A new era of Doctor Who begins today. By the end of “Twice Upon a Time,” our beloved Peter Capaldi will no longer be the Doctor, Jodie Whittaker will. And listen, I am SO SO SO SO SO EXCITED for Jodie to take over the role. (I still can’t quite BELIEVE we’re getting a Lady Doctor, after all these months I’ve had to let the news sink in.) But at the same time, I can’t help but feel a little more than heartbroken that Peter Capaldi is leaving us. What a GIFT the Twelfth Doctor has been. The Capaldi era completely reinvigorated Doctor Who; his prickly nature was the perfect muse for Steven Moffat, it gave us a ship to rival Rose and Ten, it gifted us with Michelle Gomez’s Missy, and it brought creative geniuses like Rachel Talalay and Sarah Dollard to the franchise. We have been truly blessed for the past four years. As we prepare to say goodbye to Twelve and Peter Capaldi, let’s take a look back at WHY he’s been so special.
1) The entirety of “Heaven Sent”
For me, one of the trademarks of the Capaldi era is how Doctor Who took major creative risks. Sometimes they didn’t work (Can we just pull an old-school BBC move and erase the tape of “Sleep No More”?) but when they DID…you got an episode like “Heaven Sent.” And what an episode it was.
How DO you follow a devastating episode like “Face the Raven” after all? Clara’s death was a major emotional blow for both the audience and the Doctor so in retrospect it makes PERFECT sense to have an entire episode of JUST the Doctor mourning her loss. But when it aired…we were all like HOLY SHIT. (I’ll never forget watching this in my hotel room at Chicago TARDIS cuddled up with the girls both cursing and crying the whole time and then going downstairs and seeing everyone else have the same reaction to it.) It’s an incredibly large ask of an actor to carry an entire episode by himself, essentially giving a 50 minute soliloquy. The entire episode is a masterpiece, from Steven Moffat’s script to Rachel Talalay’s brilliant direction. But the entire concept rests on Peter Capaldi’s shoulders and it would have failed had he not been up to the task. Lucky for us, he was MORE than up to it. (Honestly, I’ll never understand how this episode didn’t win a shit ton of awards.)
2) He knows how to make a DRAMATIC ENTRANCE
It’s been 27 months since “The Magician’s Apprentice” aired and we’re still not over the tank and electric guitar entrance. As I write this, the episode is airing on BBC America and this is me and Sage right now:
LOL REMEMBER WHEN CAPALDI GOT CAST AND MANY GATEKEEPING FANS WERE LIKE WELL YAY THE SHIPPERS ARE GONNA GO AWAY CAUSE HE’S OLD AND THEY WON’T CARE?
100% Pure Punk Rock Rebel Time Lord. God bless us, every one.
3) “The man that stops the monsters.”
Look, I would die for Series 8. I honestly think it’s my favorite overall series of the modern era. Why? Because of the character arc for the Doctor. This regeneration shook the Doctor to his very core (was it the new boost of regenerations?) and sent him on a long journey of self discovery and questioning everything about his life that he thought he had previously known. This quest resulted in a pretty serious lack of the big “I AM THE DOCTOR” moments. It doesn’t mean that Peter was never the Doctor before but all of those big moments seemed laced with an uncertainty or a darkness that we hadn’t really seen explored on the show before.
Until his big speech in “Flatline” anyway. I remember watching this and I flailed off my couch when he busted out with “You are monsters! That is the role you seem determined to play, so it seems that I must play mine: the man that stops the monsters.” Me: YES. YES YOU ARE.
4) The Zygon Inversion Speech
Okay so “The Zygon Invasion” and “The Zygon Inversion” are a bit of a mess. We all know that to be true. (Peter Harness, why are you so determined to be problematic in every single episode that you write?) But I forgive the mess because this speech is so fucking magnificent. I think it will go down as one of the greatest speeches in the history of Doctor Who.
Sage and I had the great pleasure of interviewing Jemma Redgrave at Long Island Who 4 and we asked her about filming this scene with Peter. “It was an extraordinary scene to be a part of and it required absolutely no acting because it was so moving and so from the heart,” Jemma said. “From Steven Moffat’s heart and from Peter Capaldi’s. It was a privilege and an honor to be a part of it.”
I can’t really put it any better than that.
5) “Compassion then.” “Always.”
I LOVE PARALLELS.
By the time Series 9 rolls around, Twelve is pretty secure in his identity. So of course, in the premiere, he comes face to face with one of his greatest enemies, Davros, and they have a heart to heart that’s incredibly similar to everything he’s JUST gone through.
DAVROS: Respect. Mercy for their father. Design flaws I was unable to eliminate. And now he sees it. Now he understands. The cables, Doctor. Touch them. Imagine, to hold in your hand the heartbeat of every Dalek on Skaro. They send me life. Is it beyond the wit of a Time Lord to send them death? A little work and it could be done.
DOCTOR: Er, why would you be telling me this?
