Talking 'Doctor Who' with Peter Capaldi: 'I'm a bit of an imposter'

CNET's Luke Lancaster sits down with Peter Capaldi to talk about the actor's role in Lego Dimensions, the 50-year legacy of "Doctor Who" and a certain punk album.

Luke Lancaster Associate Editor / Australia
Luke Lancaster is an Associate Editor with CNET, based out of Australia. He spends his time with games (both board and video) and comics (both reading and writing).
Luke Lancaster
8 min read
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David Venni/BBC

"Doctor Who" has been a part of British pop culture for over 50 years, but it was the show's 2005 revival that saw it skyrocket to mainstream popularity. Now, as Series 9 draws to a close and fans eagerly await the 2015 Christmas special, the Doctor is even making his Lego debut.

The second wave of figures for the toys-to-life game Lego Dimensions is now on shelves (and the Tardis kit isn't far behind), which means fans of BBC's iconic sci-fi series can for the first time pick up The Doctor and his time-travelling Tardis in brick form.

CNET sat down with Peter Capaldi, the Twelfth incarnation of the Doctor, late last month as he wraps up his second year wearing the mantle of the world's most famous Time Lord.

The "Doctor Who" pack is out for Lego Dimensions. How does it feel seeing yourself in Lego?

It's great fun, especially because it's so tiny. I'm always shocked to see that I've got gray hair because I don't think of myself as having gray hair, but I've got to get used to the idea now because it's official. It's Lego. But also the game is extraordinary, particularly because you can move back through all of the other Doctors and all of the other Tardis and stuff, and I think that's amazing.

You've got the Doctor shoulder-to-shoulder with these mainstays of pop culture like Batman and Gandalf in the game. The show has this massive crossover appeal now.

And do you think that? Do you feel that that's what's happening?

I think it does, especially since [reboot showrunner] Russell T. Davies first brought it back a few years ago. It's just exploded in popularity. It's almost like I'm answering the question. I'm sorry.

(Laughs.) No, I'm asking because it's often mysterious to us because we're in the middle of making the show. And to make the show I never have any thoughts about the scale of it, or the show as a brand. Or where it is. I just have thoughts about the scenes, and the Doctor and the time and space and all that stuff, so it's interesting to see what's happening to it and what's going on with it. And certainly, doing Lego was very weird because I had to go in and do all the voices for it. But with no game there, just with this script and all of these variations of their situations.

'Doctor Who' appears in official Lego form (pictures)

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All 13 Doctors appear in Dimensions, you can cycle through all the regenerations. When did being part of that 50-year legacy really dawn on you?

Well I've always been a huge fan of the show, so I knew that was what I was joining. It was a thrill for me to become part of that. Sometimes I'm not even sure I have become part of that because I'm in the day-to-day business of trying to make the show. I guess I always think they're the real Doctors.

You're just the imposter?

Yeah, I am a bit of an imposter, really. But that's because I love them, so I remain a bit of a fan about them all. I met Sylvester McCoy recently, which was great, I'd never met him before.

Was he your favorite Doctor?

You know, they're all my favorites. I think they all bring their own particular talents and gifts to the role. And I'll always feel deeply grateful to them because I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for every one of them.

I read something quite lovely that you said not too long ago, that you don't just play the Doctor, you represent him.

I think anybody who plays the Doctor does that. That's part of the job. You sort of have to look after the Doctor for the time that you're playing him and leave him in good shape, so he can be passed on to the next actor and to the next generation really. It's a character now who almost exists in folklore. He's actually exists in the imagination more powerfully. And he exists on the screen. So you have to handle him with care.

Warner Bros. Interactive

Well you're now involved with Dimensions, and David Tennant and Catherine Tate are about to do some radio plays. It's not just a regular acting role, it's kind of cross media. How do you deal with that?

I don't know really because it's all new to me. I'm used to being an actor showing up and trying to do that as best I can. To be honest that's sort of where I am most comfortable. On the set as we try and tell the stories and film the episodes.

So all the rest of it is new and rather big. The scale of it as much larger than I quite realized. And also you know there's all this [doing the media circuit]. I've got nothing to hide behind here. It's great when you relax and you can hide behind great lines that somebody else has written. And great stories, and great special effects and stuff. But when it's just you, it's harder.

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The Doctor Who Lego Dimensions Level Pack is out now, and the Fun Pack containing a Dalek and Cyberman will be out on January 20.

Warner Bros. Interactive

What's your favourite episode of the ones that you've done?

