The Doctor Is Who? TL (Finished)


The First Doctor

William Hartnell

(1963 - 1966)
The first actor to play the Doctor, William Hartnell portrayed the eponymous alien adventurer for approximately three and a half years between 1963 and 1966, piloting the TARDIS - his blue police call box which was bigger on the inside - across space and time every Saturday at teatime, accompanied by a rotating cast of human friends and companions.

In the process, Hartnell became one of the most identifiable and beloved stars of the British small screen in the 1960s, respected by his co-stars, his fans and television critics alike. Many actors have taken the controls of the TARDIS, but none have failed to acknowledge that Hartnell was the originator to whom they are uniformly indebted. He was the gruff but kind, irascible but brilliant grandfather every child wanted, and without him it is impossible to imagine getting off the ground, much less all the way to Galaxy 4.

Nevertheless, all good things must come to an end. With a history of serious health problems dating back to before the Second World War, including undiagnosed arteriosclerosis which had affected his physical capacities and his ability to remember lines, Bill Hartnell had never been an entirely well man. By late 1966 it had become abundantly and tragically clear to all concerned, including the actor himself, that Hartnell would not be able to continue. Hartnell was offered the opportunity to depart the role at the end of the serial "The Tenth Planet", in which the Doctor first encountered the sinister Cybermen, but, mindful that the production staff had not reached a definitive solution to his inability to remain in the real, Hartnell mustered his characteristic determination and soldiered on to complete filming of the next serial, the six episode "The Power of the Daleks", designed to write the villainous aliens out of the series alongside him. [1]

To the horror and dismay of children across the country, the First Doctor exhaustedly announced that his defeat of the Daleks represented "their final end" before tumbling to the floor in front of his companions, Ben and Polly.

And then, to the surprise of viewers at home as much as the character's friends, the Doctor began to change…


[1] Hartnell's decision to push himself to complete "Power" despite the objections of his family, friends, co-stars and the series production staff, while widely praised for its determination and commitment, would be equally attributed with precipitating the fast decline in his health which ultimately led to his death in the summer of 1972. Indeed, in the final episodes of the serial, Hartnell was visibly haggard and fragile, spending much of the final two episodes largely immobile.



John Le Mesurier

(1966 - 1970)
In its three years on the air, Doctor Who had become a significant hit for the BBC with a large and diverse audience. Despite the departure of its leading man (as well as longtime producer Verity Lambert, who had exited in the same year as Hartnell), the Corporation was determined to keep the programme on the air. Producer Innes Lloyd was instructed to find a solution and, along with story editor Gerry Davis, devised the concept of "regeneration", reasoning that the Doctor, as an alien, could have possessed a heretofore undisclosed ability to transform into a new body when he suffered fatal injuries (as the First Doctor did at the end of a Dalek's ray gun) and thus cheat death.

The concept of an actor other than Hartnell taking on the role of the Doctor was not a new one. Indeed, during Hartnell's tenure in the TARDIS, the veteran character actor Patrick Troughton [1] had played the time traveller (here re-imagined as a human scientist in the employ of the British secret service named "Dr Who") in a pair of full-colour spin-off films by Amicus Productions in 1965 and 1966, adapting the television serials "The Daleks" and "The Dalek Invasion of Earth". [2]

Several actors were considered to play the Second Doctor. An early casting call suggested that the new Doctor could be a "Roger Moore type" (in reference to the star of the immensely popular James Bond films), although this proposal was abandoned. It has been suggested that the producers might have had their eye on Patrick Macnee, star of The Avengers, to take over the series at this time. In any event, the idea was eventually abandoned.

Peter Jeffrey, Valentine Dyall and Patrick Troughton were all approached but each declined the role, as did several others variously reluctant to follow Hartnell or hesitant to commit to the notoriously exacting Doctor Who schedule. Serious consideration was given to the BAFTA Award-winning actor Peter Cushing, the star of a raft of Hammer Horror films since the 1950s.

Eventually, Lloyd settled on 54-year old John Le Mesurier, a veteran of film, television and radio. Primarily recognised for his roles in comedies, he had in the previous year received some attention for his dramatic turn in a supporting part in the science-fiction film City Under the Sea [3] and accepted the role with a view to expanding his repertoire as a drama actor. However, he was unsurprised to learn that Lloyd (and his successors) were keen to draw on his experience in comedy, and acquiesced with characteristic amicability.

Accompanied by such companions as James McCrimmon (Frazer Hines), a scientist from the far future, and 19th century English pickpocket Zoe Heriot (Wendy Padbury) among others, the Second Doctor was an absent-minded professor, very popular with women, whose relaxed charisma and easygoing demeanour concealed a tough edge and penchant for manipulation which suggested his untroubled nature was at least partly deliberate misdirection. His interactions with recurring characters such as the pompous military man Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart (portrayed by the admittedly curiously cast Coronation Street mainstay Arthur Lowe in "Revenge of the Krotons" and subsequent adventures such as "The Wendigos") were the subject of particular critical praise for their comedic chemistry.

Le Mesurier would remain in the leading role for four years and, although several of the serials in which he featured are currently missing – most notoriously 1966's widely-sought "The Space Trap", the first submission to the series made by future script editor and producer Robert Holmes (albeit with a Gerry Davis co-writing credit for what Holmes described as "just a bit of spit and polish") – many of those which survived have been described as some of the series' best. Particularly well-regarded is Le Mesurier's final adventure in the TARDIS (and the series' first full-colour episode) "The War Games" in early 1970. This serial represented the peak of a darker trend in the scripts for the series which brought the more devious elements of the Second Doctor's character to the fore, in which the Doctor's intervention in a conflict revealed to have been masterminded by the Daleks (absent from television since 1966) results in the deaths of his companions.

Ultimately, this story would precipitate Le Mesurier's departure. Dissatisfied with the increasingly grim tone of the scripts, he informed producer Derrick Sherwin of his desire to leave the role. The final episode of "The War Games" introduced the Doctor's people, the powerful and mysterious Time Lords, who spirit him away to their home planet (not initially named at this time) and put him on trial for crimes against causality.

Defiant in his conviction that "some evils must be fought", the Second Doctor submits to the sentence of forced regeneration. After his exit, Le Mesurier would largely withdraw from drama and the limelight, returning to "straight man" supporting roles in a range of comedies on film and television for the rest of the 1970s, remaining a popular figure at fan conventions until his death in 1981, the second Doctor Who actor to shuffle off the mortal coil.


[1] Troughton was cast partly on Hartnell's recommendation; Hartnell would later remark, "There's only one man in England who can take over, and that's Patrick Troughton." Troughton was indeed considered and approached for the role, but declined the offer, citing an attachment to the reinterpretation of the character he had developed on the big screen and expressing a desire to, "Give someone else a chance." He would subsequently cross the Atlantic, the Amicus trilogy having enjoyed a brief American vogue, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Damien Karras in The Exorcist in 1973, a role which also won him a Golden Globe.

[2] Troughton would reprise the role of "Dr Who" for a final time in a third Amicus film in 1967, this time an adaptation of the Hartnell Dalek serial "The Chase", here retitled Dr Who and the Time Chase, which remains the sole artefact of that story after the original tapes were wiped by the BBC. Troughton would subsequently make one final appearance as the character in the main series in the early 1980s opposite the fifth incarnation of the character.

[3] City Under the Sea would go on to become a cult favourite from the period, although screenwriter Charles Bennett often remarked that the project may well have been much less successful (famously remarking, "It nearly ended up as the worst thing I was ever involved in!" after relating changes proposed by British screenwriter Louis M. Heyward) if the distributor, American International Pictures, had refused to pay the cost of his travel to Britain to work on the script.



Peter Wyngarde

(1970 - 1972)

Peter Wyngarde was not the production team's first choice to play the Third Doctor: after the success of John Le Mesurier's relaxed and easygoing approach to the role, a concerted attempt (as script editor Malcolm Hulke would subsequently describe in interviews) would be made to poach Jon Pertwee from Dad's Army only to be met with refusal when he made clear his preference for the role of Captain George Mainwaring, which saw him acting opposite his distant cousin William, who played the long-suffering Sgt. Arthur Wilson. Fulton Mackay and Philip Madoc were each acknowledged as good possibilities, as were Graham Crowden and Peter Gilmore; Paul Darrow was considered but rejected on account of his youth.

Pressure mounted as the challenge of finding a Third Doctor increased. Eventually, a decision was reached, and the flamboyant Peter Wyngarde – a remarkable character in his own right and one around whom mystery and innuendo were said to swirl – was cast as the Third Doctor. [1] Wyngarde, a onetime acquaintance of J.G. Ballard, had enjoyed an active career as a thespian since the 1940s, but was most immediately recognised by contemporary audiences as the sleuthing spy novelist and mod icon Jason King, a part which had made him the breakout star of the ITC adventure series Department S, which had recently concluded its run on ATV.

When filming on that series wrapped in early 1970, Wyngarde was offered a spin-off centred around Jason King, but declined the opportunity and accepted an invitation from producer Barry Letts (keen to bag a major star to try and justify the ongoing behind-the-scenes difficulties) to audition to take the lead in Doctor Who. [2] Relishing the challenge of portraying a different version of the same man as John Le Mesurier had portrayed, Wyngarde agreed and was officially announced as the new Doctor in the spring of 1970 shortly after the broadcast of "The War Games" was completed.

Along with a new actor and a new production and writing team, the Third Doctor era also ushered in a very new and very different status quo for Doctor Who. Following his trial by the Time Lords in the final Second Doctor adventure, the Doctor found himself confined to his home planet (now identified as Gallifrey) and pressed into the service of the High Council, serving as an agent for the stern, military-minded authoritarian Councillor Goth (played by Nicholas Courtney) and dealing with a mixture of political intrigue within Time Lord society and occasional visits to alien worlds. Throughout these adventures, the Third Doctor was accompanied first by a female Time Lord named Borusa (Caroline John) and Council Guard Harsul (Ian Marter), responsible for keeping him in line, and later by a human space colonist named Elizabeth Grant (Katy Manning) who accompanied him back to Gallifrey following an away mission. [3]

However, the most significant addition to the series during Wyngarde's ultimately brief tenure was a new villain known as the Master, introduced as an old rival of the Doctor and leader of a sinister conspiracy to take control of Time Lord society, played by a young Welsh actor opposite whom Wyngarde had previously acted in Department S, future Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins. [4] Their vendetta came to a head in the last episode of Wyngarde's tenure, "The Final Game", in which the Master is revealed to have been behind many of the intrigues and conspiracies which the Doctor had uncovered and thwarted during his house arrest on Gallifrey, but is inevitably betrayed by his invading "allies", the Ice Warriors. The Doctor defeats the invaders and saves his enemy's life, but backstabbed and shot by his cowardly foe's Tissue Division Eradicator; the Master himself attempts to make an escape but is seemingly killed when Grant sabotages his TARDIS. [5]

Ultimately, though, the story which surrounded Wyngarde's Third Doctor and particularly the embarrassing circumstances of his departure – today deemed as a major blight on the record of the BBC – is perhaps just as compelling as any which he encountered in costume and in front of the camera.

Wyngarde's portrayal of the Doctor, it is useful to understand, effectively transplanted his Jason King persona into the largely-inactive control room of the TARDIS. He was an inveterate dilettante, an habitually irreverent, long-haired bohemian clad in neo-Edwardian dandy style (justified in the script to the first episode of his first serial, "Spearhead to Space", as a deliberate attempt to rankle the conservative sensibilities of Time Lord society by emulating, "Some amusing 'mod' fashions I encountered last time I was allowed to visit Earth,") replete with ruffled blouses and crushed velvet suits, shirts often unbuttoned to expose a golden medallion ("Picked it from Columbus's own pocket back in 1492.") gleaming against the rug on his chest.

He drank ("A good Spiridonian wine, 12,000 B.C. by Earth reckoning unless I miss my guess. Rather a fancy year, if I say so myself!"), and even occasionally smoked ("A trifling human affection, dear Goth, and one you would do well to try,") and flirted shamelessly with every woman he shared a screen with. Audiences loved him, but Gallifrey's were not the only conservative sensibilities the Third Doctor managed to offend.

Constance Mary Whitehouse was an art teacher from Nuneaton and a devout evangelical Christian who, in 1965, founded the National Viewers and Listeners Association with the stated aim of cleaning up television. The movement made BBC one of its most frequent targets and often attacked Doctor Who in the late Le Mesurier years (despite speaking favourably of the actor himself) for the purported "un-Christian ambiguity of its morals" it displayed in its stories. After getting a taste of Peter Wyngarde, Whitehouse and her group redoubled their efforts, but after the surprise outcome of the general election of 1970 found a new ally in Westminster in the form of the newly-ensconced Conservative prime minister - a social conservative determined not to cede further ground following the decriminalisation of homosexuality by the outgoing Labour government in the late 1960s.

Although the BBC paid little heed to the NVALA campaigns, matters were exacerbated in late 1972, when the organisation began to focus its attacks on Wyngarde's widely-rumoured homosexuality, with Whitehouse infamously denouncing the BBC for, "trying to translate prurience and perversion into the attributes heroism in a television programme aimed at our children". Although homosexuality had, as noted, previously been decriminalised, the homophobic stigma had not yet lifted. A vociferous letter-writing campaign ensued, accompanied by column inches in scandal sheets and strong statements from rival organisations including the Campaign for Homosexual Equality on one side and various religious groups on the other.

Throughout the affair, Wyngarde himself remained judiciously quiet on the matter, and the unexpected increase in the ratings for Doctor Who suggested that his audience was still behind him. As political pressure mounted, a deputation led by Malcolm Hulke made clear that they were prepared to fight on their lead's behalf, but in the end, Wyngarde decided to leave the role freely. Discussing the matter with Letts and Hulke, it was agreed that the Third Doctor's rivalry with the Mater would receive a decisive conclusion and the Doctor absolved of any wrongdoing under an obscure piece of Time Lord law discovered by Councillor Goth, allowing him to travel freely in space and time once more.

At just short of three years, Peter Wyngarde's tenure as the Doctor is among the shortest of any actor cast in the role. Nonetheless, his time in the TARDIS (or, more accurately, on Gallifrey) remains a popular era in the programme's history. Despite leaving under a cloud, Wyngarde would return to Doctor Who for two further guest appearances and and has been a frequent contributor to the popular line of tie-in audio dramas produced by Audio Visuals.


[1] Much of Wyngarde's early life is shrouded in some mystery, with the year and place of his birth and even his birth name being open to some dispute. Wyngarde himself is believed to have been born in China – his father has variously been cited as a diplomat or a naval engineer – sometime between 1926 and 1933 (Wyngarde identified 1933 as the correct date) with the name Cyril Goldbert. He was interned for a time in a camp near Shanghai during the war with Japan and relocated to England at the end of 1945.

[2] A Jason King solo series featuring Wyngarde would eventually appear on ITV later in the decade, shortly before Wyngarde's casting as Prince Barin in the feature film Flash Gordon.

[3] Caroline John would leave relatively early on in the Third Doctor's tenure, citing personal difficulties now widely attributed to be backstage quarrels (subsequently patched up) with Peter Wyngarde. Her character, Borusa, would eventually return, but for now was written out as having been dispatched on a mission to the distant past by Councillor Goth.

[4] Hopkins would win three Academy Awards, with two statues for Best Actor for his performances as Hannibal Lecter in Jonathan Demme's Red Dragon (1993) and the title role in Oliver Stone's Nixon (1995) and one award for Best Supporting Actor in 1995 for his portrayal of Abraham Van Helsing in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1994).

[5] Expressing a desire to leave the series at the end of 1972, Katy Manning agreed with Letts and Hulke in advance that her character, Elizabeth Grant, would fall in love with Ian Marter's Council Guard Harsul and remain on Gallifrey with him when the Doctor would inevitably be permitted to leave. This storyline was praised at the time for its consistent development and credible resolution.


The Fourth Doctor

Christopher Neame


Following the departure of Wyngarde, speculation as to the identity of his successor was rife amongst fans, the press and within the BBC itself. Flush with success, the looming presence of Mary Whitehouse and her army of telephone-wielding housewives cast an ominous shadow over the entire British entertainment industry. [1]

Determined not to allow outside forces to dictate the management of the programme but mindful of the watchful eyes demanding that he avoid excessive controversy, Barry Letts decided that a fresh start for the programme was in order with a new lead actor, getting away from the political intrigues of Gallifrey and the libertine Third Doctor and returning to its roots as a mobile, innovative time travel adventure. Having held down the producer's chair for close to four years, Letts was also considering his own departure, and resolved that his chief duty would be to put the house of Doctor Who in order to present a clean slate for his presumptive successor, Hinchcliffe.

Letts's choice to succeed Wyngarde in the main role a young actor named Christopher Neame. [2] Having paid his dues in supporting parts on television and in films, Neame had received a high-profile leading role as the villainous Johnny Alucard in the Hammer Horror film Dracula A.D. 1972 opposite Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and future Who co-star Stephanie Beacham.

Although a relative unknown in comparison to his more distinguished predecessors, the incoming Fourth Doctor enjoyed the confidence of both Terrance Dicks (widely recognised as one of Hulke's most reliable and capable writers) and a 28-year old assistant producer named Philip Hinchcliffe who had been hand-picked by the BBC as Letts's eventual successor.

Adopting and adapting a Second World War RAF pilot's uniform complete with fur-lined windcheater, leather boots and smart white scarf (the last of which quickly became a trademark for this version of the character), the youthful Fourth Doctor cut a dashing figure and brought a kinetic dynamism to the role which contrasted with the lackadaisical Second and nonconformist Third regenerations. While the Doctor's mind remained his most potent weapon, this iteration was a man of action with a strong sense of justice and little time for byzantine schemes or political machinations, preferring to think on his feet and equally comfortable pushing Daleks down stairs or knocking out thugs with a well-placed Venusian aikido blow as when talking out power-mad tyrants.

The early adventures of the Fourth Doctor saw the TARDIS return to present-day Earth for the first time since 1969, where the first serial ("Attack of the Autons") saw him re-establish his connection with Lieutenant-General Lethbridge-Stewart with Arthur Lowe reprising his role. Now promoted and serving as head of "BREXIT" (the British Executive Intelligence Taskforce – a top-secret branch of the secret service responsible for dealing with paranormal menaces and alien enemies), Lethbridge-Stewart once more became a recurring character, portrayed as enjoying a more productive partnership with the young and more action-focused Fourth Doctor than his predecessor.

Together, they halted an attempted infiltration of Earth by the Autons, plastic androids under the control of a vengeful Second Doctor adversary, the Great Intelligence (Cyril Luckham), who likewise became a recurring enemy to the Fourth Doctor (asked in later years why the Master was not used, Dicks explained that he did not think there was much story left to the character after his final encounter with the Third Doctor). Neame was soon re-united with Stephanie Beacham as the first of the Fourth Doctor's two main companions, investigative journalist Sarah Jane Smith (a character suggested to scripter Terrance Dicks by Robert Holmes).

With the arrival of Philip Hinchcliffe as producer and the appointment of Robert Holmes as script editor in the middle of 1974, Doctor Who found a successful new groove, aiming for and adopting an often gothic tone rooted in the Hammer Horror experience of its two leads. Adventures such as "The Sting of the Black Scorpion", "The Mausoleum of Mars", "The Space Beacon" and "The Brain of Rassilon" all leaned heavily on horror conventions with a science-fiction twist, while the return of Dalek co-creator Terry Nation to script the evil aliens' origin story "Mystery of the Daleks" was particularly acclaimed. Featuring memorable confrontations between Neame's Fourth Doctor and the Daleks' sinister creator, the crippled mad scientist Davros (played by Gabriel Woolf, almost unrecognisable under heavy makeup), "Mystery" would be the first serial to be released on DVD by the BBC in 2002, with a special edition following in 2012. Although these stories featured a relatively high incidence of violent content, regret at the BBC over the handling of Peter Wyngarde's departure meant that none of the few protests against it managed to gain meaningful traction. [3]

Neame's Fourth Doctor was a bona fide hit with audiences and critics, but his rapid ascent from obscurity to national fame had an adverse effect on his ego and prompted quarrels with his co-star Stephanie Beacham and the writing staff represented by Holmes. Matters came to a head when Beacham dramatically quit in the middle of the filming of the serial "The Revenge of the Rutans" in 1976, allegedly on discovering that Neame had surreptitiously negotiated a higher salary at, she believed, expense. Although she was persuaded to complete her final story, the damage was done, and the departure of Sarah Jane Smith – the longest serving companion to that point – was embarrassingly fudged. Holmes's own, quieter departure (primarily due to health issues, but popularly attributed to disputes with the lead) only a few months later compounded matters.

Humbled by these events, Neame agreed to behave himself in the future, and two new companions were successively added to the cast in the popular Beacham's place, first a newly-regenerated Borusa (now played by Louise Jameson) and, in 1977, the notorious "tin dog" K-9, voiced by theatre actor Anthony Daniels (who in later years was persistently dismissive of Doctor Who and indeed most science-fiction in general).

Shortly thereafter, Hinchcliffe also exited the series, and was replaced as producer by Graham Williams, who envisaged a single season with a single unified story arc that would encompass every serial planned for that year. This storyline – the "Gauntlet of Time" – brought back Cyril Luckham as the Great Intelligence and introduced Valentine Dyall as his opposite number, the Great Compassion, who charged the Doctor and Borusa to find and assemble the components of the Gauntlet of Time.

