DOCTOR WHO: How They Got the Casting of the Twelfth Doctor All Wrong

First I want to say that I have been a DOCTOR WHO fan since the early ’80’s when Tom Baker was my Doctor.  Over the past decades, I have been a loyal and cheerleading fan, loving each reincarnation of the Fourth Doctor through the Eleventh Doctor.  I also remain optimistic about the Twelfth Doctor, who was just recently announced as being portrayed by Peter Capaldi. But tempering my excitement over the recent casting choice was the realization that DOCTOR WHO made the wrong choice.  With lots of factions vying for the first female or non-white Doctor, there was certainly a lot of interest in stepping outside of the box in choosing who would portray the Twelfth Doctor.  There was also a lot of interest in keeping the role youth-oriented.

So last Sunday at precisely the designated time, I sat amongst friends as we huddle around a laptop streaming the BBC announcement of who the Twelfth Doctor would be — and the announcement was met with dead silence.  No whoops of joy and excitement, just nothingness.  Peter Capaldi is certainly a fine choice, especially given his DOCTOR WHO ties and his sterling performance in TORCHWOOD: Children of Earth.  But there is one glaring problem:  he’s just too old.  It seems cruel and ridiculous that a man of 55 years of age would be too old to play The Doctor, particularly when the First Doctor William Hartnell was 55 as well.  But in recent years (the critical years), each of The Doctors was portrayed by increasingly young actors.  Christopher Eccleston was 41, David Tennant was 34, and Matt Smith was 27 when all were originally cast for their brief tenures as The Doctor.  It was imperative that DOCTOR WHO stay on course and cast another younger actor.  Why? Because in our world today, youth rules.   Ask any actor who has hit their 40’s and you’ll hear the same thing: the roles are a lot harder to get.  Ageism is alive in well in the entertainment industry, especially in film and television. 

After DOCTOR WHO went on its 16 year hiatus between 1989 and 2005 (not counting the 1996 film version with Paul McGann since it barely registered with fans and failed to relaunch the franchise), it seemed to hibernate due to lack of interest.  But what the BBC and Russell T Davies understood in 2005 was that it was vital to cast a young actor.  It can be argued that since Christopher Eccleston was 41 years of age, they were not casting all that much younger.  But Christopher certainly gave off a very youthful vibe, one that has continued through the casting of David Tennant and Matt Smith; and Matt was actually 14 years young than Christopher upon taking on the mantle of The Doctor.

Why am I emphasizing the age-factor?  Because it matters.  American audiences had never truly embraced the British series DOCTOR WHO until the era of David Tennant, and DOCTOR WHO only became a phenomenon widely-embraced in the U.S. during Matt Smith’s tenure as The Doctor.  What made the difference were the geek fan-girls.  David and Matt brought enormous amounts of sex appeal to the role.  Being younger and more youthful, teenage girls and Millennials in their 20’s suddenly fell head-over-heels for The Doctor — and the top U.S. magazines took notice.  For the first time ever, DOCTOR WHO was on the cover of TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly.  Any TV show knows they have made the U.S. zeitgeist when they can achieve that level of notoriety.  The tipping point was sex appeal.  Russell T Davies exploited all the natural charm and appeal of David Tennant and wrote a poignant love story for David’s tenure as The Doctor.  The love story of The Doctor and Rose had captured the hearts and imaginations of fan-girls of all ages. The internet was abuzz with fan fiction, Tumbler pages and virtual alters to worship the romance between The Doctor and Rose.  Of course, with David leaving the role and a new actor coming on board, there was some frenzy that it would destroy the hopes and dreams of fan-girls everywhere.  Fortunately, Russell T Davies has come up with a clever way to ensure that The Doctor/Rose romance would live forever — and fan-girls breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Then with the entrance of Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor, the romance and sexual sizzle was back stronger than before.  In fact, Amy Pond even tried to seduce him on the eve of her wedding night.  With a nice twist, that forbidden hanky-panky was averted and Amy wed her destined true-love Rory, and the adventures of The Eleventh Doctor with Amy and Rory began. That 3-season journey also introduced the epic romance of The Doctor and River Song.  The frisson of electric chemistry between them was palpable from their first moments on screen together.  Now helmed by Steven Moffat, DOCTOR WHO fully embraced the era of romance (and dare we say it, sex) with The Doctor; for clearly River Song and The Doctor were spending nights together in addition to their magnificent adventures. 

