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Peter Capaldi: "I like characters who are strange"

It’s not often a fan has the chance to play his childhood hero, which is why Peter Capaldi is determined to make the most of his tenure as Doctor Who. By Simon Evans

IT IS a mark of the extent Doctor Who has established itself at the heart of our national life that the announcement of a new actor to play the Time Lord now merits it’s own primetime show.

Thus it was that in August 2013 Peter Capaldi was revealed as the new Doctor, during a show as glitzy and laden with minor celebs as an episode of Strictly Come Dancing. There was something quite surreal about this accomplished actor and director being given the breathless Zoe Ball treatment, but Capaldi was being quite truthful when he said it was the fulfillment of a childhood dream.

As a child growing up in Glasgow, Capaldi – who is 58 – was old enough to remember both William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton from the early years of the series, but it was the third Doctor, Jon Pertwee, who fired the young Capaldi’s imagination, running the veteran actor’s fan club and even writing a letter to the Radio Times about the show.

On learning Capaldi had taken over the role Pertwee’s actor son Sean, currently starring in US TV series Gotham, revealed the his father and Peter had been good friends.

“My father was very fond of Peter and Peter is an extremely lovely gentleman,” Sean said. “He was very kind to my family when my father passed away and the Pertwee household was delighted when he got the role of The Doctor.”

Capaldi has spent much of the past year filming the now traditional Doctor Who Christmas special, due to air on Christmas Day, and his third full series in the role, which airs next Spring. And Peter says that as long as the producers will have him, he’s happy to stay with a role that is, he says, “the best job on the telly”.

Although his career stretches back to the early Eighties, it was only with the satirical series The Thick of It, which ran from 2005 to 2012, that Capaldi became a household name.

He played the sweary political adviser Malcolm Tucker, a role reputedly based on Tony Blair’s director of communications Alistair Campbell (something Capaldi denies). There was a malevolence, but also an essential humanity about Tucker that only an actor of Capaldi’s range and talents could have conveyed.

Even so, quite a few eyebrows were raised when he was announced as the latest incarnation of the Time Lord, and Capaldi himself did not underestimate the challenge he was taking on.

As he told the Telegraph: “You have to be able to spin on a penny. You have to be able to go from pantomime to tragedy, from domestic to epic, within a single scene. You have to keep the ball in the air, and you have to remember that The X Factor is on the other channel.

“You have to remember that there are people watching in America, you have to remember that, as much as you want to apply your mature acting instincts, there are actually lots of children watching. You’ve got to cover all these bases, and make it exciting and interesting, too.”

It was, however, a role he was determined to master.

“You don’t just play Doctor Who; you represent him. You represent the 50 years in which he has meant an awful lot to an awful lot of people. And the weight of it – and I really would never want to seem ungrateful – is that it is continual. It is very, very nice because people always greet you with a certain affection, but it is basically every day, everywhere you go.”

Until The Thick of It and Doctor Who came along, Capaldi had settled into the role of the jobbing actor, his main claims to fame being his role in the 1983 Bill Forsyth film Local Hero, playing John Malkovich’s manservant in Dangerous Liaisons, and in 1995, as writer and director, winning an Academy Award for his short film Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life, starring Peter’s actress wife Elaine Collins and long-time pal Richard E Grant.

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