When Peter Capaldi begins his reign as Doctor Who (we know he’s already made his first appearance, but we’re talking about when he really gets going, when season eight kicks off later this year), there are going to be some big changes. Matt Smith’s eleventh Time Lord is often thought of as a living cartoon, and Capaldi promises to be a much darker incarnation. Ben Wheatley, most known for his twisted, genre-bending films like Kill List, Sightseers, and A Field in England, will helm the first two episodes. He’s also set to direct an adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s surrealist dystopian novel High Rise.
Talking to Io9, Wheatley discussed the various projects he has on his plate, the differences and similarities, and his plans for them all. The director initially had concerns about shaping Capaldi’s performance, given that the actor is a well-known Doctor Who fanatic. He said:
He’s so good. I was relieved, pretty much. It would have been a very different situation if it had been another kind of Matt Smith character. A guy who you don’t know. Molded from the start. But with Capaldi, you look at his career and you look at his performances they are all so brilliant, and all so different as well. It was a lucky break for me, I think that.
Capaldi may be a super Who fan, but so is Wheatley. In fact, the job working on the show was something that he actively went after, and something he’s been reveling as it has been happening.
It was something I sought out. I got my agent to kind of badger them about doing, because I was a fan as a kid. But also because my kid was a fan of the show and I wanted to make something that he could see, for a change. That was it. And it’s been very geeky indeed. Going into the TARDIS, I held the Sonic Screwdriver the other day, and that was a particular thrill. All sorts of stuff. Also stuff I can’t talk about, that’s been very, very exciting for me.
Even at first glance, Capaldi is a different sort of animal that Matt Smith. You don’t look at him and see the same bouncy energy, and you don’t expect the type of performance from a man who once dropped the f-bomb 86 times in a single movie (In the Loop). Wheatley talked about this change and the inherent darkness in the show and the role.
Oh yeah, Doctor Who is pretty dark, I think. Generally it’s dark, it’s always been dark. Even in the more modern ones. If you look at the Tom Baker stuff, it’s especially dark. When he leaves Leela — who’s a very beloved assistant — he just laughs after it. There’s none of the [breaking down and crying]. He just laughs, and “on to the next one,” you know. It’s a bonkers show. It’s a monster. To have a unity that runs eight years [of the new series]… it’s pretty crazy. They’ve done everything, they’ve tried all sorts of stuff. It seems to me the episodes that we’re doing now seem more like classic Who. We’re going back to that style. But you’ll have to wait and see.
Speaking of darkness, Wheatley’s next film is an adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s novel High Rise. The story of an ultra-modern apartment complex that devolves into a nightmarish class war, there is nothing particularly bright or uplifting about this material. As he says, “I’ll be going straight back to the dark shit.”
High Rise is already filming, and from what Wheatley says, they are sticking close to the sinister surrealism of the source. Set in 1975, he’s trying to capture that era’s idea of what the future would look like, and how the building was supposed to be like stepping into a new world. As soon as we heard about this project, it immediately became one to watch. We can’t think of a better match for this novel than Wheatley.