❉ As Capaldi prepares to exit the TARDIS, spare a thought for the Doctors that could have been.
During its five decades, twelve actors have come to be known as Doctor Who – and we wouldn’t have it any other way (OK, give or take one or two – tops). However, with the exception of Doctors Six and Ten, not all of the actors cast were the first actors to be offered the role. Adjust your head canon, as We Are Cult looks back on the Doctors who could have been…
First Doctor: Geoffrey Bayldon
It’s puzzling that, when John Nathan-Turner was casting around for someone to fill William Hartnell’s shoes in celebratory beano, The Five Doctors, he chose Richard Hurndall as his less-than-uncanny likeness, when a pitch-perfect Hartnell manque was all too lively: Geoffrey Bayldon – who at least shared a resemblance – had been channelling variations on the First Doctor’s cantankerous, wizardy persona for over a decade in Catweazel, Worzel Gummidge and Look & Read mini-drama Sky Hunter!
When Big Finish cast Bayldon as an alternative First Doctor who never left Gallifrey (as part of its ‘Unbound’ range in 2003), Geoff casually revealed that he had been offered the role back in 1963.
Other actors considered for the role back then included Leslie French, who later appeared briefly in Silver Nemesis, and Hugh David, who went on to direct Troughton serials The Highlanders and Fury From The Deep.
Second Doctor: Michael Hordern
Hordern, whose rich, oaky voice memorably graced Paddington Bear, Cosgrove-Hall’s Wind In The Willows, BBC Radio’s Jeeves & Wooster, and sob-fest Watership Down, was one of a handful of actors approached to replace Hartnell as the Doctor. Hordern’s tweedy, avuncular charm certainly feels very Doctorish, but light years away from Patrick Troughton’s scruffy, rabble-rousing, classless beatnik persona that makes the Second Doctor’s era more anti-establishment than that of his patrician predecessor.
Other actors offered the role at the time included radio’s “the man in black”, Valentine Dyall, who would have been even more bat-shit terrifying than Hartnell ever was.
Third Doctor: Ron Moody
Moody was top of outgoing producer Derrick Sherwin’s list of candidates for the first Doctor to appear in 625-line colour. Moody declined the offer, riding high from the award-winning Oliver! but he later conceded that he regretted the decision.
Given that Pertwee defined the Third Doctor so much, bringing to the part his love of action, gadgets, gurning, comedy voices and “moments of charm,” it’s a tantalising ‘what if’ to think how a different actor could have turned him into a completely different beast. We’re pretty sure Moody would have been spell-binding, given how his gravitas as Rothko elevated Into The Labyrinth from complete tat.
Check out Ron Mooody’s turn as Hawk in Flight Of The Doves, alternately funny and scary and man of many faces, for a slight taster of what might have been.
Fourth Doctor: Graham Crowden
The stakes were even higher when Jon Pertwee hung up his velvet jacket for the last time in 1974 after carrying the show through a consistently popular period, and Barry Letts looked far and wide for suitable actors to carry the baton. Carry On man candy Jim Dale was one such choice, seven years before we eventually got a youthful Doctor, while comedians Richard Hearne and Michael Bentine were also in the running. Hearne could have taken the show into a cul-de-sac of tiresome comedy slapstick, while Bentine wanted complete creative control – unimaginable for a show with Doctor Who’s hectic schedule.
On the outside edge was Graham Crowden, at the time mainly known as part of Lindsay Anderson’s repertory company and who wouldn’t have been a million miles away from Letts’ eventual choice – both Crowden and Tom Baker have a great line in dangerous unpredictability. Somewhere in a parallel universe, is a version of The Horns Of Nimon with Tom Baker chewing the scenery as Soldeed and calling Lalla Ward a meddlesome hussy…
Fifth Doctor: Richard Griffiths
Griffiths, best known to most as that terrible cunt Uncle Monty and muggle Vernon Dudsley, was originally approached to play the Fifth Doctor by John Nathan-Turner. It’s an intriguing bit of casting from a modern perspective, where a conventionally unattractive middle-aged Doctor is unlikely to happen, let alone one of Griffiths’ monumental girth. One can get a brief inkling of how Griffiths would have fared from his time as the chef turned sleuth in 1990s BBC TV series Pie In The Sky, like the Doctor righting wrongs as an occupational hazard rather than an appointed role. Now I’m imagining his TV spouse Maggie Steed as his companion – I’d watch that!
Sixth Doctor: ?
