Doctor Who, the long running science fiction series from the BBC has had many actors play the part of the renegade Time Lord, known as the Doctor. Ask most fans, and they can tell you there have been 13 actors to play the role. And they would be right, for the most part.
What does that mean? It means, yes there have been 12 lead actors in the series over its 50+ year history, and John Hurt played a never before seen incarnation, for the series’ 50th Anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor. But there have been other actors who have played the part, on TV, on actual episodes of Doctor Who, not to mention in other media. Who are they you ask? Well that’s what we are hear to tell you about, so pull up a chair, and get comfortable.
Are you ready? Good. Let’s begin.
The Classic Series
During the show’s original 26 seasons (1963-1989) run on the BBC, there were seven Doctors. William Hartnell was the first, the original Doctor (1963-66), and he was followed by Patrick Troughton (66-69), Jon Pertwee (70-74), Tom Baker (74-81), Peter Davison (81-84), Colin Baker (84-86) and Sylvester McCoy (87-89). Of course over the years, there were countless stuntmen, and stand ins for the Doctor, especially in the early days of the show, when William Hartnell was not up to the strain of playing the part, but there were three other actors who played the Doctor on screen.When the show celebrated it’s 10th anniversary in 1973, the two previous incarnations of the Doctor were brought back to help then current Doctor number 3 save the day. At the time of the filming Hartnell was already in ailing health, and he passed away in 1975, with the Three Doctors being the last thing he worked on.
When the decision was made to celebrate the 20th anniversary with a feature-lengthed story called The Five Doctors, Richard Hurndall was cast to replace Hartnell as the First Doctor. “I found ‘The Five Doctors’ very difficult and was glad that I knew the other Doctors. I’d first worked with Patrick Troughton in ‘Someone at the Door’, a 1949 TV comedy/thriller, and with Jon Pertwee in ‘The Final Chapter’, a comedy quiz game in 1974.” His casting was with the approval of Heather Hartnell, the orignial actor’s widow. “I remembered his approach to the role very well, but decided it would be stupid to try and mimic him so I hoped I split the difference between his performance – his personality and mine, just adding a few of his more familiar mannerisms.”
In a coincidence, the Doctor was also one Hurdnall’s final roles. He passed away a few months after the special aired.Though he never said a word, at least not on screen, Adrian Gibbs, played an important role, that of the Watcher, a mysterious figure who turns up and follows the Fourth Doctor, as he crossed paths with the Master one last time, before falling to his end, in 1981’s Logopolis.
The Watcher is first seen from afar, and over the course of the serial follows the Doctor, from Earth, to Logopolis, even in the TARDIS itself. Always growing closer, until revealed, in the final moments to have been the Doctor, all along, projected back to help bring the Fourth Doctor to his date with destiny and the Pharos Project’s radio telescope tower, to save the universe from the Master’s plan, at the cost of his own life. The moment was the prepared for, as the Watcher comes to the Doctor, in the nick of time, triggering his regeneration, and starting the Fifth Doctor’s era,
Gibbs had appeared on the show once before, in the first episode of Full Circle, the story that introduced Adric to the series. He played Rysik, a young Alzarian. He also was an extra in Black Orchid, which was Matthew Waterhouse’s penultimate story as Adric, before the character’s demise in Earthshock
Michael Jayston was introduced as the Valeyard, a Gallifreyan prosecutor who seemed to be particular antagonistic towards Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor in the season long serial Trial of a Time Lord in 1986.It is not until the end of the third act, that it the true identity of the Valeyard is revealed, by the Master, of all people.
“The Valeyard, or as I have always known him, the Doctor to adjust the evidence, in return forwhich he was promised the remainder of the Doctor’s regenerations.”
This news is a shock to all in the courtroom, especially the Doctor. The Master explained further.
“There is some evil in all of us Doctor, even you. The Valeyard is an amalgamation of the darker sides of your nature, somewhere between your 12th and final incarnation.”
An evil Doctor? The thought of it sends shivers down my spine. Imagine the Doctor’s fierce determination, and mental acuity unfettered from a desire to do what is right? No wonder the Master interfered. If a good Doctor routinely defeated him, an evil Doctor would utterly destroy him.
The Valeyard wouldn’t be seen again in the series, but has popped up a couple of times in the Big Finish audio series based on the classic Doctor Who, still played by Jayston, as well as several novels in the BBC’s range of Doctor Who fiction.
Michael Jayston will return to the role in Big Finish’s upcoming The Sixth Doctor: The Last Adventure set in September of 2015.
The Doctor Who movies are not a secret, many fans know of them, but not as many have actually seen them, and it can be confusing for fans who try to reconcile Peter Cushing’s Doctor with those of Doctor Who TV series. The best way to do it is not to. They don’t try to follow any of the series established canon, as it regards to the Doctor. Rather they make the story out that he is a human named Doctor Who, and he invented the TARDIS, and takes his granddaughters, Susan, who appears to be about 10, and Barbara (who is a teen) along Barbara’s boyfriend, Ian, on an adventure to the planet Skaro, where they meet the Daleks.
After that it is pretty much a re-telling of the first serial to feature the Daleks that aired in 1963. That said, it is a lot of fun, and don’t the Daleks look pretty spiffy with all those colors!
In 1999, The Curse of Fatal Death, a four part homage to the classic series was produced. Sure some folks call it a parody, and it aired as part of that year’s Red Nose Day Comic Relief. But it feels more like the classic series than either the 1996 McGann telefilm, or the ‘Dimensions in Time’ special that featured many of the shows original cast, as part of the Children in Need special in 1993 and served as the series 30th anniversary special.
