A lot has inevitably been written over the past day about Peter Capaldi’s departure from Doctor Who. He’s confirmed that he’ll be departing this Christmas, making way for a new TARDIS occupant when Chris Chibnall takes over as Doctor Who boss for series 11 of the rebooted show in 2018.
Much of the discussion has been about Capaldi’s stories, and what he’s brought to the role. But something that doesn’t get enough light shone on it is his sheer behind the scenes humanity. The internet is very good at reducing a person to just their on-screen role, but I wanted to share a couple of small things that Capaldi deserves credit for, yet doesn’t seek.
Firstly, his costume as the 12th Doctor.
One of the things that’s remained important to Capaldi, and to Steven Moffat, is that Doctor Who is reachable. That it’s a show that talks to a family audience, and gives children in particular something they can copy, or play, irrespective of riches or background.
As Moffat told me at Christmas: “I always say you have to be able to draw the monster.”
“We talk a lot about what’s the playground game? That doesn’t mean we take it simply. Doctor Who stories can be complicated, and can be emotional. But it means you have to keep in mind the slightly different, more intense, more emotional way that kids watch television. At its heart, it is a children’s programme. One that adults absolutely love.”
For Capaldi, he was conscious from the off that his Doctor was for everyone. And thus he and the team came up with something simple for his costume. Whilst not everyone can afford the long flowing coat that the Doctor wears, pretty much everyone who watches the show has access to a shirt. Thus, Capaldi did the top button of the shirt up, and wore it without a tie. Why? Because it was a very simple thing that children could copy, whether they had money or not, and say they were the Doctor.
It might not sound like much, but it’s the kind of little detail that’s clearly mattered to the man.
But that pales next to the events where Capaldi attends, and finds himself surrounded by the show’s younger fans. Last Christmas – and this wasn’t an uncommon example – the BBC held a preview screening of the Doctor Who Christmas special, The Return Of Doctor Mysterio. Only the first screening wasn’t for the press and assorted guests. It was an afternoon screening for schoolchildren, arranged and staged with no publicity, no fanfare, and no desire to make headlines. Capaldi and Moffat both attended, and in doing so, made the day of the many young viewers who got the first viewing of the episode (outside of the production team and BBC).
Later that day came the press screening, to which many young guests were also invited. Understandably, many of them wanted to meet Capaldi. He’s always, from day one, respected, understood and enjoyed the importance of the role, and why it matters to people. You don’t need me to tell you that he’s one of us.
Pretty soon at the event, Capaldi found himself surrounded by young fans, after selfies, autographs, and the chance to just say hello. He stayed for hours. Sure, it’s his role, and it comes with the territory. But he stayed long past when he would reasonably have been expected to, and there wasn’t a hint of an autograph being charged for.
But there’s more. I watched as he talked individually to some of the youngsters who came up to him. And he did something I’d never really seen someone do when signing autographs. When someone approached him, he not only signed their magazine, piece of paper, book or whatever. He would – if he was uncertain of their name – practice it for them on a separate piece of paper first. Only when they were happy would he then sign properly for them, adding his own drawing of a Dalek if there was room.
I watched the faces of the kids as they walked away, and couldn’t help but imagine they’d remember that moment for the rest of their lives.
Some acts of kindness from Capaldi – and there are many – make the headlines. He sent a personal video message, for instance, to young Doctor Who fan Thomas Goodall, to help him get over the death of his grandmother a year or two back. “Sometimes sad things happen to us,” he said. “You should know that we’re on your side too.”
As I understand it, Capaldi’s tenure on Who has been underpinned by little acts of kindness. I’m also sure that he doesn’t go about those acts because he’s seeking reward, or publicity, or recompense for them. I just think that’s who he is.
I’ve loved Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, and I’ll be very sad to see him leave at the end of the year. But even more, I’ve loved seeing Peter Capaldi the human being, willing to go that extra mile, to make sure that Doctor Who is something that can enjoyed by all. In an internet swirling with bad things and negativity, I think someone like Capaldi is really worth celebrating.