Peter Capaldi’s first year on Doctor Who was layered with a lot of questions about the morality of the Doctor’s adventures. And one idea that came up was the notion that the Doctor had made the Daleks stronger in the course of fighting them. Capaldi tells io9 that the Doctor absolutely believes he made the Daleks worse.
“I think that’s a hard thing to bear,” the realization that the Doctor’s fight against the Daleks only strengthened them. “That’s why he’s such a wonderful character. He doesn’t just defeat the aliens and move on to the next [enemy], and not worry about it. He carries the psychological scars of his battles with him.”
Watching the Doctor cope with that is one of the most satisfying things about playing the character, adds Capaldi. “It’s both a ‘B’ monster movie show and a psychologically challenging experience,” he adds. “On one level, it’s men in rubber suits pretending to be monsters, and on another level, it’s reflections on the problems of immortality, and why we’re all here, and what we’re doing.”
Am I a good man?
The Doctor spent a lot of last year questioning whether he was a good man, and wrestling with the morality of his actions, before deciding in the finale that he’s just an idiot with a box—how does that realization shape his character this year?
“It does change his perspective for much of this season,” says Capaldi. “But it’s just like the way human beings develop and grow. That’s one of the things about [the Doctor] as a character. Obviously he changes with each regeneration, but within that regeneration, he changes as well.” So after regenerating, the Doctor had to struggle to find out who he was, and this was as much a mystery to him as to everyone else.
And the Doctor recognized that he had “a complicated moral position, in that he definitely wanted to help people, and wanted to save the universe, but often there would be a wake of suffering and pain. And he thought, ‘Can I live with that? Am I responsible for that?’ And eventually, he realized that is who he is.”
But now the Doctor has realized what a gift he has, because “the universe is mine to play in,” says Capaldi. He can “range all the way in time and space.” And even though the Doctor is 2,500 years old, “life is still short.” So he wants to enjoy all the advantages of being a Time Lord—but since this is Doctor Who, there’s always a darkness pursuing him. “There’s something brewing that is going to curtail his good times.”
So is the Doctor finished with those questions about whether he’s a good man, and whether he’s gotten too big in the universe? Showrunner Steven Moffat says that the Doctor will just have a new set of questions this year. “I don’t think the Doctor ever stops asking the question, ‘Am I a good man?’, because that’s what good men do.”
The most exciting thing about the Doctor as a hero is that he never signed on for being a hero in the first place—he’s always out to go to a fairground, or a park, or have lunch with someone famous, and then adventure finds him. “He happens to bump into terrible injustice, and because he’s such a profoundly decent person, he always gets involved. He is the passer-by who becomes the last man standing. And that’s the story of Doctor Who in every single episode. And I love that story. But it does mean he goes around thinking, ‘Why does everybody think I’m this mighty warrior or this great hero, or the Ongoing Storm? I’m an idiot with a time-traveling box, and I’m trying to have lunch with Marie Antoinette.’”
Does the Doctor actually want to find Gallifrey?
Given that Gallifrey is kind of a messed-up place, does the Doctor really want to find his missing homeworld? Or is he afraid of what he’ll find there? Capaldi says he absolutely does want to find it, and it’s a duty. “And in some ways, the Doctor is quite an old-fashioned character. He does have a recognition of duties and loyalties, and these are things that are deep-set in him.”
The Doctor won’t ever feel satisfied that Gallifrey is safe until he finds it. “And of course, he is still riven with guilt about what he’s put Gallifrey through.”
Once the Doctor does find Gallifrey, how will the show deal with the fact that Gallifrey is actually full of psycho Timothy Dalton and genocidal maniacs? We asked Moffat.
To which Moffat replies that Gallifrey isn’t all bad. “If we’re going to be all judged by the standards of our governments, we’re all screwed, aren’t we?” There are plenty of nice people on Gallifrey. “What about the people who worked in the kitchens?” So if the Doctor does find Gallifrey, “some people are in for an arse-kicking. But he knows—he knows!—that it’s not people like us, the sad scum of the Earth, on Gallifrey, who are responsible for the terrible crimes of the High Council.” And just remember that the High Council was always sort of terrible, even on the classic series.
Was John Hurt originally Christopher Eccleston?
Meanwhile, we finally got our chance to ask Moffat something we’d wondered about for ages—was John Hurt basically playing the role that Christopher Eccleston would have had, if Eccleston had been willing to return for the show’s 50th anniversary?
“A version of it” would have featured Eccleston as a sort of War Doctor, he responds. “I had so many different versions of that show,” laughs Moffat. “I had so many different versions, including the deadly secret one where I thought, ‘What if none of them turn up? What if it’s just Jenna [Coleman]?’ I’m not kidding.” So yes, there was one version where Eccleston played that role—but it didn’t go very far, because Eccleston was always very clear that he didn’t want to go backwards in his career. “He’s a lovely bloke,” who was very warm and kind, but “going back is just not something he does.”
