Peter Capaldi: a Doctor Who timeline

As Peter Capaldi’s first series of Doctor Who approaches, we look back over the months leading up to him being cast as the next Doctor…

Hindsight is fun. While it’s hard to spot patterns, coincidences or ironies while events are happening, hindsight (plus internet search engines) can reveal all of the above.

As series eight of Doctor Who approaches then, we thought it might be fun to dig back through the show’s official press bumf to see what was happening behind the scenes in the run-up to Peter Capaldi being announced as the next Doctor. When did the search for Matt Smith’s successor start in earnest? Who first suggested Peter Capaldi? Who knew he’d won the role, and when? What did he get up to in the months he knew, but couldn’t tell? And who had to tell a few porkies in order to keep the secret safe?

We could go all the way back to November 1963 when Doctor Who first arrived in a six-year-old Capaldi’s living room, to mark the beginning of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor Who story. Or to February 1974, when a fifteen-year-old Capaldi wrote a series of letters to the BBC about the show. Or we could start later, on the 12th of April 2008 with the actor’s first appearance in the series as Caecilius in The Fires Of Pompeii (watch him talk about the episode back in 2008, here) or perhaps to July 2009, when he appeared as John Frobisher in Torchwood: Children Of Earth.

Capaldi’s story as the Doctor really started though, when Matt Smith decided to vacate the role…

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3rd January 2009: Matt Smith is officially announced as the next Doctor.

Exactly how soon after landing the role it was that Smith made his plan to leave in the year of the fiftieth anniversary we don’t know, but interviews with Smith and Steven Moffat reveal that was the idea from way back. “We discussed ages ago that we would do three series and then he would do the fiftieth and then he’d do Christmas,” Steven Moffat told EW in 2013, “That was Plan A for a very, very long while. That may sound cold that it was so far in advance but you’ve got to plan a career”. Smith told the same version of events to Buzzfeed in 2013. “It was something that we talked about a while ago as well, in rough terms. In my head I just knew that, after the 50th anniversary, I’d look at retiring the bow tie, as it were.”

21st of March 2012: Jenna Coleman is announced as the new Companion

Jenna Coleman – still then in possession of her Louise – was revealed to be Doctor Who’s new Companion three months after Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill were confirmed to be leaving the show. Certainly by this time, Matt Smith’s departure was an open secret in Doctor Who. “To be really honest, even when [Karen and Arthur] left last year, we talked about me leaving the year after. It’s kind of always been the plan, really”, Smith told Vulture in 2013.

“We knew, even when Jenna got the part we knew that I was going to go,” Smith told Zap2It last year, “Well, we talked about it, but it wasn’t official. Me and Steven, we talked about it and obviously those conversations are private and should remain that way”.  “We were all having those discussions, as soon as I joined.” Jenna Coleman confirmed in 2013. “It’s been a strange thing ‘cause it’s something I’ve known since I started.”

2012-2013: Steven Moffat asks Mark Gatiss for a list of recommendations to replace Smith.

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At some point after Smith’s departure was looking like a sure thing, showrunner Steven Moffat canvassed the opinion of Sherlock co-creator and Doctor Who writer Mark Gatiss for his successor, and found that they shared a common favourite: Peter Capaldi.

“I asked my old friend Mark Gatiss to give me a list – he’s brilliant at casting, Mark – and I asked him, could you make a list of people you think should be the Doctor, and right at the top of his list, with a space below him before the other names, was Peter Capaldi”, Moffat revealed in this iTunes video. Mark Gatiss confirmed the story in December 2013 in an interview with The Independent. “I can’t lay claim solely, as it were, but Steven (Moffat) asked me months ago (who I thought it should be) and I said, ‘Peter Capaldi’. And he said: ‘He’s top of my list’.”


Mid-February 2013: Peter Capaldi visits the set of An Adventure In Space And Time

“Peter Capaldi is on set, just here to observe and lap it up” announced Radio Times’ Patrick Mulkern in a mid-February set report from Mark Gatiss-scripted Who docudrama, An Adventure In Space And Time. According to David Bradley, who played William Hartnell in the one-off special, Capaldi asked if he could visit the set and was duly invited along by Mark Gatiss to see some of the shoot. “I’d never met him before and what a delightful guy he was,” remembered Bradley in this interview with Flicks and the City, “I hadn’t realised he was a life-long Doctor Who fan. He watched a bit of filming and was very nice about it because at that time he didn’t know he was going to be the Doc and we certainly didn’t, but when it was announced I thought well, yes, it just makes perfect sense”.

