As promised, the person who would replace Matt Smith as Doctor Who was announced today. And the winner is: Peter Capaldi!
This is big news, even for people who’ve never watched more than a handful of "Doctor Who" story arcs (and perhaps one of the brain-drained blockbuster movie adaptations from the ‘60s, which starred Peter Cushing). Capaldi is, in addition to being an overall fine actor, a comic genius who’s likely best known to Americans and United Kingdom dwellers alike as mega-profane spin doctor Malcolm Tucker on the government comedy show “The Thick of It” and the hit movie “In the Loop.” He also had a tiny, not terribly significant role in “World War Z” as one of the scientists at a rural hospital in the climax.
The casting of Capaldi, 55, as the 12th Doctor represents a major break in the series' casting, which has of late leaned toward younger, more dashing nerd types, like Smith, who took over in 2010, and David Tennant, who preceded him. This takes the series back to the original idea of the Doctor as an aging gentleman, along the lines of William Hartnell (who took the role in his 60s), Patrick Troughton and John Pertwee — the first three thespians to essay the famed character.
A lanky Scotsman who can toggle between lovable and menacing, Capaldi first came to major notice with his supporting role in 1983’s “Local Hero” as a bumbling scientist smitten with a woman who may or may not be a mermaid. He also played a vampire killer along with Hugh Grant in Ken Russell’s unfairly disappointing “The Lair of the White Worm.”
The strangest part of Capaldi’s CV? He’s an Oscar-winning filmmaker. “Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life” — which he wrote and directed after his wife accidentally confused the writer’s name with that of director Frank Capra — won an Academy Award for best short film in 1995. It stars Richard E. Grant as a brooding Kafka who learns the meaning of Christmas.
His signature role, though, has been Malcolm Tucker. “The Thick of It” was conceived, by fellow Scotsman Armando Iannucci, as “Yes, Minister” meets “Larry Sanders” — a cynical look at political sausage making with a revolving door cast of self-interested characters. (Iannucci repeated the shtick for America with “Veep.”) Capaldi’s Tucker is one of the few near-constants in the cast, growing from a supporting character to the main draw, and from a mere intimidation machine that upchucks creative swearing to a weirdly tragic character, trying to hold on to a twisted sense of dignity. (“The Thick of It”’s four-season run, plus specials, can be seen on Hulu Plus.)
In the spin-off film “In the Loop,” a war satire about the lead-up to a war in the Middle East between American and British forces, Capaldi predictably stole the show. He even went mano-a-mano with James Gandolfini’s dove-ish general, with quotable results. (The linked-to clip is decidedly NSFW.)
Among “The Thick of It”’s writers is Ian Martin, who does punch-ups on the swearing. Here’s hoping he’s brought along to the forthcoming "Doctor Who" episodes.