As this storyline fell in the programme's 15th anniversary year, Peter Wyngarde would make a surprise guest appearance reprising his role as the Third Doctor in one of the instalments, when he was plucked out of time by the Great Intelligence in an attempt to use him as an agent against his older regeneration. After breaking the Intelligence's mind control, the Doctors team up to keep a part of the Gauntlet out of the villain's clutches. This was the first time the conceit of regenerations meeting one another was used, but would not be the last.

While fondly remembered, the unusual approach to the plotting of the story combined with the departure of most of the production staff who had managed the programme at the time of his own recruitment to the programme led Christopher Neame to consider his position and ultimately elect to leave Doctor Who at the end of the season. The Fourth Doctor was thus written out, using his "rejuvenation energy" to overload and destroy the Gauntlet of Time to deny it to the Great Intelligence, leading the Great Compassion to temporarily merge with him to help him to carry through to his new regeneration. [4]

Fans widely praised the Fourth Doctor's tenure and departure and Christopher Neame, leaving Doctor Who at 33 with a lengthy career yet ahead of him, continues to rank highly in retrospective polls rating the best Doctors. Neame himself remains highly engaged with fans of the series and often remarks that if he had not been so lucky as to be cast in Doctor Who, he may never have received any significant public attention at all. Ironically, despite making his name playing one of television's most beloved heroes, Neame's future career was dominated by prominent villainous roles, including the Nazi agent Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark and the title character (opposite fellow Doctor Who alumnus Anthony Hopkins) in Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Christopher Neame had been an unknown in 1973 and was not at the top of Barry Letts's list of prospective Doctors when he was cast. Not so with his successor, who would go on to remain in the role for almost as long as Neame himself.

(All comments welcome.)


[1] In fact, retrospective assessments suggest that the vociferousness of the campaign against Doctor Who in general and Wyngarde in particular (column inches and letters to the editor grumbling about "moral busybodies costing a man his job" saw a marked increase in subsequent years) represented the peak in power of the morality movement in Britain, and in itself resulted in a quiet but irresistible backlash which saw it rendered comparatively toothless by the early 1980s.

[2] Indeed, at 26 years of age, Neame remains the youngest actor cast as the Doctor at any time in the history of Doctor Who. His six year tenure as the Fourth Doctor additionally remains the longest of any actor in the role.

[3] It has been remarked that Whitehouse and her organisations may have enjoyed lasting success had she made violence rather than sex in entertainment her primary target – indeed, there was no decline in the portrayal of violence in Doctor Who in the wake of the NVALA campaign against the series in the Wyngarde era and such representations may actually have increased at the height of the Neame / Hinchcliffe / Holmes years.

[4] Little did anyone know that, in the years to come, the unusual nature of the Fourth Doctor's regeneration would grow to be a sticking point not just in the series' fandom, but among its writing and production staff as well.



Colin Baker

(1979 – 1984)

Prior to taking sole responsibility for production duties late in the year, John Nathan-Turner ("JNT" to his friends and enemies alike) was a de facto co-producer of Doctor Who alongside Graham Williams for most of 1979, in which capacity he enjoyed unprecedented latitude (aided and abetted by script editor Douglas Adams, who privately expressed his intention to Nathan-Turner to remain in the role until at least 1981 to ease the transition) to "set the board" for his prospective ascension to the top role.

JNT had big plans to redefine Doctor Who for the new decade and believed that he would need to "go big" to realise his goals by casting a "name" actor as the incoming Fifth Doctor. Christopher Neame, for all the popularity he had achieved, had been a young and hungry unknown and correspondingly a gamble that could easily have gone wrong; John Nathan-Turner was in no mood to take such a risk again. Instead, eager to drum up speculation, he made a cryptic announced at a press conference that he had had tapped "one of the most recognisable faces on our television screens in recent years" as Neame's successor.

Gossip and conjecture were indeed as rife as JNT had hoped, with guesses running the gamut from credible to ridiculous. John Thaw and Martin Shaw, both well-known for their heroic roles in The Sweeney and The Professionals respectively, were initially the bookies' favourites, while older stars such as Patrick Macnee and James Ellis were acknowledged as outside possibilities. [1] More outlandish proposals centred around sitcom and soap stars such as Frank Thornton, Michael Crawford, Clive Dunn and others, each rejected by the odds-makers more or less out of hand (granted, largely by commentators wholly unaware of JNT's predilection for "light entertainment" media), because what right-thinking casting director would ever contract a lightweight comedy actor to carry a science-fiction drama? Even John Le Mesurier had demonstrated some dramatic flair before he became Bill Hartnell's first successor.

Regardless, Nathan-Turner's eventual choice did indeed take audiences, critics and the entertainment press by surprise: he had indicated his intention to cast "one of the most recognisable faces" in British television, but at no point had he suggested that said face would be one of TV's most beloved protagonists. In 1979, Colin Baker was most immediately recognised for his successful stint playing the villainous yuppie Paul Merroney in four seasons of the BBC drama The Brothers between 1974 and 1976, a role which made him a household name, albeit as the man viewers at home loved to hate.

In other words, an unusual choice for the role of a hero beloved by children across the country, or so one might assume. However, Colin Baker had been a fan and admirer of Doctor Who for all of the programme's life and an appreciable chunk of his own. [2] He was convinced that he was right for the role – even born to play it! – and, if behind-the-scenes rumours are to be believed, received it after insisting as much to John Nathan-Turner and Douglas Adams during his audition. Despite some reluctance over his perceived similarity to Christopher Neame (in 1979, Baker was 36, a full decade older than Neame had been when cast in 1973, but only four years older than Neame was on departing the role earlier that year), Baker promised and quickly demonstrated that he could and would provide a very singular interpretation of the character indeed.

Baker's debut serial was "City of Fear", a script co-written by Adams and Graham Williams and credited pseudonymously to the BBC's all-purpose in-house pen-name David Agnew to work around informal rules to prohibit script editors from editing their own work. It saw him arriving in present-day Rome (production staff joked that JNT wanted to give himself a European holiday) accompanied by Borusa and K-9 and encountering the deadly villainess Countess Scarlioni (Jacqueline Pearce). This script was highly praised for its clever use of time travel and effective humorous tone. Discovering that Countess Scarlioni was in fact the notorious villainess Lucretia Borgia, the Doctor and Borusa journey to three separate versions of Rome throughout history culminating in the Doctor disguising himself as Michelangelo and hiding a secret message in the roof of the Sistine Chapel while Borusa attempted to distract an unseen Pope off-screen in humorously poor Latin. "City of Fear" continues to rank highly in "best debut" polls of series fans.

Immediately, Baker made a visual splash, doffing Neame's pilot leathers in favour of a blue frock coat and silk tie lifted from the prop room of the Italian opera house where the TARDIS landed. "So far," Baker explained before his debut on screen, "I think Doctors have been a bit staid for my tastes. I've spent three years playing a rather plain gentleman on The Brothers so I'm keen on having a bit of colour in my costume. Hopefully it won't be anything too ostentatious."

In most respects, Baker's Doctor was characterised by critics as, "Like Bill Hartnell, only with most of the rough edges sanded off." His take on Doctor cast the Time Lord as an inveterate admirer of human art, literature and culture, and prone to frequent reflections on the "indomitable" nature of the human spirit; it is not for nothing that he has been popularly described as the "most human" of all the classic Doctors. He was the charming and good-humoured gentleman who would probably get on reasonably well with his enemies if only they would stop trying to exterminate him, relaxed and restrained in his manner and dress sense, and as keen to see the sights of Earth's history as he was to save the universe.

Baker himself – who interacted well with the press – explained his intentions in interviews early on in his time on the show, remarking that while he admired Christopher Neame's younger, more intense Doctor, he felt that his long continuous tenure in the part had led to a "dominance of one tone and one kind of story" and that, "I don't think it would be inappropriate to try and recapture some of what impressed me about Doctor Who when William Hartnell was the Doctor."

Such affectations reflected the three components of John Nathan-Turner's plan to reinvigorate the series. First, targeting a clean break with the serious-minded character of the Fourth Doctor, JNT expressed his desire that the Fifth Doctor could, "Be the kind of man who would pass around a paper bag and offer the Cybermen a jelly baby when they had him back into a corner." Facilitating this objective, Douglas Adams agreed to remain on staff as a so-called "script consultant" for most of Baker's tenure after official ending his time as script editor in 1981.

Second, he wished to pull back from the outer space and "gothic alien world" settings common in the Neame / Hinchcliffe / Holmes years and bring the Doctor back to Earth with a higher focus on "historicals", which placed the Doctor in real life historical situations – sometimes with and sometimes without any science-fiction or supernatural elements at all. Adams's successor as script editor, Louis Marks, was a DPhil graduate from Balliol with a particular interest in Italian Renaissance history and would take to this assignment with gusto.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, he made clear that he "wanted the Doctor to win more" after an oft-criticised trend in the late Fourth Doctor era when the Doctor's victories would by pyrrhic as often as they were decisive. [3]

With the conceit that the Doctor had resolved to take Borusa on a tour of Earth's history, these stories were very popular, especially with parents who appreciated their educational tone, although it soon became clear to everyone working on the series that JNT's predilection for "light entertainment" (also evidenced by his casting of soap stars and sitcom actors in roles that did not always suit them [4]) was a larger factor than any desire to improve young minds. In time, the tone of much of the Baker era would come under heavy criticism in later years for its "lightweight" (or, less charitably, "up itself") nature, even as the actor himself always remained well-regarded.

By some distance the inevitable highlight of Baker's tenure with the series was the 20th anniversary special. Although primarily scripted by Terrance Dicks, "Dimensions In Time" featured story ideas contributed by an array of writers associated with the programme, which was treated as a special event by the BBC, it received the unique privilege of being broadcast as a feature-length 90 minute telefilm. Accompanied by his new companions [5], alien princess Teegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding) and dubiously-accented Australian flight attendant Victor Turlough (Mark Strickson) [6], the Doctor pilots the TARDIS into a mysterious dimensional breach and finds himself on a strange alternate Earth overrun by Cybermen.

There, he encounters an aging human scientist who introduces himself as "Dr Who" (Patrick Troughton reprising his role from the Amicus films of 20 years earlier) and explains that these Cybermen attacked while Earth was still recovering from its occupation by the Daleks, and have been rooting out the resistance which he now leads in a losing battle with the invaders. Together, the Doctor and the doctor defeat the Cybermen, and the Fifth Doctor and his friends return home safely.

Finally, after a long stretch spent adventuring in Earth's history or on largely Earth-like planets, the Fifth Doctor's final story ("Return to Gallifrey", written by Robert Holmes) saw the first reappearance of the Doctor's home planet in more than 10 years. Learning that his onetime boss, Councillor Goth (Nicholas Courtney returning to the role) has now risen to the office of Lord President of Gallifrey, the Doctor is charged with identifying and catching an assassin targeting high-ranking Time Lords, and teams up with a suspicious Council Guard named Maxil (played by Peter Davison of All Creatures Great and Small fame).

When the evidence seems to implicate none other than President Goth himself, the Doctor realises that he has been set up, and in one of the most famous cliffhangers of the series; Maxil reveals that he is in fact the Doctor's old enemy, the Master, back for revenge. The efforts to keep this twist secret – aided by the assumptions that Davison was another example of JNT's stunt casting and that Tristan Farnon could never be a "bad guy" – were praised by fans, critics and Baker himself. Although he successfully prevents the Master from assassinating Goth, the Doctor is mortally wounded as the villain escapes, and is forced to regenerate once more.

Between Christopher Neame and the early tenure of Colin Baker, Doctor Who had enjoyed a long and sustained peak. Although a sense of tedium over John Nathan-Turner's insatiable "light entertainment" proclivities and increasing sense of stagnancy precipitated by a reluctance to venture too far beyond Earth or Earth-like settings had led to a (small but noticeable enough to be worrying) decrease in ratings, Doctor Who remained in remarkably good condition for a programme in its twenty-first year. [7] It was generally agreed, as any reasonably astute observer could be expected to agree, that another fresh start and new direction would help to introduce a renewed sense of vibrancy and adventure which the series seemed perilously close to losing altogether.

Unfortunately, unbeknown to anyone, the series was on the brink of a downturn…


[1] Although never cast as the Doctor, John Thaw's name would subsequently be raised every single time a new regeneration was announced, so publically and pervasively that it became the subject of extensive parody to which even Thaw himself gamely contributed.

[2] As he was fond of explaining in an oft-shared fan-favourite anecdote, Baker had originally planned to qualify as a solicitor and switched to acting to his discovery of Doctor Who after overhearing a flatmate watching a William Hartnell episode shortly after the programme's debut in 1963.

[3] Most infamously, "The Planet of Terror" ended with both the universe-saving defeat of Sutekh the Destroyer and the deaths of every single character other than the Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith, with the Doctor helpless to prevent the latter without jeopardising the former.

[4] John Inman's turn as a "tough as nails mercenary captain" in "The Treasure of Mandragora" was met with particular confusion.

[5] Louise Jameson had left the series in 1981 after a little less than two years, and was briefly replaced in the interim for a small handful of stories by Matthew Waterhouse's teen mathematician Adric, a boy genius whose final story would end with him eaten by a dinosaur, which was then blown up by a Movellan on a planet that was later destroyed when its sun went supernova and turned into a black hole. Waterhouse had failed to ingratiate himself to the production staff and the character had not been well-received.

[6] Strickson was from Stratford, but was ordered to adopt an Australian accent by John Nathan-Turner who wished to make the series "more cosmopolitan". JNT went so far as to instruct Strickson to use the accent (which Strickson disliked using and was always happy to admit "wasn't very good") in public to try and convince audiences that he was a genuine Australian actor. It remains unclear whether JNT hoped to get an Australian holiday out of this strange ploy.

[7] The highest ratings achieved by Doctor Who in the history of its run would be 15.8 million for the fourth and final episode of "The Final Dimension", Christopher Neame's last appearance as the Fourth Doctor, which coincided with a strike at ITV that left the BBC's programming uncontested that week.



James Hazeldine

(1985 – 1986)

Throughout its broadcast run, the fortunes of Doctor Who had run the gamut from the stratospheric highs of the Neame and Baker years to such ugly and ignominious lows of the egress of Peter Wyngarde (not to mention some very questionable stories before, after and in between). Although no one could have expected it, the departure of Colin Baker coupled with a rupturing in the balance of power behind the scenes of the series would precipitate a period of uncertainty for Doctor Who. Such was the difficulty that ensued that the incoming Sixth Doctor, Salford television actor James Hazeldine would come to rank his brief and, it must be conceded, unsuccessful tenure as Colin Baker's successor in the role of the Doctor as one of the chief disappointments of his otherwise productive career. [1] A deep and perhaps long overdue trough, in other words, was fast approaching the production.

Although best known for his stage work and supporting parts in other television drama series, Hazeldine was no stranger to science-fiction, having appeared to considerable acclaim in the leading role as the psychic journalist Tom Crane in all thirteen episodes of the BBC Scotland paranormal drama The Omega Factor, originally broadcast in 1979 and securing a large and dedicated cult following in subsequent years. [2] Indeed, Hazeldine's performance as the tough but sensitive Crane in the aforesaid series was the most significant factor in John Nathan-Turner's decision (perhaps increasingly mindful of the near unceasing scorn poured on his casting predilections [3]) to hire him on to succeed Colin Baker.

Despite the usual round of speculation about prospective actors for the Doctor's sixth iteration (John Thaw making his requisite appearance), Hazeldine seems to have been the only seriously considered choice in late 1983 when it became clear that Baker wished to leave in the following year and, indeed, was quite irregularly not even asked to make a formal audition for the role. [4] While an indisputably solid choice assessed purely on his quality as an actor, Hazeldine's veritable coronation reflected a deeper systemic problem which would plague the series throughout his tenure, namely a sense that the caution and conservatism of the production staff in general and John Nathan-Turner in particular was sapping the creative spirit of the programme. At 37, he was only a handful of years younger than the outgoing Colin Baker and only a year older than Baker had been when he was cast as the Sixth Doctor. [5]

Fans continue to debate the extent to which Hazeldine was genuinely enthusiastic about taking on the role or whether it was merely a matter of Doctor Who in 1984, while not the mega-hit it had been a decade earlier, had simply become too good an opportunity to justify passing up when presented as freely as it was being offered to Hazeldine. As the actor would eventually reveal in interviews in the early 1990s, he had been misled by John Nathan-Turner as to the nature of the character he would be playing, so much so that he went so far as consult his solicitor (!) to determine whether he had grounds to sue for misrepresentation.

According to Hazeldine (and confirmed by other sources, many of whom had axes to grind with JNT), he had been promised the opportunity to take the Doctor in a different direction from his outwardly patrician predecessors (even the "down and dirty" Fourth Doctor has given the impression of an aristocratic army officer). He had wanted to play the Doctor as a "salt of the cosmos" type with a pronounced Mancunian accent, in reflection of Hazeldine's own northern working class roots. He would wear a battered leather jacket and flannel shirts ("Like something you'd get in a Primark on Pluto," quipped the actor), scrap physically with enemies and tackle real-world social problems in his stories; his foes (as some insiders would put it) would have "basically been the Tories".

Optimistic though this was, no sooner was Hazeltine's signature dry on his contract than had John Nathan-Turner given rather contrary instructions to both script editor Johnny Byrne (who had taken over from Christopher Bidmead in the final year of Baker's tenure but, it was widely agreed, had yet to genuinely distinguish himself in the position) and the casting and costuming departments. Hazeldine himself had been promptly kitted out with a "singularly bizarre" billowy white shirt and purple waistcoat and uncomfortable-looking breeches which saw him widely and unfavourably compared with Jeremy Irons's title role in the BBC'S 1975 adaptation of Poldark or Robin Ellis's Charles Ryder in ITV's lavish production of Brideshead Revisited [6].

The Sixth Doctor's mooted companion was a Scottish history teacher named Josephine Shaw, played by Gudrun Ure. Such a casting was something of a novelty, representing the first occasion when a companion looked visibly older than the ostensibly 800-year old Doctor (Ure was just over 20 years older than her co-star). This may have provided an interesting dynamic under the pen of a better writing staff but Ure, despite a respected career on stage and screen stretching back to the 1950s, was hampered by the risible attempts at "comedy" she was frequently saddled with. [7] Both Ure and Hazeldine were reported to have gotten on well, with Hazeldine fondly recalling her as a mother figure with whom he bonded over their shared distaste for many of their scripts, and described their long-lasting friendship as the greatest highlight of his time on Doctor Who.

Nonetheless, initial results at least seemed promising: Hazeldine's first excursion in the TARDIS in the final serial of the 1984 season, "The Sontaran Armada", a story scripted by an ailing Robert Holmes (in what would prove to be his final work for the programme before his death in 1986), was reasonably well-received, subject to some minor observations about his apparent discomfort in the role. Ure's performance as Jo Shaw was also fairly well-received, a fact fundamentally attributable to Holmes's decision to take Byrne and JNT's rather broad brief that she should be "comedic" and write the character as a bitingly sarcastic Scottish grandmother with little time for what future script editor Graeme Curry would describe as the Doctor's "U-cert roguish" demeanour.

But from there, in spite of some bona fide successes [8] the tenure of the Sixth Doctor felt like one of managed decline, with the increasingly unhappy James Hazeldine gamely doing his best with uninspired scripts which lacked something every previous take on Doctor Who had enjoyed – a clear sense of identity and direction. To far too many viewers, hungry for a new direction after five years of pleasant-but-samey Fifth Doctor adventures, Hazeldine's Sixth Doctor was simply more of the same. JNT seemed variously oblivious or (more likely) indifferent to such criticism (not to mention to muted but clear disdain implied by Hazeldine and Ure in interviews with the press), preferring to hew to the principle that if something isn't broken, it doesn't need fixed.

More charitable views of JNT's attitude in the final years of his tenure as producer have pointed to the wider context of the 1984-1986 period and argued that he may simply have been mindful of the world outside the bubble of Doctor Who production. As a gay man who had worked on Doctor Who briefly as a floor assistant in the early 1970s, JNT had been profoundly affected by the NVALA campaign which resulted in Wyngarde's exit from the series and decided that Doctor Who and politics did not mix. Once ensconced in the producer's chair, was determined that the series would not unduly risk reprisal from outside forces, a concern and conviction which reinforced itself with the election of the right-wing Conservative government of Edward du Cann ("He had the look of a good Master about him, if I say so myself," JNT would remark in subsequent years), who had made clear that "savings could be found" at the BBC if it put a foot wrong, and enjoyed an ally in the form of Jonathan Powell, who arrived as BBC 1 Controller in 1982. Although Nathan-Turner's caution would prove prescient sometime after he stood down as producer, it served the series poorly from a creative standpoint, and its star was chafing miserably under it.

Aside from the initial Holmes story, the most memorable entry in the adventures of the Sixth Doctor (albeit for all the wrong reasons) was perhaps the four-part serial "The Great Brain Robbery", a story charitably described as being as confused as it was confusing and the sole contribution to the Doctor Who canon to flow from the typewriter of the husband and wife writing team of Pip and Jane Baker. It is memorable for introducing a new villainous female Time Lord called the Rani (Mary Tamm), who overcome the long odds attendant to debuting in the worst serial in the programme's history to become a durable addition to the Doctor's rogues' gallery. The story, which featured the Rani trying to steal the brain of Albert Einstein (played by Michael Sheard) as part of a plot to create an artificial species of intelligent trees as part of a scheme to assassinate the Time Lord High Council. It was clear that things would have to change.

