“Who frowned me this face?”
Peter Capaldi’s role as the Twelfth Doctor isn’t the first time he’s appeared in the Who-niverse. The Scottish actor played Caecilius in the 2008 episode “The Fires of Pompeii” — an episode that, oddly enough, also included a pre-Amy Pond Karen Gillan in a small role. He put in an even bigger appearance as Secretary John Frobisher in the five-episode Torchwood: Children of Earth mini-series. It’s not the first time this sort of thing has happened, mind you; Colin Baker also had a Who episode on his resume before he was picked to play the Sixth Doctor. But it became very clear in last night’s episode, “Deep Breath,” that Capaldi’s familiar face is going to be more than just a vagary of casting.
Showrunner Steven Moffat had previously said that the show would somehow acknowledge Capaldi’s earlier appearance, and “Deep Breath” put that idea front and center with the Doctor wondering aloud to a confused vagrant why his new face felt so familiar. What factors of the regeneration process decide what each new Doctor will look like. It could be random…but what if it’s not?
This notion of there being more to the Doctor’s array of faces actually came from previous showrunner Russell T. Davies. See, Davies apparently had an idea of why there were two different guys who look like Peter Capaldi in the Who-niverse, something he had earlier mentioned to Moffat. So when Moffat decided to cast Capaldi, he called Davies and asked if that idea would still work on the show. The answer was yes, and the Doctor speculates that this particular face is a way for him to send some sort of message to himself…but what is the message?