Speaking to io9, A Field In England and Sightseers director Ben Wheatley warned that Peter Capaldi’s debut series as the titular Time Lord will be perhaps the most radical departure for modern Doctor Who yet.
“To have a unity that runs eight years… it’s pretty crazy,” said Wheatley, who will direct the first two episodes of Doctor Who Series 8. “It seems to me the episodes that we’re doing now seem more like classic Who.”
But what does that mean? Sure, Capaldi will be “darker” and more alien, but what can this tell us about the stories?
We know from Capaldi’s dalliances with fandom – calling him a Whovian doesn’t really sound right – that he came of age during the Jon Pertwee era, and there’s certainly a hint of that in his first costume picture and even the posture, offering more than an echo of the cuffed dandy, albeit with a more austere post-punk sharpness.
Wheatley, meanwhile, was born two years before Tom Baker took over the role, and so the bulk of his Who memories – again, the word ‘Whovian’ doesn’t seem quite right for the man who gave us the hammer-smashing Kill List – would be of the Baker run.
So while “classic Doctor Who” could mean anything, we can certainly narrow it down a bit more. Given the Tom Baker run went through at least three distinct phases, and Pertwee’s went through… one and a half, or maybe two, it’s far to say that we’re not looking a specific style.
Ben Wheatley and Peter Capaldi probably aren’t bringing back UNIT-centric ecological stories, or faintly racist Hammer horror rips. No, “classic Doctor Who” in this context must surely mean a breather from the relentless, over-cluttered arc plots that have especially weighed down the Matt Smith era.
Sure, the Pertwee and Baker saw the spectre of story arcs, but more often than not these were simply repeated MacGuffins or merely context that showed a connection between past stories and the current episode – certainly nothing on the scale that the show began to experiment with toward the end of its original run.
The ghosts of the Cartmel masterplan have been expunged five times over by Bad Wolf, Trenzalore and all points in between.
Steven Moffat and Russell T Davies (and a talented team of writers) have proven without doubt that Doctor Who can be every bit as complex and as mythologically dense as script editor Andrew Cartmel believed it could be (and 15 years of Virgin New Adventures, Big Finish and BBC Books paved the way), but it’s time for that crazy roulette of standalone adventures that captivated a young Capaldi, Moffat and Wheatley to get a chance to captivate a new audience.
Whether or not it’s “too complicated” is irrelevant, subjective and ultimately meaningless, but it’s certainly inaccessible. Doctor Who fans will never need to worry about ratings – the BBC doesn’t work like that, and that’s not the real danger – but as members of a community with a shared experience and shared values at its root, the real fear is that nobody will ever experience the thrill of discovery as we did.
If “classic Doctor Who” means rocking up on an alien planet or besieged future Earth and dishing out a story-worth of thrills in one sitting, then that’s a good thing.
That’s what kept the show going between 1963 and 1989, after all.
Doctor Who Series 8 begins later this year on BBC One. You can buy Doctor Who: The Day Of The Doctor on DVD for £9.99 at Amazon.co.uk.