On some level, Whovians knew the Doctor Who creative team had to address the fact that Peter Capaldi’s been on the show before. He’s been on Torchwood, too, but his character of John Frobisher never met the Doctor, so it’s not quite as much of an elephant in the room. But in the third episode of season four, the Doctor saved Lucius Caecilius from “Volcano Day” in Pompeii, which presents a bit of a paradox. (For those of you who are quick to say “But Karen Gillan was in that episode too, and Amy Pond never referred to her previous ‘face,'” I would say two things: one, Karen Gillan was in makeup the whole episode with a much smaller role, and two, maybe that’s where Amy’s love of Roman centurions came from.) How would the issue of Capaldi’s previous appearance be dealt with?
We didn’t have long to wait. The Twelfth Doctor addresses the familiar face in his first episode, “Deep Breath.” While searching through trash piles, he asks a homeless man “Have you seen this face before?” The man asserts that he has not. Twelve persists: “It’s funny because…I’m sure that I have. You know, I never know where the faces come from. They just pop up, zap. Faces like this one. C’mon, look at it. Look! Look, look, look! It’s covered in lines. But I didn’t do the frowning. Who frowned me this face? D’you ever look in the mirror and think ‘I’ve seen that face before?'” The tramp admits that this happens every time he looks in the mirror, and the Doctor responds “Oh, yes. Yes, yes, yes, fair enough. Good point. My face is fresh on, though. Why this one? Why’d I choose this face? It’s like I’m trying to tell myself something. Like I’m trying to make a point. But what is so important that I can’t just tell myself what I’m thinking? I’m not just being rhetorical here, you can join in!” The tramp is too freaked out to join the Doctor on his musings, but I’ll take him up on his invitation.
“The Fires of Pompeii” features some uneven writing which doesn’t really give Capaldi (or any of the supporting cast) a chance to shine, so I’m glad this wasn’t his audition tape. They do their best with what they were given, but it’s early in the Donna’s travels with Ten which means the story focuses on them and trying to figure out what the Doctor/Donna relationship will be. The ultimate takeaway is that Donna is a force of good on the Doctor, reminding him that while he can’t save everyone, he can save some people, and that even a few (in this case a family of four) is better than none at all.
Since one of the main themes in “Into the Dalek” is the Doctor trying to find the answer to the question “Am I a good man?” perhaps he chose Lucius Caecilius’ face to remind him of that lesson. My gut instinct is that after centuries of war on Trenzalore, Twelve is in the same kind of frame of mind that Nine was in when we met him: bitter and jaded. Hundreds of years spent mainly in the company of a Cyber-head while fighting off all the enemies in existence could certainly have that effect on you, after all, even if your Impossible Girl saves you. Regenerating with Lucius Caecilius’ face might have been Eleven’s last attempt at giving his future self a touch of goodness, a reminder of what Donna taught him.
Or I could be reading way more into this than I should. Ten’s last words to Caecilius were “It’s never forgotten, Caecilius. Oh, time will pass, man will move on and stories will fade, but one day, Pompeii will be found again. In thousands of years. And everyone will remember you.” While I’m pretty sure this was not meant to be a line of great import when written, Capaldi’s return seems to give it another meaning. Maybe we’ll remember Caecilius because the Twelfth Doctor wound up with his face, simple as that. But knowing how much Steven Moffat likes coming up with puzzles to torment his audience, (the next line contains spoilery content highlight to read...) I am currently going nuts trying to figure out who Missy is and why certain people who die through their association with the Doctor end up with her in “Heaven”, I somehow don’t think so.
What are your thoughts on how the Moff and crew will resolve the familiar face conundrum? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear some other opinions!