It’s not everyday you get to live out your childhood dreams as an adult — but for “Doctor Who” star Peter Capaldi, that’s exactly what he’s getting the chance to do while filming the final two episodes of his run as the BBC America show’s titular Time Lord.
The BBC has released an image from the second-to-last episode, which features Capaldi’s Doctor facing off against the Mondasian Cyberman — the original incarnation of the classic “Doctor Who” villain, that first appeared in 1966.
Not so coincidentally, these baddies also happen to be Capaldi’s all-time favorite. At a 2014 Q&A, per the Telegraph, he was asked about which villains he’d most like to see appear on the show, and teased, “This is really one for geeks — the return of the Mondasian Cybermen… They came from the Planet Mondas and first appeared in “The Tenth Planet” . They were absolutely terrifying, with cloth faces. That was really creepy.” As a self-professed geek of the show himself, you can’t help but wonder about the look on his face when showrunner Steven Moffat let the cat out of the bag.
As Capaldi nears the end of his time as the star of the long-running series, getting to revisit his own youth runs an interesting parallel to “Doctor Who” as a whole, during his time at the head of the TARDIS. In the immediate aftermath of Matt Smith’s departure from the series, Capaldi’s Doctor was grumpy, disoriented and sometimes just downright mean.
In the moment it was a tough pill to swallow, but in hindsight makes perfect sense. When “Doctor Who” first returned in 2005, Christopher Eccleston’s take on the character was fun and exciting — but very reckless. There was a certain darkness to the Doctor that came with being hidden away for so long.
The introduction of David Tennant as the Doctor lost most of that dark edge, giving fans one of the most truly fun and happy Doctors of all time. That’s what made his departure so gut-wrenching: No Doctor came to love humanity quite as much as Tennant’s, and saying goodbye to those friends he made kept him from every fully recovering. When Smith next stepping into the TARDIS, fans were introduced to a more sarcastic Doctor.
Don’t get us wrong, Smith’s time on the show was fun — and his love for his companions, like Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) was crucial — but he never let them in as close as Tennant had. He’d learned a lesson about how difficult it would be to say goodbye when the time came.
This reintroduced a bit of the darkness to the Doctor that was only compounded by how old he was getting. After all, Smith’s 12th Doctor should have been the last incarnation of the Time Lord — he was nearing the end of his life. However, as he approached death his people gave him a new regeneration cycle that essentially restarted his life prospects.
Which puts the beginning of Capaldi’s outing as the Doctor in perspective: This extension of his life wasn’t something he was expecting. Smith’s Doctor grew to a nice, old age and was seemingly ready for the end… Then dropped into a new body facing the reality that he was going to have to do it all over again. You can’t really blame him for being ill-tempered about it. In a way, it’s like someone preparing for retirement only to be told they had another 20 years before they would actually get a break.
Somewhere along the way, though, the Doctor found his second act: The bitterness melted away to almost a childlike glee, something “Doctor Who” had been missing for some time. It became fun to be a fan again — and we can only assume for Capaldi it was fun to be the fan at the head of it all.
It’s the fans that makes “Doctor Who” special. Especially because, unlike most shows, you can’t really nail down what a “Doctor Who” fan is.
“The thing about ‘Doctor Who’ is the constitution of the audience. It covers a huge age range, so you have to entertain little kids and you have to entertain hipsters and students, and middle-aged men who should know better,” Capaldi explained during an interview with the Radio Times [via Doctor Who News]. “So sometimes there is a kind of metaphysical and intellectual aspect to it, which is more to the fore than other times. But generally we just blow up monsters.”
Boiling it down to something so simple is why “Doctor Who” still works, over 50 years after its first premiere. If you get bogged down in the science of time travel, the variety of periods the show visits and the plethora of characters and alien races that get introduced, it’s easy to complicate matters when it comes to the show.
In the end, though it’s about having fun — and who’s going to understand that more than its biggest fan… Who went on to become its star?
“Doctor Who” returns Saturday, April 15, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on BBC America.