The new series of Doctor Who returns to BBC1 on Saturday, and for the first time in more than 30 years viewers will see a 50-something Doctor in the Tardis.
At 56, Peter Capaldi is the first Doctor over 50 since Jon Pertwee took the role in the 1970s, and the oldest actor since 55-year-old William Hartnell launched the show in 1963. That’s without counting special guest Doctor John Hurt, who appeared in the 50th anniversary episode.
So we’ve gone from the youngest actor to play the Doctor – Matt Smith was 26 when he accepted the role – to one of the oldest.
Younger Doctors Matt Smith and David Tennant were initially seen as being necessary to bring a more youthful audience to the show. Now that that audience is secure, there’s less need for a teen idol in the Tardis.
Capaldi’s surprise at being cast
The casting of Capaldi was a surprise to the actor himself, who told Entertainment Weekly that he’d assumed he was too old for the role: “I wouldn’t have thought it would be me, because of my age. I would have thought they were automatically heading younger.”
But producer Steven Moffat, 52, said earlier this year that casting an older actor as the new Doctor is ultimately irrelevant. “It’s all the difference in the world – because suddenly he’s a man in his 50s with grey hair – and [yet] it’s no difference at all,” he says. “John Hurt is 73, and how great was he? And kids love the John Hurt Doctor.”
And does the age of the actor really matter anyway, when they’re playing a 900-year-old alien from Gallifrey?
Novelist, scriptwriter and Doctor Who audiobook author Jason Arnopp says that varying the age of the Doctor is part of what helps the series achieve its longevity. “It’s really nice to have a variety of faces and quirks for the Doctor to draw upon, even though his core personality remains essentially the same.
“It keeps the show alive and fresh, which is undoubtedly why the team have gone for an older Doctor this time.”
(Don’t) act your age
Arnopp points out that both younger and older doctors have one thing in common: they don’t tend to act their age: “Patrick Troughton’s 50-plus Doctor had quite a childish side, while Matt Smith somehow managed to act like he really did have 900-plus years of time travel under his belt, with all that psychological weight resting on physically young shoulders.
“So don’t be surprised if Capaldi’s Doctor has a conspicuously youthful mindset, for all the gravitas he’s bound to bring to the show.”
One thing that will change is the Doctor’s relationship with his companion, as the flirting of previous series is off the menu.
Peter Capaldi told the Sunday Times: “I did call and say, ‘I want no Papa-Nicole moments’. I think there was a bit of tension with that at first, but I was absolutely adamant.”
Capaldi has also teased fans with promises of more gravity, longer scenes and less “breathless vigour”.
So far the core audience has not been put off. They’re already dubbing 23 August #Capalday on social media and tickets have gone on sale for cinema screenings of the first episode.
When people are stumping up for cinema tickets for a TV show they could watch for free at home, you know you’ve got a dedicated fanbase.
Doctor Who fan Katie Lee, editor of geek haven DorkAdore is looking forward to what Capaldi’s “dangerous aura” will bring to the show.
“I loved Matt Smith’s alien quality and I hope that he retains some of that,” she says. “Also, I know his storylines weren’t great, but I liked the darker elements of Sylvester McCoy’s doctor and I’d like to see Capaldi bring in some of that flintier, more ruthless side.”
She is looking forward to Capaldi’s maturity signalling a less damaged Doctor. “Now that he knows that his home planet is still out there, he’s going to be a man on a mission to get home.
“And while I have loved all three of the new Doctors I’m glad they’ve promised no flirting. The constant companion snogging got old pretty quickly. I just want to see adventures!”
So there’s great excitement among fans for Capaldi’s Doctor. Will you be watching too? And does the fact that he’s our age make any difference to you?