Doctor Who: the film careers of Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi

Alex's series looking back at the film careers of actors who've played the Doctor finishes with Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi...

Read the previous part in this series: the film careers of Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant, here.

By 2009, the new version of Doctor Who had become not only an integral part of Saturday night television and a huge Christmas ratings winner but also an international success all over again. David Tennant, who had played the Time Lord since 2005 and was, arguably, more popular than any Doctor since the mighty Tom Baker hung up his scarf in 1981, had announced his resignation from the part he loved in October 2008. Many wondered how the incoming showrunner, Steven Moffat, would follow Tennant and what kind of show would emerge.

Tennant spent much of 2009 on stage in Hamlet and was only able to devote small amounts of time to Doctor Who. Occasional specials were placed throughout the year: Planet Of The Dead – shown on Easter Saturday hence one scene features the Doctor eating an Easter egg, was a little too obsessed with fact it was the 200th story. It was followed by the (much better) Waters Of Mars, dark, atmospheric and scary and to its undoubted benefit broadcast on a dark, autumnal Sunday evening in November to very healthy ratings of over 12 million. For the first time since its return (Christmas specials aside) the ideal scheduling for Doctor Who had been achieved.

The year ended with a two-part special shown on Christmas Day and  New Year’s Day (when, in a delightful twist of irony, it comfortably beat its opposition – Coronation Street – in the ratings). The two specials were, understandably, promoted heavily – very heavily. Tennant made guest appearances on most of the panel shows and hosted a special Doctor Who edition of Never Mind The Buzzcocks which also featured Catherine Tate and Bernard Cribbins. The Doctor was even the star of the much-anticipated BBC One Christmas ident, a sure sign the programme was now as synonymous with the festive season as Eric and Ernie.

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All the specials were broadcast, of course, with the audience’s knowledge of the identity of Tennant’s successor… On Saturday 3rd January 2009, a rare BBC One outing for Doctor Who Confidential introduced Steven Moffat’s choice for the Eleventh Doctor: Matt Smith. Three months of speculation had seen various high profile actors – including Paterson Joseph, David Morrissey, Sean Pertwee, Rusell Tovey, James Nesbitt, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Robert Carlyle and even Billie Piper – touted as potential Time Lords. Having made up his mind that the Doctor should be an older man, Steven Moffat was so taken with Smith’s audition he managed convinced himself otherwise. At just 26, Matt Smith was the youngest actor ever to become the Doctor. Having auditioned unsuccessfully for John Watson in Sherlock (which was being cast as the same time), Smith was already on Moffat’s radar.

The BBC were a little sceptical as to whether such a young actor could successfully embody the famous role. Piers Wenger, the head of Drama at BBC Wales and the incoming Executive Producer of Doctor Who, where he had replaced Julie Gardner, believed Smith had a proven “mercurial quality” which he’d displayed in the drama series Party Animals. It would be safe to assume Smith’s record as the youngest Doctor is unlikely to be broken, unless we really want a tantrum-throwing teenage Time Lord. Matt Smith first appeared as the newly-regenerated Doctor on New Year’s Day 2010 at the end of David Tennant’s final episode. Three months later, on Saturday 3rd April, The Eleventh Hour launched the new era of Doctor Who and Smith’s Eleventh Doctor was warmly welcomed by over 10 million viewers.

Matthew Robert Smith was born on 28th October 1982 in Northampton. He turned to acting after a serious spinal injury put an end to a promising football career – Smith played for the youth teams at Northampton Town, Nottingham Forest and Leicester City in the 90s. Having built up a number of significant stage roles including the original production of Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, he won a small role in the 2007 film In Bruges as the younger version of Ralph Fiennes’ character Harry Waters, but sadly Smith didn’t make the final cut. His scene is included on the DVD of the movie released in 2008.

On television, Smith appeared in Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart Mysteries which starred Billie Piper, fresh from her role as Rose Tyler. 2006’s Ruby In the Smoke and 2007’s The Shadow Of The North saw Smith play bowler-hatted cockney, Jim Taylor. Smith also appeared with Piper in her steamy radical departure from Who, ITV’s 2007 drama The Secret Diary of A Call Girl, based on the blog of Belle De Jour, which ran for four years.

