There probably has never been a bigger fan of Doctor Who than the actor playing the current incarnation of The Doctor. But even that couldn’t convince Peter Capaldi to stay forever.
Capaldi, who debuted as the 12th Doctor in 2013, announced late Monday he was leaving Doctor Who after the current season. That means for the second time in as many opportunities during the reboot era that started in 2005, the actor in the title role has departed the same time as the outgoing showrunner.
The announcement was technically made Tuesday morning in the United Kingdom while Capaldi appeared on Jo Whiley’s BBC Radio 2 program. He said that while BBC had asked him to return for an 11th season, he declined.
“I feel sad. I love Doctor Who. It is a fantastic program to work on. I can’t praise the people I work with more highly, but I have always been someone that did a lot of different things.”
He will star in the 10th season, which is set to debut this spring. But then he’ll depart the same way he came in – during the annual Doctor Who Christmas special, when he replaced Matt Smith.
There had been plenty of speculation Capaldi was considering a departure, mostly because of the reduced schedule where BBC didn’t even air a full season of Doctor Who last year, and also because the 10th season was set to be the last for showrunner Steven Moffat.
That means one of the first orders of business for incoming showrunner Chris Chibnall is to find a new actor that will carry the series, which suffered creative ups and downs during Moffat’s run.
The last time Doctor Who changed showrunners, Moffat was stepping in for Russell T. Davies, the man credited with resurrecting Doctor Who from television cancellation in 2005. Moffat also was tasked with finding a new lead actor after David Tennant announced he would leave with Davies.
Moffat would eventually hire Smith – who now stars in the Netflix series The Crown as the youngest actor to play the role, and turned around to bring in Capaldi a few years later, who was one of the oldest to take on the Time Lord from Gallifrey.
Capaldi fulfilled a lifelong ambition to be a part of Doctor Who when he was cast as Pompeii citizen Caecilius in a 2008 episode that not only featured Tennant and companion Catherine Tate, but a guest appearance from another future Doctor Who regular – Karen Gillan.
He later popped up in the Doctor Who spin-off series Torchwood as John Frobisher in the Children of Earth miniseries event.
Capaldi had long been mentioned as a possible replacement for the title role, despite the fact actors seemed to get younger, while Capaldi was almost the age of original Doctor William Hartnell, the oldest actor to play the role, in 1963.
There have been 12 actors to officially play the role of The Doctor, and 13 if you count the late John Hurt, who played the War Doctor in the 50th anniversary special in 2013. Capaldi, who already had been cast as The Doctor by that special, made a quick cameo – well, at least his eyes did – in the episode’s final moments.
The War Doctor was designed to bridge the gap between the eighth Doctor played by Paul McGann in a 1996 broken pilot, and Christopher Eccleston’s ninth Doctor, who debuted when the series returned in 2005. It also covered portions of The Doctor’s overall story that supposedly took place between the time Doctor Who went off the air, and when it return, primarily the Time War between the Gallifreyian Time Lords, and the warrior genocidal race, the Daleks.
The biggest question now is how BBC and Chibnall will handle the role. All the Doctors – including Hurt’s brief incarnation – have all been white men.
There have been calls of changing The Doctor’s race and even gender – something that already has been demonstrated both with the characters of River Song (Alex Kingston) and longtime villain The Master (who has since become The Mistress, played by Michelle Gomez).
If BBC follows its past protocol, we’ll learn the identity of the new Doctor well before the Christmastime regeneration, likely by the time summer hits, or maybe even at the start of Capaldi’s last season.
Capaldi, by the way, is the first Oscar-winning actor to take on Doctor Who. That Oscar, however, was not for acting, but actually for best short film in 1995 for Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life.
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