On August 23, Peter Capaldi will begin his first season starring in Doctor Who when the long-running British science-fiction show returns to BBC America. But it wasn’t so long ago that the Scottish actor and lifelong Who fan was certain he would never get his hands on the controls of the Time Lord’s TARDIS. “I wouldn’t have thought I would be the guy,” Capaldi says. “I wouldn’t have thought it would be me.” Why not? “Because of my age. I would have thought they were automatically heading younger.”
It was a reasonable assumption to make. At 56, Capaldi is roughly the same age as William Hartnell when he originated the role of the two-hearted, monster-battling alien way back in 1963. But since the BBC relaunched Doctor Who in 2005 after a lengthy hiatus, the actors playing the lead role have all been younger than Capaldi—and have gotten younger over time. The first of the new Doctors, Christopher Eccleston, was 41 when he first appeared on the show, while his successor David Tennant was 34. Capaldi’s immediate predecessor Matt Smith was just 26 when he was cast in the role.
But what Capaldi saw as a barrier to him playing the Doctor was actually an asset as far as Doctor Who executive producer and head writer Steven Moffat was concerned. “I did say, ‘No, we probably won’t end up with another quirky young man,’” says Moffat. “I didn’t think there was any space around Matt to have another Doctor of that kind, because he sort of sums up what you could do with that. I very very quickly, very quickly just thought about Peter. There is no right age to be the Doctor.”
Capaldi agrees. “I’m technically too young for the part,” chuckles the actor. “Because he’s over 2,000 years old.”