Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Peter Capaldi is the 12th Dr Who

The bookies were right. The admired Scottish actor is the next time lord.

Sun, Aug 4, 2013, 19:46


In the end, it was a bit of an anticlimax. Apple can keep the details of their project launches secret. The Academy does a good job of keeping a lid on Oscar nominations. But it seems as if it’s that bit harder to stop news of the next Dr Who from leaking to the waiting hordes. By last night, the bookies had stopped taking bets on the Scottish actor ascending to the police box. Did some naughty insider make a bit of money on the side? We may never know.

“It is so wonderful not to keep this secret any more,” Capaldi said. “For a while I couldn’t even tell my daughter. Being asked to play the Doctor is an amazing privilege. Like the Doctor himself I find myself in a state of utter terror and delight. I can’t wait to get started.”

Anyway, to say that the news comes as an anticlimax is not to criticise the choice in any way. Capaldi is a very fine selection for the 12th doctor. We are — after experiments with Matt Smith’s youth — returning to the early tradition of casting a properly middle-aged man in the role. Capaldi is 55 and has a similar sort of off-centre irritability to time lords such as Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee (the real real Doctor for people at the upper end of my generation). He is, of course, best known as near-psychotic spin-doctor Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It. But fans of Bill Forsyth will always remember him as a young man in that director’s priceless Local Hero. Capaldi is now in the lucky position of playing two legends in British television: Tucker and the Doctor. That doesn’t happen too often.

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There will be some regret that Steven Moffat and his team did not opt for a woman or somebody from an ethnic minority. (We can’t really put the Scottish in that category. Can we?) In the awful, awful programme announcing the new Doctor — Zoe Ball shrieking like a Big Brother host — Moffat, also a major force on Sherlock, made it clear that there was nothing stopping the Doctor changing gender. So, that almost certainly will happen at some point. Everyone’s choice for a lady Who seemed, this time round, to be Olivia Colman. That smashing actor’s busy calendar will need to clear a bit if she is ever to find time for such a role.

Let’s hope that a new lead does not have to be inserted too soon. As David Tennant demonstrated, the show prospers when its star gets to have a good long run at the part over several story arcs. One of the things that Russell T Davies brought to Dr Who when he re-invented it eight years ago (for once in life, an event seems longer ago) was a greater focus on the intricacies of the hero’s character. He should not be just a silly old eccentric in Victorian clothing. He has nuances to his personality that have mutated and twisted over many centuries out there in the universe. It would be good to see Capaldi tease out a few, fresh character traits.

A relatively young person on a stamp some time ago.

What’s worth noting about the new Doctor? Well, he’s not the first Scottish holder of the post. Sylvester McCoy is from Dunoon. He is not the biggest star to have taken on the role. That was probably (by a smidgeon) Christopher Eccleston. But here’s an interesting point. It looks as if he may be very, very close to being the oldest-ever Doctor at the point of first appearance. This hardly seems possible. Peter still looks fairly fresh. Look how ancient William Hartnell seemed when he kicked off the series in 1963. Yet they both take up the reins at 55. That’s what middle-aged people looked like in those days, kids. It was a hard life. If I have my sums right, the first doctor would, on his debut, have been a few months older than than his latest successor will be when the 50 anniversary show broadcasts. So Hartnell does still retain that title.

A few more things. He’s the first Oscar-winner in the post. No, really. Peter’s amusing film¬†Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life won the Academy Award for Live Action Short in 1995.¬†Capaldi also looks to be the most Irish Doctor to date. His mother’s family are, apparently, all from County Cavan. Oh, they’ll be great celebrations in Killeshandra tonight. Quite right too.

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