Earlier this afternoon, the BBC officially announced that actor Peter Capaldi will be taking on the role of the Doctor in Doctor Who, playing the twelfth incarnation of the iconic character and taking over the role from the departing Matt Smith. Capaldi had been the early favorite among British bookmakers, and many Who fans are thrilled to see him taking on the role. But there were also quite a few folks commenting here and on Facebook with the question: “Who the hell is Peter Capaldi?”
It’s a totally understandable reaction. Capaldi is a very talented actor, but he isn’t that well known unless you’re a regular consumer of British television. But fear not: GFR has got your back. We’ve put together a quick guided tour of some of the actor’s best roles. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Peter Capaldi.
The Thick of It / In the Loop
One of the Capaldi roles you’ll see mentioned the most is the character of Malcolm Tucker in the 2005 British political comedy series The Thick of It. Capaldi won a BAFTA for his performance as the British Prime Minister’s enforcer/spin doctor, a foul-mouthed thorn in the side of Hugh Abbot (Chris Langham), who heads of the fictional “Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship.” Capaldi reprised the role in the American adaptation In the Loop, where he was joined by actors such as Tom Hollander and James Gandolfini. As Tucker, Capaldi is a never-ending font of hilariously creative profanity, wielding his caustic dialogue with the same poetic aplomb as Ian McShane’s Al Swearengen in Deadwood. Needless to say, the clip below is not remotely safe for work…
Easily one of my favorite Capaldi roles ever, the actor played the angel Islington in the 1996 BBC Two fantasy series Neverwhere, which was created and written by Neil Gaiman and Lenny Henry. The premise of the series is that there is a mystical “London Below” that exists beneath/alongside the city, populated by strange people and creatures who regular Londoners can’t see. Many London landmarks are echoed in magical form in London Below: “Knightsbridge” becomes a dangerous crossing known as “Night’s Bridge,” and the central London district called “the Angel, Islington” is mirrored by an actual angel. Capaldi plays Islington, who has become the protector of London Below after having failed to protect his previous charge: Atlantis. I won’t go any further into spoilers for those of you who aren’t familiar with Neverwhere, but it’s absolutely worth tracking down a copy of the show and/or Gaiman’s novelization. Neverwhere also recently became a BBC radio drama starring James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christopher Lee, and Anthony Head.
Torchwood: Children of Earth
Capaldi has two previous intersections with the world of Doctor Who, and by far the more substantial of the two is his turn in the excellent Torchwood: Children of Earth. Capaldi played Home Office Permanent Secretary John Frobisher, the man trying desperately to deal with the return of the alien race known only as the 456. The British government struck a secret deal with the 456 decades ago, and now the mysterious aliens have come to call in their debts. As part of his attempted cover-up, Frobisher orders the assassination of anyone involved with that initial contact and bargain…including the immortal Jack Harkness. Capaldi is top notch as an increasingly desperate man facing the ramifications of a deal with the devil that just keeps getting worse. Warning: the clip below is spoiler-y if you haven’t seen Children of Earth (which you totally should).
Doctor Who: The Fires of Pompeii
Capaldi also appeared in Torchwood’s parent series, and the show he just becamet the lead of, Doctor Who. In the episode “The Fires of Pompee,” the Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna (Catherine Tate) travel back to the doomed city of Pompeii, and naturally enough they arrive not long before the town’s unfortunate date with an active volcano. Capaldi plays Lucius Caecilius Iucundus, a merchant who purchases the Doctor’s TARDIS when after the time lord leaves it unsupervised. (Caeciulius purchases it as a sculpture.) Against his own instincts, Donna talks the Doctor into saving Caecilius and his family from the destruction of Pompeii. In a particularly bizarre bit of Who history, the episode also featured Karen Gillan in the role of a soothsayer. Both a future Doctor and a future companion in the same episode. Wibbly wobbly, timey wimey…