The Doctor is in! One of the thrills of looking at the just-released Emmy ballots on June 13 was finally finding “Doctor Who” represented. The long-running British series about a centuries-old time-traveler is an Emmy contender after 53 years on the air (the current incarnation has been running since 2005). Peter Capaldi, the 13th actor to play the iconic role, could be the first to be nominated for Best Drama Actor – and he should be.
Capaldi took over the lead role in 2014 following very popular runs by David Tennant (2005-2010) and Matt Smith (2010-2013). He has played the Doctor for two seasons now, but it was the most recent where he fully made the role his own. Airing last fall, that run of episodes was one of the best in the modern series’s history, and played to Capaldi’s strengths – his doctor is angrier, more cynical and irascible than his immediate predecessors.
Emmy voters have been notoriously skittish about awarding science-fiction and fantasy in the past, and they might be especially inclined to write off a show about an outlandish time traveler who transforms into new actors every few years, but that would unjustly ignore what sci-fi is capable of as a medium of storytelling. The Doctor, in more than 1,000 years of life, has seen more joy and sorrow than mere mortals could fit into one existence, and in Capaldi’s performance you can feel the full weight of that experience – the regret of his own past choices and frustration at the shortsightedness of mortals.
Consider the episode “The Zygon Inversion,” in which the Doctor must avert a war between humans and a shape-shifting alien species that has lived among them on Earth. The episode ends with a climactic speech in which Capaldi gives perspectives on the futility of war that would be equally resonant in any real-world debate.
Even better was a later episode, “Heaven Sent,” which is essentially a one-man show for Capaldi. Following a tragic loss, the Doctor finds himself trapped in a fortress and must reason his way out, but as time passes the gravity of his circumstance becomes horrifically clear. It’s a masterly performance, coming from a highly original and emotional script by showrunner Steven Moffat (who won an Emmy for writing “Sherlock” in 2014), and it’s the stuff Emmys are made of. Moffat entered the episode for consideration for Best Drama Writing as well, and it deserves a nomination there too.
Critic Patrick Mulkern (Radio Times) wrote, “This is Peter Capaldi’s hour and he has earned it. OK, the running time is five minutes shy of one hour, but this brilliant, bold, extended episode is a one-man show – a tour de force from the magnificent Capaldi. This year he has made the role his own, subtly made his cranky interpretation more loveable, and now he’s been rewarded with the chance to shine with no one else to play off. Almost.”
Alasdair Wilkins (The A.V. Club) concurs, writing, “It’s a tour de force for writer Steven Moffat, director Rachel Talalay, and star Peter Capaldi … The episode presents the Doctor at his most brilliant, most broken, and most resilient.”
The Doctor is one of the most famous and enduring characters in television history, and Capaldi is carrying that history impressively on his shoulders. The TV academy should nominate him now that they’ve got the chance. The Doctor could be alive for another thousand years, but there’s no time like the present.
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