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The new, grown-up Doctor Who

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Peter Capaldi, 56, promises 'gravity' and no flirting with his girl assistant

EVER since the BBC revived Doctor Who the actors cast in the lead role have been getting younger and younger. From the likes of snowy-haired, craggy-faced William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee in the early days, the new generation began with Christopher Eccleston, aged 41, followed by David Tennant, 34 and Matt Smith, 28. Age may be irrelevant to a self-regenerating Time Lord but if the BBC had carried on in this vein it would have had to rename it Junior Doctor Who.

That all stops now. As of next month Doctor Who returns to our screens in the lean-bodied but definitely middle-aged form of Peter Capaldi. Not that he doesn't look good for 56. But whereas it was OK for his youthful predecessors to have crushes on and even kiss their young assistants, Capaldi makes it absolutely clear that this is one silver fox who will not be playing will-they-won't-they games with Clara his sidekick, played by 28-year-old Jenna Coleman.

"There'll be no flirting that's for sure," says Capaldi who was named the 12th Doctor last November. "That's not what the Doctor is concerned with. I did call and say 'I want no Papa-Nicole moments' [a reference to the Nineties ads which featured a pretty girl and an older man who turns out to be her father]. I was adamant. There's going to be more gravity, another level of drama and longer scenes. I didn't want to be Doctor Who in a Doctor Who I didn't like."

There won't be any Malcolm Tucker moments either. Unlike the stupendously foul-mouthed spin doctor with the highly imaginative line in insults, who made Capaldi famous in television's The Thick Of It, the good Doctor is not one for cursing people out.

Neither is Capaldi, whose friends describe him as gentle, easy-going and devoted to Elaine, his wife of 25 years and their daughter Cecily, 21. His insistence on playing the intergalactic defender his way was a risk, for Doctor Who is genuinely the role Capaldi has coveted since he was a little boy.

Ever since he watched The Dalek Invasion Of Earth in 1964, Capaldi has been a true Whovian. He built Doctor Who sets from shoeboxes and collected autographs from the first four Doctors. His mother stopped giving him a Doctor Who annual for Christmas only a few years ago. Young Peter wrote fan letters and was so thrilled to receive old scripts in return that he decided there and then that he wanted to be an actor too.

PETER says: "I'd never seen a script and couldn't believe that they actually wrote this stuff down. It opened a door," he recalls. "It was like being allowed inside the Magic Circle. I knew I wanted to be part of this." Before it was announced that he had won the role, he took to hanging round a sci-fi store in London's West End because it amused him to think that the other shoppers had no idea they were in the presence of the next Doctor Who.

Capaldi is a late bloomer. The son of an Italian ice-cream seller and an Irish-born mother, he grew up in a Glasgow tenement and was bullied at his secondary school, St Ninian's High in Kirkintilloch, because he preferred art to sport.

"My adolescence was a kind of motorway pile-up. If you were into art you were seen as an absolute pansy. One teacher used to call me a giant spastic for not being able to play football."

He joined a local theatre group, the Antoine Players, but failed to get into drama school. Instead he went to Glasgow Art School, worked for a card company, did a bit of modelling and became lead singer of a punk band initially called B******* Of Hell before they thought better of it and changed the name to The Dreamboys. The drummer was Craig Ferguson, who hosts The Late Late Show on American television. When Capaldi appeared as a guest they reminisced about taking LSD together. The band toured and made an album and even appeared with U2 but the big break never came. That was to be the pattern for Capaldi's career for the next 25 years.

The first lucky break came at 21 when Capaldi came home to his Glasgow digs one night to find a man talking to his landlady, a costume designer. The man turned out to be the director Bill Forsyth who was making a film called Local Hero starting Burt Lancaster. On impulse Forsyth cast Capaldi in the important role of goofy, slightly camp Oldsen. The film was a hit but did not lead to great things for Capaldi. He moved to London but admits, "I was clueless. I spent the rest of the decade in bedsits."

THERE followed years of bit parts, everything from playing a priest in Rab C Nesbitt to a transvestite in Prime Suspect 3. He was John Malkovich's manservant in Dangerous Liaisons and a Songs Of Praise producer in The Vicar Of Dibley. In 1995 he wrote and directed the short film Franz Kafka's It's A Wonderful Life which won an Oscar.

He moved to Hollywood but then spent a dispiriting year trying to turn his short film into a feature without success. "Almost a year to the day after winning the Oscar I was directing a dog-food commercial in a field looking for the best spot because we couldn't pay for a location scout," says Capaldi. "I thought to myself, 'This is a long way to have fallen'."

After another decade of struggle he was ready to throw in the towel. Only his wife Elaine's salary kept them from having to sell their home in London. And then in 2005 along came Armando Iannucci and an edgy sitcom about politics and suddenly Capaldi could put his experience of the fickleness of Hollywood to good use. He claims it was the Armani-suited "malevolent forces" of the film industry and not Tony Blair's henchman Alastair Campbell who were the inspiration for Malcolm Tucker.

He has since starred in Fifties drama The Hour and with Angelina Jolie in Maleficent. He also revisited the dark side as the malign Cardinal Richelieu in The Musketeers. But as the role he truly wanted went to younger actors, he feared his chance had gone.

He was filming in Prague when his agent rang and began with the words, "Hello Doctor." After Matt Smith's tweeds, the new Time Lord has a rather Puritan look in an allblack ensemble with a buttonedup white shirt. But Capaldi says his Doctor is the sort of chap who "loves watching stars being born in Andromeda but is also thrilled to see litter blowing across the supermarket car park at dawn".

The Whovian community reacted to their hero's latest regeneration with widespread approval, which must be gratifying. After all, even an intergalactic defender of humanity needs friends.

GRAPHIC: DREAM ROLE: Peter has wanted to play the Doctor since he was a little boy and promises no hanky panky with co-star Jenna Coleman (Clara), inset below Pictures: BBC

TIMED OUT: Previous Doctors Matt Smith and David Tennant, far left. Peter as Malcolm Tucker in The Thick Of It

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  • APA 6th ed.: Pukas, Anna (2014-07-28). The new, grown-up Doctor Who. Daily Express p. 23.
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