Doctor Who: 5 Men Who Were Almost The Doctor
The Christmas Special looms, looms, I say, and like most Whovians I am shaking like a leaf through Doctor withdrawal. Not the least since I know that once "The Snowmen" is over I'll still be stuck waiting around for the second half of Series 7... and then all the speculation surrounding the 50th anniversary special(s). The Doctor is right, waiting for time to go at the normal speed sucks.
What's left for me to do than spend all my time trying to glean information about the past of the series in preparation for the future. One of the things I've discovered in my research is a cast of very interesting men who almost because The Doctor, but for one reason or another didn't quite step into the role won by the immortal eleven. Today we celebrate the men that passed on being the legendary Time Lord.
The Fifth Doctor Was: After Tom Baker left Doctor Who there were some very big shoes to fill. Baker was widely considered the best Doctor of all time until David Tennant showed up. Peter Davison is arguably the finest technical actor to take on the role, and he was already in high demand after a critically-acclaimed performance in All Creatures Great And Small. No other Doctor save Christopher Eccleston had his resume stepping into the role. As such, his Doctor was a more sensitive and intellectual character, and is often considered the "nice" one of the group. He was also inflicted with a severe case of melancholy after the death of companion Adric.
But It Was Almost: Richard Griffiths is a man you have seen in a dozen movies and never learned the name of. His best-known role is as the cruel, pathetically hilarious Uncle Vernon in the Harry Potter series. His work is mostly comedic and generally all over the top. Rather than the open and vulnerable Davison, Griffith would surely have been a much more bombastic presence. At least we would have been spared the emo moping over a really annoying companion.
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Still, the producers really wanted Griffith, but he was unavailable so the part went to Davison. He might have stepped into the TARDIS as the Eighth Doctor, as he was the first choice to replace Sylvester McCoy, but the series was cancelled in 1989.
The Second Doctor Was: Patrick Troughton was The First Doctor William Hartnell's personal choice as his successor. A noted character actor, Troughton brought a light-hearted, bumbling style of performance that nonetheless hid a deep cunning. Pretty much everything that Matt Smith does as the Eleventh Doctor he's copying from Patrick Troughton... well, except the awkward high school romantics. There he's apparently drawing inspiration from Anthony Michael Hall in Sixteen Candles.
But It Was Almost: If you recognize Valentine Dyall it's because he is one of the great horror actors of the 1960s. He appeared in The Haunting and Horror Hotel as well as many other roles where a man with a smooth yet sinister voice and a craggy face were needed to make people uncomfortable. Instead of the Cosmic Hobo, The Second Doctor might have been something closer to The Master, though it's worth noting that many actors would use Doctor Who to break from previous roles.
Then again, maybe not. Dyall would eventually be cast in Doctor Who as the villainous Black Guardian, who was an enemy of the Fourth and Fifth Doctors. He also had the creepiest laugh of any man on the planet. Ironically, Troughton himself would voice The Black Guardian in radio stories.
The Third Doctor Was: Jon Pertwee came into Doctor Who from comedic roles, but turned in the most action-packed and angry incarnation of The Doctor ever done. If you lined the other ten up against him in a fist fight Three wouldn't even have a mussed coat. He was bitter at his exile on Earth, knew aikido, drove custom cars, and had the exact same attitude as a man in the Bible.
But It Was Almost: Musical star Ron Moody was nominated for a Tony and an Academy Award for the role of Fagin in Lionel Bart's Oliver. At his best playing loveable if slightly shady characters, Moody made a name for himself in children's programming... but only after turning down the role of The Doctor. He later remarked to people that doing so was the worst mistake of his career, and to this day every time he hears the theme song he kicks himself.
Moody, too, did eventually get involved in the show, playing the Duke of Wellington in the radio program Other Lives.
The Eighth Doctor Was: The 1996 Doctor Who movie is, look it's not very good. Trying to cater to American audiences just didn't work, and unfortunately Paul McGann takes some of the blame needlessly. His Doctor was definitely a departure in that he was a romantic figure that for the first time in the series kissed a companion with passion. This opened the door for many of the tropes used in the modern series. He also had inarguably the coolest TARDIS control room of them all, but there was no overcoming such a horrible script.
But It Was Almost: Damn near everybody in Hollywood! Fox wanted some big names behind the TV movie/pilot, and they tried very hard to get them. Tom Hanks, a big Who fan, turned down the role feeling that an American Doctor was just wrong. Harrison Ford also said no since he didn't want to be in television. Jim Carrey, who had never seen the show, said that a non-fan stepping into something so iconic would just be insulting. Steve Martin was apparently very keen to get the part, but they ultimately didn't cast him.
Look at the Brits that were on the list! Eric Idle, Tim McInnery, Anthony Head, Tim McInnerny, Tony Slattery, and the man they eventually settled on... Tim Curry. Curry was very interested in The Doctor because he was keen to have some non-villainous roles. He worried though, and asked his friend Paul McGann for advice on how to go about it. When scheduling conflicts came up (Probably Muppet Treasure Island), Curry was out and McGann was in. So no matter what you say about McGann, he landed a role that at one time had dozens of the best names in movies and television attached.
The Seventh Doctor Was: Sylvester McCoy is a great Doctor once you get past the fact that producer John Nathan-Turner dressed him in an outfit that made Colin Baker's look suave. Once he found his foothold, though, McCoy became possibly the most cunning and manipulative of all the Doctors. In a way, he is the most alien, and though he cares for his companions he is not above using them as chess pieces. Unfortunately, the performance he brought was too late to regain the audience the show had lost in the last decade, and he was the last Doctor save McGann for 16 years.
But It Was Almost: If the only thing you know about Rowan Atkinson is Mr. Bean then I pity you for having never seen Black Adder. It's on Netflix streaming right now. Go watch it. I'll wait.
In case you didn't have time to go watch it, I'll give you the breakdown. Atkinson is a tremendous physical comedian, yes, but he's also capable of the driest, most sarcastic wit since Oscar Wilde. Not to mention capable of a tremendous darkness rivaling McCoy's own. It's a toss-up whether Atkinson would have been able to turn the tide of the clownish approach set out by Nathan-Turner as McCoy did, but if he had he probably would have gone down in the show's history the greatest Doctor of all.
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