British Actors You Should Know: Peter Capaldi

Meet the new Twelfth Doctor. (Photo: Screenshot from Capaldi's official site intro video)
Meet the new Twelfth Doctor. (Photo: Screenshot from Capaldi's official site intro video)
We figured: You get cast to play the Doctor, you get bumped up our British Actors You Should Know List. It seemed fair. 

After much speculation and trepidation on the part of Doctor Who fans worldwide, the announcement has been made that Scottish actor Peter Capaldi will take on the 12th regeneration of the Doctor.  I, for one, am quite chuffed about this choice as I have been an admirer of Mr. Capaldi’s work for some time.

Also, I’m interested to see how Steven Moffat and company will handle the necessary changes as they transition from  Matt Smith, the youngest actor to play the Time Lord, to Capaldi who, at 55 years of age, ties with First Doctor William Hartnell for oldest actor to inhabit the part.  Come to that, how will his companion Clara take the news?

Anyhow, it’s very exciting times indeed.

Now, if at this point you’re saying “Who is this Capaldi chap?” I’m willing to bet you’ve seen at least one of his wonderful performances over the past 30 years. But if you actually don’t know Peter Capaldi, whether you’re Whovian or not, I’m here to say he really is a British actor you should know and here are some reasons why.

Local Hero. After a stint as the lead singer of a punk rock band called the Dreamboys (yes, really), Capaldi’s breakout role came in 1983 while he was still a student at the Glasgow School of Art.  He played Danny Oldsen, an awkward, lovestruck oil company representative in Local Hero

Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life.  Not long afterwards, Capaldi spread his creative wings by writing and directing a comedy called Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life.  This 23 minute movie won the Oscar in 1995 for Best Live Action Short and if you’re curious to see Capaldi’s behind-the-camera talents, the entire film has been uploaded to YouTube. 

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Skins. Capaldi also took on the brief but memorable role of Mark Jenkins, or more to the point, Sid’s dad, in the edgy teen drama, Skins.  At first glance, Mr. Jenkins is an impatient, ill-tempered parent who says cruelly thoughtless things to his insecure son.  By the time he makes his departure though, we understand, through Capaldi’s moving performance, what a broken man Mark Jenkins has become. 

The Thick of It. Up until this point, however, Capaldi’s most career-defining role has been that of Malcolm Tucker from the TV series The Thick of It and the subsequent film In the Loop. He’s won numerous awards for his portrayal of the foul-mouthed, irascible political spin doctor who lives and breathes his job. His character’s total state of immersion into his career is made clear by his hilariously inaccurate description of one of the most famous movie franchises of all time. It’s hard to find a clip with minimal swearing as it happens to be Malcolm’s primary medium, but this one is pretty mild considering who’s speaking. 

The Hour. Another of Capaldi’s award-worthy performances came last year when he played Randall Brown, the new Head of News for The Hour.  (I was so sorry to see that show cancelled, by the way).  A replacement for the former head who basically turned out to be a spy, Brown is a forward thinking broadcaster brought in to infuse The Hour with new energy.  But Randall has reasons of his own for taking the job – to find someone he lost track of long ago.   When his search comes to a tragic end, his normal obsessively controlled demeanor falls to pieces. Very moving stuff.

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Doctor Who. (No, really.) If any of you are concerned about Capaldi’s qualifications as pertains to playing the Twelfth Doctor, the self-professed life-long fan of Doctor Who has had a few trial runs before landing the coveted role.  In 2008, he appeared in the episode The Fires of Pompeii as Caecilius, a sculptor and marble merchant, who is saved along with his family by the Doctor from the devastating eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. 

Torchwood: Children of Earth. A year later Capaldi had a featured role in the Doctor Who spinoff series Torchwood.  In the sci-fi drama’s Children of Earth miniseries, he played John Frobisher, Home Office Secretary and the official selected to conduct negotiations with an alien race, the 456. The problem is they are demanding that the world hand over 10% of its children for their nefarious means or they will destroy humankind. 

Though ruthless and pragmatic in the abstract, when the powers that be insist that Frobisher submit his own daughters to the aliens’ ultimatum, he experiences the torment of any parent in this impossible situation.  In the end he takes the lives of his family before the 456 can torture them forever. 

I’m sad to see the wonderfully funny and tragic and elastic Matt Smith leave the TARDIS but I do think the awesome responsibility of playing the Doctor has been passed down to a skilled and very capable performer as I’m sure you witnessed in the clips above.  

As Capaldi’s friend and former Dreamboys band mate, Craig Ferguson (whom you might know from his current late night talk show gig) wrote in his memoir American on Purpose: “Peter Capaldi was the first person I ever met where I was instantly aware I was in the presence of a star.  Someone who was somehow different, with that ineffable quality of a born performer.”

Here’s hoping this born performer brings a little of his punk rock roots to this most coveted of British TV roles.  I think we could all do with a little dancing around the TARDIS! 

(This clip is from Soft Top Hard Shoulder, also written by Peter Capaldi.)

Thoughts? Are any of you already big fans of Capaldi’s work? Curious about the new Doctor? Let us know! 


Carmen Croghan

Carmen Croghan often looks at the state of her British addiction and wonders how it got so out of hand.  Was it the re-runs of Monty Python on PBS, that second British Invasion in the 80’s or the royal pomp and pageantry of Charles and Diana’s wedding? Whatever the culprit, it led her to a college semester abroad in London and over 25 years of wishing she could get back to the UK again.  Until she is able, she fills the void with British telly, some of her favorites being comedies such as The Office, The IT Crowd, Gavin and Stacey, Alan Partridge, Miranda and Green Wing. Her all-time favorite series, however, is Life On Mars. A part-time reference library staffer, she spends an inordinate amount of time watching just about any British series she can track down which she then writes about for her own blog Everything I Know about the UK, I Learned from the BBC.  She is excited to be contributing to Telly Visions and endeavors to share her Anglo-zeal with its readers.