Doctor Who And The Time Lord Midlife Crisis – Look! It Moves! by Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh writes,


We’re just two weeks into the new season of Doctor Who and there are already interesting things happening under the hood.

By the second episode, Peter Capaldi is settling into the role and is playing a darker, more brooding Doctor. He’s less warm than Christopher Eccleston, David Tennent and Matt Smith, but carries even more pathos and gravitas than his predecessors, despite the fact that they are themselves top-flight actors who were no slouch at playing pathos and darkness. What’s different is that the scripts now don’t even try to lighten Capaldi’s Doctor with moments of whimsical comedy (though there are still jokes). In fact, his Doctor is probably the most adult Doctor we’ve ever seen.

It’s quite fun to look at fan reactions to the 12th Doctor. Overall, the reaction has been positive, especially amongst male fans. There’s the expected sense of disappointment and disillusionment from female fans who don’t have a young Doctor to crush on anymore. I wonder how children are reacting to a sterner, darker, less cuddly Doctor. To many fans of the show that includes pre-2005 relaunch, Capaldi seems to be the dark, gritty, mercurial, mysterious, cold, calculating dangerous Ultimate Doctor they always wanted, never mind that this was always supposed to be a family show.

Some people have said that each Doctor over the show’s 50 years has reflected the era he was in: William Hartnell was a remnant of the patrician, Victorian patriarch that was dying out. Patrick Troughton reflected the whimsy of the early 1960s. Jon Pertwee was a figure from the Cool 1960s of James Bond and The Avengers. Tom Baker represented the shambling bohemian eccentricity of the 1970s. Peter Davison’s mild manner and his coterie of companions felt like a version of the post-punk era of college flatmates. Colin Baker’s egotism and temper was in tune with the nasty part of the 1980s. Sylvester McCoy’s impish exterior covering up a cold, calculating intellect seemed to fit the latter part of the 1980s. Paul McGann’s single appearance in the TV movie was part of the transitional 90s. The 2005 reboot brought a sense of the new and youthful energy to the show. Christopher Eccleston, in his leather jacket and black pants, was a no-nonsense, back-to-basics Doctor who looked more like a social worker who would kick the crap out of you if you stepped out of line seemed to reflect the late New Labour years. David Tennent captured the sarky hipster mood of the rest of the decade. Matt Smith’s whimsical young professor vibe fit the early 2010s of the Tory-Lib Dems coalition government in his combination of younghipster and old man.


A new show that’s reached its 8th series can be said to be heading into middle-age, and Capaldi’s 12th Doctor fills that brief in spades. Gone is the hip boyfriend vibe of Tennent’s 10th Doctor and the child-friendly Matt Smith Doctor. The 12th Doctor shows all the signs of a midlife-crisis: moody, self-preoccupied, questioning his beliefs and his self, filled with regret and unable to bear being with people who might reflect that part of him he’s not proud of, namely soldiers. I used to complain that British TV drama was filled with too many self-pitying middle-aged heroes going through midlife crisis and feeling miserable, and Capaldi’s Doctor fits that bill. Yet I’m enjoying Capaldi’s performance and the nuances he brings to the character that aren’t on the page. Maybe it’s the juxtaposition of midlife crisis and regret with Doctor Who’s brand of earnest and whimsical Science Fiction. The whole show has always been about metaphor and subtext underneath the monsters and blue box, and now it seems to be about an man looking back on his life with melancholy and lament. The writers of the show are mostly middle-aged, so I can’t help but imagine they’re consciously writing these themes into the stories, since you write what you know and what preoccupies you, consciously or not. In this case, it feels conscious. It makes it a different show from the last few seasons and I find the change intriguing, plot holes and dubious gender politics aside. Then again, stories about men going through midlife crisis usually have dubiously-written female characters, so this fits too.

Even immortals get middle-aged at

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Look! It Moves! © Adisakdi Tantimedh



About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.