On the set of An Adventure, Capaldi acted the true fan by having his photograph taken with the original TARDIS, and it’s been reported that Gatiss sounded him out then about whether he’d like to play the Doctor. Not seeing the question as anything other than fanciful, Capaldi reportedly responded that he’d love to, but surely that ship had sailed.

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26th of February 2013 Peter Capaldi is announced as playing Cardinal Richelieu in The Musketeers.

Capaldi was reportedly in Prague, in costume as The Musketeers’ Cardinal Richelieu (this costume, enthusiastically modelled here), when he received the ‘yes’ phone call from his agent for Doctor Who.

Filming for series one of The Musketeers took place in the Czech Republic between May and October 2013. Capaldi must have known he’d secured the role by the time Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman found out, on the 3rd of July (see below), during a royal visit to the Cardiff studios. That leaves the window for Capaldi to have heard that he’d landed the part between early May and early July 2013.

17th of March 2013: Capaldi appears on Sunday Brunch

A jocular Capaldi, who used the opportunity to accuse Tim Lovejoy of being a real-life Alan Partridge, appeared alongside hit parade girl group The Saturdays on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch. Already sporting the beginnings of his Cardinal Richelieu moustache, did Capaldi know at that point that he was in the running for the biggest role in UK television? Nothing in the cookery chat show suggests so…

1st of June 2013: Matt Smith was confirmed to be leaving Doctor Who after the Christmas Special

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On the official press release announcing Smith’s departure, Steven Moffat wrote, “Somewhere out there right now – all unknowing, just going about their business – is someone who’s about to become the Doctor. A life is going to change, and Doctor Who will be born all over again.” When those words were circulated, did Moffat already know who that someone was going to be?

If so, he played the deception well, and continued to do so all the way until 2013’s San Diego Comic-Con in late July, when Capaldi was certainly already the front-runner.

2nd of June 2013: Peter Capaldi attends the Leicester Square World War Z premiere

Watching the shakily filmed footage of Capaldi at the London premiere of World War Z (for which film his IMDb listing read W.H.O Doctor, remember) we’d like to say we detected a spring in his step, but that’s Peter Capaldi for you – a man with a springy step.

3rd of June 2013: Den Of Geek gets it wrong

Fair’s fair, our instincts on this one were a bit off. “We’d be genuinely astonished if the new, permanent Doctor was north of 50” was our first wrong call (Capaldi was 55 when the role was announced). Regular readers will know however, that this statement did not prove to be our most tragically hubristic.

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7th of June 2013: Jenna Coleman is interviewed about the Queen’s visit to the BBC

We have no reason to believe that Coleman isn’t being entirely honest when she said on camera, “Everybody in the building has asked me who the next Doctor is and I can tell you honestly, we don’t know. It’s going to be a long, long search”.

9th of June 2013: The Telegraph, and various others, get it wrong

Gossip columnist ‘Mandrake’ in The Telegraph reports that Rory Kinnear “has been offered the part” of the Doctor and the team is “waiting to hear if he will accept”. Kinnear had said earlier in the year that the rumours were exactly that and he was being “used as a decoy on that front”.

Kinnear isn’t the only one. Ben Daniels was another bookies’ favourite for the part, and speculation about Ben Whishaw, Russell Tovey, Rupert Grint, David Harewood, Aneurin Barnard, Alan Davies, Stephen Fry and more proliferated between June and August 2013. Only much later in proceedings did the speculation arrow fall on Capaldi’s name.

3rd of July 2013: Jenna Coleman and Matt Smith “knew they knew”

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Speaking in this iTunes snippet, Jenna Coleman put a precise date on when she and Matt Smith found out that a decision on the next Doctor had been made: the 3rd of July 2013. “Me and Matt came down to the studios to meet Prince Charles and Camilla and we were upstairs with Steven Moffat and we could tell, we knew they had a secret, we knew they knew because it was just this thing in the air”.

10th of July 2013: Steven Moffat describes the search as “terrifying” and keeps everyone guessing

“It’s always just terrifying […] There’s a very big range of people who could play it and different ways you could go with it.” Steven Moffat told Entertainment Weekly in July 2013. “We must get this right. One false move and the show’s over.”

