Ten Reasons Peter Capaldi Is - and Isn't - a Good Choice for Doctor Who

By Natalie Nichols in Daily Lists, Nerdery, TV
Monday, August 5, 2013 at 6:00 am

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The wait is over, and it's one for the ages. Yesterday, in a live special simulcast all around the world, the BBC revealed who will play the 12th incarnation of the titular Time Lord in Doctor Who. Unlike last time, when relative unknown Matt Smith took over from David Tennant, it's a familiar face: veteran actor Peter Capaldi.

Capaldi had become such a sure thing in the final hours that U.K. bookies stopped taking bets on the outcome. I didn't believe such an allegedly closely guarded secret would get out, so I was really surprised it was him. Ever since the youthquake Matt Smith set off when he became the youngest-ever Doctor at age 26, and especially considering the huge push to keep building the show's audience here in the youth-obsessed U.S.A., I never expected that the Doctor would ever again be older than me. But at 55, Capaldi is the oldest to win the role since William Hartnell, the First Doctor.

That could be the biggest risk, at least judging from the handful of angry videos made by teen-girl fans who clearly wanted a younger, hotter Doctor. But, although plenty of fans also welcomed the change, there was also a more tepid reaction ("Meh," texted my Whovian beffie). Maybe that's to be expected, since the BBC ratcheted up the excitement to 12 before revealing what a lot of people were pretty sure they already knew.

To me, the biggest bummer about this latest changing of the guard is that showrunner Steven Moffat isn't leaving too. Still, since the rumors about Capaldi really picked up, I've had mixed emotions about him. Here are 10 reasons he is, and isn't, a good choice to play the 12th Doctor.

1. The Choice Is Stunningly Predictable.

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The revamped Doctor Who that Russell T. Davies brought us in 2005 opened up new horizons for the show, giving us thoroughly modern characters ranging from openly bisexual con man Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), to the Doctor's first black companion, Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman), to the interspecies same-sex married couple Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh) and Jenny Flint (Catrin Stewart). This progressiveness made it easier for more people to imagine the Doctor being something other than a white male. Last time out, Paterson Joseph was a much-discussed possibility to become the first-ever black Doctor, and when writer Neil Gaiman's episode "The Doctor's Wife" casually made it canon that a regenerating Time Lord's gender could change, the floodgates of what-if opened wide.

Not so, alas. Moffat actually boasted in Sunday's special that the new Doctor choice was "a quite different idea," when it wasn't anything of the sort. Like all the Doctors ever, he's a white male. Like Christopher Eccleston and Peter Davison, he is already an established and respected actor. Like David Tennant, he's a lifelong Doctor Who fan. Yeah, Moffat. really different.



2. And Yet He's Going to Be Great.

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But it's wrong to just dismiss Capaldi as yet another white bloke. He's a fine British actor - pretty much the only qualification, I've come to believe, needed to convincingly play the Doctor - with a crazy-good range. In the U.K., he's best known for portraying the excitable, foul-mouthed spin doctor Malcolm Tucker on the political satire series The Thick of It, but he also memorably played the elegant transvestite Vera in Prime Suspect series 3, starring Helen Mirren. He was the brutal King Charles I in Channel 4's The Devil's Whore and an angel who watches over the underground world of London Below in BBC Two's version of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. (He's also made previous appearances in the Whoniverse, but more on that in a minute.)

I've only seen a fraction of Capaldi's work, but he impresses me with his slightly offbeat intensity, and he's weird-looking in a pleasant way, which makes him a good physical choice. He could play the Doctor as more of a hardass, but still layer up the eccentric and tormented elements of the Time Lord's personality. The man has played George Harrison, Robert Louis Stevenson and the Biblical Wise Man Balthazar, so he should be fine.

3. Still, Helen Mirren Will Not Be Amused.

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Everyone had an opinion about who the next Doctor should be, and the demand that the BBC cast a woman was louder than ever, coming from the throats of regular fans, fave Whoniverse actors like John Barrowman and even the likes of Dame Helen Mirren, who thought especially outside-the-blue-box. "I think a gay, black female Doctor Who would be the best of all," the 67-year-old star told ITV's Daybreak.

No word yet on what she thinks about the choice of her former co-star Capaldi. I'm guessing she'll wish him well and leave it to grumpy people like me to say it's annoying that Moffat talked bollocks in Sunday's special about how there very well could be a female next Doctor. Right, because it's always safer to entertain radical ideas once you've already made the more comfortable choice. On the other hand, let's face it: Doctor Who is big business, and the Beeb isn't about to take that much of a risk with it.

4. At Least He Isn't a Hot Young Thing.

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Beauty is of course in the eye of the beholder, so I'm not saying the guy's ugly. But he may not be perceived as sexy, especially to the younger set. This could make for a refreshing change. Current companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), who will carry on with the 12th Doctor, already has a way less romantic relationship with the 11th Doctor - any time he shows tenderness toward her, it is more fatherly than anything. The age difference between Capaldi and 27-year-old Coleman doubtless puts the kibosh on any overt smoochiness. It would be cool to see their relationship become a modern sort of rendering of the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith (pictured above), two best friends adventuring across the universe and watching each other's backs.

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