The Many Afterlives of Doctor Who
Colin Baker may be rocking it up in the jungle, but 11 men have played the Doctor – one less than have set foot on the Moon – and they can’t all have reached such heights in their post-TARDIS career. Theirs are stories of success, frustration and modest recognition in provincial theatres.
1. William Hartnell (1963-66)
Hartnell’s post-Doctor Who career was short-lived. A few guest appearances and panto roles aside, the same ill health that had forced him out of the series prevented him taking on any further work. He returned to Doctor Who for the tenth anniversary special in 1973, but it was to be his final acting role: he died in 1975.
2. Patrick Troughton (1966-69)
Troughton picked up more or less where he left off with guest roles in everything going, though his most famous post-Doctor role was as Father Brennan in the 1976 version of The Omen. His disdain for worthier roles and love of the populist has led to his considerable acting talent being overlooked by perpetuity. He did, however, found one of Britain’s great acting dynasties, with members including Robin Hood’s Sam Troughton and Harry Potter actor Harry Melling. Another grandson, Jim Troughton, is an England cricketer, but they probably don’t talk about him much.
3. Jon Pertwee (1970-74)
On top of Doctor Who, appearances in a series of Green Cross Code ads and as the voice of Spotty in SuperTed did much to solidify Jon Pertwee in the childhood memories of a certain generation. Though he would return to the TARDIS at regular intervals, his favourite role was that of scarecrow Worzel Gummidge in the TV adaptation of Barbara Euphan Todd’s books. When he died in 1996, his will requested that an effigy of Gummidge be fixed to his coffin.
4. Tom Baker (1974-81)
Baker found it difficult to get work after six solid years aboard the TARDIS. Tellingly, one of his first parts after leaving the show was as Sherlock Holmes in an adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles: hardly a stretch for a former Doctor. He’s continued to trade off his bombastic media persona – akin to that of a mad schoolmaster – and has cropped up as Vic Reeves’s ghostly mentor in Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased), the unhinged narrator of Little Britain and made a couple of memorable appearances on Have I Got News for You.
5. Peter Davison (1981-84)
Davison’s role in At Home with the Braithwaites was the first in a series which have helped him shrug off the weight of being “that guy that used to be Doctor Who”. He’s doing a nice line in mainstream guest roles these days and has starred in award-winning West End musicals Spamalot and Legally Blonde. Current Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat is a big fan, saying Davison has “played more above-the-title lead roles on the telly than the rest of the Doctors put together because — get this! — he’s the best actor”.
6. Colin Baker (1984-86)
Colin Baker’s TV and film appearances have been more sporadic than many of the other Doctors’, but with most actors spending the majority of their time unemployed, so constant a cavalcade of credits as his is still a sign of a highly successful career. He’s almost always off touring with some theatrical production or other and seems well entrenched in the old thesp community. He was also the first ever murder victim in Jonathan Creek, and that counts for a lot in my book.
7. Sylvester McCoy (1987-89, 1996)
Time was, Sylvester McCoy’s name served as punchline: a shorthand for the perceived decline in the show’s quality towards the end of its original run. Right now, however, he’s down under, filming his role as Radagast the Brown in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy. He’s danced on the edges of Hollywood for a while: he was the second choice to play Bilbo in The Lord of the Rings and was to have played Governor Swann when Spielberg was trying to get Pirates of the Caribbean made back in the early 1990s.
8. Paul McGann (1996)
McGann is the actor for whom the role of the Doctor has had the least effect on his career. Indeed, he admitted that for a time he didn’t even bother to include it on his CV. In the years since his single TV outing he’s cropped up in Sea of Souls, Luther and Waking the Dead: usually as slightly removed, slightly intense, but underneath-it-all-decent blokes. Most recently he was onstage with Dominic West in a production of Butley at the Duchess Theatre. Darling, they were marvellous.
9. Christopher Eccleston (2005)
Eccleston’s departure had the whiff of acrimony, though he’s keeping schtum about the details. Since (and perhaps because of) then he’s shied away from leading roles in ongoing series, but has turned up in family-friendly fare like The Seeker, The Borrowers and GI Joe. He’ll also be playing the villain in next year’s Thor sequel: because lots of franchises have a North.
10. David Tennant (2005-2010)
By the time Tennant left the role in early 2010, he was one of the biggest stars on British TV. That he went straight on to star in the RSC’s production of Hamlet shows that the role of the Doctor doesn’t carry the stigma it once did. True, the US career may have stuttered, but he’s still commanding top billing in notable projects and has a new film out this week. He’s also royally buggered up the timeline by marrying Peter Davison’s daughter.
11. Matt Smith (2010- )
Speculation abounds as Smith finishes filming his third series of Doctor Who. Three years has been the guideline for many a Doctor past and next year’s fiftieth anniversary would seem a natural point for him to pass the baton on. He’s spoken of Patrick Troughton as an influence in his portrayal of the Doctor and the similarities are clear to see. It may just be that tastes have matured enough for his talents to be recognised as Troughton’s were not.