“Unless we have an insane plan, we’ll announce a new Doctor within days of finalizing the new Doctor. Because it’s very very hard to keep any kind of a secret. The last time, when we chose Matt, we had to hold over on that one, because there was a Christmas Doctor Who special called The Next Doctor for which Russell (T. Davies) was playing the game of pretending it was going to be David Morrissey. So we couldn’t deflate that. (Laughs). But I think we’ll go public pretty fast.”

25th of July 2013: Steven Moffat says “the search has barely begun”; Matt Smith says “I don’t know who the new Doctor is”

Speaking to Digital Spy at San Diego Comic-Con 2013, Steven Moffat tells the world, “The search has barely begun for the twelfth Doctor. To be honest, you don’t really want to do that while the media furore has been going on, so once we’d announced – slightly earlier than intended – that Matt was leaving, every newspaper is all about that and everyone is buzzing about it, so you kind of want to sit tight while all that’s going on and think, well, we’ll get to it in a bit”. He’s not a bad actor, is Steven Moffat. Hindsight reveals that Moffat was telling the truth later when he said “We’ve never not considered an older Doctor (…) on all the lists we make, there are absolutely older Doctors, God yes”.

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An even better actor, unsurprisingly is Matt Smith, who certainly knew that a casting decision had been made when he told IGN at SDCC on the 25th of July 2013, “I don’t know who the new Doctor is. As far as I’m aware they’re looking, or they’re beginning to look, and they’ve got quite a while before they need to decide. I imagine it’ll be someone fresh to be honest, but I really have no idea (…) whoever it is will be the right actor… or actress.” (start the video around 8:10 to see Smith’s convincing performance). Jenna Coleman also backed up the party line at SDCC, telling IGN “we’ve yet to cast the next Doctor”.

2nd of August 2013: Bets are suspended on Peter Capaldi; Den Of Geek gets it wrong again

Here’s us reporting the news that some bookmakers had suspended bets on Peter Capaldi, the running favourite by that time, being the next Doctor. Note the bit where we say “it would be genuinely staggering were he to get the nod, no matter what the bookmakers are saying”. Did we have sneaky insider knowledge and were trying to put you all off the scent? Er, sadly not.

3rd of August 2013: Den Of Geek sends a Tweet involving the One Direction movie

Little knowing that we were about to be hoist by our own petard, the Den Of Geek Twitter account sent the following message: “If Peter Capaldi is cast as the 12th Doctor tomorrow night, we will commit to a good 3000 words on the One Direction movie.” You retweeted it over 1200 times. Cheers for that.

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4th of August 2013: Peter Capaldi is announced as the new Doctor on a live BBC broadcast

God, that was exciting wasn’t it?

21st of August 2013: Simon writes 3,000 words on the One Direction movie

And here they all are.

30th of August 2013 Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi have lunch in a posh London restaurant

A fact confirmed by Smith here, “I had lunch with Peter shortly after the announcement”. Did they go for the two-course set menu? Was it followed by coffee and mints? We’ll never know.

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23rd of November 2013: Peter Capaldi’s eyes appear in Doctor Who‘s fiftieth anniversary episode, The Day Of The Doctor.

Which was nice.

17th of December 2013 Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman see Matt Smith’s play

One of Matt Smith’s first jobs after filming his final scenes in Who was as lead Patrick Bateman in a musical production of American Psycho at the Almeida Theatre. In this charming fan video of Peter Capaldi reassuring a young fan about him being the next Doctor, it’s mentioned that Capaldi and Coleman went to see Smith in the play shortly after it opened. Rumours they bought a sharing pack of Revels from the confectionary booth on the way in are yet to be confirmed.

25th of December 2013: Peter Capaldi appears in the Doctor Who Christmas special, The Time Of The Doctor.

He wasn’t pleased with his kidneys.

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7th of January 2014: Filming officially begins on Doctor Who series eight

The occasion is marked by the release of the very first official image of Capaldi and Coleman as the Doctor and Companion.

27th of January 2014: Peter Capaldi’s costume as the Doctor is revealed

And here it is.

11th of July 2014: First official image released from Deep Breath, Peter Capaldi’s official debut as the Doctor

And here that is, with a few more, here.

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7th of August 2014: Deep Breath has its world premiere in Cardiff

The Cardiff premiere kick-starts a worldwide tour leading up to the episode’s BBC One and worldwide cinematic premiere on Saturday the 23rd of August.

After that: No clue. We bet it’s exciting though. 

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