The same year he played Danny Foster, a geeky researcher in the aforementioned Party Animals, a political drama about the hectic lives and loves of young parliamentary researchers and advisors. 2009 saw him star as Rob in a short film called Together. He also appeared as Dan Twentyman in Moses Jones a short run detective drama alongside Dennis Waterman and Shaun Dingwall, best known to Who fans as Rose Tyler’s Dad, Pete. The series was broadcast shortly after Smith’s Who casting was announced. 

In 2010, once he had completed filming on series 5 of Doctor Who, Smith made a guest appearance in The Sarah Jane Adventures. A memorable story, Death Of The Doctor also featured Jo Grant (now Jo Jones) and had some wonderful interplay beween Smith, Lis Sladen and Katy Manning. The Doctor notoriously mentions in passing he can have more than thirteen lives. Russell T Davies later admitted he wasn’t trying to re-write the mythology of the series, this was simply a flippant remark, in keeping with Matt’s characterisation of the Doctor.

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Later in 2010, Matt Smith was cast in Clone with Eva Green, the film was originally called Womb. Smith is Thomas, the tragic lover of Green’s character Rebecca. Unable to live without him, Rebecca decides to bear a clone of Thomas from a fetus. Rebecca must now live with her controversial decision. The film is minimalist in its execution and complex in its outlook. The subject matter is undoubtedly controversial, yet Smith is watchable and he and Green handle the subject matter, which would have been sensationalist in lesser hands, very well indeed. 

Smith worked on two notable TV movies. The first celebrated the life of the author Christopher Isherwood. 2011’s Christopher And His Kind was set in the Berlin gay scene of 1931, in which Isherwood is invited  by his friend WH Auden to indulge. Isherwood’s recollections of the people he met in Berlin later inspired many of the characters in his books and short stories. The drama was (perhaps inevitably) promoted with a Radio Times cover and garnered respectable ratings when shown on a late Saturday evening on BBC Two, many viewers were keen to see Smith broaden his acting range beyond his awkward, geeky, gangling Time Lord persona. During the Olympic Year of 2012, the BBC screened Bert And Dickie about an Olympic rowing pair, thrown together just weeks before the 1948 Games. Smith plays Bert Bushnell and Sam Hoare is Richard “Dickie” Burnell.

In 2012, Smith was signed up by Ryan Gosling for a role in Gosling’s directorial debut feature How to Catch A Monster which was later retitled Lost River. Set in a secret underwater town, Lost River is a very assured debut by Gosling, with Matt Smith’s performance as Bully, a particular highlight. The part called for Smith to shave his head. Curiously, Karen Gillan, Smith’s companion Amy Pond in Doctor Who had recently accepted a film role where she was required to do the same. Smith’s closely cropped hair was covered by a very convincing wig in his latter appearances as the Doctor.

Displaying another talent, Matt Smith made his directorial debut with Cargese, an episode of Playhouse Presents. The title is derived from a computer password. The film centres on the empty lives of good friends, Carl and Stephen. Increasingly lonely after the sudden departure of his father and caring for his dying mother, Stephen has very little to keep him going, his friendship with Carl aside. When Carl announces his intention to leave the town for further education, Stephen, who is gradually becoming more and more psychotic, decides to implicate his friend in a murder. The play marks out Smith as a decent Director able to elicit nicely judged performances which betray the increasing sense of abject despair experienced by Stephen and Carl’s more optimistic “can-do” outlook on life.

After nearly four years and over forty episodes, Matt Smith decided somewhat reluctantly to leave Doctor Who. His departure was officially announced, just over a year ago, on June 1st 2013. The special 50th anniversary episode (The Day Of The Doctor) screened on November 23rd and the Christmas Day special (The Time Of The Doctor) were his swansong as the Time Lord.

Amongst the many guest appearances Smith made to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, was a non-speaking (but beautifully knowing) uncredited role in Mark Gatiss’ superb drama An Adventure In Space And Time. The scene pays tribute to the legacy William Hartnell left the series and shows his (assumed) contentment that fifty years later, the series continues and is popular and Matt Smith embodies many of the values Hartnell set out when playing the Doctor.  

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Matt Smith is currently working on the new Terminator film franchise, with Terminator: Genesis expected in the cinema in 2015. This is quite a coup for Smith, not only does it allow him a chance to make a huge impact in a big budget Hollywood film but also it potentially gives him some longevity as the role is ongoing and will be expanded in a second and third film in the series, should the first prove a success.

