In a short time, Peter Capaldi will debut as the latest incarnation of the time traveling lead hero, taking over from heart throb Matt Smith. There is a great article on the Sunday Times that gives fans a glimpse of what’s to come and what a wild ride it has been so far…
Being the Doctor… is a challenge for any actor, but for Capaldi it’s bigger because he is an aficionado. Make the mistake of asking him a simple Top Trumps question — are Daleks better than Cybermen? — and what feels like a whole morning can slip by on the answer. Because, you see, it depends whether you’re talking about the Mondasian Cybermen, which came from the planet Mondas, circa 1966, or those that arrived from a parallel universe in 2006.
“There is a conflict among fans,” Capaldi says gravely, “but I’m trying to get the Mondasians back.” Which doesn’t answer my question, but in case there are lots of different types of Dalek as well, I move on.
His earliest memories are of Daleks emerging from the water in The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1964), and it’s a bad idea to sully them with talk of toilet plungers and wobbly sets. “Everybody slags it off now,” he says, “but these programmes weren’t made to be viewed over and over again. When you just consumed them in that way, at the time, they were magical.”
Of course, back then, Daleks couldn’t go up stairs, so there was no need for Capaldi, age five, to hide behind the sofa in his third-floor tenement (his Italian father ran the ice-cream parlour on the ground floor). Instead, he built sets from shoe boxes, collected autographs — he ticked off three of the first four Doctors (William Hartnell was ill, so he got his wife’s autograph instead). He wrote fan mail to the producers; they sent back old scripts — “It was like being allowed inside the Magic Circle, the point I knew I wanted to be part of this world.”
His mother helped, sending him a Doctor Who annual every year. When I ask how long into adult life this continued, he starts laughing. Then he’s laughing so much that he starts struggling for air. Eventually, just at the point when I’m thinking I should call for help, he regains control: “By the time the show came back [in 2005], she must have thought I was too old. But I suspect it will start again now.”
Capaldi comes at a good time for the programme. Since its recommissioning after a 16-year hiatus, the Doctors have been regenerating into ever-younger lunchbox candy. Christopher Eccleston (41), David Tennant (34), then Matt Smith (28). With it, the plot lines, much to the chagrin of die-hard Whovians, have become more Twilight. There has been flirting and smooching. There has been a will-they, won’t-they dynamic between the Doctor and his sidekick, Clara. We were one nibble short of a hickey.
Following the age trajectory, the next Doctor would have been 23, and all would have been lost. Or, to be terribly 21st century, he could have been a she. Or Idris Elba — a favourite, although he may have been the unnamed black actor who turned down the role last time. Instead, the BBC went for a TV geriatric. Capaldi, 55 and counting, is joint oldest time lord with William Hartnell.
In the translucent flesh, he looks a good 30 years younger than Hartnell, thanks largely to the fact that he gave up alcohol years ago (and Hartnell liked a drink). But he’s still old enough that the BBC has a chiropractor on speed dial. More awkwardly, he’s old enough to be Clara’s father. This regeneration lark can have disturbing Freudian implications. So will the relationship with Clara, played by 28-year-old Jenna Coleman, continue to be romantic?
“There’ll be no flirting, that’s for sure,” he says. “It’s not what this Doctor’s concerned with. It’s quite a fun relationship, but no, I did call and say, ‘I want no Papa-Nicole moments.’ I think there was a bit of tension with that at first, but I was absolutely adamant.”
What will there be, then? Is the 12th Doctor an old codger like Hartnell? Will he be a more modern fiftysomething, a time lord who can work an iPad? Executive producer Steven Moffat has said he’ll be older, trickier, fiercer. Mark Gatiss, the best writer on the show, says the new doctor “has a madness in his eyes”.
“All that’s true,” says Capaldi, “but he’s also joyful. One thing the show does well is balance the epic and the domestic. You can go from the edge of the universe to a pedestrian precinct. This Doctor loves watching stars being born in Andromeda; he’s also thrilled to see litter blowing across the supermarket car park at dawn.”
Excited about the New Doctor Who? Why not make a Peter Capaldi paper doll!