The twelfth Doctor is readying to return with season nine and “The Magician’s Apprentice.” And we caught up with “Doctor Who”s Peter Capaldi at Comic-Con International in San Diego. In a roundtable interview, we discussed what’s to come for the Doctor and Clara, whether he’d ever direct an ep, and why Vikings had him squeeing like a fanboy.
With season nine, I understand that we’re picking up somewhere different than we left off. There’s been a gap?
Peter Capaldi: Yeah, I think the thing about this season is that having regenerated you probably have to rediscover who it is you are. It’s not just a case of changing your face you have to figure out what nature you have. I think that the Doctor has done a lot of that. But I don’t think it ever finishes because that’s the nice thing about “Doctor Who” is that he’s constantly developing as a character as he discovers more about himself.
But I certainly think that he thinks that even at 2 thousand and a half years old that life is short. And the universe is fabulous. And when you have the toy box of the whole of time and space, you should explore it and have fun. So I think he and Clara are sort of a little gang of two, running around the universe, running towards danger. Really going after adventure and having a great time. Of course being as its Doctor Who, a great time has to be painful in the end.
Their relationship has been a bit complicated. How is it evolving?
Yeah, I think it remains complicated. I think initially Clara probably felt, ‘Well, this is my best friend, and now he’s become the guy with this face (gestures to his own) who has very poor social skills and who is very impatient and just wants to get on with traveling the universe. Do I really want to be around him anymore? Is it worth it, being around him. And I think she’s decided it is worth being around him.
I think the Dcotor is deeply deeply bonded with Clara. One of the things about the doctor is he sees things and understand things that are beyond the perspective of human beings. He’s not a human being so he knows things about Clara’s future that even she doesn’t know. So, I think that’s informed his decision to try and stay with her. But she we have a lot of fun with her trying to improve his social skills, and trying to make him more palatable toward the human beings he’s impatient with. And they have a great relationship. It’s a very unusual relationship for sure for television. It’s romantic in the old sense. Two people who are really crazy about each other, and would really miss not seeing each other. But they’re not romantically involved.
Jenna was saying that you both feel a little more reckless this season. With her, she lost Danny. What urges the Doctor to throw caution to the wind more?
Because the universe is very dark and inevitably that is where he will end up. Inevitably, the darkness will–he will have to fight. He will have to face terrible things. So rather than walking around being like ‘Oh this is so terrible,’ I think he’s decided I’m gonna (have some fun). I always think he’s a joyful character. I think he can find the joy in just sitting in a car park watching the sun coming up or feeling the wind. These are amazing beautiful things to him and he’s impatient that people don’t get that. I’ve forgotten the question now! I went off on a poetic line.
You have such a great natural banter. Have you considered writing for the show?
No. I’m so full of awe and admiration for Stephen and for the writers of this show. And what they do is extraordinary. The constituency of the show is so large you have to be able to deliver episodes that are interesting to students, to little kids, to hipsters, to middle-aged people. To cover all those bases you have to be a very skilled writer. And I don’t have that skill. And the same with the directors, I look at that– someone said, ‘Do you want to direct?’ And I said, ‘No. Not really.’ Because I see what those poor guys have to go through! (Chuckles).
So the producers have asked you to direct?
It’s suggested sometimes. But I don’t really see how I could ever have the time to do that, and to be in the show.
Any thought toward going after Tom Baker’s record?
It’s not really up to me. I’m very thrilled to be there. Every day I find it an extraordinary priviledged position to be in. It’s get up in the morning and go work on the TARDIS or go chase men in rubber suits down corridors, and be part of all this. So I’m just happy to be there as long as people want me to be there.
They’ll want you as long as you’re willing to do it.
Well, I don’t know!
As long as the ratings are good.
Well, that’s the other thing. At the end of the day, it’s television.
Well what kind of contract are you bound by at this point?
I can’t get into all those things.
Some of my favorite episodes are the scary ones, the monster ones. I know episodes three and four of season nine, the Fisher King, episodes are a little darker. Can you talk about the Doctor’s journey in those episodes.
I think generally there are scarier monsters. Because I was thinking about it, we have quite a lot of vintage monsters, who have been rethought and have a new vigor about them. But I thought about the newer monsters that we have, they have a kind of more–they are like creatures from the id. They are much more creatures of the subconscious, and are frightening in that way. There are things that play with the Doctor in particular, and his understanding of the world, the way he sees the world is played with. The way he sees the universe is played with a lot. And in that way, and in that story–yes! He’s pushed into the other side of his understanding of what monsters are. But later, as the season unfolds, there are stranger creatures. Creatures is the wrong word for them.
You’ve talked about the darkness of the show and the character being so joyful. How do you find that balance?
I think it’s the challenge of Doctor Who, to bounce from one moment–something tragic to something almost pantomimic. It’s rather old-fashioned in that way. You can be doing a gag, and then suddenly expounding on cosmic profundity. So, I think that’s part of his DNA, and sort of why you get cast. I think that’s why guys like me get cast because there’s something about us that suggests we could be idiots and also rather profound. But it is a constant balancing act. You have keep all those things in the air, and it is the trick of it.
There’s a famous anecdote from last season that you came in on your day off to see Daleks get blown up.
Are you still doing that sort of thing.
Yeah. What did I see this year? This year I saw something that was so great. I wasn’t in the scene, but I came in. Maisie Williams was in it, and Jenna (Coleman) was in it. And it was a spaceship. And Jenna had a spacesuit on, and she turned around in this spaceship was full of Vikings! (Chuckles.) With all the horns and stuff, and I just thought, ‘This is so great! This is not work.’
“Doctor Who” Season Nine begins September 19.
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