And change things would. With ratings now in trouble, John Nathan-Turner decided to take a serious gamble for the first time years, and volunteered to resign as producer, confident that his offer would be rejected in the absence of any viable replacement and that this demonstration of readiness to accept responsibility for the troubled state of the series would be sufficient to secure his position. As it transpired, this was a fatal miscalculation; Jonathan Powell disliked Nathan-Turner personally and as an employee, deeming his record of diminishing returns since the late Baker years unacceptable in any other business, and resented the popularity of Doctor Who, of which his opinion was correspondingly unfavourable. To JNT's horror, the BBC summarily accepted and proclaimed that the series would not return the following January, but would instead be placed on a short hiatus pending a rethink of its status after the end of the current season. Doctor Who, if it managed to survive, would not return to television until the summer of 1987 at the earliest. [9]

James Hazeldine's own position was up in the air, although at that point, after slightly more than two years characterised by disappointment, the actor seemed to care very little. In his mind, if anyone's head deserved to roll, it was John Nathan-Turner's, with whom he would never reconcile and of whom he would seldom speak favourably in later years. Despite being approached by the so-called "administrators" (a team of BBC insiders which included former producers Verity Lambert and Graham Williams) appointed to reorganise and restructure the series during its break from television with an offer to return to the role after the completion of the hiatus, Hazeldine declined. He'd simply had enough and asked to be released from his contract and written out of the series when his second and final season came to a perfunctory end in March of 1986. Hazeldine's final episode ended with him alone in the TARDIS console room, beginning a regeneration that would never been seen to complete.

Although ranked as the "worst" Doctor for many years (the actor habitually reacted to this news by remarking that it was appropriate, as Doctor Who was by some distance the worst production he had ever been involved with), James Hazeldine was soon reassessed when more news of the difficulties which plagued the series behind the scenes during his tenure came to light. While still criticised for "not trying harder to make the best of it" in some quarters, the intermittent successes of some of his appearances, in his quieter and more intense moments, would remain a tantalising suggestions of what might have been.

And so, for the first time since 1963, Doctor Who audiences were not informed that the series would be returning in the following season. However, changes were coming, and when the series returned in September 1987, it would do so with a very different face topping the bill.

(This has been the most difficult update to write by some distance. As usual, any and all comments are welcome.)


[1] With only one year (and then only just) spent playing the Sixth Doctor, Hazeldine remains the actor with the shortest term in the part. As he would good-naturedly joke at convention appearances in later years, "In retrospect, I was lucky to even last that long!"

[2] Hazeldine's co-stars included Elisabeth Sladen as research physicist Dr Anne Reynolds (who had previously been considered as a potential companion to the Third, Fourth and Fifth Doctors) and the legendary character actor Tom Baker (of no relation to Hazeldine's predecessor), who received a BAFTA nomination for his compelling portrayal of the villainous psychic Edward Drexel.

[3] Bill Tarmey’s casting as an aristocratic mad botanist in "The Roots of Destruction" left critics scratching their heads so hard that London experienced a shortage of false fingernails in the summer of 1982. The putative "unsuitability" of many castings in the JNT era may seem oblique to modern audiences, but any reader of Doctor Who Monthly of that period would no doubt have appreciated the sarcastic remark "IS BERYL REID THE NEXT DOCTOR?" on the cover of the February 1984 issue.

[4] The actor would subsequently remark, "That ought to have been the first warning sign."

[5] Opinion columns (such as the ever-popular "Sutekh Speaks" and its successor, "A View From Varos", written in character by the magazine's editor) and fan mail published in contemporaneous instalments of Doctor Who Monthly indicated a widespread preference for an older actor, with such names as Brian Blessed, Frank Finlay Ian Richardson and Nigel Hawthorne – the youngest of whom, Blessed, was 47 and the oldest, close to 60 – all ranking favourably in reader polls.

[6] "You'd have thought they were dressing me up for a remake of – you know that Bonnie Tyler music video? [most likely a reference to the contemporary hit "Stark Raving Love", a duet with Canadian rock vocalist Rory Dodd] – some kind of remake of that. Did they want me to sit on the tin dog and ride out of the TARDIS through a cloud of dry ice? Frankly, I should have objected to that costume, but I'd been encouraged reading through that first script from Bob (Holmes) that it would only be for the first few episodes, seeing as it was set in Barcelona."

[7] Ure would successfully parlay her role in Doctor Who into a career as a mainstay of children's broadcasting in the early 1990s, most notably in her villainous turn in the Colin Cant-directed science-fiction miniseries Dark Season, created by a young Welsh writer named Russell Davies.

[8] Eric Saward's "Resurrection of the Cybermen" was deemed a high point of the Hazeldine era, if moderately over-reliant on references to decades-old episodes then believed lost and only available as novelisations from Target Books. It would not be his final association with Doctor Who by any stretch.

[9] "Doctor in Distress", a so-called "charity" single recorded under the auspices of songwriter, record producer, former northern soul DJ and self-proclaimed "celebrity" Doctor Who fan Ian Levine was a minor novelty hit and continues to appear on "worst songs ever recorded" lists to this day. Levine remains convinced that it was a misunderstood stroke of genius – aside from some contributions to the recovery of lost John Le Mesurier episodes, it remains his only substantial association with the franchise.
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Art Malik

(1987 – 1991)

After a year in the wilderness, Doctor Who was back with new vigour, new ideas, a new production staff and, most importantly, a new Doctor. Concluding that the show was very likely on borrowed time even if it pulled off a return from its hiatus, [1] extensive and careful consideration had been given to how best to restructure the struggling series and the decision was made to, as former producer Graham Williams put it, "go for broke", and effectively "regenerate the series itself".

Despite initial concerns that certain factions in the BBC were determined to ensure the hiatus became permanent, the production staff found an unexpected ally and advocate in the form of Michael Grade, who succeeded Jonathan Powell as Controller of BBC1 in late 1985. Having previously spent two years employed as a television executive in the United States, Grade was appointed with a mandate to "overhaul" the flagship channel's output and decided that Doctor Who, by now effectively a blank canvas inviting a rebuild from the ground up, would serve as a suitable template for success.

It was first agreed that cuts would be made; this was the chief condition for ensuring the series' return. Overseas filming, once a hallmark of the JNT era, was to be substantially reduced and seasons would be shortened dramatically with the number of episodes in each to be almost halved, from 25 to 13 per season. As compensation for this decrease, it was correspondingly decided that rather than broadcasting stories comprising four 25 minute episodes, individual episodes would last one hour and tell a single story; far from alien to British television but in effect more along the lines of the television dramas with which Grade had become familiar working in America. Nathan-Turner had previously mooted such a change in the hope that it would help to sell Doctor Who in America, but had never followed through on the proposal.

Next, a new producer and script editor (Johnny Byrne having opted to leave alongside JNT and James Hazeldine) were to be appointed. Here, a suggestion made by Verity Lambert and former script editor Christopher Bidmead resulted in the hiring of a onetime teacher turned TV writer writer named Eric Saward, who would earn a controversial place in the history of Doctor Who. Saward had been involved in writing for almost 10 years when he was brought aboard the series. Having received some early attention as a scriptwriter in radio (a medium to which his writing style, in which fast-paced action-packed scenes were prioritised at the expense of narrative coherence), Saward had long been an admirer of Doctor Who and of former script editor Robert Holmes in particular. His first television work was a spec script entitled "Invasion of the Plague Men" – although conceived during the waning months of the Fourth Doctor's tenure and clearly written with Christopher Neame in mind, Saward would only submit his proposal to Bidmead in March 1980.

Accepting "Plague Men" on the recommendation of a higher-up in the BBC drama department, Bidmead was impressed by the script and lobbied hard for a more reluctant John Nathan-Turner to agree to produce it. Ultimately, he prevailed upon the producer by convincing him (correctly, as it transpired) that the serial had the potential to spawn a spin-off and Saward's story was broadcast as the premiere of the 1981 season. [2] "Plague Men" had the trappings of a Fifth Doctor historical, but was one of the relatively few to feature an overt science-fictional dimension in the form of (as Colin Baker would reminisce in latter day DVD special features) "some fantastic creepy-looking gentlemen in outer space surgical gear, and their chief heavy, this kind of disfigured reptile man who I had to turn against them to stop the Great Fire of London; I managed the first half!"

While well-received at the time and still enjoying popularity among Doctor Who fans, the most significant legacy of "Plague Men" was perhaps the character of Richard Mace, a dashing highwayman played by Shakespearean actor Alan Rickman, who proved to be so popular that, just as Bidmead had promised, he became the subject of the first official Doctor Who spin-off, a supernatural period drama entitled The Extraordinary Exploits of Richard Mace, Esq. Saward was script editor, wrote several episodes and even received an executive producer credit. The series' producer was none other than original Doctor Who producer Verity Lambert, whom Saward would later credit as his single most important mentor in the television business. On Lambert's death in 2007, Saward commented, "I can't imagine what I may have done on Who if I hadn't had the opportunity, at that stage in my career, to learn so much from Verity when I did." [3]

Following the conclusion of Richard Mace, a more seasoned Eric Saward was keen to return to Doctor Who but, having received advice that taking work there in the dying days of the John Nathan-Turner era would likely amount to rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, instead found himself working on a variety of series. When the reorganisation of Doctor Who was announced, Saward had planned to apply for job of script editor, but was surprised when Lambert recommended him to replace Nathan-Turner as producer (a role to be shared with a returning Graham Williams [4]).

The script editor, and indeed much of the writing staff, were to be predominantly new blood (Terrance Dicks and Philip Martin were the only Who veterans tapped to contribute new episodes), many of them former fans in their own right: some, such as the new script editor, 29-year old Ian Briggs, Kevin Clarke and Andrew Cartmel, had some previous experience; others, such as Marc Platt, Ben Aaaronovitch, Gary Russell and Paul Cornell (who would have his first work produced in 1989 at the age of 22) were less seasoned, but compensated with enthusiasm and creativity. Saward himself would write several scripts which Williams alone produced; his style of writing was considered well-adapted to the new format. An innovative collegial approach to plotting the series was adopted, with the script editor acting as head of a "writer's room" (another American concept uncommon in British television) in which all were invited to suggest ideas while retaining sole credit for their own screenplays.

With the production and creative teams in place, the difficult question of who could play the Seventh Doctor was carefully considered. Securing a reasonably high-profile lead was expected to be a challenge in light of the strained circumstances of the series but deemed necessary to draw attention and justify keeping the programme going. Furthermore, in the absence of a proper regeneration scene (James Hazeldine had filmed the beginning of a regeneration at the end of his final episode and had no desire whatsoever to come back to finish it), the new actor would need to be able to jump straight into the role, without a the usual "transition" period immediately post-regeneration. [5] As usual, thought was given to a wide range of actors and many were solicited, among them Paul McGann, Bob Peck and David McCallum. No one involved in production at the time can recall exactly who suggested Pakistani-born actor Art Malik (although consensus suggests that it may have been Ben Aaronovitch), who had earned plaudits for his starring turn in The Jewel in the Crown on television and a performance in David Lean's 1984 epic A Passage To India.

Like many of those approached, Malik was hesitant to commit to what may still looked like a less-than-certain enterprise, but was eventually persuaded after encouragement from his agent and a meeting with Verity Lambert. As the first non-white actor to step into the TARDIS (a factor which Malik later explained was significant in his decision to take the part), Malik's casting turned heads and raised some more conservative eyebrows. For the first time in almost three years, people were talking positively about Doctor Who once again. Things were looking up.

Saward, Williams and Briggs (the undisputed nucleus of the backstage staff, along with Cartmel, whose risk-taking ambition and stated desire to try and take Doctor Who in a more "dangerous" and "morally ambiguous" direction appealed to Saward's own creative sensibilities) agreed that, to try and retain the sense of week-to-week continuity provided by the older serial format, they would attempt to introduce a loose ongoing story, which would unfold over the course of the Seventh Doctor's episodic adventures. Their plan was to try to cultivate a sense of loyalty akin to that of soap opera viewers who could be relied upon to tune in regularly, to talk and speculate, and thus rebuild and expand the fan base. This would require a suitable villain and the Master was the logical choice. Peter Davison had no desire to reprise the role regularly but agreed to make a one off appearance to regenerate into a new form, now played by Miles Richardson. At the conclusion of the first Malik season (in the Briggs-penned "Planet of Ice"), the long-debated fan theory that the Master was the Doctor's "evil secret brother" was seemingly confirmed. [6]

Cartmel went further and proposed a "master plan" to try and develop a renewed sense of mystery around the Doctor which zeroed in on the frequently-debated regeneration of Christopher Neame almost a decade earlier, in which Valentine Dyall's Great Compassion had appeared to "merge" with the Doctor to help him to restore his regenerative energies. Cartmel proposed that this experience had fundamentally changed the Doctor and made him "so much more" than "just" a Time Lord. While this concept would be revisited in later years, it never made it further than hints during the Seventh Doctor's run on television: Saward personally nixed the idea, not out of any principled objection to such an intrinsic change to the nature of the character, but more because he was jealous for having not thought of it first. [7]

At the same time, the producers and writers were interested in using the series to explore relevant issues and present (occasionally clumsy but always well-meaning) down-to-earth critiques of social ills; few, if any, of them were fans of Norman Tebbit, nor was the prime minister much of an admirer of Doctor Who, as would soon become abundantly clear. [8] In service of this aim, Ian Briggs and Ben Aaronovitch created a new kind of companion for the Doctor in the form of Dorothy "Ace" MacShane, a juvenile delinquent from 20th century Glasgow (cast as an 18 year old and played by 22-year old actress Michelle Gomez in her first major role).

This creative ethos (which the unashamedly opinionated lead strongly supported, as he never failed to make clear in and interviews and meetings with the press) and the nature of his first companion would strongly influence Art Malik's portrayal of his character. In his hands, the Seventh Doctor evoked Le Mesurier's second Doctor of the 1960s; a cultured and even-tempered professor, and a protector and educator who saw the entire human race in his companion, whose vast potential and implied special destiny he judged it his moral duty to unlock. [9] He could be suave and genial in one moment before adopting a steely intensity when faced with danger or injustice. Importantly for Malik, the Seven Doctor was hailed as a key example of positive ethnic minority representation on British television ("My Gallifreyan heritage notwithstanding," he often quipped).

Subject to occasional stinkers, the Seventh Doctor enjoyed a run of strong episodes which made up for a more limited budget by being creative. Malik's second year in the role fell in Doctor Who's 25th anniversary year, and was home to several stories widely recognised as bona fide stone cold classics of the programme's entire run. Marc Platt's "The Silver Death" (a two-part story which had previously borne the working title "Spare Parts") explored the origins of William Hartnell's penultimate adversaries, the Cybermen, and was widely praised (and in more conservative quarters roundly criticised) for its dark and uncompromising portrayal of the horror of cyber-conversion. More celebrated still was Ben Aaronovitch's "Doom of the Daleks" (likewise a two-parter, and occasionally co-credited to Andrew Cartmel), which featured the first and significantly more successful of the Seventh Doctor's two encounters with his most wicked enemies.

Reuniting the Doctor with the BREXIT organisation previously featured in the Christopher Neame years against the backdrop the summer of 1968 in the wake of the former Prime Minister Enoch Powell's so-called "Rivers of Blood" speech, Aaronovitch's script and Malik's performance surprisingly became the first in Doctor Who to be nominated for BAFTA awards for writing and acting. The plot, laced with wry allusions to the notorious Powell's "future" ascension to No. 10, involved human agents mind controlled by Daleks infiltrating British society (requiring no interpretation to be recognised as a clear comment on the government of the day's ongoing "overrun by other cultures" rhetoric) and featured the Seventh Doctor's first experience as a victim of human racial prejudice, prompting his reflection on whether his commitment to humanity was truly worthwhile, which would be confirmed when he witnessed Ace rebuke a racist BREXIT soldier. [10] While the overtly political tone of this story was met with a deep sense of unease among some of the production staff, both Aaronovitch and Malik (both well-known for their left-wing views) were adamant that it was a statement that needed to be made. [11]

Following her casting in the lead role of Julia Day in Steven Moffat's CITV children's comedy-drama Stop the Presses, Michelle Gomez announced that she would depart the series after the season finale for 1988, an Andrew Cartmel script entitled "The Cradle of Time". In keeping with the anniversary celebrations of the season, the episode featured another return of Miles Richardson's Master and served as a (although not necessarily the) conclusion to the ongoing storyline which Cartmel, Briggs and Saward had developed since the beginning of the Seventh Doctor's tenure.

Presaged in the preceding episode by the Doctor's warning that his companion would soon face her greatest challenge, the episode took place in a possible near-future Earth where industrial pollution has poisoned the planet, Ace is mortally wounded by a laser blast fired by the Master and meant for the Doctor. As the gloating villain flees, the Doctor uses some of his "regeneration energy" (although not explicitly stated in the episode, Cartmel would subsequently explain in a tie-in novel that this had been made possible by the Great Compassion merging with the Doctor more than a decade earlier in Christopher Neame's final adventure), before explaining that he will take her to Gallifrey where she will be enrolled in the Time Lord academy.

Unexpectedly, Eric Saward announced his resignation between the 1988 and 1989 seasons as well. No doubt threatened by the increasing confidence demonstrated and acclaim earned by the young guns he and Williams had hired to write the series and disgruntled that the sole producer status he had expected had never materialised, he may have intended to "pull a Nathan-Turner" and force the BBC to accede to his demands or lose his services. If this was indeed his intent, he would be sorely disappointed. Script editor Ian Briggs would be promoted to co-producer, and would be joined in 1990 (after the tragic death of Graham Williams in a shooting accident that August) by none other than the woman who started it all, Verity Lambert, then riding high on the success of the that summer's addition to the BBC's line of soaps, the wildly successful Eldorado.

For a time, Doctor Who was enjoying its greatest success since the halcyon days of Philip Hinchcliffe (who publically praised the direction of the series at every opportunity), Bob Holmes and Christopher Neame. Viewing figures remained modest in comparison to the programme's peak, but had rallied from the troubled days of the Sixth Doctor and improved with each season. Art Malik had become one of the most recognised and beloved actors on television and many stories enjoyed almost unprecedented acclaim (a 1990 script by author Neil Gaiman entitled Time and Relative, based on an idea by close friend, journalist and film critic Kim Newman, became the second Doctor Who episode to receive a BAFTA nomination for writing). As the series prepared to enter its landmark 28th season in late 1991, it seemed that Doctor Who could be on track to reach higher heights than ever before as the new millennium beckoned.

And then, they bit off more than they could chew, and the rug was pulled from under them.

"I always tried to tell those jumped-up little anarchists," a thoroughly disenfranchised Eric Saward would later grumble, "Never talk about religion or politics…"


[1] The embarrassing fiasco of the twin departures of James Hazeldine and John Nathan-Turner and revelations of the shambolic state of the series behind the scenes had been plastered all over the news in 1986 and even invited comment during a session of Prime Minister's Questions at which the recently-appointed Mr Tebbit's remark that, "It might be time for Mr Who [sic] to get out of his police box and get on his bike," received little rebuke from Opposition MPs.

[2] In later years, Saward would lament that the title of his first Doctor Who serial was "rubbish", remarking on the DVD commentary for "Plague Men" that, "I remember there was one line in the script, something like, 'What is this unholy visitation?' and it was only when I actually saw the bloody thing on TV that it occurred to me that 'The Visitation' would've been a far better title for it."

[3] This series ran for three seasons of 10 episodes each between 1982 and 1984, earning respectable ratings and generally positive – if not world-beating – critical notices. Alan Rickman returned to headline the programme and was joined by newcomer Nicola Bryant in her first professional acting role as his light-fingered apprentice, an aspiring pickpocket named Merry Bown. Of particular note was the performance of a young Liverpudlian actor named Paul McGann, whose recurring guest role as a woodsman would help to land him his breakthrough role as the title character in ITV's international cult hit Robin of Sherwood, which ran for five seasons from 1984 to 1988.

[4] Saward privately intimated to colleagues that he expected to be offered sole responsibility for production in the event that things went well; he was evidently unaware of an unspoken agreement that Doctor Who would be managed by co-producers for the remainder of its run as an unofficial rule. In light of the manner of his eventual departure from the series, it may be surmised that he was not impressed when he found out.

[5] The first Seventh Doctor episode ("Revenge of the Rani") was premised on the idea that the Doctor had been having adventures on his own between his regeneration and his arrival in present-day Earth, which would promptly prove fertile ground for future tie-in novelists and the producers of Audio Visuals' radio dramas.

[6] This concept was widely attributed to Saward and included by Briggs only under duress. Indeed, the characters would call the idea into question after Saward's temperamental egress from Doctor Who in 1989 (specifically in Briggs's own "The Curse of the Rani", in which Mary Tamm's villainous Time Lady hinted that she had tricked the Master into believing a fraternal relationship with the Doctor in revenge for a previous encounter between the squabbling villains) and quietly discarded in the future, although the debate still rages across the Internet today.

[7] A fixation on byzantine references to obscure continuity minutiae – and developing morally ambiguous mercenary gunslinger characters at the expense of the Doctor himself – remained hallmarks of Saward's writing, although in the scripts he contributed while also working as producer, they were generally tamped down by Ian Briggs, who listened to Cartmel and was listened to by Williams. Doctor Who fans aware of such backstage trivia are said to shudder to think of what such tendencies may have come to had Saward ever served as script editor himself.

[8] In a 1995 interview with DWM, James Hazeldine would say that he imagined he "still would have been playing the Doctor today" (i.e. in 1995) if he had been able to work with the Malik era creative team rather than JNT. By then, the onetime Sixth Doctor had once more become a fixture of television through his appearances as a long-time regular on the medical drama Casualty.

[9] Some writers, such as Cartmel, put a darker twist on the partnership between Doctor and companion, casting the Seventh Doctor as a manipulative Svengali in whose secret plans and intrigues Ace was simply a pawn, which was also a popular (if decidedly controversial) interpretation, even if Malik privately admitted to some discomfort with it.