So, the hunt was on once more for a new Doctor. Paterson Joseph, perhaps best known as Alan Johnson in Peep Show and fondly remembered as the Marquis de Carabas in the BBC’s nineties fantasy series, Neverwhere, headed a list of potential names. Rory Kinnear, as seen in the recent James Bond movie Skyfall, the Channel 4 eerie drama Southcliffe and the comedy series Count Arthur Strong, denied press reports which suggested he’d been offered the part. Daniel Rigby, nearer to Smith’s age, was another name much touted. Probably best known for the somewhat irksome ‘flatmates’ series of British Telecom adverts, Rigby had won great acclaim for his excellent portrayal of the young Eric Morecambe in the recent TV movie Eric And Ernie.

Months of fevered speculation followed, during which the entire cast of The IT Crowd were touted as potential Doctor material; Stephen Mangan and The Thick Of It star, Chris Addison humorously ruled themselves out; Eddie Izzard, Rik Mayall, Dylan Moran, Sue Perkins and veteran actress Frances de la Tour were suggested by online forums – one blogger revealed they “had it on very good authority” that Mayall was an absolute cert… another said much the same thing about IT Crowd star Chris O’Dowd.

Peter Capaldi (on whom betting had closed a few days beforehand) was introduced to the world as the Twelfth Doctor in a special BBC One show hosted by Zoe Ball, on 4th August. Capaldi appeared clutching his lapels – Hartnell style and fandom breathed a sigh of relief – this guy knew his Doctor Who! It was revealed he wrote to Radio Times aged 15 to compliment the BBC on the 10th anniversary special in 1973 and much of his (very good) teenage artwork featured the TARDIS. Capaldi admitted to Zoe Ball: “I’ve not played the Doctor since I was nine!” referring to his childhood playground antics. Like David Tennant, he is a genuine long-term fan of the show and will hopefully bring a lot of that love to the character.

Peter Dougan Capaldi was born in Glasgow on 14th April 1958. Like Colin Baker, Capaldi had already appeared in Doctor Who. He was Caecilius in The Fires Of Pompeii and had played John Frobisher, a quiet family man – a world away from Malcolm Tucker, in Torchwood: Children Of Earth. Unlike Colin Baker, who readily accepted the role of the Doctor despite playing Maxil only 15 months beforehand, we will have an explanation as to why the Doctor should resemble these characters. This must surely be for the fans as both roles were several years ago now – which is “a lifetime” to young children watching.

Capaldi’s previous TV work mark him out as someone who may always have been destined for the role he now plays: He featured in Minder – Life in the Fast Food Lane, famously describing Arthur Daley as a “barmpot”. Just a few months earlier an episode of Minder entitled Windows featured both Patrick Troughton and Janet Fielding and the series was, of course, produced by Verity Lambert. Like Sylvester McCoy, Capaldi featured in Dramarama – the show was also David Tennant’s television debut.

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Perhaps inevitably, and again in common with his fellow Scottish Doctors -Tennant and McCoy, Capaldi appeared in Rab C. Nesbitt in the episode Seasons Greet. He was in Selling Hitler about the 1983 Hitler diaries hoax alongside Tom Baker. He was the Angel Islington in Neverwhere written by Neil Gaiman. Capaldi was one of a number of fine actors (Who guest stars Brian Blessed and Lyndsay Duncan among them) to appear in the star-studded romp The History Of Tom Jones, A Foundling. One scene features Capaldi walking into a hallway in front of Sylvester McCoy!.

Capaldi began his film career with a small role in Living Apart Together and then followed it  with Local Hero, the 1983 British feature which starred Burt Lancaster, Denis Lawson and could-have-been Fourth Doctor, Fulton McKay, in one of his last film roles. The movie’s main theme – the enduring Going Home  was composed by Mark Knopfler and is regularly played at Newcastle United home games. 1985 saw Capaldi cast in the TV movie John And Yoko: A Love Story… as George Harrison. He gives a good performance and is easily one of the the best things about this otherwise below-par film.

Much better was The Lair Of The White Worm, a well-mounted 1988 film directed by Ken Russell, based on Bram Stoker’s oft-forgotten novel. Capaldi plays Angus Flint, a student archaeologist who unearths the skull of a large snake, thought to be the D’Ampton Worm. Stoker based this on the North East legend of the Lambton Worm, which as all good Geordies know, is celebrated in song. Capaldi appears alongside Amanda Donahoe and a young Hugh Grant.