DAVROS: Genocide in a moment. Such slaughter, not in self-defence. Not as a simple act of war. Genocide as a choice. Are you ready, Doctor? So many backs with a single knife. Are you ready to be a god? Why do you hesitate? No one would know. Clara Oswald is dead. Is this the conscience of the Doctor, or his shame? The shame that brought you here.
DOCTOR: There’s no such thing as the Doctor. I’m just a bloke in a box, telling stories. And I didn’t come here because I’m ashamed. A bit of shame never hurt anyone. I came because you’re sick and you asked. And because sometimes, on a good day, if I try very hard, I’m not some old Time Lord who ran away. I’m the Doctor.
DAVROS: Compassion then.
DAVROS: It grows strong and fierce in you, like a cancer.
DOCTOR: I hope so.
DAVROS: It will kill you in the end.
DOCTOR: I wouldn’t die of anything else.
I love when Doctor Who tells big and epic stories. I love the sweeping speeches and the grandstanding. But what makes Doctor Who and Peter Capaldi’s Doctor so special is the small intimate character duets like this one, especially when it’s with one of his sworn enemies. (See also every scene with Missy.) Compassion will always be the Doctor’s biggest “flaw” so to speak. He will always want to see the good in everyone, no matter how many times they’ve shown him their true nature. Because maybe this time…maybe this time he’ll win. Davros proves him wrong, naturally. But I don’t think the Doctor could have lived with himself had he not tried.
6) Eloping with Clara at the end of “Last Christmas”
7) “Please just see me.”
I was all in with Peter Capaldi and the Twelfth Doctor pretty much from the first moments of “Deep Breath.” I fell in love with him instantly and his chemistry with Jenna Coleman felt like I was watching “It Happened One Night” or a Hepburn and Tracy picture. But even I hadn’t been sold on him early on in the episode, his final monologue would have gotten me. Much of “Deep Breath” feels like Steven Moffat begging the audience that had been so used to the young and hot likes of David Tennant and Matt Smith to trust him with the casting of the older (AND HOT) Capaldi. He even used Matt Smith to do the begging for him. (And in doing so, gave Eleven a proper goodbye because “Time of the Doctor” was garbage, sorry not sorry.)
CLARA: Why? Why would you do this?
ELEVEN: Because I think it’s going to be a whopper, and I think you might be scared. And however scared you are, Clara, the man you are with right now, the man I hope you are with, believe me, he is more scared than anything you can imagine right now and he, he needs you.
DOCTOR: So who is it?
ELEVEN: Is that the Doctor?
DOCTOR: Is that the Doctor?
ELEVEN: He sounds old. Please tell me I didn’t get old. Anything but old. I was young. Oh, is he grey?
ELEVEN: Clara, please, hey, for me, help him. Go on. And don’t be afraid. Goodbye, Clara. Miss ya.
CLARA: Well what?
DOCTOR: He asked you a question. Will you help me?
CLARA: You shouldn’t have been listening.
DOCTOR: I wasn’t. I didn’t need to. That was me talking. You can’t see me, can you? You look at me, and you can’t see me. Have you any idea what that’s like? I’m not on the phone, I’m right here, standing in front of you. Please, just, just see me.
Is the whole thing a little heavy-handed? Maybe. Do I give any fucks? Absolutely not.
8) The ONLY time we bought the Doctor/River ship
I will fully admit that I never bought into the whole Doctor and River Song being in love story, maybe because I saw Matt Smith’s Doctor as completely asexual and I just didn’t get the ROMANTIC chemistry from them. The Eleven and River romance always felt incredibly unbalanced to me; she was CLEARLY more in love with him and while he had affection towards her, I saw it more as a fondness and a kindness towards her because he knew how she felt. (Please don’t come at me, Doctor/River shippers, as I say, this is just my personal feelings about it.)
So when it was announced that River would be returning for the post Series 9 Christmas Special, needless to say, I was a little hesitant because I strongly felt that River’s goodbye in “The Name of the Doctor” was beautiful and hadn’t we finished this story already? Hasn’t her story been told?
Well it turns out that I was silly to doubt it. “The Husbands of River Song” fills in that TINY gap in River’s story…how she got to Darillium and spent the night there before her fateful trip to meet Ten in the Library. Peter Capaldi proves in this episode that he has chemistry with everyone that he encounters; his banter with Alex Kingston is delightful and so old-school and the entire episode is a ROMP. But, as the best episodes of Doctor Who do, it ends with a punch in the face. (AND THE ALLUSION TO “LAST CHRISTMAS” PROVES HE HASN’T FORGOTTEN CLARA.)
RIVER: You’ll wait until I’ve given up hope. All will be lost, and you’ll do that smug little smile and then you’ll save the day. You always do.
DOCTOR: No, I don’t. Not always. Times end, River, because they have to. Because there’s no such thing as happy ever after. It’s just a lie we tell ourselves because the truth is so hard.
RIVER: No, Doctor, you’re wrong. Happy ever after doesn’t mean forever. It just means time. A little time. But that’s not the sort of thing you could ever understand, is it?