You’ll have to use your imagination for this one, as Colin Baker was John Nathan-Turner’s only choice for Doctor, his audition taking the form of a wedding reception the producer happened to attend, as detailed in Trials and Tribulations, Ed Stradling’s ace documentary of the messiest period in Doctor Who’s history. Of course, if Nathan-Turner had bothered to audition someone, as opposed to hiring a bloke because they were a bit funny at a party, Who’s telly life in the late 1980s would have been very different.
Seventh Doctor: Ken Campbell
For the third time in six years, JNT found himself casting a new Doctor. Sylvester McCoy got the gig, but an early contender was avant-guard theatre misfit Ken Campbell, who actually discovered McCoy when he became part of Ken Campbell’s Roadshow in the 1970s. Campbell, who died in 2008, is best known as self-styled wit Roger in the Fawlty Towers episode, The Anniversary. Andrew Cartmel considered Campbell’s audition performance “too dark,” perhaps vindicated as his 1988 CITV series, Erasmus Microman, was canned after one series after sample audiences found Campbell’s title character disturbing.
Eighth Doctor: Liam Cunningham
Pretty much every English actor desperate for a career reboot auditioned for the 1996 Universal TV movie, from Anthony Head, Robert Lindsay and John Sessions to dimly remembered ’80s TV stars Paul Bown (Watching) and Rob Heyland (One By One). We Are Cult has gone for relative outsider, Liam Cunningham, as our Almost Doctor #8, a vastly underrated Irish actor who later came to prominence alongside Chris Eccleston in Jude and as Davos Seaworth in Game of Thrones. Might have given writers of BBC Books’ Eighth Doctor adventures something more to get their teeth into than McGann’s wet-nosed puppy.
Ninth Doctor: Hugh Grant
Given how the rumour mill went into overdrive with the announcement of the new series in 2004, it’s hard to – as David Bowie once sang – “tell the bullshit from the lies” with Digital Spy and The Sun touting Bill Nighy, Alan Davies and Eddie Izzard. There’s little doubt that RTD had always gambled on Eccleston stepping up, but Hugh Grant later confessed he’d been offered the role and regretted turning it down after seeing how the show took off. Ecclescake was fantastic, of course, but it could have been interesting given that the real, prostitute-bothering, News International-baiting, Grant is clearly a more complex character than his foppish, floppy-haired screen persona. Grant briefly essayed the role of the Doc in Steven Moffat’s love letter to Who, The Curse Of Fatal Death, along with perennial tabloid favourite Doctor Joanna Lumley.
Tenth Doctor: ?
As with Big Col’s casting in 1984, there was only one man standing. As if Tennant’s virtual audition on RTD/Gardner production Casanova and his voicing new series curtain raiser, A Celebration, wasn’t enough of a fucking big clue for the arch-predicting golems haunting GallifreyBase. You can’t help thinking they should have cast Richard Griffiths anyway, just to spare the world from endless squeeing and slash fiction on Gallifrey Base, tumblr and LiveJournal.
Eleventh Doctor: Paterson Joseph
Pint-sized Scots powerhouse, Robert Carlyle, was rumoured to be in line for Doc 11, something he’s strenuously denied ever since, although he could have been saving face if it’s true he skipped the trip of a lifetime for the flop Stargate: Universe. RTD speculated that Russell ‘Pob’ Tovey and Harry Lloyd showed promise as potential Doctors, while The Sun quoted Benedict Cumberbatch as saying he “didn’t want to be on school lunchboxes.” One inescapable rumour was that Paterson Joseph – that’s Johnson from Peep Show to you – was in the frame. Joseph coyly admitted that there was “some truth” in the rumour. A black Doctor? To quote Robin Hood: Men In Tights, “Why not? It worked in Blazing Saddles.”
Twelfth Doctor: Ben Daniels
Actor Ben Daniels (Rogue One) revealed to Digital Spy that he was under consideration to play the 12th Doctor. He told the site: “It was more than rumour. I was approached and asked if it was something I’d be interested in doing… I was one of the names on one of their many lists they had as a possible replacement.”
So, who’s next? Well, as one of the O-Men once said to the presenter of Corners, “Time will tell – it always does…”
❉ For creative visualisations of Almost Doctors, check out Colin Brockhurst’s Changing The Face of Doctor Who?
❉ Stuart Humphryes aka BabelColour’s ‘The Almost Doctors’ will be using clever editing and FX to transplant actors who turned down the role of the Doctor into contemporary episodes.
❉ An earlier version of this article appeared on The Fan Can.