Doctor Who: Peter Capaldi series 9 interview

On a June visit to the Doctor Who studios in Cardiff, we enjoyed a round-table chat with Peter Capaldi about series 9…

Despite being hamstrung by a list of not-for-discussion topics as long as the Mara (plot specifics, new monsters, returning characters, series arcs…), you can always rely on Peter Capaldi to fill an interview to the brim.

It helps that he��s fluent in nerdy Doctor Who detail, from anecdotes about his old pal Jim, designer of the original Zygons, to being able to reel off the name of Jon Pertwee’s season eight stuntman, to chatting about Chumblies.

Along with a handful of fellow journalists at the Cardiff studios earlier this year, we spoke to Capaldi about all of the above, series nine, looking back at his first year in the role, his own fandom, and more…

On where the Doctor and Clara are at the start of series nine:

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I think that the Doctor and Clara are sort of celebrating this freedom that they have, to roll through time and space wherever they want to go, and are having a high time. I think they’re having a brilliant time. They’re really, really excited about the idea of adventure and they keep pointing themselves in that direction, but of course, being as it’s Doctor Who, that’s a dangerous thing to do, not just in terms of the dangers that they will encounter but also, you can’t have a good time for too long. You have to pay for it somewhere down the line [laughs].

I think [the Doctor]’s moving. I think that the nice thing about what we’re doing, what I find interesting about it, is that the Doctor’s still sort of looking for himself. So he’s changed to some degree. I mean, he hasn’t changed, he’s still the same, he still has the same concerns and worries and darkness if you like, but he’s embracing the present. But that’s really because he has a profound knowledge of the past and the future. In this incarnation he is, I think, sometimes prone to… He’s wiser than he often says. He knows that things can often end in great distress, but rather than focusing on that, I think he’s decided to have a good time. But it doesn’t mean that he’s not aware that darkness will fall… or whatever phrase I can think of that they can print that sounds good!

On how Clara’s teaching job fits in to series nine:

She’s still there teaching. She can be full-time teaching, because I can just whoosh her away and bring her back before she left. […] I love having the school and the fact that it’s Coal Hill School and also that the younger audience can related to that in a very clear way. She’s still very busy there.

On working with Game Of Thrones’ Maisie Williams in series nine:

Maisie’s been great, because I’m huge Game Of Thrones fan, so I was very excited for Maisie to show up. She amuses me incredibly. Maisie’s been on Game Of Thrones since she was twelve! So she’s very, very assured, technically [laughs]. She’ll always find her light, she knows where to stand. She knows all the right questions to ask. Jenna and I were quite intimidated by her authority when she arrived [laughing] because we’re a bit more… we throw it together a little bit more. But she’s great, because also she has that great combination of being very gifted—you’ll see what she does on the show, she has to cover quite a range, she has to be quite different in different episodes, and she does it quite beautifully and subtly—but it’s also great to have someone who, you know, she had her eighteenth birthday with us. It’s great to have somebody who’s eighteen around, because she’s full of fun and vigour and life and she’s not spoiled. But at the same time you can get Game Of Thrones gossip off of her [laughs]. She starts telling me it and then she starts revealing things I don’t want to know so I have to get her to be quiet.

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On welcoming Michelle Gomez’s Missy back for series nine:

Michelle’s fabulous. The mechanics of that story are slightly different. […] It’s good, it’s good. Michelle’s great. She’s very funny. But it’s slightly different. We sort of help each other.

On the return of the Zygons in series nine:

Aren’t they good? They’re fantastic monsters aren’t they? I worked with the man who designed them, who was Jim Acheson, who became a very, very celebrated costume designer. I was in the film of Dangerous Liaisons, for which he did all these fabulous eighteenth century costumes for Glenn Close and John Malkovich—I had a little part in it—and all I wanted to talk to him about was Zygons! And also, because he designed Tom Baker’s original [Doctor Who] outfit, and I think he designed the Mutants as well. He was fascinating. I asked him about it. He was slightly embarrassed I think. He was moving into a higher area—I think he’d won Oscars and all those kinds of things for his Costume Design. […] Even if you go back through all the Doctors and look at the ones that he’s done, the monsters and the costumes do stand out from some of the lesser concepts.

On having the Daleks back in season nine:

So many of them! Which is lovely. Not having them all CGI-created, to actually have a whole pile of them in the room. It’s very exciting, very mobile. It’s lovely to go into that. I don’t know if you saw the set. That was great. It had a lovely kind of sixties feel about it. […] When you looked at that set there was a sense of it that it was in widescreen for some reason, it sort of reminded me of the movies as well, the Doctor Who movies.

