Peter Capaldi has landed in New York, the fifth stop in a worldwide tour promoting the new season of "Doctor Who." Earlier stops have included the United Kingdom, South Korea and Australia. After the Big Apple stop, he and co-star Jenna Coleman head to Mexico and Brazil.

For Capaldi, who made his debut as the 12th incarnation of the time-traveling, shape-shifting Doctor on Aug. 23, all the globe-trotting may be useful for getting into character. But, he says, "the TARDIS" -- the doctor's famous blue police phone booth-cum-spaceship -- "is a much more efficient vehicle for traveling."

In Britain, "Doctor Who" has been a part of pop culture ever since its premiere on Nov. 23, 1963. Stateside, the sci-fi series has long been a cult favorite. But since the dormant franchise was revived in 2005, "Doctor Who" gradually has edged its way into the American mainstream, its popularity driven by the charismatic performances of David Tennant and Matt Smith as the 10th and 11th doctors, and by the inventive writing of show runners Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat. Its availability on Netflix hasn't hurt either.

Last November, the 50th anniversary special "The Day of the Doctor" drew an audience of 2.4 million, a record for the cable network BBC America. Globally, the show reaches more than 30 million viewers in 75 countries. Anticipation surrounding the new season was so intense that, when footage and scripts were accidentally leaked online last month, the BBC issued a public plea for fans to keep spoilers to themselves.


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Capaldi says, "One of the nice things about 'Doctor Who' -- and I know from being a fan myself -- is even if a lot of people don't like me, some people will love me." The 56-year-old Scot is dressed stylishly in a slim-cut blue suit and wing-tip Doc Martens.

Unlike Smith, who was a relative unknown before "Doctor Who," Capaldi is already a beloved and highly recognizable star in the U.K., thanks to his portrayal of Malcolm Tucker, the prime minister's ruthless and blisteringly profane enforcer in Armando Iannucci's political satire "The Thick of It." (He reprised that role in the film adaptation "In the Loop.")

The actor closely followed all the casting speculation in the press. He says he was "slightly peeved that no one was mentioning me at all," when his agent called to ask how he'd feel about being the new doctor. After reading for Moffat -- he was the only actor to do so -- Capaldi got the part, despite what he describes as a "truly awful" audition.

Capaldi grew up admiring Vincent Price and Peter Cushing, stars of the horror and sci-fi films he loved, rather than Shakespearean types like Richard Burton or Laurence Olivier. So he says playing the doctor is "part of my DNA."

Though he had to keep the secret to himself for six weeks, Capaldi quietly found ways to celebrate. He'd often visit Forbidden Planet, a comic book and sci-fi emporium in London. "I'd wander in there and stand sort of close to people, thinking, 'They don't know that Doctor Who's standing next to them, and if they did know, they'd be very excited.' I hope that maybe they'll read this, and in their memory they'll go, 'There was a strange guy standing next to me. ...'

"Toward the end, it became a bit difficult because you're actually just lying to people," says Capaldi, who dodged other job offers by making vague references to nonexistent sitcoms.

Though he is not the first Scottish actor to portray the doctor, Capaldi is the first to speak in his native accent, a decision he made out of a desire to "remove excess baggage" from the part.

The actor promises that the new season, which finds the doctor and his companion Clara (Coleman) landing in Victorian London, is "scarier and darker" than it's been in a few years.