Doctor Who: Armando Iannucci and Tom Baker on why Peter Capaldi is a great Time Lord

Capaldi’s Thick of It colleague says he has “nailed” the role while the fourth Doctor concludes, “he’s an alien. I salute him”

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Armando Iannucci says that his friend and former colleague Peter Capaldi has transformed himself brilliantly into the role of the Doctor.

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With Capaldi’s first series of Doctor Who approaching its climax with the first episode in a two-part finale starting on Saturday [November 1], Iannucci writes in this week’s Radio Times: “The Peter I know is the smart, funny, thoughtful guy – and I think he’s exactly what the Doctor should be. In fact, when David Tennant said he was leaving, I wondered if they’d ask Peter – just a flicker. He seems to have the air of the classic Doctor.”

Iannucci of course knows his strengths as an actor having worked with Capaldi on the BBC2/BBC4 comedy The Thick of It where he played foulmouthed spin-doctor Malcolm Tucker.

“Sometimes as the Doctor, the most memorable moments are not the strongest lines – it’s what he does with his pauses and his changes of tone. He’ll just say ‘Oh good’ or ‘You’d better go outside’ in this particular way and it sticks with you far more than the finest scripting.

“His Doctor is a completely different character – from any previous Doctor but also from Malcolm. I’ve watched every episode with my three kids – they’re 20, 15 and 12. They’ve been amazed by the transformation. The eldest has seen Malcolm Tucker but the others just know Peter from when he’s been over to the house.”

Iannucci said that Capaldi has also mastered the comic aspects of the role.

He said: “He took us all on set while filming – which was great for the two younger children especially but frankly it was pretty good for me. He gave us the full tour and seemed to know how it all works. He’s funny in a bamboozled way. And that allows Clara more space so they’ve become a proper, classic double act. He’s also the first Doctor to give off that air of the tremendous responsibility – which you never quite saw before.

“He has great gravitas, but he can flick in a second to moments of beautiful slapstick. The recent episode featuring 2D creatures [Flatline], where he was trapped in a tiny Tardis, was a perfect moment of silly comedy that it would have been easy to mess up. Then the episode ended with him addressing those creatures – ‘This planet is under my protection.’ It was a tremendously cathartic moment for the Doctor, I think, but it’s a hard combination for an actor to play, and he nailed it.”

Iannucci is considerate enough to offer a tip for Whovians: keep an eye on Capaldi running in the role. “It’s always hilarious. Stop it, pause it and go back. It’ll be worth it every time.”

Also featured in this week’s magazine are assessments from other fans including the comedian Al Murray and actress Keeley Hawes.

The fourth Doctor Tom Baker offers a more succinct assessment of Capaldi’s performance: “He’s a wonderful choice to play the Doctor. Instantly one felt: this fellow comes from far far away, he’s strange. An instant frisson. And what’s the word? Yes, got it! Alien, he’s an alien. I salute him.”

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The new issue of Radio Times magazine is on sale from Tuesday 28 October in the shops and on Newsstand for iPad or iPhone