The Thick of It and Veep creator Armando Iannucci on Peter Capaldi and Doctor Who

"He has gravitas but watch him run – it's always hilarious"

There’s something about Peter Capaldi. When he came to audition for the role of Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It, I remember him as quiet, humble, reserved and quietly funny. I asked him to fire me, as a minister. I would refuse and he would get cross.


So he was charm itself when he started and then suddenly he unleashed this torrent of abuse in a focused, intense way that made me never want to be the subject of his anger.

When we shot that scene for real for the pilot, the minister said to Peter: “Why don’t you fire Tony instead of me?” To which Peter replied, “Tony’s in transport. He’s got to deal with cars and buses.” 

The minister snapped, “I know what transport is.” And Peter looked so many daggers – head down and eyes glazed over. That pause wasn’t in the script, those looks came purely from him but it set Malcolm up so dangerously that you thought, “Oh dear…’ 

But is he a good Doctor? 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.

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.

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. I was worried that the 12-year-old in particular wouldn’t take to the idea of an older guy but they’re drawn to him. Is he a good Doctor? He’s how the Doctor should be.

I’ll give you a tip, though – watch him run. It’s always hilarious. Stop it, pause it and go back. It’ll be worth it every time.

Interview by Stephen Armstrong


The Doctor Who series finale begins on Saturday (1 November) at 8.15pm