[10] Clips from this episode remain popular on YouTube, and the episode was said to have privately incensed the Tebbit government then in office. Between them, "Doom of the Daleks" and "The Silver Death" have since their broadcast in 1988 never ranked below the top ten in historical listings of the programme's best stories published by Doctor Who Monthly.

[11] Another legacy of "Doom" was the introduction of an Aaronovitch original character whom he had hoped would be a new travelling companion for the Seventh Doctor – a tough, no-nonsense Woman Police Constable named Lesley May Rivers, played by Pamela Salem. Although she would never accompany the Doctor in the TARDIS (the producers were adamant that the budget would not stretch to a third regular, and while they were probably correct, it is interesting to observe that scripts contributed by Saward had a strange tendency to feature similar "companion auditions", typically for tough, Clint Eastwood-style mercenary gunslingers who frequently seemed poised for more on-screen attention than either the Doctor or Ace), Salem would later reprise the role in a series of Aaronovitch-penned radio dramas for Audio Visuals set in the Doctor Who universe entitled Rivers of London.



(1992 – [REDACTED])

"It was a very nasty shock at the time," Ben Aaronovitch admits today. Turning to his fellow Q&A panellists, he remarks cheerfully, "Though I suppose in retrospect, we were probably asking for it, weren't we?" His colleagues (Art Malik, Lisa Bowerman, Ian Briggs, Graeme Curry, Paul Cornell and Rona Munro) can't help but laugh and agree.

Then, Malik becomes serious and says, "But you know something? Much as I kicked myself over it 25 years ago, looking back in hindsight, I can't say I regret it." The audience applauds and its enthusiasm redoubles as the actor grins and proclaims (with all the righteous conviction characteristic of a Seventh Doctor speech), "After all, we did manage to bring down the government, didn't we?"

Malik's time as the TARDIS's pilot had characterised the Seventh Doctor as a forthright and uncompromising advocate for social justice, who solved (or, it must be conceded, talked about solving) real world problems and ranked human ignorance, greed, prejudice and corruption as equals to the Daleks, the Cyberman, the Rutans and the Master in his rogues' gallery of adversaries. [1] As his run progressed, as Ian Briggs was moved up to take over as producer, as Graeme Curry was appointed to replace him and as Norman Tebbit's Conservative government became increasingly unpopular in the country, this trend only intensified.

While Doctor Who continued to improve in the ratings and receive plaudits for "pushing the envelope" and "showing a real willingness to take risks", other critics (among them recently-departed co-producer Eric Saward [2]), whether out of caution or conservatism, pushed back, warning that despite its renewed success, the series remained one that the BBC could quite easily cut loose if the mood ever struck to do so. How prophetic they were. Still, the warnings went unheeded and Doctor Who continued as it had without any immediate repercussion since 1987. While its impact would not take effect upon the series until 1991, the breaking point for the eventual cancellation of Doctor Who was actually the broadcast in 1989 of a two-part Graeme Curry story entitled "The Happiness Patrol". [3]

Acknowledged favourably for its satirical tone, the story featured the Seventh Doctor's journey (now accompanied by a new companion in place of the departed Michelle Gomez [4]), the story was set on the futuristic human colony of Terra Omega, in a society where any positive feeling was forbidden, merriment stamped out and misery ruthlessly enforced by a scarecrow-like tyrant (played by Philip Latham) called the Norm. That the plot was a satire of the Tebbit government was obvious, and that said antagonist was a parody of the prime minister himself even more so. While the story passed muster with critics (who nonetheless commented that it was not a stand-out of the season), no one in the production staff realised just how much it infuriated the leader of the Conservative Party.

Tebbit, it should be remembered, had notoriously resented any and all parodies of his person since Spitting Image characterised him earlier in the decade as a sycophantic and stereotypically wimpy "whipping boy" who sucked up obsessively to the much more impressive President Bush character. [5] Precisely why an episode of Doctor Who prompted such particular attention is unclear; the political outspokenness and high public profile of Art Malik may have been a factor but this will likely never be verified. Although nothing came of "The Happiness Patrol" in the immediate aftermath of its broadcast, No. 10 assiduously filed it away for future reference.

The executioner raised the axe that was poised to deliver the programme's short, sharp shock was raised in the government's "autumn statement" in 1990, when what proved to be the penultimate season of the series was halfway through broadcast. When it fell the next year, there would be no Michael Grade (he had moved to Channel Four as its chief executive in 1988) to save Doctor Who this time. With occasional paragraphs delivered in song, the Chancellor of Exchequer, Peter Lilley, informed the House of Commons that the Treasury intended to seek "major savings" in the British Broadcasting Corporation in the following year in the interest of improving efficiency (amidst veiled references to the government's "refusal to continue to finance the subversion of popular institutions that broadcast sentiments which run contrary to the clear views of the overwhelming majority of people in the country"). A short time later, it was announced that a Tebbit loyalist, Dame Jill Knight, was to be appointed as Chair of the BBC Board of Governors with orders to "bring the Corporation into line".

At the time, what should have been ominous developments went more or less unnoticed on the set of Doctor Who (although it is unlikely that any attempt to change tone or direction at so late a stage in the game would have had any meaningful effect) and production would proceed apace for the 28th season, due to broadcast in September of 1991. However, wheels were turning behind the scenes, and the executioner's axe finally fell that summer when Ian Briggs and Verity Lambert were privately informed that the programme would not be returning in 1992; the BBC was to find savings, and what they had found (among several other, perhaps more justifiably expensive series) was Doctor Who. With a heavy heart, Briggs broke the bad news to the cast and crew, and worked with the writer's room to try (not entirely successfully, as most of the season's episodes were already in the can) tying things up. With no one sure whether the last episode scheduled for broadcast (Marc Platt's "Time's Crucible", due to appear on Saturday 14 December 1991, which at least managed to bring the season's "Timewyrm" storyline to a conclusion) would be the last Doctor Who ever to grace the small screen, Cartmel proposed ending on a melancholy but ultimately hopeful note, suggesting that the Doctor's adventures would never truly end. The final scene saw the Doctor and Bernice Summerfield walking back to the TARDIS as Art Malik brought down the curtain on his own Seventh Doctor along with the programme in a short monologue written by Cartmel:

"There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, the sea's asleep, and the rivers dream. People made of smoke, and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice, and somewhere else the tea's getting cold. Come on, Benny; we’ve got work to do!"

And, with that, Doctor Who was off the air.

As easy and as tempting though it may be to suggest that all the blame should lie solely and exclusively with the nefarious, scheming Conservative government of Norman Tebbit and his villainous cabal of allies (who almost certainly took breaks in between their usual activities of roasting infants on spits over fires to plan fiendish strategies to take Doctor Who off the air [6]) and as much as so straightforward an explanation may have comforted disappointed fans of Doctor Who, such an analysis would be a gross oversimplification of the facts of the matter. While it was undoubtedly true that Tebbit disliked Doctor Who for its politics and its portrayal of him in particular, it was by no means unique or even necessarily personal; his diaries record that he felt much the same way about even less charitable parodies which resided beyond his reach in the world of private broadcasting.

Furthermore, for all that the budget had been cut and for all that the programme's ratings had exponentially improved (and, it should be noted, for all that the series had started to make some small but serious inroads in syndication in America, with Art Malik becoming the default "Doctor Who" to American fans for many years to come), when it came down to raw numbers, the latter were still too soft to truly justify the former. Furthermore, for all that that acting and writing were acclaimed (and they were highly acclaimed), and for all that set designers did their best with what they had, the fact remained that Doctor Who still looked inevitably cheap, particularly in comparison to newly-imported, lavish-looking American science-fiction such as Star Trek: The Next Generation. [7]

Nevertheless, not everyone saw things that way, and blaming the government for "doing away with a beloved children's programme and destroying a staple of the British Saturday teatime" quickly proved a popular stick with which to beat the prime minister. Although the embattled government was widely judged to be facing an inevitably defeat, with Art Malik making a memorable appearance in-character as the Doctor in a party political broadcast for the Labour Party, Doctor Who became an unexpected cause celebre. In the general election of 1992, the Conservative Party lost its overall majority, resulting in the accession of a coalition of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats.

Unfortunately, neither party had made "put Doctor Who back on TV" a manifesto pledge. The newly-elected Art Malik MP was probably too busy to reprise his role anyway. [8]

Rest assured, however, that the Doctor would return, but perhaps not in a manner anyone was expecting…


[1] In one of his most well-remembered speeches, the Seventh Doctor would claim that even "the Terrible Zodin could take lessons in cruelty from the worst of humanity" in a climactic scene in the Aaronovitch-scripted "Warhead".

[2] Whether or not Saward particularly cared about the tenuous position of the series or whether he necessarily agreed or disagreed with the content of its episodes is unclear; that he was no longer producing Doctor Who while his former colleagues were was likely reason enough.

[3] Originally pitched to Ian Briggs a year earlier for the 1988 season, Saward had ruled that it was a poor fit for the 25th anniversary year and delayed its production until the next year, by which point Saward was out and Curry himself had become script editor.

[4] Introduced at the beginning of that season and based on an idea provided by 22-year old writer Paul Cornell; the Seventh Doctor's second and final companion was Professor Bernice "Benny" Summerfield, an archaeologist from 26th century Earth played by Lisa Bowerman.

[5] The satirical puppet show typically portrayed George H. W. Bush (who served as president after the assassination of Ronald Reagan in in 1981 and was most well-known in Britain for ordering American intervention in Lebanon in 1983) as a tank-top and headband-clad Rambo-like character.

[6] Letters published in early 1992 issues of Doctor Who Monthly were uniformly interesting.

[7] Which starred an unknown British Shakespearean actor – Pete Postlethwaite – in the leading role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

[8] Malik would decline to seek a second term in the following general election, when it was won by another member of the Labour Party.



The Wildness Years and the Return of Doctor Who

Doctor Who was down but it was not out. Almost as soon as the BBC made clear it had no intention of resuming production, Verity Lambert began pitching heavily for the rights to produce the series for the Corporation independently. In the meantime, the Seventh Doctor and Benny's adventures continued in regular comic strip appearances in the pages of Doctor Who Monthly while a thriving cottage industry of Seventh Doctor continuation novels (the "Further Adventures" line published by Virgin Books) sprang up.

Written primarily by former regular series writers including Cartmel, Aaronovitch and Cornell alongside series veterans like Terrance Dicks, "celebrity fan" authors such as Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison and Kim Newman and even a few newcomers, including Mark Gatiss, Russell Davies and Steven Moffat, these stories expanded on plots left unresolved when the TV run concluded and introduced new concepts and characters. [1] A line of tie-in novels involving past Doctors were added before long [2] and soon afterwards a small company founded by dedicated fans called Audio Visuals (named for an earlier company operated by many of the same personnel, which had produced unofficial audiobook adaptations of episode novelisations published by Target Books) began to produce full-cast original audio dramas – featuring the return of classic Doctors Wyngarde and Baker [3] – after receiving a full licence to do so from the BBC in 1996.

Unbeknownst to Lambert, she was not alone in her efforts to revive the series; on the other side of the Atlantic, a major figure in American television – British expatriate Philip Segal – had his eyes on the series as well. The United States of America had long been a tough nut to crack for Doctor Who. While episodes had been broadcast in America since the Christopher Neame years, there was always far less money in the series than even many low-budget American equivalents and the uniquely British character of the programme made it a hard sell in the states.

One key exception was the Dalekmania craze of the 1960s, centred on Patrick Troughton's trilogy of Amicus films (Dr Who and the Daleks, Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 AD and Dr Who and the Time Chase), which enjoyed some cult success in the decade of the "three B's". [4] The brightly-coloured Daleks remained recognisable relics of kitschy mid-sixties camp, and the movies planted deeply the roots of a small but intensely dedicated fanbase who would follow the series doggedly through crackly PBS broadcasts of decidedly dubious quality for years to come. Patrick Troughton enjoyed a career as a character actor in Hollywood until his death, even receiving an Academy Award nomination, but his role as "Dr Who" was seen as little more than a footnote in his filmography. [5]

However, although Doctor Who never quite managed to become a mainstream success in America in its original run (though not for want of trying, particularly on the part of John Nathan-Turner), the programme's prospects at least seemed like they were beginning to look more favourable during the tenure of the Seventh Doctor. Unlike most of his predecessors in the role, Art Malik was not unrecognised in America, where both The Jewel in the Crown and A Passage to India had enjoyed a high level of popularity, and his casting in an obscure, low-budget British science-fiction programme with a reputation for high camp and obsessive fans was a matter of some curiosity. [6]

Nonetheless, the casting attracted some attention in America even outside the small hard core of dedicated Doctor Who fans; ratings on PBS improved noticeably and there was even talk (or at least some serious speculation) of a formal co-production arrangement to film occasional episodes in America, although nothing ever came of it. Michael Grade's instincts had evidently served him well – although much of the nuance and subtext in the series, rooted as it was in British politics, was lost on American audiences, the 13-episode season, 45-minute episode structure was well-suited to North American broadcast schedules and television preferences in general. When the series ceased production in 1991, several PBS affiliates registered the receipt of many letters from viewers expressing disappointment. Although Doctor Who may not have broken America, it had at least paved the way for a future attempt.

Determined to make that attempt was the aforementioned Philip Segal (born, as alluded, in Essex, and resident in America since his mid-teens). Segal was a long-time fan of Doctor Who and had harboured ambitions to produce the series himself for many years; around the time sets were being struck back at the BBC, he had risen to become Vice-President of Amblin Television (a division of Steven Spielberg's production company Amblin Entertainment) and in the ensuing years enjoyed success overseeing production of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and seaQuest DSV. [7] His attempts to lobby the BBC for the rights to produce Doctor Who coincided and conflicted with those of Verity Lambert and her own Cinema Verity, and after several years of competitive pitching characterised in equal parts by deadlock and back-and-forth, neither party appeared to be making any headway in their negotiations.

Eventually, in 1997, Segal and Lambert were encouraged to reach out to one another with the BBC acting as a mediator. Recognising their common interest in bringing Doctor Who back to television, after several meetings in London and New York and extensive discussion with an array of lawyers on both sides of the pond, both parties agreed to enter into a unique arrangement whereby they would co-produce a new series. The direct result was the incorporation in Britain and America of a joint-venture company, Gallifrey Pictures, to which the BBC licensed the production rights to the series and entered into a separate contract confirming its own involvement in the production.

A prospective American home for the series was additionally sought and eventually found in the Sci-Fi Channel, which had been active for only five years at that time, and was mainly known for broadcasts of science-fiction movies, classic horror films and Japanese anime. [8] The channel had plans to establish its credentials as the premier network for science-fiction by buying and broadcasting original series; their intent was that Doctor Who would form part of their prime time line-up alongside another new programme being brought in from outside, Rockne S. O'Brien's practical effects-driven space adventure series Farscape. Furthermoer, they were keen to capture the same audience as Joss Whedon's supernatural drama Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which had debuted on the WB the year before.

In 1998, the deal was finalised and it was announced – with advertisements promising "a hero for a new millennium" – that Doctor Who would be returning to television after nine years with a projected premiere of the spring season in 2000. Filming for the premiere would take place, almost inevitably, in Vancouver, standing in for San Francisco. Lambert and Segal would be credited as co-producers and it was anticipated that the writing and directing staff would likely be drawn from both British and North American talent (Segal had already tipped Matthew Jacobs, a US-based British writer with whom he had worked on The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, to begin work on the premiere, with mooted input from UK screenwriters to be arranged via Lambert).

The news received a mixed reaction in the Doctor Who fan community. An American co-production of Doctor Who? To many British fans (perhaps unaware of the programme's budding popularity on the other side of the Atlantic) it seemed ominous, perhaps even sacrilegious, that such a uniquely British series as Doctor Who should be produced outside its native country. That Verity Lambert – who had produced William Hartnell 30 years earlier – and the BBC would be involved (the new series would return to its traditional Saturday evening slot on BBC1, broadcasting one week after the American debut episode) was not enough to assuage the fears of many fans that "Hollywood" production would have a deleterious impact on their favourite series. Rumours that the series would be renamed "Doctor Who 2000", that it would be a straight remake rather than a reboot and that an American actor would be playing the Doctor did little to assuage concerns. Nonetheless, production pressed ahead. [9]

For the most part, all of the pieces were in place. All the pieces, that is, except for the one most critical component of all.

Doctor who?


[1] Among the most memorable was Newman's vampire companion, Genevieve Dieudonne, carried over from his late 1980s Warhammer tie-in work and his original novel Anno Dracula, published in 1992.

[2] A trend commenced with the publication in 1994 of a memorably tongue-in-cheek book written by former series star Peter Wyngarde detailing a "lost adventure" of his Third Doctor.

[3] Colin Baker – who in the interim had played several roles in television including Richard Bucket in the popular BBC sitcom Keeping Up Appearances – had long missed the Fifth Doctor role and jumped at the chance to reprise it, quickly establishing himself as the pre-eminent star of Audio Visuals' productions. Wyngarde was likewise keen, feeling that he still had "unfinished business" after the abrupt end to his tenure as Third Doctor. Hampered by his term as an MP and the subsequent resumption of his film career (playing the antagonist Don Rafael Montero in The Mask of Zorro in 1998 opposite Antonio Banderas and former Master actor Anthony Hopkins), Malik would not reprise his role until 2002. As an in-joke, the first Audio Visuals production with the Third, Fifth and Seventh Doctors was given the self-referential Against All Odds. James Hazeldine was more reluctant owing to his bad experiences with the series, but eventually relented with Baker's encouragement and his Sixth Doctor enjoyed a renaissance; he would play the character in 25 stories until his tragic death in 2002. Christopher Neame would not reprise his Fourth Doctor role until the mid-2000s.

[4] Said "three B's" were the Beatles, Bond (starring Roger Moore) and Batman (starring William Shatner).

[5] The theme of time travel would recur throughout Troughton's career; two years before his death, he had been approached by Robert Zemeckis (who had directed the actor in Romancing the Stone) with an offer to play the role of mad scientist Emmett "Doc" Brown, inventor of the time travelling DeLorean in Back to the Future. Although keen to take the part, Troughton regretfully declined; he was by then 65, frequently experienced heart problems attributed to stress and overwork, and may have felt too old to play the part (Christopher Lloyd would be cast instead). He would die in 1987.

[6] Among the less frequently-discussed reasons (aside from those discussed elsewhere) behind Malik's decision to take on the role of the Seventh Doctor were his persistent financial difficulties stemming from the huge immediate success he had enjoyed after A Passage to India; while Doctor Who was much reduced from its heyday when he joined in 1987, it nonetheless offered a consistent salary.

[7] Conceived and created by Rockne S. O'Brien, seaQuest DSV combined deep-sea exploration, educational and environmentalist content and some science-fiction elemnts, and ran for four seasons between 1993 and 1997. Its cast included Doctor Who alumnus Stephanie Beacham in a starring role as the titular submarine's commander, Captain Natasha Bridger, alongside Roy Scheider as chief scientist Dr Kristopher Westphalen. Scheider would leave at the end of the first season, to be replaced by future mainstay Doctor Who director Peter DeLuise as Dr Anthony Dagwood.

[8] Philip Segal lobbied hard with the Fox network in an attempt to secure backing for the mooted reboot; although the network seemed receptive and indicated a willingness to stump up capital in addition to that already allocated by the BBC, Segal reluctantly pulled out when it became clear that Fox was only interested in a television movie which would function as a pilot for a prospective series. Unwilling – after all the work it had taken to get to production at all – to entire into an agreement for anything less than a full series order, Segal sought a less materially generous option which would nonetheless provide the latitude he and Lambert sought.

[9] A complete clean reboot was encouraged by both the BBC and the Sci-Fi Channel and Verity Lambert was said to be at least moderately receptive to the idea, but Segal was hostile to the suggestion. It was eventually agreed that the programme would get a fresh start relying on the broad strokes of the classic series. Contrary to the claims of some more bitter fans, the decision that the rebooted and classic series were one and the same was not reached "after the fact" when it became clear that the new show was a hit; it was always the same series, but it was agreed ahead of time that elements such as recurring villains and other classic show concepts would be phased over time in as it progressed.


Selecting a new Doctor for the new millennium was always going to be a challenge. The executives at the programme's new home in America, the Sci-Fi Channel, encouraged the casting of an American actor to improve stateside appeal. While not averse to the idea in principle, Verity Lambert and Philip Segal were equally adamant that, in the interest of duly respecting the history and ethos of the series and its main character, a British actor should feature as the Eighth Doctor in the Time Lord's American debut. Eventually, Sci-Fi acquiesced, on the condition that his companion would be an American and played by an American actor. [1] Nevertheless, Lambert and Segal were keenly aware that whoever they chose would need to be someone recognisable to an American audience in general and a Sci-Fi audience in particular; the search for the Eighth Doctor thus commenced.

Agency telephones were soon ringing all over Hollywood. As was ever the case in the classic series, numerous actors were considered and approached. Former James Bond actor Lewis Collins was one of the first contacted and seemed genuinely interested; a former star of British television in his own right, Collins's casting would have been a major coup for the regenerating franchise, but in the end he had to be turned down when his quoted salary request was deemed too high for the Sci-Fi Channel's tastes (and budget). Likewise, Hollywood's leading Shakespeare revivalist, Kenneth Branagh, was approached as a long shot, but the news of his casting as Obi-Wan Kenobi in George Lucas's first Star Wars prequel film, Episode I: The Phantom Menace, rendered moot this avenue of inquiry.

