I moved to the north London suburb of Crouch End in 1996, and on my very first walk around the Clock Tower (yes, the most famous feature of the new Doctor Who’s home town is a bloody great clock tower), the day after I moved in, I happened to see Peter Capaldi, sipping a coffee by himself at one of Crouch End’s ubiquitous-even-in-1996 coffee shops. I knew him primarily from Ken Russell’s daft-as-a-brush The Lair of the White Worm (1988), for which I’d always had a soft spot; as the writer and star of little-known British road movie Soft Top, Hard Shoulder (1993) – and, most recently, as writer and director of the Oscar-winning short film Franz Kafka’s It’s A Wonderful Life – the entirety of which was as ingenious as the title.
Although obviously impressed by his Oscar-winning short, I was more excited by the fact that, in writing Soft Top, Hard Shoulder, Mr. Capaldi seemed to have achieved the impossible: devising a road movie set in a country where the longest road is only a few hundred miles in length. I had recently completed my own first feature script, which also happened to be a road movie set between London and Scotland – written so long ago, now, that I can’t recall the title. Suffice to say that my younger self thought it an excellent idea to pop home, grab said script, and deliver it to Mr. Capaldi’s table – with a business card and a few words of apologetic bluster, along the lines of “I’ve never done this sort of thing before.” Mr. Capaldi graciously, even enthusiastically accepted the script, promising to give it a read.
Now, an older, wiser me realises that, in most cases, the story would end there – but Mr. Capaldi is much too classy to say he’ll read your script if he doesn’t plan to. Sure enough, a day or two later, he phoned me to ask if I’d like to meet up to chat about the script. And so we did: and the insight he provided about the story, the characters, the geography, the writing and the business side of filmmaking was effectively the first – and only – film school I ever attended.
Thanks to his simple, honest and gracious encouragement of someone whose work was as raw and under-developed as a newborn baby – and about as welcome in a cinema – this fledgling screenwriter persevered with screenwriting, landing my first feature commission three years later. Having since written a dozen feature scripts, on spec or under commission, with one feature in post-production and another couple in prep, I am thrilled that Peter Capaldi has been chosen as the next Doctor Who.
I can tell you from first hand experience, it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.