Next came Dangerous Liaisons, a major hollywood film based on the play Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Christopher Hampton. A sumptious costume drama, the movie starred Glenn Close as the Marquise de Merteuil and John Malkovich as Vicomte de Valmont. Capaldi, playing Valmont’s page Azolan, was able to bring his acting talents to a much wider audience than his work hitherto.

The small-budget Irish film, December Bride (1991) saw Capaldi acting alongside Patrick Malahide once more (the two having worked on Minder) Saskia Reeves, Ciaran Hands and Donal McCann starred in a tale of an unusual love affair and the moral attitudes it invokes  in Edwardian Northern Ireland. 1992’s Soft Top, Hard Shoulder was co-written by Capaldi with Frances Barber, Jeremy Northam and Richard Wilson. The film features a Chris Rea soundtrack and was made for a budget of just £175,000.

Capaldi plays Gavin Bellini, like himself, a  Glaswegian of Scots-Italian descent. London-based Bellini, sets out on a desperate road trip to Glasgow to be at his father’s 60th Birthday party or else be cut out of his old man’s will. Bellini encounters many a comic mishap as he makes the journey in  his trusty but battered old Trumph Herald, picking up an attractive hitchhiker along the way. One of Capaldi’s first starring roles and a fine film to boot, this is highly recommended.

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A busy 1997 saw Capaldi appear in the much-missed comedian and director Mel Smith’s Bean – The Ultimate Disaster Movie which starred Rowan Atkinson – later to play an alternative version of the Ninth Doctor in the Steven Moffat-scripted 1999 Comic Relief skit The Curse Of Fatal Death. Capaldi featured in the British movie Shooting Fish an early vehicle for Kate Beckinsale, co-written by Stefan Schwartz – a familiar name to fans of Spooks and Luther – the film was partly funded by the National Lottery. Shooting Fish is an aimable film that owes much to the tradition of Ealing comedies. Its Brit-pop soundtrack and likeable lead characters marked it out at the the time as being different from the more socially concious, politically heavy British cinema of the time.

Capaldi plays Mr Glizean and is in the company of a host of great British actors many with a Who connection: Annette “The Eleventh Hour” Crosbie, Tom “City of Death/Mysterious Planet” Chadbon, Nickolas “Einstien” Grace and Arabella “Doctor Who: Unbound” Weir to name but four. Around the same time, Capaldi won a starring role in  Mr Wroe’s Virgins, becoming a hot property on television. His performance in The Crow Road, a Scottish drama based on the books by Iain Banks was very well made. Capaldi is particularly engaging and watchable.

2002’s Mrs Caldicott’s Cabbage War a gentle British comedy about a rebellion at an old people’s home, features Capaldi as Derek, the son of the eponymous Mrs Caldicott played by Pauline Collins. Of course, Collins is no stranger to Doctor Who having appeared as Queen Victoria in Tooth And Claw and for those with longer memories – Samantha Briggs, a gutsy, yet vulnerable scouser (and potential companion) befriended by Jamie in The Faceless Ones; Seventh Doctor auditionee, Tony Robinson plays a TV host and Martin Jarvis is miscast as the tough talking boss of the home. Jarvis made his TV debut in the Hartnell tale The Web Planet (cited by Peter Capaldi as a favourite story) appeared with Jon Pertwee in Invasion Of The Dinosaurs and with Colin Baker in Vengeance On Varos and much later in the Big Finish audio drama Jubilee. 

Later the same year, Capaldi appeared in the film Max, playing David Cohn. The film is a fictional account of a Munich Art dealer, Max Rothman (John Cusack) and his encounters with Adolf Hitler, concentrating on his encouragement of the Fuhrer’s artistic side. 2004 saw Capaldi appear in two memorable episodes of the TV series Sea Of Souls with Bill Paterson (later seen in Victory Of The Daleks) in a story entitled Seeing Double. Next came the film Niceland: Population 1.000.002 and the excellent and very underrated biopic of the artist Modigliani. Capaldi, credited as “Peter Capadli” plays Jean Cocteau in this fascinating account of the bitter rivalry between Modigliani (Andy Garcia) and Pablo Picasso, played with some relish by Omid Djalili.

