NYCC Spotlight: Peter Capaldi Says Farewell To 'Doctor Who'

Peter Capaldi is saying goodbye to Doctor Who.

Peter Capaldi, starring as the 12th Doctor in BBC America's Doctor Who, took the spotlight in the Theater at Madison Square Garden Friday as part of New York Comic Con. The Scottish actor's tenure as the time travelling defender will come to an end in "Twice Upon a Time," the iconic hit series' upcoming Christmas special that will team Capaldi's current Doctor with the First Doctor, played by David Bradley.

The panel kicked off with a retrospective tribute made to honor Capaldi's near four year run as the Doctor, ending with a montage of characters saying "thank you, Doctor."

"I don't know where the time went, time ran away with me," Capaldi said about the end of the role he's occupied since 2013. "It seems like just a minute ago that it started."

Capaldi's turn as the long-passed-down Doctor began with Matt Smith, who handed Capaldi the reigns his first day on set.

"My first day was the regeneration with Matt, who was absolutely lovely," Capaldi said. "He really sort of looked after me on that day, which was really kind of him. But then I didn't do anything really for four months. So it was months and months and months of being Doctor Who and not being Doctor Who and just wanting to get on with it."

"I just sort of thought the thing to do here is to try and bring it to myself," Capaldi said about being the latest actor to step into the Doctor's jumper.

Capaldi shared he never felt as though he got into the swing of things.

"I still don't feel that I do have a handle on it, because it changes all the time," Capaldi said. "I don't really know how they do this, whether they have a pile of scripts lying around for a doctor whoever that may be, so I think you sort of enter it without really knowing what you're going to do with it."

On his relationship with co-star Jenna Coleman, who played the Doctor's companion Clara Oswald, Capaldi had nothing but praise.

"It was great, she was the first to show me the T.A.R.D.I.S. and around the studio," Capaldi said. "She was really welcoming and really sweet, and made my life really easier and great fun. The cast just changes, the Doctor just changes, she developed a great relationship with Matt [Smith] and suddenly that was just over. I think she dealt with it beautifully."

Capaldi wouldn't reveal much about his forthcoming final episode, but he did tease the dilemma the Doctor would be facing:

"Well," Capaldi hesitated, careful not to reveal too much. "My Doctor is refusing to regenerate. He's just not having it. He's fed up with it, he doesn't want to turn into somebody else, whether or not they'll be somebody as talented as [upcoming new Doctor] Jodie Whittaker. He's not ready to do that, so he has to be persuaded to do it. And the person that becomes involved in that persuasion is the First Doctor, played brilliantly by David Bradley, who does an uncanny -- it's not an impression, he sort of manages to invoke the spirit of William Hartnell."

With Capaldi's farewell on the horizon, the actor was asked why now was the time to depart the beloved series.

"You asked me when I knew how to [be the Doctor], and I never really ever wanted to get to that position," Capaldi answered. "I never wanted to get to a place where I knew how to do this, because that's not what being creative is. You should be constantly challenged, constantly working. The actual time spent on the show, I realized I was getting the hang of it. I was frightened I would get tired and just say, 'I've got the hang of it, this is how you do it,' and that's not a place I wanted to be. So that's how I decided it was time to go."

"It was fun, it was quite fun," Capaldi said about his last day on set. "I don't want to give it away, but it was quite iconic, I guess. You're doing something that all the Doctors have to go through at some point and it was sad and it was also quite -- the way we did it, we had all the special people I worked with there, so we all said goodbye at the same time. But you never really say goodbye."

Talk turned to the Doctor's newest iteration, played by Jodie Whittaker. Capaldi said he found out over the phone.

"I sort of thought [my successor] might be not a man, which I thought was quite nice, but I wasn't sure," Capaldi said. "I went into Paul Smiths [a clothes shop in London] and everybody knows me in there, and they say, 'we just got a call from the Doctor Who office saying, can we have a pair of your trousers? But with waist size 30?'

And I thought, I'm finished, I don't need any more trousers... so they were obviously looking for a pair of trousers for the new Doctor Who to wear and I thought, well, that can't really be a man with a 30 inch waist. So I thought that must be a lady, then. They just called me a couple of days later before it was announced. It was lovely to talk to Jodie, she lives just up the road from me. I haven't met her so I didn't really know her. But I've seen what she's done and she's great, and it's in really great hands."

"I hope people are embracing her and I think it will be wonderful, and I'm glad people were moved by the idea of her," Capaldi said.

With his time on set at an end -- Capaldi still has to return to the studio to get in some additional voicework -- Capaldi was asked if he lifted anything from the set as a souvenir.

"No, there's nothing," Capaldi said. "I played Doctor Who, I don't need anything."

Q&A.

With the floor turned over to the audience, fans wanted to know: would Capaldi be returning for specials?

"I think probably it's time for me to go," Capaldi said. "It's time to leave this universe."

"Forever?" a fan asked.

"Well, never say never again," Capaldi said. "But I think it's time to -- in the old days, the doctors would leave and that would be it and they might show up 15 years later… I think it's just time to go."

"You're going to have a wonderful new season when Jodie comes along," he added.

While Whovians will tune into Capaldi's finale in droves, the actor might give it a pass.

"I don't know," Capaldi said. "I think it's quite emotional, really, I might watch it, I might not. There might be something else on. [laughs]"

Despite the outpouring of love and clear affection for Capaldi's Doctor, the actor said he tried to keep audiences at a distance.

"I just thought he should be difficult to know," Capaldi said. "I think one of the problems with a show that's 50 years old is everyone knows everything there is to know. When I was a kid he was mysterious, no one knew anything about him. So I wanted to step away from trying to embrace the audience… I wanted to keep people at a distance because I think he's not human. So I wanted to bring things to it that were about being not human and not always thinking humans are great."

Capaldi, a Doctor Who fan since childhood, was asked what he'd like to see from Doctor Who moving forward.

"In the nicest possible way, everyone says Doctor Who is all about change, and I kind of don't really buy that," Capaldi said. "It's kind of having the same thing dished out in different ways. Doctor Who will be about a mysterious, funny strange person or creature from another place who will be played beautifully by Jodie, and she will roam through the universe, hopefully blowing up monsters. And as long as she does that, it will be great."

Capaldi said he hasn't passed along any advice to Whittaker.

"No, I don't think she needs any," he said. "She's amazing so she'll just come and do her own thing."

A second video tribute, compiling submissions from fans all over the world, saw Whovians sincerely thanking Capaldi for his time as the Twelfth Doctor. With the video and the panel at an end, the assembled fans in the filled-out Madison Square Garden theater jumped to their feet to cheer and thank Capaldi, who graciously accepted.

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"Thank you," Capaldi said, pointing to fans throughout the room. "You're so amazing, you're so kind, you're so good hearted, you're the future. Jodie is so lucky and so are you. Just the enthusiasm and kindness and generosity is the best thing about the human race and that's what you are, thank you."

The Doctor Who Christmas Special airs December 25 on BBC America.