After taking a series break in 2016, Doctor Who will soon be embarking on its tenth season since its regeneration in 2005, and anticipation among Whovians is at fever pitch, with Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor set to be joined by brand new companion Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie). It has already been announced that the forthcoming season will be the last with show-runner Steven Moffat in charge, and while Moffat’s tenure has – by his own admission – had its share of dud episodes, many fans will be sad to see the back of the person responsible for the much-loved Eleventh Doctor and memorable villains such as the Weeping Angels. One man whose future is far less certain, however, is that of the show’s leading man, Peter Capaldi.
With the imminent change of show-runner, viewers began to wonder whether Capaldi would also step down, and the man himself has remained unsurprisingly coy on the matter. Reports seem to indicate that the BBC are happy for Capaldi to return for season eleven and that the ball is very much in the actor’s court. With this in mind, what possible arguments are there to suggest that Peter Capaldi should extend his stay in the T.A.R.D.I.S. and what reasons might he have for walking away from a franchise he openly admits to being a lifelong fan of?
He’s A Fantastic Doctor
Any lingering doubts over the BBC’s decision to hire an ‘older’ actor to play the Doctor were swiftly blown away within minutes of the Twelfth Doctor’s debut episode, "Deep Breath," which saw Capaldi joyously gallivanting around Victorian London in his pyjamas. In terms of the ability to balance the Doctor’s comedic moments with his grave and dramatic monologues, Peter Capaldi is arguably the best actor to play the character since Tom Baker. The Twelfth Doctor’s anti-social habits have produced some of the most hilarious lines in the show’s recent memory, however as anyone who saw "The Zygon Invasion" can attest, Capaldi’s acting chops allow him to deliver heartfelt drama with unmatched levels of poise. More importantly, the Twelfth Doctor’s schtick is yet to grow old and that’s unlikely to change by the end of season 10, meaning that signing on for another run of episodes is unlikely to cause Capaldi’s Doctor to become dull or repetitive.
More To Give
No matter how good an actor is in the role, any version of the Doctor can reach a point where they have nothing more to offer the show. With Peter Capaldi, it currently feels as though the actor has yet to really leave his mark on the iconic character and this is down to the stories, rather than the actor himself. Both David Tennant and Matt Smith’s Doctors had defining moments - from leaving Rose behind on Bad Wolf Bay, to losing Amy and Rory to the Weeping Angels. The closest the Twelfth Doctor has come to creating such a water-cooler moment is in the aftermath of Clara’s death last season. Although this may change in season 10, an additional run as the Doctor would give Capaldi a better opportunity at an era-defining story arc and would go some way towards guaranteeing his place among the greatest to have played the renegade Time Lord.
Working with the incoming Chris Chibnall for a season would also help in this regard. The new show-runner will undoubtedly be keen to make an impression and is sure to give the actor something monumental to work with. The Twelfth Doctor is undoubtedly a great incarnation of the character but the lack of big, impactful scripts he’s been given compared to his predecessors means Capaldi still has plenty more to give the role.
The Element of Surprise
The average tenure for a Doctor is three to four years and the last two regenerations, Tennant and Smith, departed after three full series (plus specials). That puts Capaldi closing in on the end of the Doctor's usual life span, but should he do so, Doctor Who would run the risk of settling into a predictable formula. There are benefits to actors limiting themselves to only a few years in the T.A.R.D.I.S. but there’s also something to be said for unpredictability – particularly when it comes to regenerations. The arrival of a new Doctor should always be a huge television event but if Capaldi was to be the third Doctor in a row to quit after three full seasons, those precious regeneration episodes might just start to feel a little too familiar and formulaic. Even though the Doctor’s re-casting is always announced well ahead of time, by bucking the three-season trend that is emerging, Capaldi would help retain a small element of surprise when it comes to regeneration.
Out With The Old...
Perhaps the most compelling reason for Peter Capaldi to take his leave before season eleven is to allow Doctor Who’s future show-runner, Chris Chibnall, to have a clean slate to work with. When current head honcho Steven Moffat replaced Russell T. Davis, he was given a brand new Doctor to work with in the form of a fresh-faced Matt Smith. This decision proved to be a wise one, as Moffat’s appointment heralded a marked change in the show’s tone and style that perhaps wouldn’t have fitted as well with David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor. If Chibnall is planning a similar level of overhaul, there’s no doubt Capaldi is a talented enough actor to adapt to the changes, but it still may prove a simpler option to start from scratch with a new actor who isn’t already set in the ways of Steven Moffat's style.
The Three Year Rule
The Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, famously gave a young Peter Davison – who had then just been cast as the Fifth – a sage piece of advice in a BBC car park: don’t stay in the role for longer than three years. Davison would later impart this same slice of wisdom onto Matt Smith and, while not every Doctor has followed the suggestion (looking at you, Tom Baker), there’s certainly solid reasoning behind it. The role of the Doctor is, without question, one of the most intense television gigs for any actor and comes with a level of scrutiny and publicity that the twelve actors who have played the character would not have experienced anywhere else.
With Capaldi debuting in August of 2014, his recommended three years will soon be up, leading the way for a potential regeneration in the 2017 Christmas special. With all that said, Troughton’s original nugget of advice was said mostly in relation to typecasting, something that would be more of a concern to younger actors such as Davison, Tennant and Smith. Capaldi, on the other hand, is an established actor well-known for his turns in the likes of The Thick of It and as such, has less need to be concerned with being typecast.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that Peter Capaldi isn’t being vague about his Doctor Who future because he’s yet to make up his mind, but rather he’s protecting important plot details for the forthcoming season. If a regeneration is coming in the near future then there will surely be plenty of ominous foreshadowing ahead that could make Capaldi’s departure very apparent in the forthcoming episodes. Conversely, if a big new story arc is cracked open towards the end of season 10, it may quickly become obvious that Capaldi will be sticking around. By keeping his cards close to his chest, the actor ensures all future plot lines remain shrouded in mystery and by keeping fans guessing as to how long he’ll stay in the role, a sense that ‘anything can happen’ is created.
Steven Moffat has history in this regard, sometimes going as far as to outright lie in promotional interviews in order to prevent potential spoilers about his shows being revealed. It wouldn’t be too surprising if Capaldi has already made a decision about his future and this information is being guarded purely to keep everyone guessing and speculating as Doctor Who heads into its new season.
Doctor Who season 10 is expected to premiere in April on BBC and BBC America.