Next in line were Paul McGann and Bob Peck, each of whom had been considered for the Seventh Doctor back in 1987. McGann had made his name as an actor in the lead role in Robin of Sherwood and subsequently as the title character in ITV's adaptation of Bernard Cornwell's Richard Sharpe novels. In light of pending movie work, McGann declined the invitation to audition. [2] Peck, meanwhile, had received recognition for his role as Ronald Craven in the BBC miniseries Edge of Darkness in the mid-1980s and later in a memorable performance as gamekeeper Robert Muldoon in the first Jurassic Park film (the highest-grossing movie of all time prior to its displacement in 1999). Peck was more receptive than McGann and for a time it looked like Gallifrey Pictures might have found their Eighth Doctor, but tragedy struck when Peck's cancer recurred, and eventually took his life in 1999.

Although not widely-discussed at the time, Welsh actor John Rhys-Davies would in later years reveal that he had attended meetings with Gallifrey Pictures to discuss taking the Eighth Doctor role, and indeed came very close to signing a contract. However, both the producers and Sci-Fi ultimately decided that his take would likely be too similar to Professor Maximilian Arturo, a role he had recently departed. [3] Other mainstays of genre television and film considered included Liam Neeson (star of Sam Raimi's superhero franchise Darkman, who like his countryman Branagh may have been an outside remote possibility in the first place [4]), Geraint Wyn Davies (a Welsh-Canadian actor who had first received attention for his performance in the lead role of the romantic vampire detective series Forever Knight and then in the lead role of Duncan MacLeod in all eight seasons of the small screen spin-off Highlander: The Series) and Patrick Stewart (who had enjoyed a long career in film and television but in 1997 was best known for his recurring roles as ADA Walter Skinner in The X-Files [5]). All were grateful for being considered, but each declined the role.

All of these candidates and more were good options; each of them would undoubtedly have played a very good Doctor and the possibility remains open for most of them to do so in the future. However, the eventual Eighth Doctor would finally be located in the cast of the very series that Sci-Fi had been so keen to emulate; a series and franchise which would for a time serve as one of Doctor Who's chief rivals on American's airwaves and remains so in global genre fandom to this day.


Anthony Stewart Head

(2000 – 2002)

Joss Whedon's supernatural action drama Buffy the Vampire Slayer had debuted on the WB in 1997, the same year that the Sci-Fi Channel had entered into its deal with Gallifrey Pictures and the BBC to co-produce and co-finance a new series of Doctor Who. Almost immediately, it had earned plaudits for its writing and the performances of its young cast and established itself as a bona fide cult classic with a high level of mainstream appeal. As far as Sci-Fi was concerned, this was the future of genre television, and they would be damned if they did not get in at the ground floor. When they were approached by Philip Segal, he had held screenings of several older Art Malik episodes for Sci-Fi executives, and while the production values may have been somewhat less-impressive than they were used to, they deemed the writing and plotting ahead of their time.

Anthony Stewart Head was a graduate of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and had been acting since the 1970s; although he had made some minor appearances as a young actor on television, [6] Head first achieved serious recognition for (of all things) his appearances in a series of Nescafé Gold Blend advert broadcast on British television in the late 1980s. From there, he had made the jump to the USA, where he appeared in a number of series before being cast in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. His character, the staid Watcher and librarian Rupert Giles, quickly became a fan favourite.

Head was approached by Lambert in 1999, while the third season of Buffy was nearing the end of its run on television, to gauge his interest in playing the lead role in the Doctor Who reboot. Although he felt a sense of loyalty to Whedon, Head was aware that if he accepted, it would represent a significant opportunity to headline a major franchise by himself and define its lead character for a potentially very wide audience. Further, he had been advised that filming would likely be split between North America and Britain, which would allow Head (who had been living full-time in America) more opportunities to see his young family. He opted to discuss the matter with Whedon, and was surprised when he was encouraged not to let the opportunity slip him by. [7] His conscience clear, Head agreed and signed a contract to play the Doctor under conditions of utmost secrecy.

Much like his predecessor, the Eighth Doctor debuted without a regeneration, despite Segal's interest in bringing Art Malik back to film a regeneration scene (a position which was discouraged by both Head and Verity Lambert, who reasoned that new viewers would be confused by an apparent "main character" being killed off and replaced in the first 15 minutes of the premiere), instead arriving on the scene implied to have assumed his new form relatively recently. Mindful of the need to avoid coming across as "Giles with a time machine", Head and scriptwriter Matthew Jacobs agreed that the Eighth Doctor should from the off be a charming and romantic figure, with a strong affinity for what he called his "human side" and a corresponding commitment to the weak and helpless. He was much more charismatic and confident than Giles had ever been, but Head was keen that he should betray a degree of vulnerability and weariness, and (in light of the story ideas that had been discussed as potential plots for the first American season) often seemed as though he was either running away from or looking for something.

In the first reboot adventure – a feature length episode entitled "The Enemy Within" – the TARDIS materialises on New Year's Eve in San Francisco, a city on the brink of the 21st century, and the Doctor is introduced to his first new companion, a sceptical homicide detective called Grace Holloway (played by Yancy Butler) when she catches him poking around the scene of a seemingly inexplicable murder and places him under arrest. After a series of mishaps and misadventures involving leaps backward and forward in time to the San Francisco of 1899 and 2099, Grace inevitably comes to accept that the Doctor is an alien being with two hearts and a time machine that's bigger on the inside, and helps him to uncover and bring to justice a shape-changing extra-terrestrial criminal he had tracked to and cornered on Earth. In the process, they learn that this villain's schemes were mere cover for a plot by a mysterious masked antagonist (the so-called Time Spectre), whose attempt to steal the Doctor's TARDIS and use it to destroy Earth at the instant of the new millennium they only narrowly foil. When the Spectre flees, the Doctor invites Grace to join him on the chase, "Perhaps with a stop or two to see the sights along the way?" and together they embark on a new era of adventure. While a straightforward plot, the episode was well-received, and received strong ratings in both America and Britain. The powers that be and fans alike breathed a sigh of relief: Doctor Who was back.

Grace was conceived as an audience surrogate, someone to whom the Doctor could explain the strange phenomena to which he himself was accustomed and, through her, to the audience (and to scrap hand-to-hand with villains, a dimension of the Doctor's character which was purposefully downplayed in favour of emphasising his ability to out-think his foes rather than out-fight them). Indeed, the Eighth Doctor more than most of his classic predecessors was a relatively constant character throughout Head's run on the show, and much of his development focused on how he related to his companion.

Working from the premise that the Doctor had not travelled with a companion in quite some time, the Eighth Doctor initially viewed Grace simply as someone to keep him company, charm and show off to, the Doctor came to value Grace as a true friend, and perhaps, as the season progressed, as something more. Indeed, controversially, Grace developed romantic feelings for the Doctor, which he appeared to struggle to reciprocate for much of the first season of the rebooted series. While more traditionalist fans cried foul, the Doctor and Grace's budding relationship would nonetheless become one of the most popular elements in the programme with its new expanded audience.

After several adventures which took the Doctor and Grace to the past, the future and an array of alien worlds, the final confrontation with the Time Spectre came in the season's two-part finale ("Crisis In Time, Pts. 1 & 2") in which the villain finally removed his mask to reveal the face of none other than Miles Richardson, back again as the Master, confirming months of online fan speculation on both sides of the Atlantic. Their long-running rivalry was revamped, [8] with the introduction of a mysterious event in their recent past which had driven them to truly hate one another. This would not be revealed until the tenure of Anthony Head's successor, but was the subject of extensive speculation in the meantime. The Master's scheme brought the Doctor and Grace back to San Francisco, except in 1969, where they discovered that the Master's plan was to murder Grace's mother before Grace was born and thus prevent her birth, partly because she had saved the Doctor's life while foiling his plot in the premiere episodes, and partly (cryptically), "Because you took as much from me, Doctor." Defeated, the Master was once more seemingly killed, but the Doctor knew that his old enemy would be back.

Curiously, despite their historical status as the Doctor's most persistent enemies and the most recognised Doctor Who antagonists in America, the Daleks were quite conspicuous in their absence in much of the first season of the Eighth Doctor's adventures. A single allusion was made in the final episode, indicating that the Dalek Empire still existed and suggesting that they had become a distant threat that the Doctor would one day need to deal with. Official, the writing staff argued that the Doctor's first enemy in the rebooted series should be a singular villain, and the Mater was the ideal choice. In fact, behind the scenes, Gallifrey Pictures had been embroiled in discussions with the estate of the late writer and Dalek co-creator Terry Nation (who had died in 1997), and had been unable to strike a deal regarding the use of the Daleks on television before the new series entered production. An arrangement would not be reached until mid-2000, resulting in the Daleks not appearing as adversaries to the Eighth Doctor until Head's second year in the role.

Head's first season had been well-received in both Britain and North America (where it promptly vindicated the Sci-Fi Channel's investment by becoming its highest-rated series) and renewal was almost a formality. A second season followed in 2001, in which the Daleks (slightly redesigned to use the rank-denoting colour scheme they had been given in the Patrick Troughton Dalek films) made their triumphant return to menace the Doctor in an ongoing plot involving their attempts to take control of Earth in the past, present and future. In the next year, the Cybermen and their Cyber-Controller (memorably played by Jeffrey Combs in one of his own favourite roles) reappeared, reimagined as unfeeling but not intrinsically evil menaces who sought to "improve" the human race through cyber-conversion and transform Earth into a recreation of their lost homeworld, Mondas.

Although the Doctor defeated every enemy who emerged to oppose him, Anthony Head had developed a desire to move on from the role and, more importantly, to move back to Britain full-time for the benefit of his young children; despite the more manageable arrangements as compared with Buffy, Head still felt that he was missing out much of his daughters' childhood and felt that, having been in Doctor Who, he would have just as many opportunities waiting for him in Britain anyway. It was thus agreed that, after three very successful years, the Doctor would "die" stopping the Cybermen's cyber-terraforming machine and undergo his first regeneration on American television in 2002, at the end of its third rebooted season. [9] This time, in line with the agreement they had made with the Sci-Fi Channel several years earlier, the TARDIS would be piloted by an American actor for the first time in its history…


[1] The disclosure of confidential board minutes of Gallifrey Pictures Ltd in 2008 would reveal that a further condition of the concession to the production company by the Sci-Fi Channel was a "handshake agreement" that the former would make "reasonable endeavours" (a classic example of legalese, but one that Sci-Fi would hold Gallifrey Pictures to several years later) to cast an American actor as the Ninth Doctor.

[2] Despite this near miss, Paul McGann would become a regular on a Sci-Fi franchise several years later when he joined the main cast of channel stalwart Stargate: SG-1 following star Richard Dean Anderson's decision to "downgrade" to a recurring role after the fifth season of that series.

[3] Rhys-Davies played Arturo in Sliders, a science-fiction series developed by Tracy Tormé for the Fox network and broadcast for three seasons between 1995 and 1997. Prior to entering into its arrangement with Gallifrey Pictures, the Sci-Fi Channel had considered picking up Sliders for a fourth season, but ultimately opted for the Doctor Who deal instead, citing the lower cost commitments anticipated. Rhys-Davies (whose character had been ignominiously killed off part way through the third season of Sliders) subsequently commented that this was a mercy killing, calling his former series "rubbish". Conversely, David Peckinpah (producer of the third season of Sliders, notorious for his poor relations with several members of the cast) insisted that Doctor Who had "ripped off" his show and insisted until his death in 2006 that Sliders "would have run for 10 seasons" if Sci-Fi had opted for it instead.

[4] Darkman vs M.A.N.T.I.S. (1997) opposite Carl Lumbly was a major hit and is today fondly remembered as the first superhero crossover film. In later years, Neeson would comment that he would have been happy to play the Doctor, "so long as I could have used my own accent; I imagine lots of planets have a Ballymena." In 1997, he had received the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in the title role of the biopic Michael Collins.

[5] Shortly after The X-Files ended, Stewart would be cast in a similar role but as a villainous character in J. J. Abrams's spy-action series Alias, in which he played primary villain Arvin Sloane.

[6] One of Head's early television roles was a small part in The Extraordinary Adventures of Richard Mace, Esq, the Doctor Who spin-off created by Doctor Who writer and subsequent series producer Eric Saward. By the time he was cast as the Eighth Doctor, even Head had forgotten his appearance in that programme, although its rediscovery would not put future writers of tie-in media off trying to make connections between their characters.

[7] Whedon had planned for the fourth season of Buffy to take the show in a different direction: several regular characters, including series mainstays Angel and Cordelia, had been written out with a view to turning them into the nucleus of a new spin-off focusing on Angel's adventures as a supernatural detective, while Buffy and her friends were to move on to college. With the Giles character left without an obvious role in the ongoing story, Whedon decided to take advantage of Head's departure to write the character out, reasoning that Buffy had by that time grown up enough that Giles had no more left to teach her; Buffy's best friend Willow was repurposed as her new Watcher. Head would make a guest appearance in the penultimate and final episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in May 2001 and, after his exit from Doctor Who, made occasional guest appearances in the spin-offs Angel and Spike & Faith, which each outlasted their parent series.

[8] Many of those writers engaged to write for the series familiar with its history – particularly former comic book writer and Doctor Who super-fan Dan Slott – believed that the rivalry between the Doctor and the Master had become "too friendly" and wanted to re-establish the villain as a more serious, threatening adversary.

[9] Frequently placed first in historical rankings of Doctors, Anthony Stewart Head would reprise the role of the Eighth Doctor in "missing adventures" produced by Audio Visuals from 2006 onwards.



Sean Patrick Flanery

(2003 – 2007)


That was the first question, one frequently (and forthrightly) asked in the letters pages of Doctor Who Monthly for several months after the casting announcement. Sean Patrick Flanery was 38 when he took on the role of the Ninth Doctor, but had been on producer Philip Segal's radar since before Anthony Stewart Head had even started to contemplate his departure from the role. Flanery had previously starred in the cult fantasy drama film Powder and later the controversial crime drama The Boondock Saints (which notoriously bombed after receiving an inopportune release which coincided with the Columbine school shooting) but was best known for playing a teenage Henry Jones, Jr. in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (a series which Segal had previously had a hand in producing as Vice-President of Amblin Television). [1] He may have been a risk, but he was one Segal was confident could excel with the right material.


That was the second question, and one purportedly asked by Verity Lambert (reports on the tone in which she asked it are inconclusive). To many British fans, quietly sceptical of the American dimension of the reboot, Flanery represented everything they had feared for the fate of their beloved series. Denunciations of the actor as a "pretty boy with floppy hair" and a "lightweight who looks like a twelve-year old" (a curious critique given Christopher Neame had been a full decade younger when he was cast) were among the more pleasant invectives that had come his way from less open-minded sections of the Doctor Who fanbase. That he was not a fan of the series was a further black mark against him. Anthony Head had at least been a recognised British actor with an established reputation, but Sean Patrick Flanery (at least as far as audiences outside the USA were concerned) was in comparison a less well-known quantity; despite the international success of his Indiana Jones role, that character had almost mattered more than the actor who played him. In many regards, the same was true of the Doctor.

For his own part, Flanery repeatedly made clear that although he had little awareness of the series, he was fascinated by the concept of regeneration in particular and had made an effort to watch as many classic serials as possible. In general, the actor was upbeat about his role after the announcement of his casting, acknowledging fan concerns, remarking that he had stepped into the shoes of an iconic character before and resolving that he would "give [the part] 110%". A wide-ranging interview for DWM with the magazine's editor Clayton Hickman is widely credited with helping to warm sceptical audiences to the actor; Hickman would later explain his experience of interviewing the new Doctor: "I remember I went into [the interview] wanting to dislike him, and I left thinking that if he could charm Britain as easily as he'd charmed me, Sean could easily be playing the Doctor for the rest of his life." [2]

While Flanery had been Philip Segal's instinctive first choice, as a concession to the less convinced Lambert, he was not the first actor canvassed as a prospective Ninth Doctor. At least nominally in the running was 1980s teen comedy star and former Saturday Night Live cast member Anthony Michael Hall (already committed to a series based on Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot created by former Star Trek producer Michael Piller). Canadian actor Michael Shanks was named as an option (like Hall, already locked in to appear in another series, in this case the first Stargate spin-off in 2004), as were veteran actor Hector Elizondo (deemed too old for the part), hot property young gun Adrian Pasdar (star of the ground-breaking Fox drama Profit, recently concluded after a successful multi-season run, but in talks with Bad Robot to star in a much-discussed series called Lost, which would debut in the following year), 1990s drama mainstay Jimmy Smits (who was too expensive for Sci-Fi's taste) and Noah "Dr John Carter" Wyle (who was by then pulling down $1 million per episode in E.R. and was understandably reluctant to leave). [3] In the end, the persistent Philip Segal had his way, and with Verity Lambert eventually won over, Sean Patrick Flanery was officially the new Doctor and the first American actor to take the role.

Faced with the first "American" Doctor, the production staff were initially unsure how to approach the character. Segal suggested relying on the actor's previous role in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and approaching him as, essentially, "a space-faring, time-travelling Indiana Jones; a swashbuckling archaeologist in deep space"; having opened up during his travels with Grace, this Doctor once more travelled the universe out of sheer curiosity (interfering in "interesting" situations he encounter along the way) and possessed a tremendous respect for the pursuit of knowledge. At the same time, he could be a headstrong and wilful figure, whose strong sense of right and wrong would never let him ignore a possible unjust situation. Another aspect of the character revived directly from the classic series was the Doctor's readiness to immobilise enemies with a well-placed Venusian aikido strike (something Flanery, an avid amateur martial artist since childhood, would later describe having a great deal of fun with). "I wanted him to be a man who could be very serious, always had a plan, who only reminded you he was the smartest guy in the room and you should maybe be a little scared of him when he absolutely needed to," explained Flanery, "But most of the time I hoped that the Doctor to just a fun guy to be around. I mean, this dude has a time machine! Who wouldn't have great stories to tell if they could visit the past and future?"

Having previously appeared for just under a minute at the end of "Cyberworld" (Anthony Stewart Head's final turn as the Eighth Doctor), [4] the Ninth Doctor made his full debut in the first episode (entitled simply "The New Doctor") of season four, scripted by returning veteran Paul Cornell. [5] The writer had been given a mandate to reintroduce Gallifrey to the series, following its noticeable absence throughout Anthony Head's tenure: as the Doctor's new regeneration begins to experience unforeseen complications, he instructs Grace to activate the TARDIS's emergency autopilot system and announces that he needs to go home to find the technology he needs to stabilise his genetic structure. Much of the episode concentrated on the concept of regeneration and how it affected the Doctor's ability to truly relate to human beings. [6] Further, it introduced a new complication to the Doctor's relationship with Grace, who had always appreciated his alien nature but realised she had failed to grasp how far Time Lords exceeded humanity until she visited his home planet.

This would tie into a recurring plot thread which wove throughout the Ninth Doctor's first season, specifically the seemingly innocuous question of why he had regenerated with an American accent. Initially explaining that, because he had been with Grace when he went through his regeneration, he had "imprinted" on her and duplicated her accent, the Doctor would soon be forced to admit that he had started to reciprocate her romantic interest in him and had consciously chosen his more outwardly "American" persona in an attempt to become closer to her. However, Grace struggled to reconcile to herself that the "tea and biscuits" Englishman she had befriended and travelled with could be the same person as this brash, confident adventurer. At the close of the season, Grace asked to be taken home in a sad parting with the Doctor as Yancy Butler left the series. [7] While this seemingly excessive focus on "relationship drama" was decried in some quarters, it helped to establish Flanery's take as something new and distinctive and was well-received by many fans, both in North American and at home in Britain.

From the beginning of the reboot's fifth season through to Sean Patrick Flanery's own exit from Doctor Who in after 2007 (which would prove to be a highly tumultuous time for the series), the Ninth Doctor would be accompanied on his travels by two companions; the first time the TARDIS would have a crew of more than two since the heyday of the Colin Baker era 20 years earlier.

Joining the series first was Canadian actress Rachel Skarsten (who arrived immediately from the short-lived Action Comics adaptation Birds of Prey) as history student Emma Sinclair. Her initial meeting with the Doctor was down to a misunderstanding, as she stumbled into his TARDIS after mistaking it for a genuine police call box while on holiday to visit her boyfriend in London. Emma initially travelled with the Ninth Doctor by herself for the programme's fifth season, with an arc focused on the dangers inherent in a normal human accompanying the Doctor on his adventures in time and space.

When he realised that Emma had become smitten with him, the Doctor returned to contemporary Earth and collected her long-distance British boyfriend, computer specialist Danny Price, played by British actor Reggie Yates, who remained with the series for the duration of the Ninth Doctor era. [8] Although the relationship between Danny and the Doctor was initially fractious (mainly over Emma), the duo soon proved themselves as valuable friends and allies to the Doctor, forming a team which remains one of the most popular regular cast line-ups of the reboot era. The introduction of the couple proved fortuitous, allowing the writing staff to cut down on the Doctor / companion romance plot while maintaining that element, culminating in a much-loved comedic wedding episode in the reboot's seventh season.

Other highlights of Flanery's tenure included encounters with the Daleks (with their evil creator Davros this time portrayed by American character actor Ron Perlman, albeit with a distinctive English accent, making his first reappearance on television since the reboot of the series) re-emerging to challenge the Doctor in season five. The Sontarans returned for the sixth season, while the primary story arc explored in the eighth (Flanery's last) saw the Doctor instructed by the Time Lords to resolve their often-mentioned but never seen ancient war with the Rutans, granting that old nugget of the classic series its televised portrayal at long last. New enemies would be introduced, some successful enough to become recurring menaces (the Jovian Collective, an alien hive mind introduced in one of the final Yancy Butler episodes which actually went on to serve as the chief antagonists for the sixth season) and others perhaps best left forgotten (the lurching pollution metaphor known as the Ooze). "Pure historical" adventures made a welcome return to the programme's oeuvre as well, often acting as winking nods to the lead actor's past as Indiana Jones.