As Doctor Who returned to TV in 2005, Peter Capaldi was very busy with various film roles: He had a part in House Of 9, a thriller which featured Dennis Hopper and Kelly Brook; had a cameo in the small-budget film Wild Country – an eerie thriller about teenagers stalked by wolves – made on location in and around Glasgow; The Best Man saw him play a priest  advising a young couple on the brink of marriage. However, 2005 saw him cast in arguably his most famous role (until recently!): Malcolm Tucker.

Capaldi based the scary, free-swearing Tucker not only on Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair’s famously aggressive king spin doctor and communications chief but also on the abrasive and demanding Hollywood player types one might meet in Los Angeles. The first series of the excellent The Thick Of It had a low key launch on BBC Four in the same week the Doctor Who story The Empty Child was first transmitted on BBC One.

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Capaldi eventually returned to the big screen with a part in Magicians, a 2007 comedy which starred David Mitchell and Robert Webb as conjurors who become rivals after one accuses the other of murder following some romantic foul play. The screenplay was by Peep Show writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain. Capaldi plays Mike Francis and appears alongside Jessica Hynes, as seen in Human Nature and The Family Of Blood, Steve Edge and Darren Boyd. The film had mixed reviews, some saw it as as a parody of the Christopher Nolan film The Prestige, however, this hadn’t been released when Magicians was originally in cinemas.

The Prestige, incidentally, was based on a novel written a decade before by Christopher Priest, who sent several script ideas to Doctor Who in the early Eighties, notably Sealed Orders which was dropped in favour of Warriors Gate and The Enemy Within (coincidentally the working title of Doctor Who – The Movie) which was ultimately replaced by Earthshock. Unfortunately, this rather cavalier treatment of literary writers meant Who gained a bad reputation and it wasn’t until Neil Gaiman wrote for the programme and moreover, saw his work reach the screen, that this situation was seen to be resolved by many.

In The Loop was the 2009 big-screen version of The Thick Of It. Capaldi reprised his bravura performance as uber-swearing spin doctor Malcolm Tucker, the movie – like the TV series employed a “swearing consultant” whose job it was to come up with “creative abuse” leading to the use of some profound profanities. The film sees him sharing the screen with the late Sopranos star, James Galdolfini. It differs slightly from the television version by reintroducing Chris Addison’s Ollie Reeder character as a newcomer (here bizarrely renamed Toby) as a device to bring the uninitiated up-to-speed with the government department. Capaldi’s Malcolm Tucker steals the film, taking creative swearing to a whole new level and offending the Americans in the process.

Capaldi made his directorial debut on the BBC Four comedy drama Getting On which starred Jo Brand and Joanna Scanlan, who appeared in The Thick Of It as Terri Coverley. 2011’s Big Fat Gypsy Gangster, despite the dubious title isn’t linked to the Channel 4 Gypsy documentaries. It is, however, linked to the channel’s 11 O’Clock Show which gave the world Ricky Gervais and Sasha Baron Cohen, a decade earlier. Ricky Grover developed his gangster character Bulla, in this straight-to-DVD movie. Capaldi plays Peter Van Gellis, helping Bulla break into TV. Derek Acorah and Michael Parkinson play themselves.

In 2012 Capaldi wrote and directed a very funny mockumentary for BBC Four: The Cricklewood Greats. He joined the second series of The Hour, a superior period drama about the BBC’s approach to news gathering in the Fifties. Capaldi plays the new head of news Randall Brown. The same year, he had a small role in Brad Pitt’s latest blockbuster World War Z, Capaldi played a Doctor from the World Health Organisation, curiously (conspiracy theorists would say – significantly) credited as “WHO Doctor”, 2013 saw Capaldi cast as  Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger in The Fifth Estate about Wiki Leaks whistleblower, Julian Assange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch).

The Musketeers, in which Capaldi played the Cardinal was his first major role to be screened since he was announced as the new Doctor. He filmed scenes for the current Angelina Jolie film Maleficent, however, both he and Miranda Richardson, had their contribution cut from the final movie. Capaldi will soon be heard providing the voice of Mr Curry in the much-anticipated Paddington movie.

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We await Peter Capaldi’s take on our favourite Time Lord, due to be shown on BBC One from August. He may not like the colour of his kidneys but I think the Twelfth Doctor could be the best yet. Hopefully the series will enjoy huge success as the darker autumnal evenings draw in, which could add a creepy extra dimension to the scares on screen. Roll on the new adventures of the Impossible Girl and the Rebel Time Lord! Doctor Who has a very bright future, present and past… 

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