We are spending a lot more time than usual thinking about Dr Who in the Wellthisiswhatithink household.
This is primarily because we have become friendly with a great guy who is deeply obsessed with the series and its history – Robert Lloyd.
And not least because he bears an uncanny resemblance to the tenth doctor, David Tennant, which allows the clever chap to make at least a partial living attending fan conferences as a lookalike host, not to mention producing his own very touching and funny Dr Who shows in Australia and overseas.
Indeed, we are thinking of tracking down the real Mr Tennant simply so we can go up to him and ask “Aren’t you Robert Lloyd?”, because that’s the sort of silly joke that appeals to your indefatigable correspondent when the painkillers for our sore shoulder really kick in, and should you happen to run across the hugely talented Scots actor, Dear Reader, we urge you to do the same.
Anyhow, as we are breathlessly making our way through the new series of Doctor Who hiding behind the couch and peeping out occasionally, we have become inevitably more involved in all things Whovian, which is how we came to read fellow scriber Lee Zachariah’s review of the last episode.
It would be a shame to allow the episode to pass unremarked, as it carried a strong – some would say visceral – anti-war message, delivered by the Doctor to the leaders of the Zygon rebellion and Earth’s “Unit”. (Regular viewers will know what we are on about.) The speech is making news in the Twitter-blogo-internety-sphere thing, and rightly so.
The interesting thing is that this seminal solliloqy was timed to coincide, in the UK, with Remembrance Sunday, which we wrote about yesterday.
Lee’s review, which is well worth a read, contains this trenchant paragraph.
the Doctor delivered a more-than-ten-minute speech (go back and time it if you don’t believe me) about the pointlessness and devastation of war. It’s a sentiment we’ve heard many times before, but not like this. Peter Capaldi delivers the tremendous mostly-monologue brilliantly, and it never ditches the story for the metaphor, or vice-versa.
Which is a good point, well made, in two wises.
Firstly, it would be hard to imagine any television programme – especially one that is “popular” in the sense that it has a hugely wide and generally low-brow demographic appeal – dedicated Whovians will object to that characterisation, but fair play, you aficionados, it is prime time entertainment, you know, not the answer to life, the Universe and everything – that can weave in a ten minute speech to its script on, you know, anything, let alone a passionate and carefully constructed pacifist argument.
We were reminded of the famous attack on the current level of mindless jingoism in America by Jeff Daniels when he was playing news anchor Will McEvoy in the consistently excellent Newsroom, which was cancelled after just three short seasons (disgracefully) and which included one of the finest soliloquies ever delivered in the modern era.
It has been seen literally millions of times, and is constantly being referenced in social media. We would honestly be delighted if it was seen at least once by every American citizen. It’s also a mesmerising performance by Daniels. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favour and watch it now.
The second point to be made is that the speech in this weekend’s episode of Who absolutely required an actor of the staggering intensity and compassion of Peter Capaldi, the latest (and we hope long-lasting) iteration of the Doctor, both to deliver such a speech with any degree of conviction, and to hold the audience’s attention while he does.
Capaldi’s take on Who is a refreshing change from the whimsical boy-child performances of Matt Smith – he is argumentative, sometimes intolerant, excoriatingly witty, and less human.
Just as Smith emphasised the light-hearted whimsicality of a Time Lord who knows everything and nothing – but who exhibited a fine and moving line in pathos, too – and was perfectly balanced by the bubbly effusion of Karen Gillan – so Capaldi is a conviction Who for a modern era. An era that insistently offers us imminent climate change, dozens of very nasty global conflicts, an apparently unstoppable arms trade, a renewed nuclear arms race, newly intense superpower tensions, the horrors of IS and 4 million Syrian refugees.
Capaldi’s version of Who is perfectly nuanced for today. Just as his soon-to-depart companion Jenna Coleman has had a questioning demeanor and fiery temper and is thus appropriately and winningly less likely to fall for standard Time Lord snake oil shlock.
Anyway, back to the speech itself. As Capaldi fixes us with his near-manic gaze, we are commanded to listen carefully, which in turns allows the writers to try and do something serious with all that transfixed attention.
Talking to the Zygon rebel leader who is threatening to destroy humanity, Capaldi rages:
“The only way anyone can live in peace, is if they’re prepared to forgive. And when this was is over, when you have a homeland free from humans, what do think it’s going to be like? Do you know? Have you thought about it? Have you given it any consideration? Because you’re very close to getting what you want.
“What’s it going to be like? Paint me a picture. Are you going to live in houses? Do you want people to go to work? Will there be holidays? Oh! Will there be music? Do you think peole will be allowed to play violins?”
“Well … oh you don’t actually know do you? Because, like every other tantrumming child in history, you don’t actually know what you want.”
“So let me ask you a question about this brave new world of yours. When you’ve killed all the bad guys, and when it’s all perfect, and just and fair, and when you have finally got it, exactly they way you want it, what are you going to do with the people like you? The trouble makers. How are you going to protect your glorious revolution from the next one?
Well maybe you will win. But nobody wins for long. The wheel just keeps turning. So, come on. Break the cycle.”
As he hammers home his points, Capaldi traverses an astonishing range of emotion and meaning in the speech – anger, sarcasm, pleading, fear, intellectual superiority, terror, far-sightedness, urgency.
“Because it’s always the same. When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you don’t know who’s going to die. You don’t know whose children are going to scream and burn. How many hearts will be broken. How many lives shattered. How much blood will spill until everyone does what they were always going to do from the very beginning. SIT … DOWN … AND … TALK.”
Please. Watch it.
This cultural memorandum is for the attention of David Cameron, Barack Obama, Francois Hollande, Vladimir Putin, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Bashar al-Assad, Hassan Rouhani, Benjamin Netanyahu, Malcolm Turnbull, Jean-Claude Juncker, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Ban Ki-moon, Pope Francis, Xi Jinping, Abubakar Shekau, Idriss Deby, Muhammadu Buhari, Shinzō Abe, Justin Trudeau …