DOCTOR: Mmm. What do you think of the towers?
RIVER: I love them.
DOCTOR: Then why are you ignoring them?
RIVER: They’re ignoring me. But then you can’t expect a monolith to love you back.
DOCTOR: No, you can’t. They’ve been there for millions of years, through storms and floods and wars and time. Nobody really understands where the music comes from. It’s probably something to do with the precise positions, the distance between both towers. Even the locals aren’t sure. All anyone will ever tell you is that when the wind stands fair and the night is perfect, when you least expect it but always when you need it the most there is a song.
RIVER: So, assuming tonight is all we have left.
DOCTOR: I didn’t say that.
RIVER: How long is a night on Darillium?
DOCTOR: Twenty four years.
RIVER: I hate you.
DOCTOR: No, you don’t.
I AM CRY.
9) “I don’t think that I am a hugging person now.”
Okay, let’s talk about the REAL character growth. The character growth we all care about. This is the Doctor being hugged in “Deep Breath”…
This is the Doctor being hugged in “Listen”…
This is the Doctor in “Death in Heaven” where he says “Never trust a hug. It’s just a way to hide your face.”
This is the Doctor in “The Magician’s Apprentice”…
This is the Doctor in “The Girl Who Died”…
And this is the Doctor in “The Woman Who Lived”…
CHARACTER GROWTH, BITCHES.
10) “She’s my oldest friend in the universe.”
After the dark and twisty relationship that was Whouffaldi, the relationship with Bill Potts was like a breath of fresh air (before things got completely fucked, that is). In series 10, after two years of Clara being his teacher and his carer, it was the Doctor’s turn to mold someone in the way that Clara Oswald molded him. Bill Potts was the ultimate student always desiring to learn more and never hesitating to question her teacher. One of my favorite Bill and Twelve moments came right at the end of series 10, where Bill truly questioned the Doctor’s motives in regards to Missy. Not only did it give us a snapshot of the Doctor/Master relationship (THEY HAVE LOVED EACH OTHER FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS), it showed how pure the friendship was between Bill and the Doctor is. The best friends are not afraid to call you on your shit, which is exactly what Bill does here. The best friends ALSO are willing to sit with you over cartons of take-out and just listen to what’s on their friend’s hearts. We don’t get quiet moments like this one on Doctor Who which is exactly what makes this scene so lovely and memorable.
11) “Why’d I choose this face?”
When Peter Capaldi was cast, there was a lot of discussion as to whether or not they would address the fact that he had previously been in the David Tennant episode “Fires of Pompeii.” They hinted at it in “Deep Breath” when he stared into a puddle and asked “Why did I choose this face?” to his reflection. “It’s like I’m trying to tell myself something,” the Doctor said with confusion. Then they left it alone, never to be brought up again…until the “The Girl Who Died,” which was the fifth episode of series 9. And BOY did they do it in a dramatic fashion.
First of all, I was not expecting to be attacked by a rogue Tenth Doctor. Second, after Twelve’s search for identity all through series 8, how freaking satisfying is this reveal? Sure, things with Ashildr go belly-up because of the Doctor’s actions, but the important thing here is that he tried. That he had nothing but the best intentions. I feel like after everything he’s been through, this is the moment where Twelve truly solidified his mission: He’s the Doctor. He’s here to save people.
12) “Just be kind.”
I know we’ve included a lot of Twelve’s big speeches in this post, but we can’t NOT include his speech to the Masters that closed out Series 10. Mainly because Peter Capaldi gives good monologue. But this speech matters also because it encompasses everything that Twelve has meant to this show and this fandom. Shit got pretty scary in the real world during Capaldi’s tenure. Through everything, Capaldi’s Doctor has remained a beacon of strength and a reminder that we need to remain steadfast. We need to fight the monsters. Always. But we need to fight, Not because we’re trying to win, but because we’re trying to do right. Without hope, without witness, without reward, we need to stand and fight.
I’ll turn things over to Sage, who expressed just what Peter has meant to her:
“Peter Capaldi wasn’t my first Doctor, that was Eccleston. He wasn’t the first Doctor I called my favorite. That was Tennant. Matt Smith was the first Doctor I met IRL. But 12 – Peter – was the Doctor when my life got hard for the first time and shit was dark. He saw me through my exposure to the seedier, more evil parts of fandom. I think it’s more fate than coincidence that he was our Doctor when our worst fears became policy.
Doctor Who could not have a better ambassador than this man, who has worn his gratitude and delight on his sleeve. His talent is the first thing that you notice (and that he’s v. v. attractive.) But everyone I know who has met him has a story about his warmth and thoughtfulness, his appreciation of fan engagement and creativity. (I’ve got one of those too.)
So on the eve of his departure, I want to thank Peter Capaldi for being my survival Doctor. The man that stops the monsters. As much as I’m looking forward to Jodie, I don’t want you to go.”
“Why not, just at the end…just be kind?”
Thank you, Peter Capaldi. Thank you for everything.
Share your favorite Twelve moments in the comments!