Five Actors Who Were Almost THE Doctor
Guest contributor Martin Backman looks at 5 actors who almost made it.
So far there have been eleven principal actors to portray the eleven Doctors on television (with the twelfth on the way), the actors who have portrayed non-canonical Doctors in audio-adventures, as well as Peter Cushing who played Doctor Who in both films from the 1960’s, and so on. The point is, there have been many actors connected to the role over 50 years, especially during the Wilderness Years of the 1990’s. But there have also been many, many actors who were considered to play the Doctor, but for one reason or other these actors didn’t get the role.
I will take a brief look at a handful of these actors because there have been so many over the years that it would become too long otherwise. I will focus on a few actors I’m very familiar with and then give my thoughts on their hypothetical casting.
My main question is this: How well would these actors have worked in the role of the Doctor?
Rowan Atkinson is one of three actors discussed here, who starred in Steven Moffat’s charity spoof “The Curse of Fatal Death” and were later on considered to play the role for real. Atkinson auditioned for the part of the Eighth Doctor in the 1996 TV-movie, which eventually went to Paul McGann. I think Atkinson is a great comedian with a great range in characterisation, as well as a very expressive “rubber face”. But I’m not so sure about how well he would have suited a recurring role as the Doctor, because he is by his nature a perfectionist who routinely requires multiple takes to get a joke just right. Comedy is an art form, which demands great attention to detail. But I feel that spontaneity is integral to playing the part of the Doctor, as the actor portraying him might need to improvise on the spot or to some degree be in character at public gatherings. But if given the amount of takes he feels that are needed, Atkinson could have given the viewers a delightfully snarky Doctor. Perhaps like a slightly less abrasive Blackadder, though beyond that I have no idea of how well he would handle the Doctor’s more serious moments. But I do have faith in the “Tom Hanks Principle”, which refers to how skilled comedians become so well adjusted to comedic timing that dramatic acting becomes easy in comparison.
Another spoof-Doctor considered for the actual role, this time as the Ninth Doctor prior to Christopher Eccleston’s casting. Grant turned down the role as he didn’t think the revived Doctor Who would be successful, a decision which he has said to have regretted. Hugh Grant is best known for his many roles as a nervous fop in romantic comedies, which caused many to dismiss him as a one-trick pony. But Grant has repeatedly played against type, such as the smarmy and despicably hilarious Daniel Cleaver in “Bridget Jones”, as well as apathetic slacker Will Freeman in “About a Boy”. But in spite of his range, Grant is just as obsessive a perfectionist as Atkinson is, which is why I’m not entirely sure about him cast as the Doctor. I have no idea how far the Ninth Doctor’s character had been planned prior to Eccleston’s casting, but I’m still trying to imagine Grant in that same role as a point of reference. I would say that Grant could very well have given an excellent performance, but his fame at the time might have been very distracting. The character could have been less the Doctor and more “Hugh Grant as the Doctor”. But since Grant has slowed down the pace of his film career over the past decade, he might be more suitable for the role now than during the height of his fame.
Richard E. Grant
I’ll admit that this one is a cheat, as Richard E. Grant has already played the Doctor in the 40th anniversary webcast “Scream of the Shalka”. From that story we get a clear hint of what his Doctor could have been like, if given a chance: Dark, moody and a great fan of show tunes. Prior to the official announcement of Doctor Who getting a revival under Russell T. Davies, Grant was for all purposes intended to have been an official Ninth Doctor to follow Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor. Having seen Grant’s Doctor in “Scream of the Shalka”, I feel that he would have been excellent in live-action as well. I believe that he could have been perfect for portraying the Doctor’s path to becoming the demonic Valeyard, but also the great love and affection the Doctor feels for humanity. To see what I’m talking about, I urge you to see the webcast, which can be found in its entirety on Youtube.
Prior to playing the Krillitane leader in “School Reunion”, Anthony Head auditioned for the part of the Eighth Doctor. Going by Head’s portrayal of Rupert Giles in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, I think he could have given us a Doctor that was both an intellectual scholar and a fatherly mentor to his companions. From his portrayal of Mr Finch/Brother Lassar we can gather that Head would also have been very good at showing the darkness within the Doctor, the ruthlessness of an angered Time Lord. If the Twelfth or Thirteenth Doctors are cast with slightly older actors, then Head and the other previously described actors could still have a chance. Sadly, the same can’t be said of the next entry.
The late Richard Griffiths was considered twice for the role of the Doctor: First as a potential successor for Tom Baker, then later on as a successor for Sylvester McCoy if the show had not gone on “hiatus” in 1989. Griffiths was a great actor, with a range and screen presence reminiscent of Peter Ustinov, both of them hefty men with top-notch comedic skills. Looking at Griffith’s career as a whole, I believe that his potential Fifth and Eighth Doctor could have been very similar to Colin Baker’s pompous and wrathful Sixth Doctor, with elements of Tom Baker’s otherworldliness and McCoy’s comedy. I picture a Doctor who would at first glance appear slightly unsympathetic and cranky, but underneath his callous exterior hide a softer side with great compassion, winning fans over fairly quickly. As seen with his occasionally vicious portrayal of Vernon Dursley in the “Harry Potter”-films, I’m sure that Griffith’s Doctor would have been able to join the other Doctors in scaring off armies of evil-doers.