So in the past 8 years, DOCTOR WHO found its world-wide appeal (particularly in the U.S.) by introducing sex and romance into its story.  Sex sells, but sex appeal is priceless.  DOCTOR WHO had finally hit upon the magic ingredient to lure in younger viewers, especially young female viewers.  Nowhere was it more noticeable than at San Diego Comic-Con.  Thousands of fans waited out overnight just for the chance to get up-close and personal with David Tennant and Matt Smith.  Their screams of elation could be heard blocks away. 

But what about now? Will those same fan-girls and younger viewers feel the same desire to scream and yell for Peter Capaldi?  For many, he will seem as old as their grandparents.  He is not offering the same kind of appeal that David and Matt had.  Peter may be able to offer some of the other necessary ingredients to portray The Doctor, but he cannot change the fact of his age.  He is 24 years older than Matt Smith.  That is not insignificant.  All the great acting in the world won’t make up for one critical deficiency: sex appeal.

So when Peter’s name was announced and he was welcomed on screen as the new Doctor, he was met with silence.  Of all the other names in contention, in the end they had cast a much older actor. Everyone was stunned.  Barely even daring to think it, everyone had a the same thought: isn’t he too old?  Of all the other top fan choices, the oldest proposed actor was 42.  And yet, the actual actor cast was 55 — 13 years older than anyone predicted.  Even my top three picks skewed much younger:  Idris Elba (40), Colin Ferguson (41) and Jordan Gavaris (23).

Perhaps Steven Moffat was looking for the best actor for the role, which Peter is certainly a fantastic actor; but Steven got it all wrong in choosing one that could potentially lose half its audience.  Those increased ratings were not simply due to curiosity and interest in science fiction; increased ratings were due to interest in the actors playing The Doctor.  David Tennant and Matt Smith were able to bring the one thing that The Doctor never had before — fan girls, more importantly, U.S. fan girls.    Those rising ratings were attributable to girls discovering a sci-fi hero they could root for and lust for.  Someone closer to their age and one that they could pin-up on their bedroom walls.  In addition to fan-girls, it also helped recruit younger viewers who could identify more with an actor closer to their age. 

Steven Moffat and Russell T Davies were clever enough to exploit the sex appeal of David Tennant and Matt Smith.  But casting Peter Capaldi could slam the door shut on fans who now feel that the party is over.  There will be the faction that is displeased that a woman or non-white actor wasn’t selected, which would seem negligible but for the fact that a larger faction of the DOCTOR WHO audience is now also displeased that a much older actor was cast in the role.

Some of the key attributes that we know and love about The Doctor are his zaniness, silliness, sense of wonder and curiosity, a childlike soul, physical agility, and as of the new era, sex appeal.   It is too late to turn back the clock to a time when The Doctor was merely an older gentleman collecting companions and going on amazing adventures.  The new era invited audiences to fall in love with The Doctor, as a lover, not a mentor.  It would be nice to think that fans will follow The Doctor on any adventure and through every incarnation, but the cold, harsh reality of the world we live in is that age matters. Appearance matters. Casting so much older will feel like a slap in the face of fans who fell in love with The Doctor.  They may have accepted a woman in the role, or a non-white actor because they were prepared for a change.  But no one expected this and given the new world rules created by design by Russell and Steven in selecting such younger actors to attract younger audiences, this was just the wrong choice. 

We will stand by Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor, but everyone will be thinking: how soon can we get to the Thirteen Doctor?

Tiffany Vogt is the Senior West Coast Editor, contributing as a columnist and entertainment reporter to TheTVaddict.com. She has a great love for television and firmly believes that entertainment is a world of wondrous adventures that deserves to be shared and explored – she invites you to join her. Please feel free to contact Tiffany at Tiffany_Vogt_2000@yahoo.com or follow her at on Twitter (@TVWatchtower).

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  • Lexicon

    Maybe, just maybe, those fan girls who enjoy Doctor Who enjoy it because it is good. Maybe, just maybe, we could give them the benefit of the doubt instead of castigating them for enjoying something. And you know what, I will enjoy my Doctor regardless of who plays him, and I imagine if Cabaldi is a good actor, as I have heard, he might bring in more new fans who wouldn’t normally be watching this show.

  • Anonymous

    It is true, a lot of fan girls I know couldn’t care a less about what the Doctor looks like, but just want a good story!!!