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On what Jenna Coleman gives him as a performer:

Well, she’s great fun. We’re very simpatico in terms of how we like to work, but she’s just brilliant. That’s the thing with Jenna. You’ll sort of be having a laugh and all that and think ‘oh we’re rolling along here’ but then she’ll do a bit of acting and you’ll think ‘oh God, I’d better up my game a bit here because she just delivers this fabulous, truthful, emotional, potent acting. So she keeps me on my toes like that. I think in terms of the Doctor and Clara, it’s not dissimilar really. I guess maybe that’s developed as we’ve gone along. She sort of tries to make him more [laughs] amenable to the human race and Jenna tries to do that with me as well. She tries to help him function more successfully with ordinary human beings.

On his chemistry with Jenna Coleman in series eight:

We were sort of instantly in that zone. She was so kind to me right from the start, from the moment I arrived, to do the Regeneration. She was the first person that came and showed me around the TARDIS and all that stuff. She was very, very supportive and friendly, as everybody was. It’s quite scary stepping into this role and especially on your first day when there’s like, 250 people standing, looking at you. But I always felt Jenna’s support. 

Also we don’t plan much, we just turn up and see what each other’s got in mind. I might have an idea and it might be garbage. She might have an idea and that might be garbage. But somewhere, we’ll come up with something. Also it’s useful to have someone who, first of all had already done the show for a year before I arrived, so she was able to keep me posted on the stresses and strains and the mechanics of it.

On how much Steven Moffat tells him about the series arc and where the Doctor is going to end up in the series finales:

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This year in particular they have kept me in the dark. It comes out through gossip, because I hear things and people have to put costumes together, and the crew generally walk around with scripts [laughs] of episodes which I don’t see. Steven, generally, in the two years I’ve done, he’s always given me an evening where he’s taken me through the whole series, but in this instance, I don’t know what’s happening at the end.

I think it’s easier [not to know]. I’m not sure I would be able to act better if I knew. If the Doctor doesn’t know what’s going to happen to him, how am I supposed to, what would I do, if I knew?

On whether there’s anything he might like to do more or less of, looking back at series eight:

Not really. I mean, I’m not involved in writing the scripts so whatever comes is whatever comes, and it’s very, very good and particularly strong this year. I think all Doctors when they come along at first probably react against the Doctor who was before them, because obviously Matt was very friendly and open, and I probably felt it was important to not be like that. I still think it’s important to not be like that. He’s still not like that, but Clara has to try to create strategies to help him function with human beings more successfully [laughs] which is quite fun.

But no, I think we made good choices. But I think it’s right that he grows as a character. It must be a very weird thing if you’re suddenly Regenerated, if you’re suddenly a new—although you’re essentially the same character—you’re a new spirit, a new being, you’re like a baby who has to discover who you are. So he’s still on that journey, even though it may appear that he’s settled into a groove. I think he’s still—and I think they all are—they’re all looking for who they are, hence the title.

On his series nine stunts:

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Yeah. I get good stunts. I love the stunts because they’re often done and I emerge at the end of them adjusting my wig! The stunts are good. I always love stunts on Doctor Who. One of my favourite moments [laughs] I think it’s Terror Of The Autons, when, at the climax, the Master drives a bus towards Jon Pertwee. He’s going to run over Jon Pertwee! And the bus is almost upon Jon Pertwee and at the last moment, Terry Walsh, Jon Pertwee’s stunt-man, does a spin back and rolls away from the bus and then it cuts to a close-up of Jon Pertwee getting up! You think yes! That’s what I want to do.


On how he experiences the new stories as both a Doctor Who fan and actor:

I guess those two bits of me are welded together. The fan and the grown-up professional actor—the not very grown-up, professional actor! So I just look at the material from the point of view of how I can make this work and how best I can do my job with it. But at the same time I’m always excited, because there’s always something fun in it that I really, really like. I’m always excited to see a new monster or an old monster.

I don’t get giddy and breathless with excitement [laughter] but there is a very warm, honeyish feeling you get when you walk into a roomful of Daleks or you see the Zygons. So I enjoy it, but I always think the whole fan relationship with Doctor Who is actually kind of private and intimate really. Although it’s a massive brand and there are millions of fans all over the world and they all communicate with each other, I think each individual’s relationship with the show is quite individual and I carry that with me. I have my own relationship with it.

You know, I couldn’t be gushing. Everyone would hate me if I turned up every day and went ‘Oh look! There’s another rubber monster! How fantastic! And here’s another corridor to run down!’ although I do feel like that most of the time!

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On whether he feels a parity between his experience and that of a Who actor like Carole Ann Ford [who visited the set of Doctor Who last year]:

I think it’s a different show but everybody’s sort of linked. And you know it’s important. Someone like Carole Ann, I think she knows how respected she is. There’s a kind of dual thing because I can see it from the point of view both as a fan and as an actor. What was it like to be an actor in the sixties? Going to Vidal Sassoon to get your hair cut and trying to be trendy and work with Verity and all that stuff and be part of that, and what jobs did you go on to and… so I have a respect for her as an actor, but also her place on the show is very important and key.

