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Article posted: 8/6/2013 5:13 AM

Get in the 'Doctor Who' loop

Peter Capaldi will take over as star of “Doctor Who” in December.

Peter Capaldi will take over as star of "Doctor Who" in December.


Associated Press

“Doctor Who” star Matt Smith, left, and co-star Jenna Coleman answer fan questions in July at Comic-Con International in San Diego.

"Doctor Who" star Matt Smith, left, and co-star Jenna Coleman answer fan questions in July at Comic-Con International in San Diego.


Associated Press

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Some of us, myself included, were very excited Sunday to hear that Peter Capaldi has been chosen to succeed Matt Smith later this year as the star of "Doctor Who."

But most were probably asking, "Who's Peter Capaldi?"


Sean's five favorite "Doctor Who" adventures

1. "The Eleventh Hour," Series 5 -- Matt Smith's first full episode as The Doctor is a perfect introduction to the show. The first meeting between the Time Lord and little Amelia Pond (Caitlin Blackwood), in which The Doctor orders dish after dish before settling on fish custard, is wonderfully funny. The episode also gave us composer Murray Gold's iconic musical theme, "I Am the Doctor."
2. "The Impossible Planet" / "The Satan Pit," Series 2 -- This two-parter from the David Tennant era has the scope of a sci-fi epic and small, endearing moments from The Doctor and his companion, Rose (Billie Piper). This episode lacks the pure shock value of "Blink," but has an air of foreboding that is truly unsettling.
3. "Silence in the Library" / "Forest of the Dead," Series 4 -- Speaking of unsettling, this Tennant duology makes the most of an invisible enemy and finds a way to turn mundane lines of dialogue into horrifying refrains. (How could the sentence "Hey, who turned out the lights?" be so scary?) "Silence" also marks the first appearance of River Song (Alex Kingston), a woman who seems to know an awful lot about The Doctor because -- oh. Sorry. Spoilers!
4. "A Christmas Carol," 2010 Christmas special -- The title tells you to expect a Whovian twist on the Dickens classic. What you won't expect are flying sharks, an intergalactic opera singer, Albus Dumbledore (OK, it's the actor who played him) and all those tears running down your cheeks.
5. "Vincent and the Doctor, Series 5" -- If the last one doesn't make you cry, this one certainly will. The Doctor and Amy (Karen Gillan) help a befuddled and depressed Vincent Van Gogh (Tony Curran) battle a monster in an episode that sounds ludicrous, but plays beautifully. The final scene, featuring Bill Nighy as a curator in an art museum, is sheer perfection.

Or, "Doctor whaaaaat?"

The BBC science-fiction show is coming up on its 50th anniversary and is arguably more popular than ever here in the U.S., not to mention the suburbs -- just last week I spotted shelves full of "Doctor Who" merchandise in no less than three stores at Woodfield Mall.

Nearly all of the televised adventures of the "madman with a box" are available instantly on Netflix, and episodes beginning with the 2005 revival season (or series, as they're called in Britain) can be purchased in just about every format: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, Xbox Video, Google Play, etc.

Newbies intimidated by 50 years' worth of mythology may want to begin with current star Matt Smith's debut episode, the Series 5 premiere called "The Eleventh Hour." It's fast, it's funny and it reintroduces The Doctor to the audience and to fan-favorite character Amy Pond (Karen Gillan). That's the one I started with, and I've been a Whovian ever since.

Capaldi, who will take over in this December's installment of "Doctor Who's" annual Christmas specials, previously appeared in a 2008 episode, "The Fires of Pompeii," as a different character alongside David Tennant as The Doctor.

Before The Doctor ...

The most notable role in Capaldi's past is that of Malcolm Tucker, a foul-mouthed adviser to the British prime minister, in the BBC sitcom "The Thick of It," which you can watch for free on Hulu. That show spawned a critically acclaimed film version in 2009 called "In The Loop," which is available for streaming to Hulu Plus and Netflix subscribers.

The political comedies were created by Armando Iannucci, whose acerbic wit can now be enjoyed on HBO's "Veep." If you've seen that show, then you know what to expect from "The Thick of It" and "In The Loop": Horrible people saying horrible things at a very fast pace. (Only this time, they all have British accents.)

Make no mistake: The youngest members of the "Doctor Who" fan base are not quite ready for Malcolm Tucker's parade of profanities. But if Mom and Dad want to hear new and exciting vocabulary, and see another great performance from the dearly departed James Gandolfini, "In The Loop" will delight.

More Nintendo?!?

The Nintendo nostalgia factory churns out another treat for gamers this weekend in "Mario & Luigi: Dream Team," a new action/role-playing game for the 3DS handheld console that puts you in control of both famous brothers. Your mission, as it has been since 1985, is to save Princess Peach from Bowser and his evil pals, but this time Mario does battle in the world of Luigi's dreams, where anything can happen -- including a giant, "Katamari Damacy"-inspired boulder made up of hundreds of Luigis.

The game retails for $39.99 and hits stores Sunday, Aug. 11.

• Sean Stangland is a Daily Herald copy editor, a tireless consumer of pop culture and a hopeless nerd. He writes about television and digital entertainment every Friday.

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