  • Sharon Winsatt

    If the Powers that be are afraid of losing the American fangirl audience (and I’m skeptical that is going to happen) all they have to do is simply cast a young cute male companion. Its been done before. Easy fix.

  • Yvo

    I can’t disagree more with this article. Wow. I watched the BBC announcement, and it didn’t sound like the place was silent because they got it wrong.

    I must also point out that what makes the Doctor attractive/appealing/amazing….is the fact that he is THE DOCTOR, the age of the actor is irrelevant, considering he is more than 900 years old. Tennant, Smith, Eccleston, Baker, or Hurt, these actors are playing an engaging character and I think that is all it takes. Capaldi will be fantastic. Can’t wait.

  • Kevin Kittridge

    TOUGH. SHIT.

    Long live Capaldi!

  • Aimee Robidoux

    I’m not stopping. And I’m an American fan.

  • harx1

    Interesting piece. Not one I agree with, but interesting nonetheless. I’ve read a ton of critical reaction to this choice (on blogs, in the traditional press, on fan sites, and on social media). While I’ve seen plenty of people bemoan the casting of another white bloke, and mention that Capaldi is significantly older than Matt Smith and the other recent doctors, very few have automatically claimed that as a bad thing (as you have done here). Hugh Laurie is 55 and he’s still one of the sexiest men out there. Patrick Stewart is in his 70s and he’s still considered a sexy man.

    And, while I do think David Tennant is ridiculously sexy (what can I say, I like skinny tech geeks), I started watching the show during the previous doctor’s tenure, and enjoyed it just as much, even though I personally don’t find Christopher Eccelston as handsome as Tennant (just my personal opinion).

    I also think you don’t think much of your fellow Doctor Who viewers if you think they’re going to give up on the show because the lead actor is not as sexy or virile as his predecessor.

  • Kate

    Despite many protesting they watch “Who” for the relationships between Doctor and companion, I agree Tiffany has a point. Christopher Eccleston was my introduction to Doctor Who and I enjoyed him immensely; David Tennant, not so much. I didn’t watch during his years as the Doctor. Matt Smith brought me back. Like many Americans, I don’t have the sentimental childhood connection to Who and watch when the lead actor in the role captures my attention. Matt redefined the role with his wacky portrayal and over the top antics, and I loved his relationship with River Song. The announcement of Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor didn’t evoke a thrill of anticipation within me either. I merely stared at the screen with a “huh,” then turned the station. He’ll probably be fantastic, he was terrific in Torchwood: Children of Earth. Is that enough to draw newer viewers to the screen after Tennant’s moody portrayal of the Doctor or the epic adventures of Smith’s Doctor with Amy, Rory and River Song? I guess that remains to be seen.

  • Karrie Lynn Kindler

    Agreed 110% to the writer of this article-

  • Barry Manazetti

    Wow, Tiffany. I TOTALLY AGREE. I THINK YOU GOT IT RIGHT!!! Your article was a pleasure to read. I have been saying similar things, but you have put it so well.

    I have even gone so far as to suggest (elsewhere) that Peter is SO wrong for NuWho that he might even be a DECOY – and thus Moffat will not be trashing a whole season of romantic setup, including his excellently-dubbed “SNOG-BOX” and “Clara’s Boyfriend”, and the BBC would not be making the bravest choice ever about their top rating show.

    Could we see MULTIPLE regenerations this Christmas? He’s certainly done it before! (The Curse if Fatal Death – a doctor who spoof – also by Moffat!) And wouldn’t it be an excellent shock.

    Notice how NO ‘Doctor’ symbology has surrounded Peter’s early publicity shots and clips… Are they wanting to avoid too much commitment to this fantastic prank? Peter is totally loyal to the show, I’m sure he’d go along with it. And how cheeky is his first little clip.

    Of course, my suggestion is, perhaps, wishful thinking… But I am wishing it fairly hard. My point is really to reinforce Tiffany’s: he is too old – to hold my interest in the show., that is.

    As a fan-‘boy’, the thing I have ‘invested in’ is the fact that the hero is a dashing romantic hero – who gets the girl – or at least has some (romantic) ‘tension’ with the girl. When I watch the show, I am the Doctor – he’s the thing I identify with. And I’m just simply NOT interested in identifying with an older guy who doesn’t get the girl – in fact, one who is not even in the running! And the entertainment industry certainly understands this as, Tiffany, you have so elegantly highlighted.

