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The Real Reason Peter Capaldi Left Doctor Who

When Peter Capaldi joined Doctor Who back in 2013, he was passionately embraced as the latest incarnation of the Time Lord. Steven Moffat, the show's former writer and executive producer, at the time called Capaldi and the Doctor an "incendiary combination." Capaldi's predecessor, The Crown and Morbius star Matt Smith told BBC News in August 2013, "The casting made me [really] excited, and as a fan, I think it's a canny choice. If I had to pick someone, I'd pick him because I think he's great."

But for as happy as the Doctor Who creative team and viewers were with the casting, the Glasgow-born Capaldi may have been even more excited for his turn in the Tardis. Capaldi had long been a fan of the series, at one point setting up a Glasgow branch of the Doctor Who fan club and writing letters the official Doctor Who magazine praising the show. In an interview with The Daily Mail in August 2014, Capaldi stated he had "been playing [the Doctor], to some extent," all his life through his other roles. Prior to landing the role as the Doctor, the actor nabbed the part of Caecilius on a 2008 episode about Pompeii. Instead of learning the art of acting from the Royal Shakespeare Company, Capaldi had taken his biggest lessons straight from the iconic science-fiction character. 

"My love for the show is very sincere, so it's an unusual story that somebody who was such a fan should end up playing this role," Capaldi told The Daily Mail at the time. "I was hoping I'd get a part in it, which I did, but I never dreamed that I'd be in this seat. I feel guilty that I'm allowed to have so much fun. It's the best gig in the world." 

The hype around Capaldi would follow him through three well-received seasons of Doctor Who, including Moffat's final series as executive producer and head writer, before he passed the torch to Jodie Whittaker, the current Doctor. Actors are rarely able to play the characters they so revere, so why did Capaldi walk away from his dream role? 

Doctor Who's demanding schedule became too much for Peter Capaldi

Throughout his more than 30-episode run as the Doctor, Capaldi became so beloved in the role that Moffatt once declared him the show's best Doctor (via PocketMags). "We could argue for the rest of our lives about who's the best Doctor — and let's be honest, we will — but for me, the best single performance in the role is settled forever," Moffat said. "You can only ask a solo of a virtuoso, so thank God and Scotland for Peter Capaldi."

Despite his mostly universal acclaim and excitement over landing the role, the actor did eventually move on to other projects, including the upcoming Suicide Squad. Capaldi first announced the news during a BBC Radio 2 interview in January 2017, ahead of the premiere of Doctor Who season 10. In an emotional goodbye, Capaldi stated that it was "the right time to move on." He elaborated, "One of the greatest privileges of being Doctor Who is to see the world at its best. From our brilliant crew and creative team working for the best broadcaster on the planet to the viewers and fans whose endless creativity, generosity and inclusiveness points to a brighter future ahead — I can't thank everyone enough. It's been cosmic."

Capaldi was expected to leave Doctor Who at some point, as a critical element of the Time Lord's story is regeneration. But the actor had also already given fans a hint that his time was coming. Chatting with The Radio Times for a June 2017 interview, Capaldi pointed to the rigorous shooting schedule as one reason he felt his time on Doctor Who was limited. "I love this show, but I've never done anything where you turn up every day for ten months," he explained. "I want to always be giving it my best, and I don't think if I stayed on, I'd be able to do that." 

Becoming complacent in his role as the Doctor was another reason for Peter Capaldi to walk away

The weight of his acclaim and legacy may have also played a part in Capaldi's decision to make the tenth season his final go as the Doctor. In a post-departure interview with Australia's Courier Mail, the Twelfth regeneration noted that playing the Doctor involved a lot more than other acting jobs. "Doctor Who is a great show and experience, but to be at the [center] of that brand is a lot of work," Capaldi said. "There's a lot more than just acting."

While it could be "a nice way to live," Capaldi told a New York Comic Con audience in October 2017 that because the work expectations were so rigorous, it eventually became too hard to maintain the level of commitment to Doctor Who that he truly wanted (via Deadline). For the Doctor Who actor and long-time fan, being unable to give his absolute best was simply unacceptable. So was the idea that he might not find playing the Doctor as creatively challenging the longer he spent in the role.

"I really never wanted to get to a place where I knew how to do this because that's not what being creative is," Capaldi told the convention crowd. "The actual amount of time we were spending on the show — I realized I was getting the hang of it. And that made me frightened."