Image Description: Peter Capaldi at a SDCC 2017 Comic Con Panel
By Ian Bayley
Peter Capaldi’s life story is, famously, that of the obsessive teenage superfan who went on to become the hero of his own childhood some decades later. While that description may fit David Tennant too, it is Capaldi who went so far as to pen an eloquent eulogy on the then-current title sequence for the Doctor Who International Fan Club fanzine. And so, when he speaks to an audience, there is something disarming in the way that he seems to communicate with us fan-to-fan, as if inviting us all to imagine what decisions we would make, if we had found ourselves in his shoes, crafting the character of the Twelfth Doctor.
It was in this spirit that he recalled his pride when, after extensive consultation with the fashion designer Paul Smith, he perfected the initial, and his personal favourite, look of his Doctor for the Pertwee-homaging photoshoot that introduced us to Twelve. Likewise, he explained his electric guitar, and its prevalence, as a response to a request for new ideas for Series 9. He even acknowledged it may be fan heresy for him to say that he doesn’t like the sonic screwdriver; the reason he gave, that the Series 8 model spoiled the lining of his jacket, made its way into the script for The Witch’s Familiar.
If there is still something of the studious professional actor carefully preparing a role in this account, the inner fanboy leaves the actor behind when the opportunity arises to talk about the character of the Doctor. In the cold open to Listen, which he named as his favourite story to work on, the Doctor is seen to talk to himself at length. Why wouldn’t the character have a whole different way of interacting with the universe, Capaldi argued, when not around humans and freed from the need to behave as we expect? In the same vein, the prompt cards we see in Under the Lake show us that the Doctor is an alien who often finds it difficult to be around humans. Note, of course, that Colin Baker was also asked to develop this theme during his era. It could indeed be seen as an acknowledgement of the daily problems of autism, as one questioner suggested, but if so then that is an unexpected boon.
As you’d expect, the inner fanboy comes out even more when asked what past monster he’d like to return. Having reportedly been given the Mondasian Cybermen as a goodbye present, Capaldi immediately pictured himself travelling back to Vortis for a sequel to The Web Planet. Imagine how good a planet dominated by insect life would look with modern effects, he argued, and with none of the Zarbi crashing into the cameras. We would all marvel again at the Menoptera with their delicate membranous wings and their quivering voices, he added, recalling Martin Jarvis’ portrayal in particular. You might argue that their recent Twitch-based surge in popularity makes this case even stronger, although Big Finish has already send the Fifth Doctor back to Vortis in audio-only form.
It was very entertaining, but also rather striking, to watch our show’s lead actor for three years proposing fan theories and wish lists, like we do ourselves when in Whovian company. He is not an ordinary aficionado, but one who has had a positive impact on the subject of his expertise. I had viewed his portrayal of Malcolm Tucker as an unrelated comedy role, but he explained that the requirement to memorise very long scripted rants, for delivery in a manner intended to seem spontaneous, helped him enormously with many of the speeches he had to make as the Doctor. He emphasised though, as he has done before, that unlike Malcolm Tucker, the Doctor is about kindness.
“I was sat at the back of a huge hall of hundreds of people, having joined three different wrong queues. I didn’t get the chance to ask Capaldi a question. However, I still greatly enjoyed hearing what he had to say in reply to those who were luckier. He was even asked the ultimate divisive question that all fans must answer: “Who is your favourite Doctor?” Diplomatic, as ever, he replied “Jodie Whittaker!”. It is heartening to know that he will be cheering her on with the rest of us.
Tides 42 is, at time of publication, available to buy through this link