The Doctor was in when Peter Capaldi joined San Diego Comic-Con this past weekend. The appearance was a first for the actor who portrays the Twelfth Doctor on BBC America’s Doctor Who, and marked the show’s return after not attending SDCC in 2013.
Capaldi joined us in the press room before the Doctor Who panel for an interview to discuss his character’s new purpose for adventure (before an inevitable journey into darkness) when the series returns on Sept. 19, as well as con experience and responsibility as a role model.
How is the con experience for you?
It’s great. People keep saying to me, are you nervous about the panel, which is just making me more nervous. I’ve never been in a room with 7,000 people, so I don’t know what it’s going to be like. But last night I said, to my minders at the BBC, put yourself in my shoes. I said this is an amazing experience and want to go out in the street and see what it was like. It was great seeing the street fill up with stormtroopers, and Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Spider-Man. And obviously I got to meet a lot of fans. It was lovely. It was kind of a carnival atmosphere. One of the great things about being in Doctor Who, or in any of these kinds of shows, is you’re in a very special position. I’m in a very privileged position. I often think, embrace the experience, because it will be over at some point.
You also seem to have embraced this role model to kids in your first year on the show. That’s a shift from your previous projects, so is that surreal?
It is weird. But, in real life, I’m a father and understand what kids have to go through. I think it’s a responsibility. If you play a part that is meaningful to kids and young people, you don’t want to disappoint them. I don’t know I can offer any particular advice or help, but one of the amazing things is to be sitting here, so when kids see me and shout at Doctor Who from the other side of the street, you get all the affection they have for the character. That is a great experience. But you have to be mindful of the fact you don’t want to upset them. All the previous Doctors have set great examples. I often think of Tom Baker, who was the Fourth Doctor, who would never smoke where kids could see him. And that was back in the ’70s … I think he felt it was important they didn’t have a corroded image of Doctor Who, 'cause he knew when they saw him, they were seeing the Doctor.
Last season, you Doctor at times seemed reluctant to save the humans. Is he now more accepting in his role as Earth’s savior?
I think he is. I think he has a different perspective from other people, so he’s always on the side of good. But he doesn’t have time to be nice about it. He knows, in order to save the universe, he has to run over there and fix that bit. Like I can’t chat just now, I have to go and fix that. When you regenerate, I think you have to get to know yourself, and I think the new Doctor has a lot of moral complications. I think he has come to know himself better, and recognize – even if you’re two and a half thousand years old – life is short, and that he is in a fabulous position and has access to all of time and space. So I think this season sees him much more running towards adventures, and challenging himself, and being almost reckless. He knows, at some point, he’ll be taken to a very dark place. At some point, he will have to fight the good fight in a way no one else has had to do it, and it will cost him dearly. That sounds heavy, but he’s actually having a great time.
What was it like working with Maisie Williams?
It was great. I am a big, big Game of Thrones fan, so I was excited when Maisie came on. Maisie had her 18th birthday with us on the show, and she’s been on Game of Thrones since she was 12. So she is very skilled, technically, which is hilarious. She knows where to stand, where the light is. But she was 17. She is not spoiled at all, and she’s a great girl to be around. I loved having her on. She was so much fun. And of course she spoke a completely different 18-year-old language that I don’t know about. I’d say, “What are you talking about?” So she taught me these different phrases.
After being a lifelong fan, how does the growing popularity in the last few years change your perception of the show?
I think it’s something you have to come to understand that, in some ways, it’s not the show I grew up with, which was a fairly domestic, very British success that was always teetering on the edge. Doctor Who was always maybe going to get canceled. But it hung in there because lots of us loved it, and grew up and became actors and producers, and went back and brought it back. To find it become this international success is quite bewildering. The nature of the program does things the old one never did. It is more romantic, more Freudian, better-looking (the sets don’t wobble so much, and the rubber monsters don’t look so rubbery). So yes, it is different, but its heart is the same.
Will Missy help tempt the Doctor to that dark place, and will he see some of the logic in her darkness?
I think he sees that already. I think he understands her. I’m just in the middle of episode 11 -- and have to go back to carry on with episode 11 and not put on 200 pounds by eating all the pancakes and other sh-t I see here, or else they’ll have to have a scene where the Doctor locked in a room full of pies, and can only escape by eating all the pies. So what I’m saying is, we’ve just worked with setting up our whole finale, so I know that there are reveals coming up that will perhaps explain some of your question.