This Saturday, the Doctor and his companion Clara will find themselves in Victorian London, along with Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint, Strax and a free-roaming dinosaur. As fans gear up for the 12th Doctor and his companion’s adventures, Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, the actors who portray the two lead characters, have been embarking on their own global adventure.
“Doctor Who: The World Tour” has Capaldi, Coleman and showrunner Steven Moffat visiting seven cities in five different continents in 12 days to promote the new season. This past Thursday, the trio were in New York for a fan screening at the Ziegfeld Theater, the same venue Matt Smith and Karen Gillan screened the series seven premiere for fans in 2012.
That morning, before the fan screening, Capaldi, Coleman and Moffat held a Q&A session with reporters to promote the new season, which BBC America graciously invited HoboTrashcan to attend.
The biggest question reporters had was what kind of Doctor Capaldi would be. What would he bring to the show that would differentiate him from the 11 previous Doctors?
“Well, the thing I always wanted to bring to it was me. So I got lucky with that one,” joked Capaldi.
Becoming the Doctor wasn’t something Capaldi thought would ever been in the card, even though he was a huge fan of Doctor Who as a child. When he appeared as Caecilius in the 2008 episode “The Fires of Pompeii” alongside David Tennant’s 10th Doctor, he figured that would be the extent of his time on Doctor Who.
“First of all, I was surprised even to be in that episode,” Capaldi admitted. “Because although I had enjoyed Doctor Who when it came back, I hadn’t really worked with the people who were involved with the show, and I didn’t really feel that it was something that I would ever be in, in any way, shape or form. So I was thrilled to be in that episode. And I always thought anyway, you know, I was always interested when they were changing Doctors, but I never really thought they would come to me. It seemed to be something that was not a direction they would be going in.”
In “Deep Breath,” there is a winking acknowledgement of Capaldi’s previous appearance as the Doctor looks in a mirror and wonders why he chose this new face, feeling like it is somehow familiar to him. Moffat wouldn’t clarify whether or not this would be the only reference to Capaldi’s previous role on the show, but he did say that it’s not something they will dwell on for very long.
“Whatever we do with that, which I’m not going to tell you, it’s subtle. We’re not doing a great big number on it because frankly the reason the Doctor looks like another character in Doctor Who is because he’s played by the same actor and everybody knows that. If you go down that path, I’ll be explaining why John Watson looks like Bilbo.”
Capaldi’s appearance isn’t the only difference from previous Doctors. His costar Coleman found him much more reserved than previous Doctor Matt Smith.
“I feel like he withholds more and that’s what I found really intriguing about it, is that I wanted to know more because he wasn’t telling me everything,” said Coleman. “And I couldn’t quite – there was so much more going on that you couldn’t quite access, so that’s how I felt. I felt working is like, he drew me in because I wanted to know more, rather than him coming out to me, is how I felt about it.”
Capaldi expanded on the reason he was withholding in his performance, explaining that he wanted to hint at a deeper, hidden part of the character.
“The great thing to me about the Doctor has always been that there is an unknown Doctor. There’s the character who presents himself to the people around him. But there’s always this sense that there’s another aspect to him, which is untouchable and unreachable. And I never really quite know how you play that. But the only way you could – that I thought you could try and evoke it was by being ungrabbable. That you can’t actually predict what he’s going to do,” said Capaldi.
The difference in the performance was something that took Coleman a bit by surprise.
“Normally when you read the script, at this point the Doctor would embrace this scene or dance or be running around the console and actually, there were times when I think, especially in the early days when Peter was finding his Doctor, he would say, ‘Actually, no, I’m just going to stand here.’ It’s that thing where instead of going to the room, the room coming to him. And I feel like he was really bold and brave and made those changes, and that was because that was Peter doing it his way,” said Coleman.
Of course, while Capaldi was carving out his own version of the Doctor, it was impossible for him not to be influenced by the men who came before him. As a huge fan of the show growing up, Capaldi believes that those early Doctors shaped his acting style during his formative years.
“I don’t consciously try to emulate any of the previous Doctors, but I would say that I’ve been watching the show since I was five,” said Capaldi. “I absolutely grew up with it. So all of those Doctors probably made me, even if I hadn’t been cast as the Doctor, my acting would probably have been influenced by William Hartnell or Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker and all of the other guys. Because those were the actors that I really watched every moment of as opposed to Laurence Olivier – these were the guys I was watching and who I wanted to be. So they probably, I think, my own tics as an actor have probably been influenced by them already. So I have no need to specifically pull them out of the bag, although occasionally sometimes in the show, in the season, there are some little specific things that are very directly references to previous Doctors. But I love when the show does that.”
While Capaldi and Coleman were getting to know each other on the set, their characters were also feeling each other out. In the show, one minute Coleman’s Clara was staring at Matt Smith’s face and the next minute he regenerated into Peter Capaldi. Much of the season premiere, “Deep Breath,” is about Clara trying to figure out who this new man standing before her is and if he is still the same Doctor she’s been traveling with.
“My face in the regeneration scene is literally me watching Peter throw about 1,000 options at the wall, and try and explore everything,” said Coleman. “And my face is literally, I think, about 30 minutes of watching Peter do this entire routine. And thinking, ‘This is great, because change is amazing.’ … it’s kind of what the story is as well. It’s the two things happening together, of working out how this dynamic is now going to work and expecting a reply from maybe what the 11th Doctor would say and suddenly this new Doctor does not respond in the same way, and I suppose that’s what’s jarring is then realizing, okay, what are the rules now? And how does this dynamic work? So that was as an actor, that was a great, great thing. And I think that was happening at the same time as we were telling that story.”
Capaldi agreed, explaining that even the Doctor is trying to figure out who he is now.
“You see, I think, as the show unfolds, Jenna and I getting to know each other because we didn’t know each other when we started. So as the Doctor and Clara get – because the Doctor really, although he’s the same character, he’s also brand new. He’s also unfamiliar with his own personality, I think, so he’s discovering things about his own personality that are not necessarily welcome. But he has a very, very deep bond with Clara. And he finds it difficult to express that. But it’s there. And also she’s one of the few people who I think can actually push him around.”
“Try to,” Coleman added.
While the early episodes of the season will be about the 12th Doctor discovering what kind of man he is, Moffat promised that the sci-fi adventure series won’t devolve into an existential examination of the Time Lord.
“First of all, I don’t think we’re going to put in the poster, ‘It’s more of an internal struggle this time,’” said Moffat. “Because you know, there are monsters in corridors, I promise. And explosions. But yeah, I mean, the Doctor’s quite a complicated character, actually.
“For a melodramatic hero, he is quite complicated. And I think you’re wasting an opportunity with every regeneration if you don’t do a bit of that, because we know that he doesn’t just change his face. He changes. Things about him aren’t the same. Things he reaches for aren’t there. He has feelings he didn’t have before. I think that must be awfully alarming. It must make you wonder who you are.
“And I think there’s an element that runs throughout Doctor Who, and which was why Doctor Who is so much better than everything else in the world, is that the Doctor doesn’t know he’s a hero. He doesn’t really. He doesn’t really know he’s in that shell. He knows that some other people think he is and he knows that sometimes he seems like a legendary warrior, but he knows and we know because we’re watching him, he’s just a man who can’t drive a time machine properly.”
Written by Joel Murphy. Photos 1 – 4 by Joel Murphy. Photos 5 – 7 by Amy Sussman – BBC America. Photo 8 by Brian Ach – BBC America. Doctor Who’s new season premieres Aug. 23 at 8 pm. Check back for weekly recaps.