Oh gosh. I have to say I'm very shocked at how fast it's going. I've done 26 episodes of "Doctor Who" now, which is terrifying to me. I don't like to isolate any one and say, "This one is better"... because I think they are all remarkable. I could say episode 12 of this season is very special. I think that's one that's particularly potent.

And your favorite episode all-time, growing up watching "Doctor Who"?

Oh god. I can't say that. Because I have a different favorite every five minutes. I love things like The Ark in Space and I love the last episode of Frontier in Space. So I don't know if you've ever seen that, but it's a great episode because it's got the Doctor, the Daleks and the Tardis telepathic circuits which we have on the show now, but I think it might be the first time they were ever mentioned. Dalek Invasion of Earth is fantastic. But there was a charm to the older episodes, made to be watched once and never again.

Jenna Coleman is leaving the show at the end of the year. How was working with her?

She's a great girl. She's a wonderful, wonderful actress. She looked after me. I arrived a fresh-face 56-year-old into this show. She'd already been in it for a year. So she knew the ropes a little bit more than I did, and that relationship between the Doctor and the companion is absolutely crucial to the show.

So everybody's always a little bit nervous about whether or not those guys are going to get on. Luckily, because she's such a great person, we did. So I was really sad when she left. She wanted to leave last year, but we persuaded her to stay. I mean, it was her own decision, and she'll do what she wants anyway. But I was thrilled that she stuck around.

You've said before you see the Doctor and Clara's relationship as platonic, but some of the writers, [showrunner] Stephen Moffat especially, have said quite the opposite, that there's a romantic entanglement there. How do you approach that kind of creative difference?

Well, I always feel one of the key things about The Doctor is that he's not human. So to constantly weigh up how he conducts himself in human terms is not quite accurate. But we tend not to -- We disagree very little. And what you know, you can hold an opinion. The material is so robust that we can both disagree and both be satisfied on what we do.

The thing about acting is the lines are one thing, and then there's always spaces in between the lines, which is where a lot of the acting goes on. So an actor has to be constantly in flux, has to constantly be changing. So it's good that we have different ideas. It's about how it should be. Because if it was just my ideas, it would be dumb. So it's the combination of lots of different ideas that make it better.

Who would you like to see as the next companion?


Peter Capaldi as the Doctor and Jenna Coleman as Clara.

David Venni/BBC

I think there's a lot of people that have been in the show already who would make a wonderful companion. And that may even be where we go. I don't know. I like to see the show reflect the world. So I would like to see someone who reflected the world as it is now. And I don't quite know what that is. Yeah. But yeah, we shall find out soon enough.

You'll probably hate me for bringing this up, but I came across the LP you released with Craig Ferguson.

Oh, yeah? That was only a self-made -- We were enthusiastic youths.

We had to make the record ourselves because no one would give us a record deal. (Laughs.) So we went nowhere fast. But we had a wonderful time. You know. It was also the ethos of that time. You just had a go. And I've always been like that.

I went to art school originally. So I'm just the kind of person that thinks oh, something new comes out. I'll have a go at that and see what happens. And so music seemed like a good idea. But I don't think I'm musical.

You've played guitar on "Doctor Who."

Yeah, it's quite easy to pick up a guitar and play a few chords and a few licks and stuff. I mean, I know people who are musicians. They can make things and they can create sounds and melodies and I just sort of laugh.

You have brought back elements of classic "Doctor Who" through your performance. Are there other elements of classic "Who" you'd like to see back? Are there any classic villains you haven't seen yet that you'd like to go up against?

I always liked the idea of new technology rendering some of the old creatures who were, you know, at best, enthusiastically delivered, but not necessarily as effectively as we could do now. But creatures like the Axons I think were great fun, because they were sort of very elegant, Grecian kind of creatures that were suddenly transformed into killer blancmange. I love the Mondasian Cybermen mostly because I love saying "Mondasian Cybermen" and people always look confused as to what that is. Those are the Cybermen who were the first ones to appear. You could see their hands, they had real human hands that were very much more kind of Frankenstein-y than these kind of "Metropolis" robots that we have now.

It's quite expensive as we spend nine months doing the show. And you're talking a bundle just making the program. So to come out into the world, literally out into the world, and be reminded of the audience, and what that constituency is very useful. [At the convention] in London we were getting little kids. And you know, old people, middle-aged people. And...the show's got to entertain all of those people.

Watch this: Peter Capaldi talks time, space and Lego Dimensions with CNET