Doctor Who: Is Peter Capaldi a good choice?

By Tim Masters
Entertainment and arts correspondent, BBC News

Media caption,
Writer Cavan Scott and actress Sophie Aldred said actor Peter Capaldi is "the perfect choice" to play the Doctor

What will Peter Capaldi bring to the role of the 12th Doctor, and what does his casting mean for the show as it reaches its 50th anniversary?

If you had kept an eye on the betting odds last week it was no great surprise when actor Peter Capaldi, the bookies' favourite, was revealed to be the new star of Doctor Who in a live TV special on Sunday.

The Glasgow-born star, best known for his sweary role in TV's The Thick of It, is replacing the current Doctor Matt Smith.

At 55, he is the oldest actor to take on the role since William Hartnell, who played the first Doctor in 1963.

"I think it's a very good choice - it's great to have an older Doctor for a change," said Mark Campbell, author of Doctor Who: The Complete Guide.

"Doctor Who thrives on change. When in the past it hasn't been quite so successful it's when they've tried to go for an actor who is similar to the one before.

"I remember when Jon Pertwee changed into Tom Baker. There couldn't have been a bigger difference between those two - and the audience built and built."

Mr Campbell said he was impressed at how Capaldi handled himself when he was unveiled as the new Time Lord.

"I thought he came across as a very humble guy. He is very aware that he is doing a job that is part of so many people's childhoods. There is no trace of arrogance or ego."

Dr Keith Johnston, a senior lecturer in film and television from the University of East Anglia, was surprised when Capaldi's name was announced.

"I assumed all the fuss around Capaldi earlier in the week was a smokescreen," he told the BBC News website. "I was shocked and overjoyed because he is a properly good actor.

"When he strode out he did that lovely lapel tugging thing which is a hint back to William Hartnell. He is a Doctor Who fan so it is possible that was a very deliberate thing.

"I thought he handled himself very well. There were tantalising little hints in there as to what his Doctor might be like."

So what qualities did he think Capaldi would bring to the role?

"Throughout the Matt Smith era there has been the idea of an old man in a young body, so I assume we'll see less of the jumping around the screen that we've had from both Smith and David Tennant.

"Perhaps Peter Capaldi will be a more contemplative, slightly sterner Doctor. But he can also do comedy so well."

Writing in The Guardian, Mark Lawson suggested that "danger" was Capaldi's primary quality as an actor.

"During his most vicious riffs as the sewer-mouthed Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It, there frequently seemed a threat that his pulsing facial veins might burst. He was also memorably menacing as the new boss in the second series of the TV newsroom drama The Hour.

"In that sense, Capaldi might have seemed more natural casting for the Time Lord's nemesis, the Master.

"So the main interest in his portrayal of the Doctor will be whether show-runner Steven Moffat... encourages him to maintain his signature screen-bursting energy or explore a gentler part of his range."

Lawson also points out that Capaldi, who also writes and directs, is giving up a significant amount to fulfil the show's "brutal shooting schedules" in Cardiff.

Image caption,
Both William Hartnell and Peter Capaldi were cast as the Doctor at the age of 55

"His casting confirms that, like James Bond, the Doctor has become a role serious actors are happy to take on."

In the Daily Mail, Jim Shelley described Capaldi as "the perfect choice" for the new Doctor, but he also saw his selection as a missed opportunity.

"Capaldi is such a safe choice I can imagine him doing the Doctor, being the Doctor, already. In fact, he and the scriptwriters will have to come up with something seriously special to make me feel I actually need to see it," he said.

"At least Capaldi should put an end to the sentimental, romantic, guff that has marred Doctor Who for the last few years when David Tennant and Matt Smith have spent too long drooling over Billie Piper, Alex Kingston and Karen Gillan rather than fighting creatures from other galaxies."

Dr Johnston said he thought the 50th anniversary episode coming in November would "set up as many questions as it answers".

He added: "Now that the whole mystery of [companion] Clara is solved I'm hoping we get back to fun adventures."

Mr Campbell agreed that he would like to see a return to traditional values.

"The Doctor has to defeat monsters by fighting or blowing them up. We've had too many touchy-feely stories where you have the power of love conquering evil.

"I think [Steven Moffat] needs to go back to basics a bit more and emphasise the horror and clear storytelling. Capaldi's signing indicates that we're going in the right direction."

More on this story

Around the BBC