Despite the misgivings that had accompanied him to the role, Sean Patrick Flanery turned out to be a popular Doctor on the whole, enough at least for the producers to deem their so-called "American experiment" successful. Flanery would continue in the role for five years and 65 episodes, the longest continuous tenure since Colin Baker in the early 1980s (with whom he had shared the second-longest occupancy of the TARDIS after Christopher Neame). Nonetheless, all goods things must come to an end, and with his place in the history books of Doctor Who secure, Flanery informed Philip Segal that he wished to leave the series at the end of its eighth season.

Unfortunately, by mid-2007, the behind-the-scenes situation was beginning to run into the problems. Some were typical of any long-running show, as Doctor Who now was (that it had continued for eight seasons and showed no signs of stopping was nothing short of remarkable; the ability of the series to rotate its cast and effectively reboot itself every few years – largely unprecedented in serial drama outside soaps – was undoubtedly the most factor in this regard). Others were circumstantial and tragically unavoidable. Verity Lambert's role in the production of the series had progressively reduced as the Ninth Doctor's run wore on as she fought a tough battle with cancer. Doctor Who's very first producer resigned for the second and final time at the end of the seventh season, leaving the 2007 season to be handled by Philip Segal alone, and would eventually succumb to her illness in late 2007 at the age of 71. For his own part, Segal had now been involved with the franchise for 10 years; he had helped to guide it to a new level of international success unparalleled in its 44-year history but now decided he had done all he could for the series. New blood was necessary to prevent the pervasive risk of stagnancy, and Segal and Lambert had already identified some strong candidates to replace them; experiences writers who had already begun seeding ideas to set the stage for their first season into Flanery's last.

Unfortunately, in a near-disaster, the Sci-Fi Channel did not see things that way. Despite the unqualified success and popularity of Doctor Who (and other original programming on the channel in the same period, particularly Ronald D. Moore's own reboot of Battlestar Galactica starring David Strathairn as Admiral Adama), some factions within the company appeared to resent that success. In 2004, the Sci-Fi Channel had come under new ownership following a merger involving its parent company to create the media giant NBCUniversal, the direct practical consequence being the arrival of new management determined to make major changes to the channel in the interest of broadening its appeal. Before long, strange listings began to creep into the Sci-Fi schedule. Law & Order reruns, extreme sports and professional wrestling were all strange fits for an ostensible science-fiction channel but that was what advertising executives said would sell, and so that was what Sci-Fi began to prioritise.

Verity Lambert's resignation and Philip Segal's report that he intended to stand down from Doctor Who with a recommended replacement, coincident with Sean Patrick Flanery and his co-stars making clear that they also wished to leave, sounded to Sci-Fi (its owners no longer concerned with the history of the series) like a coded request for an honourable cancellation for a series that had run its course. Despite the best efforts of the producer and the star to renew the series and after all the hard work undertaken to bring the series back, Doctor Who seemed to be on course for yet another premature ending at the hands of forces beyond its control.

Fortunately, this would not be the case. By now, Doctor Who was a hot property, and if Sci-Fi were too myopic or too ignorant to kill one of the geese that laid their golden eggs then other stations were resolved not to be so cavalier. The announcement soon went out that Doctor Who would not be returning to the Sci-Fi Channel in 2008. Instead, its new home was to be a young channel, then only a year old but with the weight of two major media groups – CBS and Warner Bros. Entertainment – at its back, from which it had inherited a number of popular shows which fit broadly the same creative mould as Doctor Who; Doctor Who was going to join series such as Action Comics adaptation Metropolis [9], Supernatural and Joss Whedon's Spike & Faith on the CW, and it would do so with a new lead actor, a new direction and new faces at the head of the production team.

In Sean Patrick Flanery's final appearance as the Ninth Doctor, Emma and Danny would be written out of the series in accordance with the plans of the new showrunners, retiring from their adventures with the Doctor after he was forced to erase their memories of their travels with him to protect them from the wrath of a powerful enemy. This mystery menace would subsequently prove to be none other than his old foe, the Great Intelligence (now played by Richard E. Grant), who surprises the Doctor by announcing that has come as an ally and not as an adversary.

The Intelligence reveals that he had need of the Doctor's assistance in respect of a very particular task with the fate of time itself at stake. To that end, he had manipulated him into finishing the war between the Rutans and Sontarnas, tricked him into leaving his closest friends, and now delivered his coup de grace by producing a device which forced the Doctor's regeneration.

"Your greatest challenges yet lie ahead of you, Doctor," intones the villain, "And if you are to overcome them, you must meet them with a new face…"


[1] Remembered for being one of the most expensive television series ever produced at the time, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles ran for four seasons between 1992 and 1996. Primarily an historical series (although later episodes in its run adopted some of the pulp adventure and supernatural trappings of the Indiana Jones film series), the series jumped back and forth between the childhood, teenage and young adult years of the title character's life and chronicled his meetings with famous historical figures as portrayed by guest stars, running the gamut from the Russian "mad monk" Grigori Rasputin (played by Tom Baker) to the controversial British soldier Percy Toplis (played by Paul McGann).

[2] Even unfriendly fans grudgingly gave the actor credit for making an appearance at NYCC (Doctor Who having earned a regular and popular panel at most of the major American conventions almost from the moment Anthony Stewart Head was announced as the Eighth Doctor) and giving a good account of himself before a hostile audience.

[3] Rumours abound that Dan Aykroyd was approached on the basis of his involvement in the Canadian X-Files copycat series Psi-Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal; it should be noted that the chief source of the aforesaid rumours is Dan Aykroyd himself, whose bizarre proclamations no one has been able to understand since approximately 1981.

[4] The short exchange between Yancy Butler and the newly-regenerated Sean Patrick Flanery managed to embed itself in fandom consciousness and no doubt contributed to the majority opinion turning at least cautiously in the new lead's favour: as the Eighth Doctor crumples to the ground in exhaustion, Grace rushes to his side; struggling to speak, he tells his horrified companion that he is dying, but encourages her to take heart, for this is a new beginning as much as an ending; Grace does not understand and tries to confess her feelings to her dying friend when he warns her to stay away until "the change" is complete; as she watches, his features begin to warp and reshape as he jerks about, seemingly in a state of agony; when he recovers and turns to face her, a new face is looking back at her. "Who the hell are you?" Grace demands, "And what the hell have you done with my friend?" The new face smiles disarmingly as her replies, "Who am I? Oh, surely you must recognise me, Grace? I'm the Doctor!"

[5] Cornell had previously written episodes during Anthony Stewart Head's tenure on the series (his first work for American television) on the recommendation of his friend, Neil Gaiman, and his stories had become favourites of both fans and TV critics. He was one of several British writers who received opportunities to write for the rebooted show throughout its run although his career as a novelist and comic book writer would constrain him to make further contributions past the fourth season.

[6] This was a favourite subject of Cornell's, who would revisit the concept in a season five Flanery episode (his last work as a writer for the series to date) loosely adapting his own 1995 Further Adventures novel Human Nature.

[7] Butler had been experiencing increasingly pronounced substance abuse problems during her time on the series which had made her difficult to work with. She had expressed a desire to move on from the series, and the producers were admittedly relieved to oblige.

[8] Yates, a fan of the show, had previously been a member of the ensemble cast of the long-running children's drama Grange Hill and had been presenting the Sunday morning programme Smile alongside Fearne Cotton when he was cast in Doctor Who, turning down an opportunity to present the iconic music series Top of the Pops to do so.

[9] Metropolis was a continuation / sequel / rebranding of an earlier series, Smallville, which chronicled the early adventures of a young Clark Kent in the years before he was Superman and starred Michael Rosenbaum in the lead role. Smallville had run for five seasons on the WB between 2001 and 2006, then rebooted as Metropolis following its jump to the newly-inaugurated CW channel. The "new" series moved the action to Superman's famous home city, with Rosenbaum adopting the Man of Steel's famous red and blue costume (the promise of which he regularly claimed was the entire reason he signed on in the first place) to bring the character back to television for the first time in 20 years.



Victor Garber

(2008 – 2010)

For the second time in its history, Doctor Who was settling into a new home away from home, this time on a recently-established network called the CW. Originating as a merger between CBS's United Paramount Network and Warner Bros. Entertainment's WB, the CW had inherited (alongside a litany of reality shows, game shows, professional wrestling and sitcoms) a slate of so-called "genre" series from its immediate antecedents including Supernatural (not yet the monster hit it would soon become), Metropolis (the so-called "sequel" series to the WB's DC Comics adaptation Smallville) and Willow & Faith (James Marsters and Sarah Shahi reprising the title roles from earlier appearances in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel). [1] Recognising the popularity and long-term viability of these series and others like them, network executives devised a bloc of fantasy and science-fiction shows which would air four nights a week at 9pm, pitched to the all-important "18-34 male" demographic (although it should never be ignored, of course, that each of the aforementioned series were wildly popular with female audiences as well).

When Sci-Fi announced in trade journals during Sean Patrick Flanery's final season that it had no interest in renewing Doctor Who for a ninth season in 2008, the CW jumped at the chance to fill out their remaining timeslot and began talks with Gallifrey Pictures almost immediately. As the eventual announcement of the new deal explained, Doctor Who was an ideal acquisition for the network. It had sustained consistently strong ratings since 2000, came pre-loaded with a loyal international fan base and promised to bring new viewers with it, would incur lower production costs than may have been expected of such a long-running series (grandfathered into the contract negotiated with the network by the lawyers for Gallifrey Pictures was a stipulation that the company's existing arrangements with the BBC would remain unchanged subject to the Corporation's option to terminate) and, most importantly, its ability to effectively reboot with a new cast every few years was part and parcel of the show. It looked like an infinitely renewable resource, which would no doubt prove vital if Supernatural ended as anticipated in 2010. [2] As it settled into its new home, the future of Doctor Who seemed as bright as it was secure.

However, the transition was not without complications. For almost 10 years, Philip Segal and Verity Lambert had together been the driving force of Doctor Who; it had been their determination that brought the show back and it was under their management that the series had ascended to heights exceeding anything it had achieved before. [3] Lambert's death and Segal's subsequent announcement of his decision to leave Doctor Who to move on to other projects (although he intended to remain on the board of Gallifrey Pictures in a strictly advisory capacity) was met with sadness and not some concern over the future of the series. Would their replacements understand the series the way they had? More to the point, just who were their replacements going to be?

Fortunately, plans were already in place. To begin with, actor turned prolific director Peter DeLuise was contracted by Gallifrey Pictures to serve as the programme's full-time executive producer with options to direct occasional episodes. DeLuise had first received attention for his acting roles in 21 Jump Street with Johnny Depp and subsequently in seaQuest DSV (in which he portrayed scientist Dr Anthony Dagwood in four out of that show's five seasons [4]) before expanding into directing and production. By the time he became involved in Doctor Who, DeLuise was best known as a prolific director, producer and occasional writer for the popular Stargate franchise. He was recognised as a safe pair of hands capable of keeping things on an even keel behind the scenes.

However, DeLuise was not going to serve as "showrunner" for Doctor Who. Instead, that role would be shared between two experienced British screenwriters and producers who had both been lifelong fans of the series before launching successful careers in television of their own: Russell Davies and Steven Moffat. Both writers had found their starts in the late 1980s and early 1990s working primarily in children's television; Davies with the pseudo-trilogy of BAFTA Award-winning science-fiction dramas Dark Season, Century Falls and The Heat of the Sun and Moffat with the comedy-drama Stop the Presses (which had notably featured former Seventh Doctor companion Michelle "Ace" Gomez in a leading role). From there, they had each ventured into adult drama (and in Moffat's case, some questionable but nonetheless popular sitcoms) and each wrote a handful of Doctor Who Further Adventures novels for Virgin Books along the way. Recommended to the company by Paul Cornell and Neil Gaiman, they had each contributed several scripts to Gallifrey Pictures which had been produced during the Eighth and Ninth Doctors. When the time came for Segal to finish his association with Doctor Who, he felt that Davies and Moffat were the ideal figures to take the series forward.

The new writers had ambitions plans for the series, envisioning an expansive three-year story arc which would require an actor with strong dramatic ability to carry off. After five years of stories with an American Doctor, the pair had also hoped to cast a British actor in the role once more. Moffat would subsequently recall that he and his co-showrunner had divergent ideas about who they should cast. "I was keen to get Peter Capaldi who I'd liked for a long time, and who'd recently been in The Thick of It, which had done very well, but Russell wanted to get Christopher Eccleston, who we both liked. I remember we used to discuss it for hours at a time and by the time we were done, I'd be dead set on Chris while Russell had been convinced that we needed Peter!" Davies concurred, "We had a lot of different ideas: I'd been suggesting gentlemen like Michael Sheen and Jonathan Pryce and Ioan Gruffudd while Steven, as I recall, was after someone like Angus Macfadyen or Iain Glen. I liked the Welsh actors and Steven liked the Scottish ones!" [5] Peter DeLuise would later explain that the plan devised after Segal departed his full-time production role was that the series would alternate British and American actors in the title part going forward.

However, the CW would step in to put paid to this aim by requesting firmly that the Tenth Doctor be played by an American actor, at least for the purposes of the programme's debut on the network. This unexpected move took Gallifrey Pictures by surprise; for the most part, Sci-Fi had taken fairly hands off approach to the programme for most of its run on the channel (an arrangement to which the company had grown accustomed). The new paymasters were rather more eager to protect their investment and as far as the network executives were concerned, that meant retaining an American lead "for the foreseeable future". [6] In fairness to the CW, handing the reins to two largely untested (at least in the context of the American television landscape) showrunners was a big risk for the network to take on what they hoped would become one of the tentpole features of their new programming block, and despite the best efforts of DeLuise, Gallifrey Pictures acquiesced.

Even so, the new showrunners were intent that, instructions concerning the nationality of the incoming lead notwithstanding, the Tenth Doctor would be their kind of actor, and suitable for the story they wanted to tell. They began to look at American science-fiction and fantasy series, rife at the time in the wake of the success of Lost. "Steven and I were both great admirers of Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams," Davies would explain in 2012, "So naturally that was where we looked first. Tony Head had been brilliant playing the Eighth Doctor, but I'd say we were gravitating in an Abrams-y direction. His work really pioneered that overarching meta-plot dimension we wanted to bring to Doctor Who." Among those considered were Bradley Cooper and Balthazar Getty from Alias (who both showrunners thought would be too similar to Sean Patrick Flanery) and Terry O'Quinn from Lost ("He'd have been a brilliant Doctor," said DeLuise, "But I don't think he was exactly what Russell and Steven were after for what they had planned."). [7]

In the end, Davies and Moffat were unanimous on their choice for the Tenth Doctor: Alias star Victor Garber, who had previously won a Primetime Emmy Award for his portrayal of Jack Bristow, FBI agent and father of Jennifer Garner's series lead Sydney Bristow. For his own part, Garber, much like his immediate predecessor, was unfamiliar with Doctor Who and was at first reluctant to sign on to what he suspected would be another long-term contract with another science-fiction series only a years after the conclusion of his last one, instead expressing a desire to return to Broadway. Nonetheless, he was won over by the enthusiasm of the new showrunners and impressed enough by the scope of the ideas pitched to him to put these plans on hold, particularly after they made clear that their arc was planned to last for three seasons, after which Garber would have the option to either renew or terminate his contract as he wished. With that, Victor Garber was on board. [8]

With everything in place, Davies and Moffat were ready to execute their vision. Their plan involved changing the status quo for the Doctor completely with an ambitious story arc in three distinct acts (one corresponding to a season of the programme) which Davies had originally devised called "The Time War"; a conflict between the Time Lords and the Daleks with the Doctor caught in the middle. (In fact, when the first three seasons of the CW run of Doctor Who would subsequently receive the subtitle when released as a DVD collection.) The plot was larger and more complex than anything Doctor Who had tried at just about any point in its history, beginning with the confused, angry, newly-regenerated Tenth Doctor losing control of his TARDIS and forced to "run the gauntlet" against a series of enemies and challenges by the Great Intelligence, all the while trying to puzzle out the erstwhile villain's plan. Along the way, he gathers almost against his own will an unusual team of new companions including secretive self-proclaimed "Time Agent" Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), the beautiful but deadly criminal mastermind Lady Christina de Souza (Michelle Ryan) and most surprisingly of all, his old foe the villainous Time Lady the Rani (E.R. star Alex Kingston), who he successfully captured and manged to confine to his TARDIS.

Altogether, this group of companions were more like a shanghaied crew than the friends the Doctor had traditionally invited to join him, but they suited the darker, more intense personality which Garber and the showrunners gave the Tenth Doctor. No sooner had the pieces been arrayed on the board than would, the Great Intelligence, as infuriatingly reticent as ever, reappeared to inform the Doctor that he had passed his first test. After that, the Doctor was unexpectedly recalled to his home planet for the first time in several real-world years by his old friend and former traveling companion Borusa, who has regenerated (with British actor Alice Krige stepping into the role) and ascended to the Lord Presidency of Gallifrey. The Doctor is informed that for much of his lives, he had been fighting a war they did not even know had existed, the Time War between the Time Lords and the Daleks. [9] She now wishes him to witness the shocking resurrection of the ancient leader of the Time Lords – Rassilon, played to sinister perfection by British actor Don Warrington – by a shadowy sect known as the Cult of Gallifrey using a relic of the classic series; the Gauntlet of Time.

While the Doctor is deeply suspicious, Rassilon promptly assumes control of Gallifreyan society using his psychic powers, the Gauntlet of Time and his cadre of fanatical followers and declares that the Time Lords should no longer act as mere curators of time, but as its conquerors. Once the Daleks had been defeated, the Time Lords would be the undisputed masters of tiem and space. A sceptical Borusa is soon removed from her presidency by Rassilon's agents who install their master in her place; Borusa instructs the Doctor and his team to investigate the Cult of Gallifrey before being placed in suspended animation on Rassilon's orders. Thus ended Garber's first season as the Tenth Doctor, which achieved very high ratings and enjoyed great acclaim among both television critics and most fans (even though the reimagining of several aspects of the character's history remained very controversial, as would be subsequent revisions in the coming seasons).

In the Tenth Doctor's second season, the Time War began in earnest, with many episodes set against the backdrop of the increasingly destructive conflict between the Time Lords and Daleks with the crew of the TARDIS in the middle, struggling to prevent wanton destruction on both sides while trying (occasionally aided by the Great Intelligence, who, in a major twist in the third season, was later revealed to be trapped physically in a possible future where the Time Lords won the war and was shepherding the Doctor toward a Dalek victory to ensure his own freedom) to unravel the mystery of the Cult of Gallifrey. An additional complication emerged when Rassilon, realising that the Doctor had turned against him, used the Gauntlet of Time to resurrect his arch-enemy, the Master, as an agent charged with stopping him, [10] leading to another memorable confrontation in the second season finale. Other subplots pursued in the last season included the exploration of a two-year gap in Captain Jack's memory, the contents of which would prove crucial to the endgame of the Time War storyline, Lady Christina's pursuit by Jack's fellow Time Agents and an unlikely budding romance between the Doctor and the Rani, which ended in tragedy when she was murdered by the Master with a virus that disrupted her ability to regenerate.

The Tenth Doctor's third and final season – which also fell in the tenth anniversary year of the transatlantic reboot of Doctor Who – focused almost exclusively on the Time War plot, with every episode connected in some fashion to the season's arc. It would complete the trilogy with a veritable extravaganza of cameos from recurring characters and classic actors, call backs to events from classic stories, the return of Ron Perlman as Davros and even a surprise guest appearance from Anthony Stewart Head as the Eighth Doctor. [11] A controversial eleventh hour dimension was added to the Time War story arc in the form of the Silence, a mysterious alien race whose true nature and motivations could never fully explained in the time available; capable of erasing the memories of anyone who saw them, they had previously encountered Jack Harkness in the 51st century, where he learned how to overcome them and purposefully locked away the missing two years of his own memory of them to prevent them from erasing it. Ostensibly agents of the Great Intelligence, they were revealed to be the power behind the Cult of Gallifrey and the ones ultimately responsible for the resurrection of Rassilon. [12] In the two-part season finale, "The Medusa Cascade", the war reached its final reckoning when the Daleks stole a number of planets to fashion a "reality bomb" capable of penetrating the otherwise impregnable defences of Gallifrey. In fact it was a trick designed to lure the Time Lords into a trap; a final clash in which he expected they would simply be crushed by sheer weight of Dalek numbers.

At the height of the ensuing battle, the Master characteristically double-crossed everyone else (for a change; the character even quipped that it usually him who was betrayed at the moment of his own victories) and revealed himself to be in league with the Silence, successfully taking the Gauntlet of Time from Rassilon and "retconning" Davros out of history, creating a massive paradox that seemingly destroyed all the Daleks unprotected by the energies of the Medusa Cascade. Declaring the war won for the Time Lords and himself as Master of reality, the villain was robbed of his victory when the Doctor trapped all of the participants in the Cascade and placed a "time lock" on the events of the Time War using a paradox machine designed by the Rani. For narrative purposes, the effects of the war on the universe were effectively undone, but at the cost of trapping the Time Lords and the remaining Daleks in a separate dimension from which they could never escape. The Doctor had effectively rendered himself the last of the Time Lords.

