Just like that, we have a new Doctor. Ever since Matt Smith announced that he would retire from the role, the internet has run rampant with rumors about who might play the twelfth incarnation of the character. Helen Mirren stated that it’s time a woman took the mantle, to which show-runner Stephen Moffat replied, “Isn’t it about time the Queen was played by a man?”. Many others also felt that the role should go to a minority actor. My personal choice was Chiwetel Ejiofor, not because of his skin color, but simply because he’s a marvelous British actor who could bring a whole new take on Doctor Who.
Bucking these requests, Moffat and company have chosen veteran actor Peter Capaldi. Most famous for playing the foul-mouthed Malcolm Tucker on the brilliant series ‘The Thick of It’ (probably better known to U.S. audiences for the film spin-off ‘In the Loop‘), Capaldi may not be a woman or a minority, but he is a departure from the typical Doctor casting. For one thing, he’s one of the oldest actors to start his tenure as the Doctor. At 55, he’s the same age that William Hartnell was when he kicked off the whole series in 1963. The character has been trending younger and younger since Tom Baker enchanted us as the Fourth Doctor, with Matt Smith being the youngest to ever play the 900+ year-old Time Lord. In that respect, Capaldi will certainly have a different take than many of the other possible choices.
He’s also one of the most established actors to ever take the role. While I’m not knocking the abilities of Christopher Eccleston, Paul McGann, David Tennant or any of the other men who played the Doctor, I can’t think of an actor who was so closely tied with another high profile character as Capaldi is. For many, moreso in the UK than in the U.S., Capaldi is Malcolm Tucker, period. Watching the announcement on BBC One, it’s clear that Capaldi is eager to leave Malcolm behind so that he can forge ahead as the Doctor. I’m excited to see what kind of characterization he calls up, and how it will differ not just from previous Doctors, but from Capaldi’s own popular image.
Another interesting tidbit came from Moffat, who said that when it comes to this regeneration, he and the show’s other creative heads had Capaldi in mind almost immediately. Going from Tennant to Smith, Moffat held tons of auditions, waiting for someone to jump out at him. This time, he had Capaldi in his sights from the start, which signals to me that Moffat has something very specific planned for where he wants the show to go, and that Capaldi as the Doctor is an integral part of that plan.
The announcement has already stirred up an incredible range of reactions throughout the ‘Doctor Who’ fan community (otherwise known as “Whovians”). These range from wholeheartedly positive (the camp I fall into) all the way into the absurd. The most common complaint is that Capaldi is too old to play the Doctor, which is hogwash. I applaud Moffat and the BBC for choosing an older actor. A more ridiculous criticism is that Capaldi has already played characters in both ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Torchwood’, so how could he possibly play the Doctor now? The series has a long history of taking actors in minor parts and graduating them to leading roles. Karen Gillan and Eve Myles both previously appeared on ‘Doctor Who’ before showing up as Amy Pond and Gwen Cooper, respectively. Heck, Colin Baker appeared opposite Peter Davison and was named the Sixth Doctor the next year.
As always, some people will fear change, even if they end up loving the results. While Capaldi wasn’t the pick I expected, I think he’s an inspired choice given the character’s history as well as Capaldi’s own history as both an actor and a fan. (He wrote a letter to a newspaper about the series when he was 15.) It will be great to see what an actor of his caliber can bring to the role, just as it will be exciting to see Capaldi reinvent himself and break away from Malcolm Tucker. But first, let’s see what happens in the 50th Anniversary Special this November!