Although Peter Capaldi was only the Doctor onscreen very briefly at the end of “The Time of the Doctor,” he established that not only does the 12th Doctor have a new face, he has a new way of speaking — in a Scottish accent!
The Doctor was previously played by two other Scottish actors — Sylvester McCoy portrayed the Seventh Doctor and David Tennant the 10th — but they were not allowed to use their native accents onscreen. McCoy managed to sneak in the occasional rolling Rrrrrr and some other small flourishes, but he wasn’t speaking like Jamie McCrimmon for his entire tenure. Mostly, McCoy was speaking standard English.
But now along comes respected actor and Scotsman Capaldi and his Scots accent, and show-runner Steven Moffat has decided to let Peter be Peter.
A BBC spokesperson told The Mirror newspaper:
“The decision for Peter Capaldi to have a Scottish accent as the Doctor was a creative decision and it was not part of his contract.”
As I understand it — and please, any readers in the UK, feel free to chime in and correct me — what we in the USA and other non-UK countries think of as “a British accent” is called “received pronunciation,” and is a sort of “official” way of speaking on TV and stage. Actors are taught to sound that way. Thus, everyone speaking in a “British accent” appears to sound the same. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary explains RP as “the standard accent of English as spoken in the south of England.”
When Russell T Davies revived the series in 2005, he allowed Christopher Eccleston to speak with his native Northern, or Manchester, accent. Depending on the source of the story, this was either a big deal in the UK, or no big thing. Because class is very much an issue in Britain, the Northern accent is perceived as “working class” and thus “lower” than the RP standard. Davies even felt the need to address the Doctor’s sudden deviation from the Queen’s English with the famous line, “Lots of planets have a North.”
Then, with Scotsman Tennant coming aboard the TARDIS, Davies was faced with another Doctor who would not sound like he just stepped off a stage in London. He decided not to do it. The story I heard (and it sounds perfectly reasonable) is that Davies didn’t want two Doctors in a row speaking in something other than RP. It’s as simple as that; no bias against Scotland or the Scots, just something that seemed like a practical issue to Davies.
Apparently, there is/was concern in regards to Capaldi that American fans would be confused or unable to follow a thick Scottish accent. I guess it’s a compliment to the burgeoning influence of American Whovians that this concern was even raised — if, in fact, it ever really was.
As an American myself, I must say that I like the sound of the Scottish accent and had no problem understanding Karen Gillan’s Amy for many years— in fact, the way she talked made her seem even sexier, if that’s possible. (I believe Karen spoke what’s called Standard Scottish English.) The only problem I would have is if the Doctor spoke it very quickly. But that’s not limited to Scottish English — the rapid-fire patter of both the 10th and 11th Doctors sometimes left me in the dust and I’d have to back up and rewatch the scene in order to suss out what the Doctor just said.
I was delighted to hear Capaldi speak, and I don’t think there will be any problem with American fans over the 12th Doctor’s patois at all. It may take a little getting used to, but he is the Doctor — whether Americans like it or not!