Doctor Who is a show that’s seen its fair share of ups and downs under the direction of showrunner Steven Moffat. After taking over the revival of the series for Russell T. Davies, he’s taken the iconic series to some wholly uncharted territory. On the strength of some solid writing, a unique run at the titular role by Matt Smith, and the best companions the Doctor has had since Donna Noble, it’s successfully translated over into the next generation of fans.
With the introduction of Peter Capaldi, though, has come a host of problems in terms of the show finding steady footing for its newest Doctor. For much of Capaldi’s first season as the character, it was unclear where the show was going, and what kind of Doctor Moffat wanted him to be. David Tennant’s run at the character showed us a fierce, yet loyal iteration. This was followed by Matt Smith’s guilt-ridden, almost childlike version. Capaldi’s appearance in the role, until very recently, had yet to yield the same consistent characterization.
Thanks to the last two-parter for the series though, we now have some insight into this Doctor. The brief synopsis: The Doctor lands in a Viking village, and to save the life of a young girl named Ashildr (played by Maisie Williams), he inadvertently makes her immortal. In the next episode, we fast forward hundreds of years to see Ashildr having become jaded and emotionless, trapped in a prison of permanent life that sees all her loved ones perish around her. As a similarly immortal being, the Doctor begins to realize what he’s inflicted upon the girl, and in turn we understand the profound loneliness that goes hand-in-hand with his lifestyle.
For the first time during Capaldi’s run as the Doctor, we’re beginning to understand the reason behind his form. The first of the Maisie Williams two-parter showed the Doctor remembering the reason he took on the face of Capaldi: As a reminder that he always should strive to save people (Capaldi first appeared on the show years ago as a victim of Mt. Vesuvius’s eruption). It’s an apt reminder given his standoffish nature of late, bringing the decidedly alien Doctor back to a place where he cares for humanity the way past regenerations have as well.
Additionally, it opens up a new facet to Capaldi’s character that Clara Oswald wasn’t quite able to do alone, giving him a new companion in immortality with Williams. In a lot of ways, he sees himself in Ashildr, and realizes that he’s just as distant and jaded as she is. In this, the Doctor begins to understand his own flaws, giving him a level of introspection we haven’t seen since the David Tennant days. In just two episodes, Doctor Who contextualized a whole season’s worth of episodes, and gave us more hope for the future of the series than we’ve had in quite awhile.
From here, there are plenty of directions the show can take. We’d be surprised if Williams didn’t end up reprising her role at least once, with Ashildr dubbing herself the patron saint of the people the Doctor regularly leaves behind. We’re beginning to see the prime of Peter Capaldi’s run as the last Time Lord, all thanks to a two-episode arc that single-handedly brought the last season to a head. Now it’s up to Moffat to build on that momentum.
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