When Peter Capaldi finally threw back his head and arms, regeneration energy flying everywhere, it was truly the end of an era. It marked the end of male domination of the Doctor on Doctor Who, which is very exciting indeed. But it’s also the end of everything incredible he brought to the role. The huge, Grinchy, wry smiles that curled all over his face. The running like a penguin with its arse on fire. The glee, the despair. The gorgeous hair that grew towards the stars, better and better with every inch.
But even more, I’ll miss the way he spoke. His delightful snarky one liners. His pontificating to no one in particular. And most of all, his rousing speeches, the longer the better.
That gift of gab is not unique to Capaldi, as anyone can attest who witnessed Matt Smith’s impassioned speech to the heavens in “The Pandorica Opens.” Words are the particular forte of the Doctor in general, maybe even more iconic than the sonic screwdriver in terms of preferred tool. But I’d assert that Capaldi’s delivery was second to none.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence then that his first full episode was called “Deep Breath,” which is of course the precursor to speaking. In it horrible mangled robots are harvesting people for parts. The way they find people is by observing them breathe. Breath is how they find life.
Clara, Capaldi’s longtime companion, must face these robotic monsters on her own, thinking that the Doctor has abandoned her. She tries to hold her breath but passes out, ending up being interrogated by the robots. They ask her where the Doctor is.
Clara says, “I don’t know. But I know where he will be. Where he will always be. If the Doctor is still the Doctor, he will have my back. I’m right, aren’t I? Go on. Please, please, go on, say I’m right.”
And then he’s there, and we all collectively breathe a huge sigh of relief as the Doctor says in his gloriously quirky quick style: “Ah. Hello, hello, rubbish robots from the dawn of time. Thank you for all the gratuitous information. Five foot one and crying. You never stood a chance. Stop it.”
Don’t you love it?!
Zoom forward to the very end, almost to his regeneration, and his words are the parting gift both to us and to the new Doctor about to come. (Of course, do I even need to say the word? Perhaps I do… SPOILERS! if you haven’t seen “Twice Upon a Time.”)
“You wait a moment, Doctor. Let’s get it right. I’ve got a few things to say to you. Basic stuff first. Never be cruel, never be cowardly. And never ever eat pears! Remember – hate is always foolish…and love, is always wise. Always try, to be nice and never fail to be kind. Oh, and….and you mustn’t tell anyone your name. No-one would understand it anyway. Except….Except….children. Children can hear it. Sometimes – if their hearts are in the right place, and the stars are too. Children can hear your name. But nobody else. Nobody else. Ever. Laugh hard. Run fast. Be kind. Doctor – I let you go.”
And with that, he breathes his last as the Doctor. (More on Jodie Whittaker later… so, so much more.)
Life is breath and breath is life, for the Doctor and for us. We are not separate entities from the environment around us – we are wholly part of it and it of us, both constantly exchanging and making joining us together with all the other living things.
In yoga, this thought comes to you front and center. Breathing is a conscious skill in yoga, one you hone with techniques that go beyond just “take a deep breath.” You don’t even realize the importance of that until the yoga instructor talks you through breathing exercises, leaving you afterwards with a bright, clean, alert feeling you didn’t even remember to miss.
You realize you are breathing in the world around you and breathing out yourself. Christopher Eccleston, the 9th Doctor, knew what a gift that was when he gave “air from my lungs” as a gift to evolved tree people early in his run.
Watching Doctor Who, you understand that words are like breath. They come fast or they come slow. The Doctor takes in others’ words and gives out words that inform and maybe enlighten scary situations. We too take in the words – listening to the Doctor for fun and meaning and purpose. We then give them out – talking to each other about the show, writing about it, using our insights to talk about other things.
This is true in general as well – we participate in near constant exchange of words in general, listening or writing them in, writing or speaking them out. Just like we are one with our physical environment with breath, we are one with our mental environment with words.
But in particular we’d do well to listen well to this Doctor’s excellent advice to “never be cruel, never be cowardly,” and to take that out into the world at all times. (You can leave out the bit about pears, though, if you like!) If ever there as a time to take these words to heart and to our culture, it is now.
Clara could take a “deep breath” when the Doctor arrived, rejoining the living ready to fight the robots. As the 13th Doctor leaves, we can take a deep drought of his insights, final and otherwise–leaving us ready to face our own world with our words.