What Peter Capaldi has done for Doctor Who

Ahead of his final series in the role, we look back at how Peter Capaldi has left his mark on Doctor Who and fandom.

“Everything ends, and it’s always sad. But everything begins again too, and that’s always happy.”

Well, it’s that time again. Peter Capaldi has confirmed that Series 10 of Doctor Who will be his last as the Twelfth Doctor and before the year is out, we’ll be looking at number 13. Speculation about who will be cast as the next Doctor usually begins anew the day after one has been announced, and will only intensify in the next few weeks and months, but let’s not forget what Capaldi has achieved in the role so far.

Immediately taking umbrage with his new kidneys at the end of The Time Of The Doctor, the Twelfth Doctor is usually characterised as a grumpier and less cuddly version of the character than we’ve seen since the series returned in 2005. At the start of a brand new regeneration cycle, there’s a more pronounced disconnect between this incarnation and all of the ones that have gone before, as he grapples with the question of whether or not he’s a good man.

With his ‘attack eyebrows’ and his surly, often antisocial manner, he’s as different from his predecessors as David Tennant and Matt Smith were from the classic series Doctors. But in the course of his two series so far, he’s always recognisably been the Doctor, with an insatiable curiosity and a wicked sense of humour. Whatever you think of his performance choices, Capaldi has been a joy to watch.

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Back when he was announced in August 2013, writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss both claimed that Capaldi had been their first choice for the role after Matt Smith left. To go from the youngest Doctor to the eldest (excepting the late, great John Hurt’s mayfly Doctor) might look like a risk, but it helps that Capaldi is a world-class actor and has gone on to be a tireless ambassador for the show and the brand.

His lifelong fandom of the show has been well documented, mostly in the letters to the Radio Times and teenaged efforts in the official fan club that surfaced after he was cast. He also sent scripts to the Doctor Who production office in the 1970s and through his subsequent correspondence with producer Barry Letts, he got to visit and meet Jon Pertwee and Terrance Dicks. Like Tennant before him, Doctor Who made Capaldi want to act, but his interactions with the people behind the scenes inspired him to become an Oscar-winning writer and director too.

In the show itself, his age has also been an advantage in shaking things up. As anyone who’s seen Malcolm Tucker gallivanting around Washington in In The Loop will attest, Capaldi is a heck of a funny runner and the show was always going to capitalise on that. While he’s a more thoughtful character, the show hasn’t gotten any less action-packed and his Doctor has had to run away from Daleks, Cybermen and Zygons just as much as any of his predecessors. But the stillness and intelligence of this Doctor, who puts up blackboards in his TARDIS so that he can scrawl down whatever he’s thinking about, has meant that there are fewer run-around episodes in between the big monsters.

Consider how the most acclaimed episodes of his era (so far) are Listen and Heaven Sent, both of which involve the Doctor grappling with primal fear in the face of an intangible enemy. If you think back, all of your favourite scenes of Capaldi as the Doctor will involve him standing his ground and standing up to an enemy. The 66 second face-off with the Foretold in Mummy On The Orient Express, the speech at the end of Flatline, that anti-war monologue in The Zygon Inversion – with an older actor, who maybe doesn’t want to run around as much, they’ve gotten more creative with the monsters and the sorts of confrontations the Doctor has with them.

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His first two series have a darker tone that Moffat and Capaldi have both said that they intend to re-balance in upcoming episodes, but it’s been enjoyable to watch the show get scary again. As good as Tennant and Smith were, you always knew where you stood with them. This Doctor is more alien, but no less human, than any we’ve seen since 2005, and Capaldi’s portrayal has brought some mystique back to the character. Frankly, there’s no other actor who has played the role who could have pulled off a one-hander like Heaven Sent.

While his on-screen performance can be grumpy or socially awkward, Capaldi has been unfailingly generous off-screen, with a particular affinity for the younger audience. He even had the young fans in mind when assembling his Doctor’s initial wardrobe, which was revealed in January 2014 after a long deliberation with costume designer Howard Burden. Having grown up watching Doctor Who in black and white, Capaldi favoured dark colours and no frills – pinstripe suits are all well and good if you’ve got money to burn on cosplay, but for younger fans who don’t have much, you could approximate Capaldi’s basic outfit by putting on your dad’s coat and buttoning up your school shirt.

From asking a young fan if it was alright for him to be the Doctor, to making several appearances in character at the Doctor Who Exhibition, the internet has been awash with stories of him being lovely to fans. Knowing how Capaldi was inspired by his early correspondence with the people who made the show, it’s as if he’s been on a one-man recruitment drive to inspire the next generation of writers and actors who want to make Doctor Who. We’ve discussed his sheer humanity in the role, here.

The Twelfth Doctor might not be your personal favourite incarnation of the Time Lord, and the new vacancy will inevitably galvanise the Bring Back Tennant brigade again, but Peter Capaldi has been superb all the way. He has brought the full benefit of his talent and his fandom to bear on a show that has become more experimental with him in charge of the TARDIS. He’s back for 13 more episodes, but after that, the Thirteenth Doctor has a very large pair of Doc Martens’ to fill.