And once Moffat suggested the idea of “a secret extra Doctor that nobody’s ever heard of,” everyone fell in love with that idea. And then Moffat himself worried that it was going too far, and that fans would be upset. “What if someone’s got tattoos on their arm of all the Doctors, with numbers? What are we going to do to that person?”
And we asked Moffat if experimental stories like last year’s “Listen” were going to become the norm, or if he feels the need in general to keep pushing the limits of the show’s format. And Moffat says that this was one of the pieces of advice he got from Russell T. Davies when he took over as showrunner—Doctor Who always has to be a new show. It always has to be new and different, and not feel like it’s been on the air for 10 years (or 52 years, total.) Moffat doesn’t want kids to think of the show as “some sort of revered heirloom that’s been passed down from generations.”
Moffat actually wants people to be sitting back and saying, “I’m not quite sure that’s right. I’m not quite sure if that’s Doctor Who yet,” and then he can bring people into the fold. Otherwise, the show just becomes “a recreation of the past.”
Making Missy a “likable psychopath”
Michelle Gomez, who plays Missy, says that it’s not that her character is in love with the Doctor—it’s more that she’s a very attractive woman, “for a woman of her accelerated years,” and the Doctor “can’t just get enough of her.” This is a burden that Missy has to deal with. “But if he wants to be my boyfriend, he’ll have to step up his game a little bit.”
How can the Doctor step up his game and win Missy’s affections? She suggests taking off the jacket, loosening up, taking her to dinner, and admitting that she’s right that “the universe has to be destroyed, and somebody has to do it. And I’m the man/woman to do that.”
In the scene where Missy is sort of toying with Osgood before killing her, Gomez says she didn’t think of it as flirtatious—more like a big fat cat toying with a mouse before finally killing it.
And we asked Gomez about playing the Joker to the Doctor’s Batman. “She is his nemesis. What I hope to do with her is just make her a little less two-dimensional in that way, and try and find the kind of ‘likeable psychopath.’ A lot of psychopaths are actually quite likable—that’s what makes them terrifying. And then, you know, the mask comes off and they are capable of doing unspeakable things. And so I wanted to make her as human and whole as possible, and as whole as any regular human being.”
We asked what Missy will do now that her scheme in season eight failed, and she responds that we shouldn’t assume that Missy’s schem ended, or that it was a failure. “We don’t know that, whether the scheme worked or didn’t work, yet. She’s still on a mission, a perverse justice, to make sure that everything she sees that she doesn’t like is completely annihilated.”
And Missy absolutely does know where Gallifrey is, says Gomez. And Gallifrey is a bit like Glasgow, she says.
Clara’s unfinished business
Jenna Coleman, who plays Clara Oswald, almost left at the end of last year, but decided to stay on for one more year at the last minute. Coleman tells io9 that it would have felt wrong to leave after only one year with Capaldi. “There was just more to do, and our working relationship is so fun, and lovely and exciting. And pushes me. And there was a lot of places to take the character.”
Coleman says she and Capaldi spent a lot of last year getting to know each other and figuring out their new dynamic together, so having a new season has allowed them to “reach that place and go further.”
Will Clara be grieving for Danny Pink this year? No, says Coleman. “She’s been through grieving. But honestly, what’s happened is her perspective has utterly changed on life. She’s no longer leading the double life between Earth and space. She kind of throws herself head-first into the TARDIS.” Losing Danny makes her realize that life is short, and “she kind of ends up running as fast as she can towards adventure and danger.”
And we’ll see Clara become “more and more Doctor-like,” the more she has adventures and experiences by his side. She learns how to operate the TARDIS with the Doctor, and “they’re very much a team.” Adds Coleman: “They save each other and teach each other, and it’s a very much kind of an even keel relationship.”
During Coleman’s first year, with Matt Smith, the focus was entirely on the mystery of her character, the “Impossible Girl,” and it was only once Capaldi took over that she got to have real character development. Was she happier once her character got to evolve and grow instead of being the subject of a mystery?
“Yeah,” says Coleman. “It was a fascinating way to work,” doing the mystery storyline. “I really loved playing the three different characters, and trying to have the same essence but imagine if this girl is born in a whole different time and space—or in space, as Oswin was. But it was a very different way to work.”
Meanwhile, “it was really refreshing to be able to come back, the season after, and actually ground her more in her earth-bound life, and see what that is.” And getting to see Clara as a schoolteacher was really neat—she’ll still be a teacher this year, but we won’t see her kids going on adventures with her nearly as much, says Coleman.
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