ACCEPTABLE IN THE EIGHTIES

Two thoughts collided for me this week, following a couple of different Doctor Who discussions. The first is that somewhere along the way, the twelfth Doctor’s original costume:

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Has clearly been ditched as a bad idea. It acted as a force multiplier, didn’t it? When Peter Capaldi delivered stern and acerbic lines, the stern and austere costume made them seem far more hostile than I’m sure was intended. Reading the scripts, he’s probably at his most misanthropic and grumpy in The Caretaker, but it comes across as comedy because he’s dressed as a caretaker (he’s not trying that hard: one of the jokes is that he’s wearing exactly the same costume, except with a different coat).

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It struck me that Peter Capaldi had probably had something like his original costume idea since the eighties. The new series has a clear line with the costumes: the ninth Doctor wore a forties U-boat leather jacket, the tenth Doctor wore suits that wouldn’t be out of place in the fifties and early sixties, and the eleventh Doctor wore the tweed and bowtie that make him look like a seventies geography teacher. The twelfth Doctor’s original costume is a bit Spandau Ballet, isn’t it? It’s a bit early eighties.

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So that was thought one.

And here’s thought two: when Peter Davison said he was leaving Doctor Who, then-producer John Nathan-Turner immediately thought of Colin Baker, a curly-haired man in (early) middle age. Davison had been twenty-nine when he was cast. All the other Doctors from 1963-89 were in their forties or fifties (Hartnell was playing at being a doddery old man, as he did in other things – he was only fifty-five when cast).

What if Davison had cemented the idea in either the audience’s or producer’s head that the Doctor was younger? Perhaps if he had stayed for a fourth or fifth season (Baker had been cast and announced and done a photoshoot before The Five Doctors, so it barely felt like Davison had arrived before he’d left).

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So … it’s the mid eighties, the producer is scouring Spotlight for actors in their late twenties. Imagine, for a moment, that the producer was casting based on watching Channel Four at 10pm, looking at people from Peter Greenaway movies, other Channel Four films at the time, or alternative comedians.
The first thing to note is that it’s possible that Peter Capaldi could have made the cut. Here he is in the mid eighties, look.

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Awwwww … I sense clickbait, so let’s do that again:

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Holy Moley, he’s cosplaying Matt Smith, look, he’s got the stupid hair and chin and everything. In 1985, Capaldi was in pretty much exactly the same stage of his career Matt Smith was when he was cast as Doctor Who, he’d have told his agent he was keen. And imagine if he had been cast … well, he’d wear the same outfit he did in his actual first season, wouldn’t he? And it would look like a style evolution from Davison’s long coat, with touches of Pertwee, and a lad in his mid twenties would look really rather dapper in that, wouldn’t he? It wouldn’t make him grumpy, it would add a bit of authority.

But he would not be the producer’s only option. There’s a whole bunch of actors who ended up either playing the Doctor or seriously considered for it when they hit middle age: Richard E Grant, McGann, Rowan Atkinson, Lenny Henry, Hugh Grant, Fry, Laurie.

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Doctor Who was popular in the Davison era, but of course it wasn’t the career stepping stone for the regular actors it is now (rather the opposite). So, yeah, sure, the immediate effect of casting, say, Gary Oldman as the sixth Doctor would be that it would have derailed Gary Oldman’s career and he’d have ended up playing Butch Dingle on Emmerdale or something (information: he was in one episode, his first wife, Lesley Manville, was a regular). But … Julian Sands, Rik Mayall, John Gordon Sinclair … Tim Roth. Yeah …

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Imagine a 25 year old Tim Roth playing the sixth Doctor, as written (but not as costumed). Imagine him in Vengeance on Varos, or opposite Troughton in The Two Doctors. A hungry, angry, dangerous young future superstar, three years after he was in Made in Britain, on his way up. A Doctor Who that takes its cues from the British film industry at the time – the Handmade Films, the Channel Four Films, and, yes, Merchant Ivory.

In that light, the twelfth Doctor’s original costume feels a little like a relic from the show where that happened, where a twentysomething Peter Capaldi’s seventh Doctor got to visit a Paradise Towers and Terra Alpha shot like Derek Jarman or Stephen Frears had directed them, stark and neon-soaked.

Um … yes, please.

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