By Alasdair Wilkins
Update: Daily Record revealed this piece of 4th Doctor fan art created by a young Capaldi!
When David Tennant was cast as the new star of “Doctor Who” back in late 2005, much was made of the fact that he was a longtime fan of the show. Unlike most of his predecessors, Tennant had watched the show since childhood, and in fact his early experiences watching “Doctor Who” helped him declare at the tender age of 3 that he was going to be an actor. Tennant has proved his extensive knowledge of “Doctor Who” lore on countless occasions, and he’s hosted multiple retrospectives on the show’s past both for the late, lamented “Doctor Who Confidential” and for the DVD releases. So I say this next bit with all possible respect to David Tennant: Peter Capaldi, the recently announced 12th Doctor, is the biggest “Doctor Who” geek to ever step into the TARDIS.
Capaldi acknowledged as much during Sunday’s live announcement special, when he was presented with a letter a 15-year-old Peter had written to The Radio Times in 1974, praising the recent 10th anniversary celebrations and looking ahead optimistically to the show’s 25th birthday in 1988. Joking he had desperately tried for decades to hide that letter from his wife, Capaldi called it “the full geek,” but it’s really just the tip of a very nerdy iceberg. Doctor Who News recently posted a page from a 1976 issue of “The Doctor Who International Fan Club Magazine,” in which a teenage Capaldi writes an eloquent, glowing tribute to Bernard Lodge, the creator of the show’s iconic opening title sequence, in which he (quite rightly) praises the “artistic integrity and sensitivity” needed to create some of the most instantly recognizable opening credits in television history. And this hardcore fandom was hardly a fleeting thing of youth. Nick Briggs recalls meeting Capaldi on the set of “Torchwood: Children of Earth,” only for Capaldi to say introductions were unnecessary, as he recognized Briggs immediately as the voice of the Daleks—after which the pair “proceeded to gossip and giggle about "Doctor Who" in [their] shooting breaks.”
Still, all of that rather pales in comparison to the stories of Capaldi’s constant letter-writing to the “Doctor Who” production office during Jon Pertwee’s tenure as the Doctor. As Capaldi has mentioned in past interviews, the highlight of these efforts was when producer Barry Letts responded to a letter asking how the show was made by sending a pair of scripts for the upcoming story “The Mutants,” as well as set designs and studio floor plans. Capaldi credits Letts’ kindness with getting him interested to work in television. And yet even that happy tale does not necessarily reveal just how wonderfully crazed a fan our new Doctor truly is, at least now when compared to the his frequent attempts to oust fellow young fan Keith Miller as the head of the Official “Doctor Who” Fan Club. We reached out to Miller, who recalled how the young Capaldi was sometimes too much of a fan even for members of the “Doctor Who” production team:
Yes, Peter was one of the founder members of the fan club I ran from 1973 onwards. I was offered the fan club after only my second letter to the BBC but Peter had been writing to them for a lot longer and his nose was out of joint as I think he wanted the post himself. Peter could be classed as the first super-fan and plagued the production office with requests for information, to the point Barry Letts’ secretary wanted me to go over to Glasgow and ‘sort him out.’ So, yes, you couldn’t get more of fan of the show for The Doctor himself!
SFX has even more on this wonderfully geeky tale of some of the show’s earliest fan politics, including a reposted letter from Letts’ secretary Sarah Newman in which she makes known her true feelings about Capaldi – to give you some idea, Daleks and extermination are mentioned.
So what to make of all this, beyond the fact that it’s quite clear there are going to be some truly hilarious interviews in which Peter Capaldi acknowledges the depths of his “Doctor Who” fandom? (In particular, I’m already eagerly anticipating his next appearance alongside best pal Craig Ferguson on “The Late Late Show.”) What I think is really exciting about all this is that, if Capaldi weren’t such a massive fan, he almost certainly wouldn’t be the 12th Doctor, and I suspect we would then have missed out on a performance unlike any other in the show’s history. While “Doctor Who” has shown time and again it can attract actors of the highest caliber to play its main part – Matt Smith is only the most recent proof of that – it’s much rarer for the show to attract actors of Peter Capaldi’s stature in the industry to take on the role. It probably isn’t a coincidence that Peter Davison, the other actor who was already a major TV star when he took on the role, is also one of the most vocal Doctors in discussing his childhood love of the show and Patrick Troughton in particular. Showrunner Steven Moffat offered this explanation as why the thought of casting Capaldi was so appealing:
There's something very seductive about an utterly brilliant, arresting looking leading man actor – one of the most talented actors in Britain – who you happen to know is a big fan of the show. You start to think ‘maybe we should so something about that.'
And, just to be clear, Peter Capaldi is still an actor first and a fan second – if he didn’t really believe in Moffat’s vision or his own suitability to play the 12th Doctor, then he wouldn’t have taken on the part. But without his frankly terrifying levels of “Doctor Who” geekdom, he probably wouldn’t have even considered the part in the first place.