Thus ended the story that Davies and Moffat had sought to tell. It was widely celebrated in stereotypical "fan" or "nerd" circles for its "epic" scope and ostensibly mature standard of storytelling, seeing its creators hailed as heroes of the franchise. However, in later years, fans began to adopt a more nuanced and equivocal view of the sprawling Time War saga. For all its technical achievement and high ambition, the story arc never quite felt entirely cohesive, no doubt as Davies and Moffat began to pull in different directions as it progressed.

Part of this was no doubt a result of Davies's voluntary reduction of his role in the final Tenth Doctor season to care for his partner, who had recently been diagnosed with cancer, leaving Moffat to resolve the story. While Steven Moffat remains very highly regarded as a talented writer of memorable moments, scenes and individual episodes and generally more ambitious than Davies regarding the possibilities of time travel, his large-scale plotting was generally perceived as a shortcoming which hampered the series at a crucial moment. At the same time, it would be unfair to suggest that Davies, notorious for his reliance on convenient "reset button" endings, would necessarily have enjoyed any greater success had had handled the same stories largely on his own. In any event, the Time War was ultimately characterised as a brave experiment, often successful, but with a reach that frequently exceeded its grasp.

Nonetheless, one aspect of the story arc which was unquestionably successful was Garber's portrayal of the Tenth Doctor. While the unapologetically dark twist he gave to the character was sometimes a source of controversy, few could dispute that he had used his considerable personal gravitas and charisma to brilliant effect and turned out one of the most effective performances in the programme's history. At the end of the day, though, Garber decided to exit on a high note and made clear that he would not be exercising his option to extend his contract for another season.

He would be a tough act to follow, but it was time for a change once again.


[1] This line-up would be supplemented (after the endings of Willow & Faith in 2010 and Metropolis in 2012) by newer additions such as The Vampire Diaries and, from 2012 onwards, a raft of very popular series set in an interconnected shared universe based on adaptations of Action Comics properties. Popularly referred to as the "Batverse", the first instalment in this franchise was Batman: The Caped Crusader, which starred Teddy Sears as Bruce Wayne and Robbie Amell as Dick Grayson.

[2] It did not. Even today, 13 years later, there is no end in sight for Supernatural.

[3] As an indicator of their impact, Lambert was posthumously awarded a special BAFTA Award in recognition of lifetime achievement in 2008, while Segal – once something of a hate figure among British Doctor Who fans who held him responsible for "Americanising" the series – would famously take the stage to a standing ovation for a panel at the London Doctor Who Festival at Wembley Arena in 2009.

[4] DeLuise's co-stars on seaQuest had included former Doctor Who companion Stephanie Beacham in the lead role of Captain Natasha Bridger and former Jaws actor Roy Scheider, for whom DeLuise's character had been a replacement in the main cast but remained associated with the show in a recurring capacity. Another future star featured in seaQuest was Jonathan Brandis, a former child actor who would subsequently find fame portraying Anakin Skywalker in George Lucas's Star Wars prequel trilogy.

[5] In a 2012 interview with DWM, he made a surprising revelation that he and Moffat had come close to agreeing on Scottish actor David Macdonald, another lifelong Doctor Who "super fan". Macdonald declined reluctantly, citing a desire not to relocate his young family across the Atlantic, but would later attain fame in America when he was cast in the lead role of Rick Grimes in AMC's adaptation of Robert Kirkman's zombie apocalypse comic The Walking Dead. Fans to this day speculate on what might have been.

[6] "They had a couple of proposals," confirmed Peter DeLuise, "I remember getting all these notes from some guy up the chain saying, 'Use Alexis Denisof or David Anders – everybody thinks they're English anyway.' And I've got to confess I was pretty blown away to learn they weren't!"

[7] Aside from alumnus of Abrams TV series, actors discussed by the producers also identified David Strathairn, Edward James Olmos, Avery Brooks and Robert Patrick as possible Tenth Doctors.

[8] Ironically, after all the pressure to cast an American actor as the Tenth Doctor, nobody at the CW seemed to have realised that Garber was Canadian.

[9] Davies commented that the events of Terry Nation's 1975 serial "The Mystery of the Daleks", in which Christopher Neame's Fourth Doctor is sent by the Time Lords to try and destroy the Daleks before they can be created, was in fact the "opening salvo" of the conflict.

[10] Played this time by British actor Jason Isaacs.

[11] Sean Patrick Flanery was invited to return, but felt it was too soon after his own departure to reprise the Ninth Doctor role.

[12] Retrospective accounts suggested that the "Cult of Gallifrey" and "the Silence" were respectively Davies and Moffat ideas which both showrunners were eager to include but unable to fully do justice in the space they had allowed themselves, resulting in their "kitbashing" together into a crude and somewhat confusing amalgam. This somewhat awkward twist is frequently identified as the chief disappointment of the Time War story arc, and it is sometimes suggested that Steven Moffat (who ended up having to execute most of the final season by himself on short notice due to personal problems with which Davies had become occupied) may simply never have had a satisfactory ending in mind for his creations.



David Harewood

(2011 – 2014)

By 2011, Doctor Who seemed almost unstoppable. As the production prepared to enter its fourth season on the CW and its twelfth season overall since the triumphant Gallifrey Pictures reboot began, the series approached an historic milestone; Doctor Who was already the longest-running science-fiction series in British television history and was now poised to snag the same title on American television as well. [1]

However, even as the pending achievement was celebrated in the pages of Doctor Who Monthly, the event threw into sharp relief one fact that had been gnawing at many fans, particularly at home in Britain (for Britain was still considered "home" for the series) that American actors had monopolised the title role for eight consecutive years between 2003 and 2010. Although both Sean Patrick Flanery and Victor Garber had enjoyed tremendous popularity in their time piloting the TARDIS, many British viewers were starting to feel concerned that Tony Head's Eighth Doctor had been a smokescreen; even with the hotly anticipated fiftieth anniversary of the programme looming ever larger on the horizon, some fans worried that (episodes filmed in Britain notwithstanding) Doctor Who had become "an American show" and the Doctor would be only played by American actors from now on. [2]

Following the departure of Russell Davies from Doctor Who, Steven Moffat decided that he still had stories left to tell for the series and opted to remain on as sole showrunner for the series. Despite the niggling doubts about the resolution of Victor Garber's final season as the Tenth Doctor, fans were nonetheless broadly enthusiastic (even if Moffat himself was occasionally viewed with an element of trepidation, nobody denied his raw talent for clever writing and creating "moments" which, typically, would quickly seized be upon by online fandom and turned into endlessly reblogged and retweeted memes and gifs) and Moffat was confident that he had by now earned the necessary cachet with the CW to enjoy suitable latitude to choose the incoming Eleventh Doctor.

Moving up to become Moffat's immediate lieutenant was Dan Slott (by then a veteran of the writers' room who also shared many of the same creative impulses as Moffat), who had started to take on an increasingly prominent role in the storytelling direction of the series with the contribution of several well-received scripts for the Time War storyline. [3] An avid fan of the series for many years, Slott had first encountered Doctor Who in the form of grainy "all-nighter" broadcasts of Christopher Neame serials on PBS in the mid-1970s (the first story Slott saw, as he would recall in interviews many years later, was "The Sting of the Black Scorpion"). He spent several of his teenage years living in Britain, where he became eager consumer of the novelisations of stories from the William Hartnell and John Le Mesurier eras published by Target Books and developed a profound appreciation for the importance of the programme's history and heritage in the UK. Slott encouraged Moffat and Peter DeLuise to cast a British actor in the lead role, but it was reportedly his idea that they should aim to make an even bigger splasy by casting a black or female actor in the role; although Art Malik had been the first non-white Doctor cast back in 1987, there was a growing sense in Doctor Who fandom that the show, especially in light of its popularity in America, was running the risk of locking out actors who were not older white men unless something just a little bit different and a little bit more adventurous was attempted with regard to the casting of the lead actor.

Before such considerations became pertinent, Moffat had had a few possibilities in mind to play the Eleventh Doctor, only to learn that most of them had already taken other work or would otherwise be unavailable when shooting began. Most significantly, Moffat's first choice was actually David Macdonald, the Scottish actor Davies would later disclose had been invited to audition to play the Tenth Doctor but was forced to decline for personal reasons; by then, Macdonald was already committed to AMC and consequently no longer available. Another old Tenth Doctor prospect, Peter Capaldi (who had previously gained fame as the foul-mouthed political operative Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It) was also considered, but he too was already filming for a new American series set to premiere the following year. [4] Former James Bond actor Timothy Dalton was reportedly considered but was most likely never a realistic prospect, given his existing schedule of film work. [5] Rumours circulated briefly that Tilda Swinton could on course to debut as the first female Doctor, although it was widely accepted that an Academy Award winning actress with a reputation for appearing in art films was perhaps not the most likely candidate to commit to a potentially long-term role on an admittedly entertaining but only occasionally challenging science-fiction series broadcast on the "young adult" channel.

Eventually, Moffat – after consulting with Slott, DeLuise and network higher-ups – made a decision and contacted veteran British actor David Harewood to invite him to audition. At 45, Harewood had been acting for close to 20 years and was fairly well-known in his home country despite never quite having broken out in a major leading role. He would explain shortly after moving on from the role that, when he was cast as the Eleventh Doctor, he was in fact facing significant money problems as a result of personal issues had prevented him from working for more than a year, and was even reported to have been considering giving up acting entirely. [6] Aside from the financial security offered by Doctor Who, Harewood also appreciated that being the first black actor to play the Doctor would be symbolically significant and was optimistic that his casting would help to create similar opportunities for other black actors, in Britain as well as in America, and indeed the world beyond that. "I think Doctor Who has always had a very progressive tenor," the actor explained, "A lot of people have been congratulating me for receiving such a marvellous opportunity and they're absolutely right; I think it's a great opportunity to open doors, not just for myself, but for every person of colour in the business today."

Faced with the onerous task of following the immensity of the Time War arc, the writers' room was initially unsure of how to meet the challenge satisfactorily. It was decided that there were two realistic choices: either get everything out of the way in one go; or leave it until Harewood's putative later seasons and focus on a lighter, more upbeat tone to help establish the new character. Perhaps ominously, Moffat had already devised another plan for a long-running story arc which he explained would involve lower but more personal stakes than the Time War and would build up to the fiftieth anniversary of the series which he had no desire to interrupt just to revisit the story which he felt he and Davies had already concluded decisively.

Therefore, he ruled that Harewood's run as the Doctor would provisionally encompass two stories. The first would be a single-season arc which would function as a coda to the Time War while the second would cover two or three seasons (depending on Harewood's desire to stay on) and explore Moffat's new story. With the unofficial title "The Last of the Time Lords", the Eleventh Doctor's first season went in an unexpected direction by taking the Doctor back to Earth and reuniting him with Grace Holloway, with Yancy Butler (who by then had spent many years working to tackle her personal demons) reprising her role for a single season. Returning to San Francisco, the Doctor is uniquely characterised as no longer wanting to be the Doctor, resentful of his predecessor's decision to regenerate by choice once the Time War was "won" and, to all intents and purposes, "pass the buck" on to his new incarnation. Remembering his "first" adventures (i.e. of the revival), he seeks out Grace, learning that she has enjoyed great success in her career since leaving the TARDIS but has grown jaded at the normality of her life on Earth, and invites her on one last adventure. In the course of their new travels together, the duo encounter and eventually overcome the apparent ghost of the Master, which tempts and tests them on several occasions before he is revealed to be the villainous Time Lord's final booby trap.

When all was said and done, the Eleventh Doctor had reconciled himself to his previous incarnation's actions while Grace likewise finds a "happy ending" when she and the Doctor part ways for the second and final time, remaining on an alien world she had visited with the Eighth Doctor years before, to which she had since retained a personal connection. The Eleventh Doctor's first season and its overarching storyline were praised as one of the best of the revival, with Harewood's acting and interactions with Jason Isaac's "false Master" coming in for particularly high praise. The Doctor's characterisation was now fit to be rebuilt from the ground up, and Harewood, Moffat and the series' other writers would quickly move to take him in a different direction from his initial uncertainty about what "being the Doctor" meant in the post-Time War universe. [7] He had as much personal intensity as the Tenth Doctor, but it was now leavened by deep sense of compassion; he was a questioning crusader determined to stand up as best as he could for everyone who had fallen through the cracks of the Time War, ranging from individuals to planets to entire species. While all of the revival's Doctors have been praised for their strength of characterisation, Harewood's Eleventh Doctor is widely regarded as having the best character arc and development; for much of the preceding decade, the Doctor had been a rock against which the events of the series crashed, but in Harewood's hands he became the unambiguous focus of the programme for the first time in many years.

With the Eleventh Doctor's "prologue" story arc out of the way, Moffat could shift focus to the story he wanted to tell, which kicked off in the thirteenth season premiere ("Asylum of the Cybermen") with the introduction of a new companion called Clara Oswald, played by American actor Chyler Leigh. Claiming that she hailed from a distant future, Clara seemed to be familiar with the Doctor and would later reveal that his first meeting with her was not her first meeting with him. More ominously, the Doctor would soon learn that Clara was a refugee from the alternate future he had glimpsed during the Time War in which the Time Lords won and imposed a tyrannical rule over the universe. How this "Impossible Girl" had arrived in the main continuity was the focus of the thirteenth and fifteenth seasons, as the Doctor criss-crossed time on a scavenger hunt for relics of the conflict, intent on puzzling out how a future he saw erased could still exist and how Clara could have escaped from it.

By some distance the greatest success of the Eleventh Doctor's era was the fiftieth anniversary adventure, the three-part story "The End of Time", which saw Russell Davies returning to co-write with Moffat. Also reappearing in a major twist (somehow kept secret right up until the broadcast date) were Anthony Stewart Head, Sean Patrick Flanery and Victor Garber as the Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Doctors; the first time more than two previous Doctors had teamed up on television. [8] Returning once more to the well of the Time War (it loosely tied into Moffat's ongoing Clara arc, although with four Doctors in the mix she ended up with relatively little to do), the Doctors discovered that the Time Lords and Daleks trapped in the Time War had unexpectedly allied themselves, and were preparing to combine their powers to break the time lock and escape to resume their war in real time. Although the Doctors were able to stop them, several Dalek ships (among other individuals and entities) managed to escape, ensuring their ability to reappear. [9]

Harewood's final season dealt with the resolution of Moffat's Clara storyline; although some of the writing was praised, most agreed that the Eleventh Doctor's run had peaked with the fiftieth, after which going "back to normal" was something of a disappointment. After four years in the role, Harewood had finally achieved the long overdue recognition many critics agreed he had earned many times over and, confident that his legacy as the Doctor was now secure, announced that he would be leaving the series at the end of its fifteenth season to explore other projects. So too did Steven Moffat decide to end his run as showrunner, handing over to his ever-loyal ally Dan Slott, the first American to enjoy exclusive status as chief writer of Doctor Who, who (having unsuccessfully tried to persuade the popular lead to stay for on another year [10]) immediately began the search for David Harewood's replacement.


[1] This milestone nonetheless came with a significant disclaimer attached: because Doctor Who had been broadcasting 13-episode seasons since 2000, it had amassed a back catalogue of 143 episodes; a huge number in its own right, but only around half the totals of its closest competitors. Star Trek: The Next Generation had run for eight seasons and 200 episodes while The X-Files had broadcast 222 episodes in 10. Taken altogether, Smallville and Metropolis had actually run for a combined 12 seasons and 263 episodes between them, while the combined total of Stargate: SG-1 and its own direct successor, Stargate Command, would together end up totalling a mammoth 374 episodes across 18 combined seasons when Command completed its own 11 season run in 2015.

[2] Rumours abounded that the BBC was speculating ending its relationship with Gallifrey Pictures and allowing the CW to assume sole responsibility for the series, although these were entirely unfounded and Doctor Who remains a crucial component of the BBC's catalogue of programmes to this day.

[3] Slott originally made his name as a jobbing writer of superhero comics for both of the main companies, Marvel and Action, in the early 1990s. At Marvel, he worked primarily on back-up strips in various comics, while at Action, he was best known for his work in the Flash Adventures comic, which tied in to Bruce Timm and Paul Dini's The Flash: The Animated Series. Always a big fan of Doctor Who, he became involved in the series in 2001 after one of his spec scripts was produced in Anthony Stewart Head's final season, and soon became a full-time TV writer with a seat in the Doctor Who writers' room while continuing to write for Marvel Comics as a sideline.

[4] Capaldi had been cast as the villainous Rumpelstiltskin / Mr Gold the Disney-backed fantasy drama series Once Upon a Time on ABC, a role which he occupies to this day.

[5] Dalton had portrayed Lord Asriel in the 2008 film Northern Lights, a big-screen adaptation of Philip Pullman's first His Dark Materials novel, and in 2010 was filming scenes for its sequel, The Subtle Knife, which prevented him from taking much work in television.

[6] In the same interview, Harewood would comment that he had also received an invitation to audition for the role of David Estes on the Showtime series Homeland, which eventually went to Lance Reddick.

[7] Some fans have suggested that this direction was a comment on criticism of David Harewood's casting from a small ("I imagine there's more Doctor Who fans upset with a bespectacled Doctor than a black Doctor," joked Harewood) but loud contingent of less forward-thinking (i.e. racist) members of the audience; Steven Moffat has always remained cagey, insisting that he cast the best actor who auditioned and that the same story would have gone ahead anyway regardless of who was playing the Eleventh Doctor; Harewood has likewise acknowledged it as a potentially valid reading of the storyline, but that he believed it was a basic identity crisis / PTSD focused-story as opposed to any deliberate commentary on reactions to his casting. "I'm aware there was a bit of racism," Harewood remarked, "And I suppose there'll always be backwards people; that's just the world we live in. But I'm very gratified to say that I received a very warm welcome from the fans." Indeed, ratings for Doctor Who underwent a noticeable uptick during Harewood's tenure (becoming the CW's top-rated non-reality series) suggesting that he had indeed managed to expand the audience.

[8] The working title for the story had been "The Four Doctors", which was abandoned when it was decided that the reappearances of previous Doctors in the final moments of the first episode should be a surprise rather than a feature advertised prior to broadcast. The four surviving classic Doctors (Peter Wyngarde, Christopher Neame, Colin Baker and Art Malik) made cameo appearances.

[9] The Daleks had had a limited presence after the Time War arc concluded; the writers had relied more heavily on the Cyberman, Sontarans and Rutans as recurring classic villains and new series monsters like the Jovian Collective in their absence.

[10] Almost as soon as he announced his departure, Harewood landed a major film role as the Martian Manhunter in the 2016 film Supergirl Returns.



Noah Wyle

(2015 – 2017)

Following the departure of Steven Moffat as showrunner at the end of the programme's fifteenth season, Doctor Who was ready to reinvent itself once more. Dan Slott, veteran of the writers' room in one way, shape or form for almost the entire run of the rebooted version of the series, had ascended to the showrunner position and was ready to place his own stamp on the programme just as his predecessors had done. Also new to the scene was the new executive producer, Jane Espenson, an experienced television producer and a well-regarded writer in her own right who was engaged by Gallifrey Pictures after Peter DeLuise opted not to renew his contract after 2014 and parted ways with the company amicably. [1] Despite his best efforts, Slott had been unable to persuade David Harewood to stay on for another season as the Eleventh Doctor, and though disappointed, was keen to find a new actor to take on the role.

Slott had no preference between British or American actors. Having spent several years of his youth living in Britain (where he had become a dyed-in-the-wool Doctor Who fan), he was sensitive to its cultural significance and popularity in its home country. At the same time, he reasoned that after fourteen years and four corresponding Doctors, British and (North) American had between them divvied the series up fairly evenly. [2] The television landscape had changed once again in the four years since David Harewood first stepped on to the Vancouver soundstage to film his first episode as the Eleventh Doctor: the kind of genre shows the CW had been trading in for more than a decade, that the Doctor Who reboot, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a handful of other notables had played a very significant role in influencing, inspiring and popularising, had broken out into the mainstream.

The growth of new online outlets made interaction with fans – and fan responses – more direct and more immediate than ever before. [3] The importance of conventions as both a promotional tool, venue for fan socialising and even as a source of income for actors was likewise greater than at any time since the first golden age of Star Trek conventions in the 1970s. With the stars of genre series such as The Walking Dead, Once Upon a Time, The Rocketeer: The Golden Age [4] and the CW's own "Batverse" franchise of Action Comics adaptations sometimes earning more in one weekend of personal appearances than their per episode rates, more actors than ever were interested in getting "franchise" work.

And where did Doctor Who find itself in all this? Even Moffat's toughest critics could not deny his talent for creating memorable "moments" in his episodes, which could easily be turned into gifs, repurposed as memes and then endlessly reblogged on Tumblr or Twitter or any number of social media fora. His decision to take a chance on David Harewood as the Eleventh Doctor had likewise paid up dividends, helping Doctor Who to reach out to heretofore untapped audiences, which had helped to make the fanbase broadly younger and much more diverse in the process. In the same fashion, Harewood's ever-thoughtful commentary (a highlight of his frequent interviews and discussions with fans) on matters relating to the representation of female and minority actors in media in general and in genre media in particular, had contributed to the programme's reputation for having its finger on the pulse on the pop culture zeitgeist. [5] Both factors taken together were certainly a big contributor to the Doctor Who social media profile.

