On the way to hand over his TARDIS keys to Jodie Whittaker’s 13th Doctor, outgoing Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi swung by Madison Square Garden on Friday morning as part of New York Comic Con. Much like his Doctor, Capaldi entered like a rock star, wearing sunglasses that probably weren’t sonic, and left like everybody’s favorite professor, encouraging fans’ enthusiasm and generosity. “You are the future,” he told the room. “Jodie Whittaker is so lucky and so are you.”
The spotlight on Capaldi’s tenure as the Doctor, moderated by EW’s own Clark Collis, was a wry, heartfelt look back — and, fittingly, forward — that opened and closed with video tributes to Capaldi, who said that his decision to step away from the role was motivated by the fear that he’d start to tire of playing the Doctor. “I realized I was getting the hang of it,” Capaldi said. But the actor, a lifelong fan of the long-running sci-fi series, insists he didn’t take anything from the set when he left.
“I played Doctor Who,” Capaldi marveled. “You don’t need anything.”
And while he still has some lines to re-record, fans hoping to see the 12th Doctor back on their screens after the upcoming Christmas special shouldn’t hold their breath. “I think it’s probably time for me to go,” Capaldi told a fan during the audience Q&A. Then again, he added, “Never say never.”
Here’s are the rest of the highlights from Capaldi’s panel.
He might still be missing a paycheck
The actor’s first day playing the Doctor was on the set of Matt Smith’s final episode in the role (the 2013 Christmas special “The Time of the Doctor”), but Capaldi claims he wound up doing that work for free. “They didn’t pay me for the regeneration!” he laughed. “This is true. They said, ‘We don’t do that.’” Later, he added that he’ll have to check in with incoming Doctor Jodie Whittaker to make sure that policy’s been changed.
Capaldi’s input helped shape his time in the TARDIS
Capaldi praised Smith and 10th Doctor David Tennant for helping fans meet the character, but he wanted his version of the Doctor to be a little more unknowable. “When I grew up watching Doctor Who, he was mysterious,” Capaldi said. “I wanted to keep him at a distance.” Capaldi also had an idea of how his Doctor would feel about his regeneration, which showrunner Steven Moffat folded into the story.
The actor praised Moffat, who, like him, is leaving the show after the Christmas special, for “generously” taking his opinions into account — even working classic villains the Mondasian Cybermen into the show despite the fact that Collis recalled Moffat once scoffing that they just look like people with pullovers over their heads.
That said, Capaldi didn’t get all of his wishes — he always wanted a Jimi Hendrix episode. “But I don’t know what monsters they’d be fighting,” he admitted. “Flower people. Killer flower people with these weird flower petals on their heads and this weird kind of ozone that’s released that makes people go really trippy.” Now that’s a reason to get Capaldi back for a special.
The Doctor got political
When asked if he might ever reprise his role as The Thick of It’s Malcolm Tucker, Capaldi teased that he’ll be collaborating with series creator Armando Iannucci on a movie next year, but he doesn’t see himself returning to his role as the foul-mouthed Director of Communications. “Politics is just not funny anymore,” Capaldi said. “It’s not the time for that. It’s the time to understand and time to change and try to move forward.”
The conversation turned political again when a fan asked what advice the Doctor might have for humanity in times like these. “Get it together!” Capaldi answered. “It’s not a joke. It’s for real. Get it together. Sort it out. Get people in power who are intelligent, who are leaders. Get people in power who understand what life is about. Get people in power who understand the future. That’s what we need to do everywhere.”
The 12th and 13th Doctors have crossed paths
Capaldi hadn’t met Whittaker before learning that she’d been cast as the next Doctor — but as it turns out, she lives just up the road from him. During their first phone call, Capaldi recalled, “she said, ‘We’ve sat in the same cafes and coffee bars over the last three months, and I haven’t been able to come say hello to you.’”
Now that the secret’s out, Capaldi says fans are in for a treat. “I saw what she’s done and she’s great, so I think it’s in really good hands,” he said. “I’m glad people were moved by the idea of her.”
His Doctor isn’t going gently
Whittaker’s work in the Christmas special wasn’t the only tease Capaldi gave fans about his final hour. “My Doctor is refusing to regenerate. He’s just not having it,” the actor revealed. “He’s fed up with it and he doesn’t want to turn into anyone else, whether or not that’d be someone as talented as Jodie Whittaker.” Capaldi described his last day on set as a fun one — mostly. “I don’t want to give it away, but it was quite iconic I guess,” he said. “You’re doing something all the Doctors have to go through at some point.”
“It was fun and then it was sad.”
At least he’ll have company. He’ll be joined in the hour by David Bradley as the First Doctor, originally played by William Hartnell. “It’s not an impression,” Capaldi said of Bradley’s performance. “He somehow manages to evoke the spirit of William Hartnell…. I remember as a child seeing [Hartnell] and finding him strange and weird and grumpy and magical, and I just loved him. He was extraordinary. And I’d just look at David, and there he’d be.”
Bradley has played Hartnell before, in the 2013 film about Doctor Who’s origins, An Adventure in Space and Time, written by Mark Gatiss — who also guests in the Christmas special. Capaldi hadn’t debuted as the Doctor yet, but Gatiss invited him to set, where he met Bradley. “I remember emailing Mark and saying, ‘Thanks very much for letting a young man meet Doctor Who,’” Capaldi said.
Now that he’s come full circle, Capaldi is a lot more lax about his appointments with the Doctor. Asked whether he’ll be watching his final episode live on Christmas day, Capaldi joked that he’s keeping his options open.
“Might watch it. Might not. There might be something else on.”