was blindsided by the lack of hostility toward Capaldi. My 40 years as a fan did not prepare me for this unity of fandom and media. Where were the protests? Where were the naysayers spitting out anti-Capaldi venom? Why was no one foreseeing the cancellation of Doctor Who, as they had for all the previous Doctors since Troughton?
Certainly Capaldi is a talented, veteran actor and he is a major shift from the younger “boyfriend” Doctors (As Moffat recently described Tennant and Smith) we’ve had recently. Maybe ‘Who’ fans were just ready for something different. Whatever the reason, there are high expectations and anticipation for the 12th Doctor.
This leads to the question…can the expectations for Capaldi be so high that people will be disappointed? Can he deliver on the over-the-moon hopes that people have of him? For previous Doctors, when they took on the role, there was a for-and-against dichotomy of fans. Ultimately, earlier Doctors won over the skeptics and justified the faith of their supporters. The supporters reveled in their I-told-you-so victory, while the doubters denied ever having said a discouraging word about him. Now, without the ‘against’ voices, all we have are the “This guy is gonna be so cool!” voices.
As the old quote says, “Great expectations can lead to great disappointment.” Can the reality of Capaldi’s performance match the picture in our heads of what we expect to see from him? Also, without the fear of having to admit they were wrong and someone else was right (since everyone seems to share the same opinion) it becomes safe for viewers to dislike the new Doctor without being called a hater or a troll. With the lack of opponents to berate and say “In your face!” to, will the presently united Whovian fandom fall back on its habit of online negativity and griping, by looking for fault in Capaldi’s performance, even if he’s good?
Will Capaldi be the top-notch Doctor that fans expect him to be? And even if he is, will we still see a trend of negativity where people say “I expected more from him”?