In 1967, the British science-fiction series Doctor Who faced an impossible problem. The show starred William Hartnell as the irascible Doctor, a mysterious alien who wandered through time and space, gathering companions and generally doing good. But Hartnell's health was getting worse, and it was clear he'd have to leave the show; could the series continue?
Script editor Gerry Davis hit upon the idea that the Doctor could die and resurrect in a new body, but it was producer Innes Lloyd who took it one step further. He suggested that the Doctor could 'renew' himself regularly, and with this idea, he unknowingly laid the foundations for the series to continue over 50 years. Since then, Doctors have come and gone — the late, great John Hurt even played the War Doctor — and the latest is Peter Capaldi. Now, it seems, it's time for Capaldi to move on.
What Do We Know?
It's a time of change for Doctor Who, with showrunner Steven Moffat moving on. Moffat's run has been a fairly controversial one; sometimes he tends to overthink his episodes, leaving them needlessly complex. There's already a precedent for a change in lead to accompany the the change in showrunner — when Russell T. Davies left the series in 2010, star David Tennant moved on as well. It seems that's happening again. In a statement on BBC Radio 2, Capaldi stated:
"One of the greatest privileges of being Doctor Who is to see the world at its best. From our brilliant crew and creative team working for the best broadcaster on the planet, to the viewers and fans whose endless creativity, generosity and inclusiveness points to a brighter future ahead. I can’t thank everyone enough. It’s been cosmic."
The Capaldi run has been a controversial one — many fans took a while to warm to this new, older, aggressive Doctor, and others have heavily criticized Moffat's sometimes overly complex narratives. Still, under Moffat and Capaldi Doctor Who has gone from strength to strength, with the last Christmas special, The Return of Doctor Mysterio, breaking records for BBC America.
There's a strange sense in which every actor who plays the Doctor is living on borrowed time. Even as we thrill to the adventures of the latest Doctor, we vaguely wonder: who will be next?
Back when Tom Baker left the show in 1981, the actor teased the press with a comment about his successor — "whoever he or she may be". Ever since then, fans have rallied around the idea of a female Doctor, and during the Moffat run we have indeed seen a female Master. So I'm willing to place a bet that, tomorrow morning, at least one British newspaper will be speculating about a female Doctor.
But Who Could The Next Doctor Be? Here Are Some Options!
A tremendously popular fan cast for the part of the Doctor, Ben Whishaw is the bookies' favorite. And it's worth noting the bookies called it right with Peter Capaldi, so you really can't dismiss this possibility.
Best known for playing Q in the most recent James Bond films, Whishaw has everything the role could possibly demand — including the sort of 'inherent geekiness' that so characterizes the Doctor.
If the BBC do indeed want to try out a female Doctor, Laura Pulver seems like a good choice (there's a lot of speculation that Miranda Hart is in the running, but that seems more like Tom-Baker-style humor than anything serious). Best known for her roles in Spooks and Sherlock (she played Irene Adler), Pulver is a skilled actress who'd definitely be able to bring something fresh and original to the series.
Yes, we're still in the realms of Sherlock; and some of the bookies seem to believe it's here we'll find our next Doctor! Andrew Scott is best-known for playing Sherlock's arch-nemesis Jim Moriarty, but he's actually a lot more experienced than that — he's won countless awards over the years, from the Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement to two BBC Audio Drama Awards. This would be a major step up for an already significant British actor, and he's certain to be in the running.
Personally, I have to say that Ben Whishaw would be my preference. Still, whoever the new Doctor may be, the BBC is sure to milk the announcement for all its worth. Capaldi himself was unveiled as the new Doctor in a live television event, with the BBC doing everything it could to turn the announcement into a national celebration. We can expect more of the same.
Peter Capaldi's run may have been controversial, but he's certainly put his stamp on the role of the Doctor. Whoever takes on the mantle will have big shoes to fill indeed. As the BBC observes in his honor:
"Peter’s Time Lord has been much loved and critically acclaimed, with Series 9 featuring some of the best reviewed performances and episodes of recent series. In particular, his anti-war speech in The Zygon Inversion, and his solo appearance in the one-hander, Heaven Sent, have been widely acclaimed as among the finest performances by anyone in the role of the Doctor."
Congratulations, Peter Capaldi — you've proved yourself a true Doctor. Now, though, we're looking forward to the end of an era, and the beginning of something new. The great thing about Doctor Who is that, every time a new actor takes over, the series itself regenerates just as much as the Doctor does. Whether you loved the Capaldi era or not, the longest-running sci-fi show in the world is about to be transformed yet again.
Here's to the future!