Who is Peter Capaldi: Background to the new Doctor Who

by SteveRogerson

A look back at the career of Peter Capaldi, named as the twelfth of the main actors to play the lead role in Doctor Who.

On Sunday 4 August 2013, the BBC revealed that Peter Capaldi would become the latest incarnation of the Doctor in Doctor Who, the world's longest running science-fiction show. Steve Rogerson looks back at Capaldi's career, which has seen him win an Oscar and three Baftas. Capaldi is due to start his reign as the Doctor in this year's Christmas Special.

Peter Capaldi is the new Doctor
Peter Capaldi is the new Doctor
Photo by Rankin (BBC)

On Sunday 4 August 2013, Peter Capaldi was revealed as the new Doctor in Doctor Who. He will take over from the current incumbent Matt Smith during this year’s Christmas Special. The Scottish actor was born in 1958, which makes him the oldest person since William Hartnell to take the role.

He is also no stranger to the Doctor Who universe having played Caecilius in the 2008 episode “The Fires of Pompeii” and John Frobisher in the 2009 Torchwood mini-series “Children of Earth”.

“Being asked to play the Doctor is an amazing privilege,” said Capaldi. “Like the Doctor himself I find myself in a state of utter terror and delight. I can't wait to get started."

He is an Oscar winner for the 1995 short film Franz Kafta It’s a Wonderful Life, an award he shared with Ruth Kenley-Letts. That film also earned him one of his three Baftas, one of the others being for playing Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It, a role that also saw him nominated for another three Baftas. His recent role as Randall Brown in The Hour also earned him a Bafta nomination as did The Cricklewood Greats and The Field of Blood. His first Bafta win though was in 1993 for playing Gavin Bellini in Soft Top Hard Shoulder.


Peter Capaldi’s Career

His acting career dates back to the early 1980s when he had a number of one-offs including in Crown Court and Minder. Playing Oldsen in the 1983 film Local Hero was his first break. He also played George Harrison in the 1985 TV movie John and Yoko: A Love Story. His first recurring TV role was as Zeno Vedast in the 1990 three-part Ruth Rendall Mysteries “Some Lie and Some Die”. The following year, he played Thomas Walde in Selling Hitler.

Other notable roles in the 1990s include Ken Cracken in Titmuss Regained, Robert Louis Stevenson in Early Travellers in North America, Larry Blakeson in Chandler & Co, Doug Hatton in The All New Alexei Sayle Show, Dinsdale Draco in Delta Wave, Islington in Neverwhere, Rory McHoan in The Crow Road, Tristan Campbell in The Vicar of Dibley and Lord Fellamar in The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. In 1997, he played Birgo Lander in the excellent science-fiction film Smilla’s Feeling for Snow.

More recent parts have included Doctor Ronnie Pilfrey in Fortysomething, Gordon Flemming in Sea of Souls, Lucien Calvin in Waking the Dead, Mark Jenkins in Skins, King Charles I in The Devil’s Whore, Peter Healey in Getting On and Balthazar in The Nativity.


The first eleven Doctors

William Hartnell was the first Doctor in the pilot episode “An Unearthly Child” broadcast in 1963 and his term ran until “The Tenth Planet” in 1966. He reprised the role in 1972 and 1973 for the episode “The Three Doctors”.

In 1966, Patrick Troughton became the Doctor in the episode “The Power of the Daleks”. His run ended in the “The War Games” in 1969. He appeared again as the Doctor in 1972/73’s “The Three Doctors”, 1983’s “The Five Doctors” and 1985’s “The Two Doctors”.

“Spearhead From Space” in 1970 was Jon Pertwee’s first appearance and he continued his run until “Planet of the Spiders” in 1974.  He also appeared in “The Five Doctors” in 1983 and in the short charity episode “Dimensions in Time” in 1993.

Tom Baker first appeared in “Robot”, in 1974. His run ended in 1981 in “Logopolis”. He did appear in 1983’s “The Five Doctors” but as Tom Baker refused to work on the episode, the BBC used footage from the unaired episode “Shada”. He also appeared as the Doctor in the charity episode “Dimensions in Time” in 1993 and in a 1997 New Zealand television advertisement for superannuation services.

The 1982 episode “Castrovalva” saw Peter Davison’s first appearance as the Doctor and he lasted for two years until the 1984 episode “The Caves of Androzani”. He also appeared as the Doctor in the charity episodes “Dimensions in Time” in 1993 and “Time Crash” in 2007.

Colin Baker took over the role of the Doctor in 1984 in the episode “The Twin Dilemma” and his run ended with 1986's fourteen-part marathon “The Trial of a Time Lord”. He also appeared as the Doctor in the charity episode “Dimensions in Time” in 1993.

“Time and the Rani” was Sylvestor McCoy’s first episode as the Doctor and was broadcast in 1987. He appeared as the Doctor regularly until the episode “Survival” in 1989. He then had a gap until the 1993 charity episode “Dimensions in Time” and then another gap until the 1996 TV film “Doctor Who”, which saw the only appearance of Paul McGann as the Doctor.

The first of the new style Doctors, Christopher Eccleston first appeared in the 2005 episode “Rose”. He only lasted one season, ending his stint in the 2005 episode “The Parting of the Ways”. He reprised the role briefly later in 2005 for the charity episode “Born Again”.

David Tennant took over in the 2005 episode “Parting of the Ways” but his first full episode was not until “The Christmas Invasion” in December that year. His last episode was “The End of Time” in 2010.

Matt Smith is the current Doctor, first appearing in 2010 in “The End of Time”. His first full episode was “The Eleventh Hour”. His run is due to end later this year.


Other actors who have played the Doctor

Peter Capaldi will be the twelfth incarnation of the Doctor but as well as the eleven above there have been others who have played the role. Probably the most famous of these is Peter Cushing, who had the role for the two cinema movie releases – Dr Who & The Daleks (1965) and Daleks Invasion Earth 2150AD (1965).

“The Curse of Fatal Death” charity version of Doctor Who saw five actors play the Doctor – Rowan Atkinson, Richard E Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant and Joanna Lumley. Lumley is the only woman to have played the Doctor on television. Another Doctor Who spoof called “Web of Caves” broadcast by the BBC in 1999 saw Mark Gatiss play the Doctor.

Various actors played the Doctor in future incarnations during the TV series. The first was Adrian Gibbs who played The Watcher (who turned out to be the Doctor) in the 1981 and 1982 episodes “Logopolis” and “Castrovalva”. Michael Jayston and Geoffrey Hughes both played The Valeyard (again a future Doctor) in 1986’s “The Trial of a Timelord”. And earlier this year John Hurt was shown as a future Doctor (though some fans are speculating that he was a past Doctor).

Finally, Richard Hurdnall played the first Doctor in 1983’s “The Five Doctors” because William Hartnell was already dead. And David Bradley is due to do the same in An Adventure in Time & Space, a combined documentary and drama looking at the history of Doctor Who and due to be broadcast later this year.

Updated: 08/06/2013, SteveRogerson
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JoHarrington on 08/04/2013

You so beat me to this! I was just finishing off tidying up my Halloween articles and I was going to get on it. But I bow out gracefully to your speed!

I'm really excited about Peter Capaldi being Dr Who. I think he's an amazing actor.

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