For Peter Capaldi, guest starring in the upcoming Doctor Who episode “The Fires of Pompeii” is not his first Whovian connection. It was through Barry Letts that the star of the BBC’s The Thick of It gained his first taste of what television was all about. “When I was a kid,” explains Capaldi, “being a huge Dr Who fan, I wrote numerous letters to the Doctor Who office largely inquiring about how the show was made.”
It was 1972 and Doctor Who was entering its ninth season on BBC 1.“I was thrilled to have delivered to me a large package from the BBC containing two full studio scripts for the Jon Pertwee serial ‘The Mutants’, which they were making at the time.
“The package also contained set designs and studio floor plans for these episodes and a delightful letter from Barry Letts giving me an idea what all this stuff was.
“It was a fantastic exciting insight into both Doctor Who and television production generally. I had never seen a script in any form whatsoever before then and was immediately fascinated by the documents. And of course Barry's kindness was a trigger to my ambition to work somehow (I didn't know how) in TV. The scripts are still sitting on my bookshelf downstairs.”
In 1995, Capaldi won an Academy Award for his short film, Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life, which he wrote and directed. The film featured actor Crispin Letts.
“I knew Crispin's name was Letts but never thought any more about it until at dinner one night he revealed that his dad was a producer and had produced, among many other things Doctor Who,” Capaldi remembers. “Subsequently I was able to meet Barry and thank him personally.”
Peter Capaldi is currently directing his new film, The Great Pretender, starring Ewan Mc Gregor and to be released in 2008. Charles Norton
And don’t forget: SFX’s Doctor Who special hits the shop shelves on 19 March (next Wednesday). It has 100% all-new features, covering all eras of Doctor Who, including a countdown of the Best Companions Ever, a never-before-published interview with Barry Letts and a massive behind-the-scenes look at Millennium FX, the guys who create the monster costumes and make-up for New Who. This little feature is actually a kind of “deleted scene” which was sadly didn’t make the final cut.