    To so many of the ‘fans’ on this page I would say: I KNOW that the doctor has interesting magical adventures, and that this fact should be enough for any ‘real fan’, but so does the Mad Hatter, and Tin Tin. Speaking personally, I’m just not interested if you take away the very thing that made me watch this series in the first place… And even watching it in the first place took me a while… It took a lot of convincing by, guess what… a smitten girl, to make me look at the show. I just don’t care about monsters, and pseudo-science. But add the sexual-tension and a hero that I can identify with, and you’ve got me. In fact ‘Voyage of the Damned’ was the first thing I saw… begrudgingly… …and then I immediately went out and bought every box-set I could find. What got me? The youngish Bond-like action hero… …in David Tennant form, complete with Kylie! (I guess she was my first companion) “The Doctor… SNOGGING!… They have finally done something truly daring…”, I thought, “I wonder where it will go…”.

    At that moment, I finally had to reluctantly admit that the quirky, quaint, dated, badly-produced show (no offense guys) that I watched with no more than a passing interest as a kid, had finally come of age!!! It got me in where the older show had not. And I was now… a fan!!! Though perhaps not a ‘Whovian’ – because they don’t seem to accept my kind of new-series-only fandom – and they seem to have various prescribed requirements about what I must accept about the Doctor character, and how there are plenty of other shows on TV that might be more suitable for me. Guys, guys, I have a TARDIS cookie-jar, a Sonic, and I give fluffy Dalek toys to the children in my life – I’m certainly a fan of something here, OK!

    I LOVE the fact that they have continued the canon… It’s cool and great. But I think this has confused the separate fan groups of two very different shows into thinking that they are one group! Of course, there are indeed people who like BOTH, though I am starting to suspect that this is a much smaller group than people claim, and they seem to be people who simply happen to like two fairly unrelated things at the same time.

    To most of the fans on this page, I say the following: Have we been watching the same show? Not to acknowledge the romance would be like watching Firefly, whilst not investing in the Mal/Inara thing, or perhaps the Simon/Kaylee thing.

    People… for 8 years, the show has been about a young dashing romantic hero, with romantic drama surrounding him and his companions. Even with Donna, we had the promise of Rose… AND River! (Alright 7 years, if you want to argue about Nine) That is more than enough time to be a fan of what has been presented to us – for 7-8 years! Such fandom for this period of time is “valid” in it’s own right.

    Fans (from the word “fanatics”, remember – thanks Nine), are certainly the ones motivated enough to write in these blogs, and generally make noise. But as every lonely Browncoat knows fans are SIMPLY NOT ENOUGH. In TV land shows have ‘value’ (and therefore budget) according to their RATINGS. That’s NOT US, people!

    There is some kind of excellent paradox here, where, if you are writing in this blog, then you are actually the last person who should be writing in this blog. Cause it’s not about us!!

    It’s about the masses of fan-girls, and the masses of fan-boys who are there because of generic ‘mainstream’ reasons (alright, it is me actually). I.E. It’s not a ghost story it’s a LOVE story!!! (And, surely you have noticed that that particular episode was a metaphor for the whole show!)

    The BBC KNOWS all this… …um, I hope!! Can they really risk it? Would they? The Doctor lies. Moffat lies. The whole show lies! They lie!

    Peter may well be the twelfth Doctor… But for how long?

  • Nate

    I agree. Been watching the Dr since Tom Baker as well and the increased focus on the love story vs. the adventures is a bit overdone. He repeatedly declares that he’s too old and not interested in a romantic relationship so his interaction with his companions shouldn’t be any different. As for his own sex appeal: I can’t speak directly as men aren’t my type BUT as one who interacts with an extremely diverse group on the regular I notice people’s “inner” age much more than their calendar age. Especially in series 7 but starting much earlier Matt Smith began increasingly showing a MUCH older “inner” age. He was getting downright crotchety which I find increasingly unattractive regardless the gender. If Peter Capaldi is young of spirit then the Dr will be alive and well through this next metamorphosis.

  • I agree that Peter Capaldi was not the best choice at this time. More than “sex appeal,” that youthful energy and zaniness that both Tennant and Smith brought to the Doctor definitely revitalized the series. It’s going to be interesting to see what Capaldi brings to the role, and if the excitement for the show does indeed die down in the States.

  • cuzimbetterthanyou

    Over a year later, article is proven right.