4 Actors - And 1 Actress - Who Were Nearly Doctor Who

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Time isn’t a strict progression of cause and effect; from a non linear, non subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey-wimey… stuff. It twists and it turns, and it could have taken a lot of different paths at different points.

Like, for example, with the part of the Doctor. As with any piece of casting, there was an audition process, and a shortlist, and finally an actor was eventually cast - but what if things had gone differently? What if the final choice for the Time Lord had gone to one of the other finalists?

These are the men - and women - who nearly took on the TARDIS…

1) Brian Blessed - The Second Doctor

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Would it have worked?

In general terms, most likely yes; Brian Blessed is a decent actor, and I’m sure he would have had an interesting interpretation of the part to give. The only question, though, is would he have worked as the second Doctor? In 1966, he would have been just 30 years old, and it’s a legitimate question as to whether or not audiences would have accepted a much younger man in the role of the Doctor, particularly when they’d never seen such a transition happening before.

Would it have been better than what we got?

Probably not, no - Patrick Troughton is, quite rightfully, remembered as one of the best Doctors, and in many ways he defined a lot of the role as we know it today. Matt Smith, for example, named him as a real influence, and you can see touches of Troughton’s portrayal in all who came after him. Technically speaking, the jelly babies actually came from him, not Tom Baker! It’s difficult to say whether or not Brian Blessed would have been able to do anywhere near as good a job.

2) Richard Griffiths - The Fifth Doctor

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Would it have worked?

Absolutely - Richard Griffiths was a wonderful actor, and a huge fan of sci-fi. He was quite close to taking on the role on two separate occasions, actually; he was almost our fifth Doctor and our Eighth Doctor. Alas, though, it was not to be - scheduling conflicts prevented him from taking on the role of the fifth Doctor, and the minor issue of Doctor Who’s cancellation stopped him from portraying the Eighth incarnation. The idea certainly captured fans’ imaginations, though; the above picture of Griffiths and the Daleks comes from a 1990s issue of Doctor Who Magazine.

Would it have been better than what we got?

Another one which is hard to judge really; Peter Davison did a great job as the Doctor, and the only issues with his tenure are ones which would have plagued Richard Griffiths as well. Behind the scenes difficulties and issues with scripts, though primarily associated with the latter half of the 80s run, were beginning to emerge even during the fifth Doctor’s time. It’s undeniable though that Griffiths would have had a very different interpretation of the Doctor than Davison.

3) Rob Lowe - The Eighth Doctor

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Would it have worked?

Out of hand, I’m immediately inclined to dismiss this idea - Rob Lowe is an American, damn it, he can’t play the Doctor! That’s just not how it works! But, in all fairness, he’s a pretty amazing actor; I recently watched him in You, Me and the Apocalypse, and he was phenomenal. Certainly, he’d bring a lot to the role - he’s quite a charming actor - and he’d be by far the most attractive Doctor. (Sorry, Paul McGann and David Tennant.)

Would it have been better than what we got?

This one is actually potentially quite interesting to think about; it’s quite possible that with Rob Lowe in the role of the Doctor, the 1996 TV movie would have been more successful. He was definitely a known quantity in America, and a pretty big movie star - it’s possible that his casting would have lead to a wider audience being attracted to watch the premiere. But then, this was also during a bit of a lull in Rob Lowe’s career, and prior to his West Wing revival - and, given just how bad the plans were a sequel to the TV movie, it’s possibly this could have resulted in ruining both Doctor Who and Rob Lowe’s career. Probably for the best he didn’t take the role, in the end.

4) Hugh Grant - The Ninth Doctor

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Would it have worked?

Undeniably so - Hugh Grant is a very talented actor. I think had he been cast, the Ninth Doctor perhaps would have been a little more akin to David Tennant’s Doctor; simply by virtue of the actor cast, I think they might have leaned into the mould of a romantic hero a little more. The idea of a war survivor would still have remained, obviously, but I don’t know that we would have seen a hardened Doctor, one who pushed the audience away in the same fashion Eccleston’s Doctor did. The differences would have been subtle, yet I think noticeable too.

Would it have been better than what we got?

Arguably; I think Eccleston and Grant are of similar calibre as actors, though they obviously have different strengths. It’s likely though that Hugh Grant would have stayed with the role longer than Eccleston did, had he taken it on; he’s said since that he regretted not taking the role, given how well the show has performed. Possibly, then, he would have stayed; maybe Hugh Grant would be the long running and iconic 21st Century Doctor, rather than David Tennant.

5) Judi Dench - The Ninth Doctor

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Would it have worked?

Honestly… I don’t think so. Don’t get me wrong, here; I don’t just think a female Doctor is a good idea, I actually actively want one. Natalie Dormer would be my ideal candidate for Peter Capaldi’s replacement, were I given free reign to cast the role. But I also think, in 2005, it wasn’t the right time for a female Doctor - given the difficulties the show already faced in reinventing itself, it’s entirely possible that this would have been one difference too far.

Would it have been better than what we got?

No idea, to be honest. Certainly, it would have been extremely different; I imagine the entirety of the first season would have been changed to reflect this casting. It seems more likely that, given the disparity in ages between Judi Dench and Billie Piper, the dynamic between the Doctor and Rose would have been more in the vein of a mentor and student, rather than the romantic angle we saw in reality. And given that the Doctor/Rose relationship as we saw it was so instrumental to the success of the revival, it really is difficult to imagine where the show would be today had Judi Dench been cast. (But I’d absolutely bloody love to borrow the DVD box set from this alternate reality, just to see how wrong I am!)

What do you think of these potential candidates? Are there any you would have liked to see take on the role of the Doctor? Any who would have been better? Or would some of these people have been awful? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Related:

Celebrating Christopher Eccleston’s ‘Fantastic’ Ninth Doctor

Top Ten Moments in Tennant’s Tenth Doctor Tenure - Part One

Top Ten Moments in Tennant’s Tenth Doctor Tenure - Part Two

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