If you have never seen this special, do yourself the favor, and watch it now. Right now. We’ve made it easy for you, as it’s embedded below.
Written by future show runner Steven Moffat, it was clearly a humorous take, but as far as Moffat and its star, Rowan Atkinson were concerned, it was a proper continuation of the series. Rowan Atkinson, and the other four actors who played the Doctor in the special are far more well known than most of the other actors on this list to American audiences, and really need no introduction. Of course, Richard E Grant (The Quite Handsome Doctor) also went on to play a version of the Ninth Doctor in the an animated Scream of the Shalka in 2003, and then played the role of Doctor Simeon/The Great Intelligence in the 2012 Christmas Special, The Snowmen and again in The Bells of Saint John and The Name of the Doctor. The three other actors, Jim Broadbent(The Rather Shy Doctor), Hugh Grant (The Very Handsome Doctor, and Joanna Lumley (The Female Doctor). Oddly enough Broadbent played the Doctor once before in a comedy spoof in 1987, and Hugh Grant had been offered the role in 2004, which passed on, thinking the show would not succeed (a decision he has since gone on to say he regrets).
Is it canon? Of course not, but for one night in 1999 Doctor Who returned to TV, and it was, dare I say, fantastic.
The time between the 8th Doctor and 9th Doctor’s debuts have been called the lost years, when it seemed that Doctor Who would be relegated to the memories of aging fans, with the only new material being in written form, either comic serials appearing in Doctor Who Magazine, and a series of paperbacks, first from Virgin, then the BBC called the New Adventures (along with a companion series featuring past Doctors called Missing Adventures.) But it’s not the same. In 2002, the BBC, perhaps inspired by the successes of Big Finish who had for two years created new Doctor Who audio drama decide to produce new Doctor Who on their own, not for TV, but for the web, and their newly rebranded BBCi site. They produced three audios, Death Comes to Time, featuring the 7th Doctor and Ace, ollowed by Real Time, featuring the Sixth Doctor, and his audio companion Evelyn Smythe (Maggie Stables) and a remount of the lost TV serial Shada, rewritten to feature 8th Doctor Paul McGann along side former companions Romana (Lalla Ward) and K-9 (John Leeson) both produced for the BBC by Big Finish adding limited animation by Doctor Who comic artist Lee Sullivan.
The decision was made in 2003 to create original material featuring a new Doctor, and as part of the series 40th Anniversary, it was announced a new Doctor Who animated Web series would be produced, and the new 9th Doctor would be played by Richard E. Grant. This series, unlike the 3 previous web outings would feature full Flash animation, produced by Cosgrove Hall, the company responsible for Danger Mouse.
The story, featuring the Doctor, stopping an invasion of Earth, featured many classic Who trappings, including UNIT, and the Master (voiced, prophetically by Sir Derek Jacobi) and featured Sophie Okonedo as new companion Alison Cheney. Okonedo went on to appear in the current Who series, as Liz 10, Queen of England in the far future. The series also featured David Tennant, in a small role.
The web series, announced in July, was intended to be a new ongoing series, because at the time, Doctor Who was being shopped around for a possible film, and there were no plans to bring it back to TV. Well things changed, and changed fast, as the new Doctor Who series was announced in September of 2003, and that quickly ended the adventures of this 9th Doctor.
The Audio Adventures
Doctor Who has a history of audio productions. Going back to 1976, when Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen starred in Doctor Who and the Pescatons. The 6th Doctor (Colin Baker) and Peri (Nicola Bryant) were featured in 1985’s Slipback on BBC4 Radio, while the show was on its infamous 18th month hiatus. In the 90s, the BBC produced two audios featuring the Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee, The Paradise of Death and The Ghosts of N-Space and then in 1999 Big Finish began to produce their ongoing series of Doctor Who full cast audios. While Big Finish has produced audios featuring all 5 of the surviving classic Doctors, they also have produced a series of “What If…” called Doctor Who Unbound where different actors have been cast as the Doctor, including Derek Jacobi and David Warner, along with Geoffrey Bayldon, David Collings, Nick Briggs, and Arabella Wier. Famed impressionist and Doctor Who Dead Ringer Jon Culshaw even once lent his Tom Baker impression to Big Finish for an appearance in the 5th Doctor audio, The Kingmaker.
Doctor Who has had two different plays produced over the years, the first in 1974, Doctor Who and the Daleks and the Seven Keys to Doomsday and starred Trevor Martin as the newly regenerated 4th Doctor (this production happened shortly before the start of the series 12 season, Tom Baker’s first as the Doctor.) The show only ran for 4 weeks (as planned). It was written by popular Doctor Who scribe Terrance Dicks, who would go on to reuse many plot elements in later Who episodes, most notably The Brain of Morbius.
In 1989 a second Doctor Who stage play, The Ultimate Adventure was produced. Unlike its predecessor, it actually starred a TV Doctor when it opened, Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee, who played the part for 8 weeks, before Colin Baker took over the role for the remainder of the run. Except for one day, April 29, when Pertwee was to sick to go on, David Banks, who was playing the role of Karl in the show, and had played the Cyberleader in the four appearances the Cybermen made between 1982 and 1990 on TV, stepped in and play the Doctor for 2 performances.
Was it a long run? No, but David Banks can count himself among the few who have professionally stepped into the role of the Doctor over the show’s 50+ history, even if only a handful of people saw him.
So now you know, there have been way more than 13 Doctors.