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Actors you forgot already played the Doctor on ‘Doctor Who’

It's a Doctor Who's Who.

Rowan Atkinson as the Ninth Doctor in "The Curse of Fatal Death"
Image via BBC

Even before the Timeless Child kicked the confusion into overdrive, it was never easy to keep track of who had and hadn’t had their turn playing the main character in Doctor Who. Putting aside the dozen-plus performers who’ve wibblied their wobblies all over the role of the mainstream Doctor, countless other names have been attached to the Time Lord through the years. It’s a mess that happened for an avalanche of reasons: Poor planning. Unaddressed story teases. Expanded universe hijinks. Decades’ worth of gin-soaked writers’ rooms exercising the attitude that the show’s canon was a problem for the next generation of storytellers, and it serves them right for wanting to get into the business in the first place, the chumps. That last one did a lot of the heavy lifting.

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The point is, you’d be forgiven for Mandela Effecting some of the actors who’ve played the Doctor into the back of your mind. Sure, it feels instinctively right that Peter Cushing stood at a TARDIS console at some point, but he didn’t… did he?

He did. Everyone did. There are hundreds of episodes of Doctor Who, and only about 30 actors in Great Britain. Here’s a list of the ones you might have missed.

Mark Gatiss – The Web of Caves

In 1999, the BBC British broadcasted a celebration of Doctor Who featuring a trio of sketches, starring and written by Mark Gatiss and David Walliams. One imagined the process of pitching the original concept for the show in 1963, one saw the duo as a pair of diehard fans who had kidnapped Peter Davison, and one served as a tongue-in-cheek send-up of the series in general, with Gatiss portraying an unnamed iteration of the Doctor. 

As goofy as it is, the sketch, titled “The Web of Caves,” wound up accidentally capturing a lot of the same vibes that the actual show would latch onto when it returned in 2005. It didn’t hurt that Gatiss would go on to write or co-write nine episodes of Doctor Who and frequently partner with Stephen Moffatt, the showrunner for seasons five through 10. He also went on to play four different characters on the show, and portrayed both the Doctor and the Master in the Big Finish audio dramas.

Basically every other British actor – The Curse of Fatal Death

Just a heads up for anyone still sensitive to this sort of thing: Stephen Moffatt is responsible for a lot of what follows.

It was the turn of the 21st century. Following a TV movie revival that saw Eric Roberts as the Master and Sylvester McCoy suffering that most British of demises – death by TEC-9 – the Doctor Who franchise was sitting in the corner, thinking about what it had done.

While it waited, future showrunner Stephen Moffatt twiddled his thumbs and put together a sketch for the biannual charity telethon Red Nose Day. Titled “The Curse of Fatal Death,” it was equal parts loving pastiche and needling mockery of Doctor Who, and starred a Love Actually’s worth of British performers. 

The sketch begins with Rowan Atkinson as the Doctor. After being killed by a stray Dalek blast, he regenerates into occasional Loki and “lick-the-mirror handsome” Richard E. Grant, much to the delight of his companion. That body only lasts for about a minute before being fried, resulting in a new Doctor played by Jim Broadbent, who’s very nervous around girls. Then that Doctor regenerates again, this time into Hugh Grant, then again into Joanna Lumley. The whole thing takes about 20 minutes, is available to watch on YouTube, and will change the way you think of the word “bumps.”

Peter Cushing – Dr. Who and the Daleks

Just shy of two years after the premiere of the first ever episode of Doctor Who, the powers that be decided that it was time to make some movie money. The result is hard to define, but you know how these days, there are always at least three unrelated big-budget Batman projects in development and none of them have anything to do with each other? This is like that, but cheaper, weirder, and worse.

1965’s Dr. Who and the Daleks and its sequel, Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150, remain singular for many reasons. They represented the franchise’s first foray into the world of stories shot in color. They abbreviated the word “doctor,” a move that’ll still get you kicked out of most nerd cocktail parties. More than that, they introduced future digital zombie Peter Cushing as “Dr. Who” in an iteration with so few narrative connections to the ongoing Doctor Who series, nobody even cared that they got the name wrong. For the love of all things holy, the TARDIS doesn’t even go “wrrrrRRRRrrr” in this one. It goes “wwwwooooooOOOOooooo.” Like anyone would ever take that seriously.

Side note: Cushing was later offered the role on the TV series, but reportedly turned it down, presumably not wanting to tarnish the dignity of the performance linked above.