Fans of Armando Iannucci’s The Thick Of It, which features current Doctor Peter Capaldi in a family unfriendly starring role, likely first came across Ahmed in 2010’s Four Lions, which shared a writing team. Ahmed anchors the dark comedy, managing scenes of reflective depth and empathy while not missing a beat in the improvisatory comic scenes. While the film was ultimately not everyone’s cup of tea, anyone watching it would undoubtedly think Ahmed capable of taking on a central role. (Incidentally, nothing made this millennium made the author laugh as hard as Four Lions, but I have a very dark sense of humor.)
Indeed, after a few years of mostly supporting roles and small films, Ahmed got the chance to prove his ability in a more sympathetic role and more accessible work in last year’s The Night Of. (This is not to suggest that The Night Of is a safe drama, but crime drama about a potentially wrongly arrested person is certainly more accessible than a comedy about terrorists.) Ahmed expertly portrays Nasir Khan’s adjustment to life in Riker’s Island while awaiting trial. He paradoxically gains more confidence and becomes more of a shell of himself. Ahmed shares scenes with veteran actors like John Turturro and Bill Camp, but never appears to be in a different class in terms of acting ability.
Last year also saw Ahmed debut the role of Bodhi Rook in Star Wars: Rogue One; a film that you’re probably familiar with. It does check off a specific box for this purpose, showing he can confidently technobabble and operate fictional machinery.
What would he bring:
Ahmed has shown incredible range in roles that have been critical, if not always commercial, successes and has a rising profile. He’s managed to avoid the typecasting that often befalls actors with Arabic surnames (in films, if not at airports), while still doing productions where this part of his identity is central (although The Doctor would still be Gallifreyan, not Pakistani).
Ahmed would also be the second youngest Doctor (he’s born the same year as Matt Smith, but lacking a time machine is obviously now older than Smith was as The Doctor), but not so young as to seem an overcorrection if BBC executives think Capaldi’s age may have been behind the ratings slip. He’s got a growing fanbase and his inclusion could catch the attention of critics whose darling he has become in the wake of The Night Of.
What complications are there:
Well, he was just in Star Wars and has considerable buzz after a breakout 2016. While IMDB and Wikipedia don’t show anything in production, it seems only a matter of time. Ahmed has positioned himself on the cusp of Hollywood stardom and he may be reluctant to take a role that will tie him firmly to the British Isles and limit his ability to take on projects that have big budgets and little scheduling flexibility.
An outstanding choice in terms of talent and buzz, but would he want the role?