And of course, she’s my granddaughter. I’m always fascinated by that. I always think that’s one of the most haunting moments in the show is William Hartnell and her, and I wish we could somehow echo that and bring it back, or do something with that.

On which past Companion he’d like his Doctor to meet up with again:

I think they’re all fab. Katy Manning was fab. I met her as well, she came along. The late Lis Sladen of course was fantastic. They all did a great job. Karen. I met Karen Gillan a few times, she was great fun. But of the older ones… Ian and Barbara. At the moment, today I’m hankering back to those. I’m not every day like this, but there’s something about that and Coal Hill school and the beginnings of the show. I think one of the things that I sort of bring with me because of my age is probably an echo of all of that. Barbara I think was remarkable. She was very glamorous for a teacher at Coal Hill school [laughing] I suppose Jenna maintains that position. Yeah, it’d be nice to see them.

On going the extra mile for fans:

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To be honest, I don’t think I do any more than Matt or David or Chris or anybody does. It’s just that we live in a new age so it’s more communicated and reported. I think they did as much if not more. You just walk around with this sense of this constant murmur of letters and stuff that you can’t deal with. You can’t get round everybody. I do the little drawings sometimes just because I doodle and it seems slightly more personal to do something like that. I don’t think I particularly do anything special. It’s a real great privilege of the job in the sense that you know you can make people quite happy just by showing up and they’re very forgiving. They don’t ask very much of you.

On how he came to drop in at Cardiff’s Doctor Who Experience in March 2015:

I was there because I usually go back home to London at the weekends but for personal reasons I was staying around that weekend and my wife said ‘Why don’t we just pop in and see what happens?’ [laughs] And also, I’d never been through it. Although we’d filmed there and I’d done a thing upstairs where I’d showed up, I’d never actually done the whole tour as it were, so I thought yeah, that’ll be a laugh, let’s go and do that. And also of course, you know or you hope that you’ll be able to make some people happy just by showing up and indeed, that’s the case. That’s the sort of gift that’s been given to me, because, believe me, it’s much more fun for me to be held in such esteem.

On whether he sees his younger self in other Doctor Who fans:

I think I remember what it’s like and I think I know how important it is. Which is why I kind of have this sack full of guilt, because I simply can’t do everything. You can’t. So I try to do what I can but to be honest, there’s probably going to be a time when I’m going to have to say I’m going to pull back because you won’t have enough time to do the show. But I stress again that I don’t think I do any more than anybody else.

On which monster from Doctor Who’s past he’d like his Doctor to face:

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There’s so many of them. Often, if I’m asked that question I try to pick the most obscure one, like the Chumblies! Just because they’re obscure. I would like the Daemons. I think what would be fun. It’s always fun to see the older monsters recreated with new technology because they’re given a couple of coats of paint but they retain the original idea, so it would be nice to see some of the older ones given that. I think the Daemons would be good because they’re a little bit black-magic-y. I like the monsters that are a little bit supernatural, not just sci-fi ones, but who have got a kind of horror movie element to them.

The Axons would be good as well. Steven always says they’ve got a face like a Bafta [laughter] I don’t know why, maybe because he’s got plenty of Baftas, he’s sick of them! [laughs] If you look at them at the time—people do their best, people do their best but you know, skin-tight cat-suits and gold paint—but then they transform into these horrible squidgy things. I just think they’d be good all modern.

And of course also the Mondassian Cybermen, which I constantly crusade for.

On how the pressure has changed for him between his first and second series:

I think it’s the same. I think you may have the sense that you’ve succeeded in having your contract renewed for the next series [laughs], so you’ve got another year, so you’re happy about that! But you can’t sort of rest, you’ve got to continually try to make it as good as you can make it. So you’re constantly looking for ways to be interesting and entertaining.

Doctor Who is like any other episodic television programme, you often find yourself in similar situations. If you’re on a cop show, every week you have to face a murder, so you have to face the same questions. So the Doctor often finds himself in a similar place. How did this dreadful situation happen and why are these monsters here and what’s going on? You have to find sort of both new ways to do that and also revisit the old ways that people are happy with.

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I think they write for me much more now and I think it’s more expanded into aspects of my personality possibly that they are more familiar with. There are various things we do and he does in the TARDIS that are more sort of personal to me. He’s more like me I guess, in his stupider aspects [laughs] and less like me in his heroic aspects. Because he’s much more heroic and braver  than I would ever be.

Peter Capaldi, thank you very much!

Doctor Who returns to BBC One on Saturday the 19th of September.

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