Tuesday 2nd September, a text message to Kevin Fernihough’s morning breakfast show on BBC Radio Cumbria prompts a debate on whether or not Peter Capaldi is a good Doctor.

The text reads:

“I would like to know if any other listeners to BBC Radio Cumbria watched Doctor Who on Saturday night, and are of the same mind as myself. I was there at it’s birth, and I’m sorry to say that on Saturday night I think I witnessed it’s death. The acting was poor and the story line was very weak. Peter Capaldi is not the right person to play the Doctor. I would be interested to hear from any other listeners to BBC Radio Cumbria their views on the choice of the current incumbent Doctor Who.”

They got Tom Spilsbury, editor of Doctor Who Magazine, on the line. The DJ asks him if he thinks the rumours about Peter Capaldi only staying for one season are true.

“Er, no. He’s been talking in the interview that we did we with him about next year, so I think he’s on board for that.”

In the Doctor Who Magazine interview, Peter Capaldi says, “As I say, we’ve discussed 2015. But there’s no guarantee it’s certainly me. But I hope it is.” It’s certainly reassuring after some early reports on his one-series contract and some earlier Eccleston-like evasion about a second term.

Here is the interview:

After the Spilsbury interview Kevin’s two producers, Tom and Steve, joined the debate. Tom (a Pertwee fan) approves of Capaldi’s performance, while Steve (who seems to have started watching in 2005) hates it and dubs the actor ‘Peter Ca-pantsy’. I was asked the day before if I would go on the show, and they called me next. As I was at work I was unaware of the preceding twenty minutes discussion and texts until I listened back.


They read out text messages from listeners, both for and against Capaldi as the Doctor. It’s nice to hear so many from female Doctor Who fans, who are largely in favour. A couple of people take the opportunity to have a pop at the writing, with one quote saying, “The series seems to wander from suitable material for children and then, oops, better please the parents too. Capaldi seems to be as puzzled as me.”

There are two opposite, yet equally bizarre, narratives that have been inferred on Peter Capaldi taking on the part of the Doctor. The quote in the previous paragraph represents one: that Capaldi is a is a wide-eyed innocent, who knows nothing of Doctor Who, hasn’t had any input, and that one can see bemusement written on his face even as he acts the scripts he’s learnt on the screen. In his bizarre Telegraph article (he doesn’t like the show, so everyone who does is wilfully deluding themselves) Benji Wilson claims that “[Capaldi] looked like a very good actor continually surprised to find himself in a children’s programme from which he knows he cannot escape for several years.”

The other one view I’ve seen is the one favoured by some Steven Moffat-haters on the internet, that Capaldi is a master-manipulator, who pretended to be a fan of the show-runner’s work to get the job, so that he could bully everyone who works on the show into turning into his vision. This idea has done well on Twitter, and spawned blogs like this one.


Every interview with the actor dispels both of these ideas instantly. Whether on print or on screen Peter Capaldi comes across as an intelligent, thoughtful gentleman and Doctor Who fan. Stories abound of him taking the time to write thank you cards (to Mark Gatiss for allowing him to visit the TARDIS set on An Adventure in Space and Time; to the son of the jeweller who crafted his Doctor’s ring for penning it’s back-story) and shaking hands with every single person in the read-throughs. I know the headmistress of the school in Cardiff which doubles for Coal Hill, and he personally invited her to the Cardiff leg World Tour event. This has nothing to do with his performance as the Doctor, but I find much to admire in such gentlemanly behaviour and would aspire to be more like this.

I wasn’t sure at first. When the Twelfth Doctor first appears after the regeneration in Time of the Doctor he says, “Kidneys! I’ve got new kidneys! I don’t like the colour.” The next day I came down with a kidney infection. I was off work for two weeks. I started to worry about what other body parts he might mention in series eight. Then his costume was revealed, and I think I first realised he was going to be an awesome Doctor when I realised that he talks like this:

“He’s woven the future from the cloth of the post. Simple, stark, and back to basics. No frills, no scarf, no messing, just 100 per cent rebel Time Lord.”


We’re only two episodes in, and so far I’m really enjoying Capaldi’s performance. I like that series eight brought back the aloofness to the character. The lack of empathy to the bereaved is redolent of the Fourth Doctor. His dark, inappropriate sense of humour is a great of way showing a man out of step with humanity and social niceties. He’s truly alien again, walking in eternity. His voice is rich and smoky, it speaks of years of experience; and it’s no surprise that he can handle humour as deftly as the drama. More importantly the viewer has no idea how he will react in any given situation, and so far it’s been surprising and inventive at every turn.

He’s magnetic to watch. As I said on the radio, where Matt Smith gesticulated wildly, Capaldi is quite still and quiet. This holds the attention very effectively, and it’s similar to what Patrick Troughton did. In many ways it’s taken Capaldi’s re-invention to highlight just how human the Doctor has become since Christopher Eccleston left the role. It’s a great example of how constant change keeps Doctor Who fresh. While the Eleventh is sensitive enough to human behaviour to play matchmaker in The Lodger, his successor can’t remember if Colonel Blue in Into the Dalek is the same man he was just talking to. It’s one of the great things about the series that it changes all the time, and thrives on change to survive. But it’s a series which attracts a lot of fans who really hate change.


Order Doctor Who – Series 8 on DVD from Amazon:

Doctor Who – The Complete Series 8 [DVD]

On Blu-ray:

Doctor Who – The Complete Series 8 [Blu-ray] [Region Free]

2 thoughts on “Capaldebate

  1. It’s only a “debate” if there are two possible sides. Here, there is one side. Capaldi’s performance is manic, intense, genius, knowing. We’re watching a master craftsman at work. He’s very reminiscent (as you say) of Hinchcliffe-era Tom Baker — an era that, at this late date, 40 years later, appears to have exactly zero detractors — and there is no legitimate basis for criticizing any of the actor’s choices that he has made this season. May he reign forever!

    • Couldn’t agree more. There’s very little articulation of *why* some don’t like Capaldi beyond him not being his recent predecessors.

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