As far as Dan Slott and Jane Espenson were concerned, nothing was broken and nothing needed fixing, and their strategy should be to identify an actor who would appeal to the younger and more diverse audience and write stories designed to appeal to "the Internet generation – the millennials". In the landscape in which Doctor Who now found itself, the producers seemed almost spoiled for choice. Thus far in its existence, the regeneration of a Doctor had usually presaged for the producers and casting directors a long and difficult process of canvassing and auditioning prospective leads, many of whom may have been reluctant to commit potentially the best years of their careers to becoming tied down in a science-fiction series. However, with Doctor Who enjoying a newfound privileged position as the solid rock of the science-fiction television environment (previously occupied by Star Trek: The Next Generation and The X-Files), the production team could be forgiven for expecting actors to start coming to them. Particularly because, in this case, that is exactly what happened.

Noah Wyle had become one of the most recognisable men on television for his lengthy run playing Dr John Carter on the hit hospital drama ER from its premiere in 1994 until after its eleventh season in 2005. Charismatic and handsome, Wyle had become one of the leading TV heartthrobs of the 1990s and was drawing a million dollar per episode salary (purportedly one of the highest in television history) by the time his association with the series came to an end. He had previously been one of the actors approached to play the Ninth Doctor in 2003 following the departure of Anthony Stewart Head while still appearing in ER, and while he had been interested, there was no way Sci-Fi could have realistically matched what NBC could offer and so Wyle politely declined the invitation. At the time, producer Philip Segal half-jokingly remarked that he would be free to audition if he ever felt the inclination when the role next became available; although perhaps not meant seriously, Wyle's interest was piqued.

During his penultimate season on ER and in the years afterwards, Wyle appeared as lead character Flynn Carsen – insecure polymath turned swashbuckling adventurer – in a series of four television films which formed the Librarian franchise, which aired between 2004 and 2010 on TNT. Generally "liked" rather than acclaimed, the series was characterised by critics as "mainstream adventure fare" and its protagonist acknowledged favourably as a kind of loose 21st century version of Indiana Jones. However, as Flynn Carsen dallied with a succession of turncoat Librarians, secret societies, ancient conspiracies, vampires and (in what is currently the final entry in the series, 2010's The Mystery of Atlantis) visitors from outer space, it began to look more and more akin to the adventures of Sean Patrick Flanery as the Ninth Doctor, then airing concurrently on Sci-Fi. Following the conclusion of the Librarian films, Wyle took the lead role (and an executive producer credit) on the sci-fi series Falling Skies (also on by TNT) which had broadcast its last episode that year. [6]

Although not initially a fan of the series, Wyle had becoming a devoted viewer of Doctor Who shortly after its revival with Anthony Stewart Head. Despite having turned down the offer to play the Ninth Doctor, his experience working on the Librarian films reinvigorated his interest; when David Harewood announced his departure, Wyle went directly to Jane Espenson, told her that he felt that he could be a good Twelfth Doctor and informed her of Philip Segal's old "promise" from more than a decade earlier. Although Espenson was not inclined to take said promise seriously, Slott was intrigued by Wyle's clear enthusiasm for the part and convinced Espenson to let him audition. The actor managed to impress the producers and was announced as the next Doctor shortly before the end of the final Harewood season.

At 43, Wyle was perhaps at the high end of the age range in which the producers wanted to cast, but his energy and enthusiasm made him seem a much younger man. In several interviews explaining the casting choice, Slott remarked that Wyle was, "The right age to be your favourite uncle; he's old enough to be a reassuring, authority kind of guy, but he's not so old he wouldn't be approachable. And he can be a really fun, playful guy without seeming like an overgrown child." [7] Wyle's existing profile almost certainly played a significant role in his seemingly perfunctory casting; going solely by numbers, he was by some distance the biggest star Doctor Who had snagged as its lead since the revival's debut in 2000. For the most part, he was met optimistically by fans on both sides of the Atlantic, although Slott would in later years (as details of the process came out) come under criticism for "forcing through" Wyle as the Twelfth Doctor. [8]

Joining the Twelfth Doctor in the TARDIS was new companion Dawn Greenwood, a character created by Slott (but clearly very strongly influenced by Steven Moffat). [9] She was played by Willa Holland, whose casting marked the first time in history of Doctor Who that the TARDIS had a completely American crew; Slott would alter this situation partway through the Twelfth Doctor's first season with the addition of second companion Doug Taggert, a young Londoner played by British actor Franz Drameh. This would remain the show's regular full-time line-up throughout the remainder of Wyle's three seasons as the Twelfth Doctor. By some measures, this trio represented one of the youngest main casts in Doctor Who history (Wyle was 44, Holland 24 and Drameh 22), and certainly fit the aim to target the younger and more diverse audience the series had attracted since its debut on the CW five years earlier.

Wyle played the Twelfth Doctor himself as "an old man trapped in a young man's body"; a consciously "alien" individual possessed of seemingly boundless energy (his behaviour could sometimes seem to verge on manic), who loved solving problems but could easily become distracted by anything unusual enough to capture his interest. He was also self-admitted thrill-seeker consumed by an insatiable love of adventure and never shied away from a fight despite his unassuming intellectual trappings [10]. Totally assured of his own intelligence, the new Doctor dressed and lectured like a university professor, taking in a vast array of diverse subjects and often making references to the adventures of his distant youth (frequently added to other writers' scripts by Slott, an incorrigible continuity stickler). Altogether, he readily conveyed the "eccentric teacher taking his students on school field trip to the stars" theme that Slott was eager to explore. For his own part, Noah Wyle described his portrayal of the Doctor as "a mixture of Indiana Jones, Sherlock Holmes and a grown-up Harry Potter; Dan and I treat him a bit like a wizard with a sonic screwdriver for a magic wand."

Plans announced concerning the plotting of the Twelfth Doctor era were expected to be another key divergence; Slott made clear that he wanted to downplay the thoroughly involved and serialised multi-season story arcs of the Garber and Harewood years in favour of an increased focus on stand-alone episodic stories advancing a comparatively looser continuing arc. Such news was initially welcomed; although the Time War storyline had been highly acclaimed, the ongoing arcs put in motion by Moffat during his run as the sole showrunner had popularly been looked at askance for being confusing, too ambitious and unsatisfyingly resolved. So too as the use of two-part stories due to be kept at a premium (each of the three Twelfth Doctor seasons, with the notable exception of the second, featured a two-part premiere, a two-part story in the middle of the season, and a two-part finale) although this was ultimately judged to be detrimental to narrative development.

Tonally, the Twelfth Doctor was decidedly brighter, more optimistic and straightforward than the darker, more complex takes on the character pursued previously by Russell Davies and Steven Moffat. [11] To an extent, this was reflective of Slott's instincts as a writer, but so too could Noah Wyle share in the responsibility for the change in direction. Initially unbeknownst to Slott, he had managed to negotiate an executive producer credit out of Gallifrey Pictures to last for the duration of his time as its lead actor (not the first Doctor Who lead to make such an attempt, but the first to do so successfully) and exercised a small degree of influence over the creative direction of his character. [12]

In amongst the usual recurring encounters with traditional enemies such as the Cybermen and Daleks (enough of them having escaped the Time War following the 50th anniversary to justify their return as recurring adversaries for the TARDIS crew), Slott created a novel story arc for the Twelfth Doctor's first season in which the Doctor encountered a long-forgotten opponent of John Le Mesurier's Second Doctor, the so-called "Master of the Land of Fiction". Portrayed by the acclaimed American character actor Matt Frewer and now proclaiming himself the "Lord of Stories" (the rename was judged necessary to avoid confusion with the Doctor's more famous adversary, the Master), the villain summoned up fiction's most fiendish (public domain) villains to menace the Doctor, including Count Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, Professor Moriarty and others. While comparisons with Once Upon a Time were inevitable, the storyline was very well-regarded.

However, the most famous story conceived by Slott was a rare three-part adventure that served as the finale to the second Twelfth Doctor season (the only three-part story in the entire Noah Wyle era). This story featured the inevitable return of the Master, once more played by a returning Jason Isaacs, who claimed to have been changed by his experience of being trapped in the Time War and expressed a desire to turn over a new leaf and help the Doctor to explore and protect the universe. This was, of course, a ruse, allowing the Master to trap the Doctor and use experimental telepathic technology to switch bodies with his enemy as part of a scheme to blacken the Doctor's name by stealing his TARDIS and terrorising the galaxy. His endgame, he boasted, was to prove once and for all that he could be "the superior Doctor". Wyle and Isaacs's respective portrayals of the Master as the Doctor and the Doctor as the Master proved very well-received for their successful combination of drama and humour (although the story itself raised some eyebrows).

Nonetheless, despite these successes, despite the broadly positive reaction received by the Twelfth Doctor and despite Noah Wyle's frequent expressions of clearly genuine enthusiasm for Doctor Who and his role, there was something – something undefinable – about his three years in the role never quite seemed to "click". Nobody was entirely sure what exactly that something actually was: perhaps the change in tone (for all that it was not completely unwelcome) had been too much, too soon, too fast; perhaps Wyle had enjoyed too much creative influence as an executive producer and someone should have reined him in; perhaps Jane Espenson had been the wrong choice to produce; perhaps Dan Slott, for all his skill as a writer of strong characters, simply did not have what it took to act as full-time showrunner for an ongoing science-fiction series; [13] perhaps the stories were too pedestrian, failing to live up to the adventurousness that Wyle's Twelfth Doctor always exuded; perhaps the persistent, semi-substantiated reports of Slott and Wyle not getting on, the former resenting the status as "face" of Doctor Who after so many years spent waiting in Moffat's shadow, had more than a grain of truth to them.

Whatever the reason, Noah Wyle announced that he would be standing down as Twelfth Doctor after three seasons piloting the TARDIS through time and space (although the ever dependable Willa Holland and Franz Drameh both made clear that they wished to stay for the foreseeable future, prompting the fandom to breathe a sigh of relief). Wyle's Doctor at least received a heroic exit from the series, as the Doctor was fatally poisoned by the radiation of the malfunctioning time core of an experimental Rutan time machine to save the lives of Dawn and Doug. [14] Preliminary retrospective accounts of the Twelfth Doctor era remain divided; it is oceans apart from the disaster of the James Hazeldine years but it is seldom noted as anyone's favourite. Likewise, Noah Wyle himself continues to perform favourably in historical rankings of Doctors even if his performance was sometimes divisive; most fans and critics agree that he was underserved by his stories (which themselves still they enjoy fervent support in Doctor Who fandom), which gamely tried to do something different but lacked ambition when it came down to the crunch. If and when history comes to sum up the Twelfth Doctor in one word, it is unfortunately likely to be one word which should never describe Doctor Who: "nondescript".

A short time afterwards, Dan Slott – who had privately resolved to be the longest-lasting showrunner in Doctor Who history – announced on his newly-reactivated Twitter account that he would be leaving as showrunner as well, ending an association with Doctor Who that had lasted almost 16 years. He would return to comics writing full time, beginning a celebrated run on Marvel's The Amazing Spider-Man in the summer of 2018. In a much more surprising move, Jane Espenson said that she intended not to renew her contract with Gallifrey Pictures, although she would remain in an advisory capacity until a suitable replacement could be found to guide the programme into its record-setting 19th season. [15]

At the end of the day, this was only a setback. Even if Supernatural and the "Batverse" franchise had been nipping at its heels, Doctor Who was still the highest-rated drama on the CW and the veritable crown jewel in its popular slate of genre shows. Its momentum had lagged slightly, perhaps out of a sense of complacency in its comfortable position, but could be recovered by trying something really adventurous once again. As fans watched on and speculated, long meetings were being held between Gallifrey Picture, the CW and representatives from the BBC, after which a clear agreement was reached. Doctor Who was going to do something ground-breaking – something it had never done in the 55-year history of the programme.

The world was ready for a female Doctor.


[1] Primarily associated with Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer franchise, Espenson had written and produced a number of episodes for parent series and the first spin-off, Angel, before serving as showrunner for the third and fourth seasons of Spike & Faith. She had also worked on the fourth, fifth and sixth seasons of Ronald D. Moore's Battlestar Galactica reboot on Doctor Who's old home channel, Sci-Fi, and contributed scripts for several episodes of Moore's Western drama series Hangtown for ABC.

[2] Head and Harewood had been the Doctor for seven seasons altogether while Flanery and Garber between them had had eight, but Slott liked to joke that, "Victor's Canadian, so that about evens it out."

[3] Slott himself had become somewhat notorious for engaging forcefully on Twitter with the various and numerous critics of predecessor Steven Moffat's tenure as showrunner; this resulted in an awkward situation in which Slott had managed to become the face of the behind-the-scenes dimension of the series (Moffat had little time for or interest in social media) and consequently was already a lightning rod for criticism when he took the hot seat. He was quietly instructed to close his account shortly after his appointment.

[4] Developed for television by Joe Johnston, who had previously directed the 1991 film, The Rocketeer: The Golden Age was produced for ABC by Marvel Studios from 2012 onwards, despite not being a Marvel property. Details remain vague, but the arrangement most likely came about through Johnston's work directing the first two Captain America films for the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise, which shared The Rocketeer's evocative "period" setting (Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain America: Revenge of the Red Skull, together chronicling the Star-Spangled Man With a Plan's adventures during the Second World War). Functioning as a reboot of the film and consistently described by critics as "relentlessly upbeat", the series stars Stephen Amell as Cliff Secord and British actor James D'Arcy as the dastardly Neville Sinclair.

[5] A reputation perhaps not entirely well-deserved. Notwithstanding the unexpectedly immense popularity enjoyed by Chyler Leigh for her portrayal of Clara Oswald (who surprisingly became one of the most popular Halloween costumes for young girls during her time on the show and whose action figures were among the most in-demand merchandise associated with the series), Moffat's ability to actually write female characters sensitively (despite what many critics observed were honest acknowledgements of his shortcomings and genuine attempts to improve) left a few things to be desired.

[6] A fifth Librarian telefilm – which Wyle had hoped to co-write and produce himself – was mooted for 2012, but would never get any further than conceptual stages after Wyle's casting in the science-fiction series Falling Skies in 2011 left him too busy to commit to another appearance as Flynn Carsen.

[7] At 58, Victor Garber had been the oldest actor cast as the Doctor while David Harewood had left Doctor Who shortly before his 50th birthday; both the outgoing production supremoes (DeLuise and Moffat) and their incoming successors were consequently interested in casting another younger actor ("a real CW type", reported on backstage source) as the Twelfth Doctor, with names discussed including British actors Jamie Dornan (discounted when everybody involved realised no one would be able to understand his accent), Charlie Cox, Arthur Darvill and Theo James, and Americans Josh Dallas, Rick Cosnett, Ian Somerhalder and Mehcad Brooks. For a time, Kit Harrington seemed the odds on favourite but had to be discounted when the producers realised that Jon Snow had not died at the end of Game of Thrones' fifth season.

[8] While the actor's forthright pursuit of the role gave him a significant leg-up on competitors, who generally had to be approached with invitations to audition, he did have to try out for the role; there was no "coronation" (as some disgruntled fans described it) and the final say rested with Espenson as executive producer, who Wyle was successfully able to impress.

[9] Dawn, a young woman from present-day Massachusetts who wore polka-dotted clothes, always had a quip at the ready and possessed a distinctly "quirky" personality, was in fact deemed to be so similar to a typical Moffat character that many fans actively speculated that she was a leftover Slott had inherited, even though she was entirely the new showrunner's own work.

[10] At the actor's suggestion, the Twelfth Doctor's time in the TARDIS saw the reintroduction of the largely-forgotten idea dating from Peter Wyngarde's tenure almost 40 years earlier that the Doctor was an expert fencer, a characteristic Wyle relished enacting on screen.

[11] In Britain, entertainment reporters for the Daily Mail newspaper – which had typically been critical to the point of hyperbole regarding the decision to cast American actors as the Doctor (and then intensely resentful of their ensuing popularity in Britain as well as America) – went so far as to praise the Twelfth Doctor era for making Doctor Who "more of a family show than it has been since William Hartnell was in the TARDIS."

[12] Despite being best known for his appearances in adult-oriented drama, Wyle cared deeply about family-friendly entertainment having a place in the primetime television schedule and recognised that Doctor Who was well-suited to realising this aim. This was also a likely factor in the appearances of several acclaimed historical episodes during his tenure on the programme. Slott was receptive to the direction, reasoning that he or his own successor would have an obvious "new direction" for the inevitable Thirteenth Doctor by bringing back a darker or more ambiguous tone.

[13] Rumours have abounded that, after what had been a very strong start, the pressure of running Doctor Who (and a noted taste for attending conventions when he perhaps should have been writing) meant that Slott began to fall behind on his own scripts, which sometimes had to be finished collaboratively by other members of the writers' room. This rumour has been denied by Slott, Espenson, Wyle and other members of the cast and crew, although CW network memos leaked shortly after Slott quit the series appear to cast some doubt on their assurances.

[14] Slott later confessed that he was at a loss over how to handle the Twelfth Doctor’s regeneration into the Thirteenth and explained that the idea he eventually used was a holdover, suggested by Russell Davies as a possible means for Victor Garber's Tenth Doctor to regenerate more than five years earlier.

[15] Espenson subsequently admitted that she had never really acclimatised to Doctor Who, claiming that she had been hired by Gallifrey Pictures for her experience with "CW shows" more so than any affinity for Doctor Who and explaining that she had placed a great deal of reliance on Dan Slott, who was a "super fan" as showrunner.


A female Doctor? Could it be done? Throughout the history of Doctor Who, it had been taken as a given that the Doctor was fundamentally a male character and that he would remain so throughout all of his lives. Such had it always been, all the way back to the day William Hartnell first emerged from the shadows of a misty junkyard on Totters' Lane, all those storied years ago in 1963. In the five decades since, each of the eleven subsequent actors who had taken on the role, to varying degrees of success, had been male; for most of the programme's history, the alternative had simply not been seriously considered. The usual jokes – that Doctor Who would have to become Nurse Who if it ever happened – had predictably made the round over the years, impressing few and amusing fewer, and increasingly so with the passage of time.

When the series was rebooted and accepted by a new, larger and more diverse audience than ever before, attitudes began to change. For the most part it was essentially result of sheer historical inertia; Britain had had two female prime ministers and America one female president since the 1963 and the concept no longer seemed so unthinkable. Even so, it may have surprised many less eagle-eyed viewers to realise that the concept of a male Time Lord regenerating into a female form was been acknowledged as a possibility as early as 1971 in a Malcolm Hulke serial "The Ambassadors of Death" featuring Peter Wyngarde's Third Doctor.

Set during the days of the Doctor's confinement to Gallifrey as a trouble-shooter for the High Council of the Time Lords, the serial was among the most successful representations of Hulke's characteristic subversive political attitudes and is remembered today as one of the programme's all-time classics. However, buried amidst its intrigue and suspense was the Doctor's blink-and-you'll-miss-it off-hand reference (delivered with Peter Wyngarde's charismatic eye-winking charm) to an unseen Time Lord colleague, of whom he playfully remarked, "He was such the most dreadful stick-in-the-mud as an old man, you know, but she's been much more, hmm, interesting as a young woman." Unfortunately, this line was later singled out by Mary Whitehouse and her National Viewers and Listeners Association during that organisation's homophobic campaign against Wyngarde which resulted in his untimely departure from the series. The topic was not generally broached after that.

This changed in 2009, during Russell Davies and Steven Moffat's tenure as showrunners during their sprawling Time War story arc. In the season 10 finale ("The Fall of Arcadia"), a male Time Lord is shot and fatally wounded by a Dalek and unexpectedly regenerates into a new female incarnation. Within minutes, the Internet was in an uproar, with passionate discussions of that one scene dominating virtually all consideration of the episode itself; for the first time in many years, the prospect of a female Doctor looked like it could be a very real prospect.

For a minority within the fandom, the idea provoked disgust, and from that section Davies and Moffat were subject to intense opprobrium for bringing "their radical feminist agenda" into Doctor Who. Others were more considered in their criticism and pointed out that the Doctor, as a rare hero who traditionally solved problems with his mind and not his fists (admittedly hampered by the manner in which the programme had had to adapt to the vicissitudes of American primetime genre drama), functioned as a good role model for young boys. However, the majority of fans were intrigued and responded positively: to some it would be an important step for representation in media while to others it offered interesting new storytelling directions, and to others still it was simply a prospect that seemed too novel not to at least try.

The announcement that casting David Harewood – the first black actor to play the lead role in the series – had been cast as the Eleventh Doctor had been widely praised, and while Noah Wyle had also been given a warm reception, there was nonetheless some disappointment in quarters of the Doctor Who fandom that the producers had not been a little bit gutsier, a little bit bolder, and taken a chance by casting a female actor. When the Twelfth Doctor run turned out to be a relative disappointment, leading to the resignations of not only lead actor Noah Wyle, but of showrunner Dan Slott and executive producer Jane Espenson as well, Philip Segal (in his capacity as a director of Gallifrey Pictures, the production company he had founded with Verity Lambert 20 years earlier) decided to step in. It had been an entire decade since Segal had last been involved with Doctor Who on a full-time basis, but he was still held in very high esteem for his role in helping the series to make its comeback on the Sci-Fi Channel all those years ago and setting it on the road to the unprecedented heights of success it now enjoyed on the CW.

Segal convened several meetings of a "Who Summit" comprising several members the company's board, members of the programme's writers' room and representatives from both of Gallifrey Picture's partner organisations, the CW and the BBC, in attendance. The reinvigoration of Doctor Who was the sole item on their agenda. It was promptly agreed that Noah Wyle's turn as the Twelfth Doctor had not been the problem during his run on the series; indeed, market research appeared to indicate that the he had been popular with audiences and that many fans had hoped he could be persuaded to stay on after "that hack Slott" (as one particularly unkind online commenter elegantly put it) left the show. Rather, the group concluded that the problem had been the combination of a producer who was neither familiar with nor especially interested in the material (Jane Espenson) and a showrunner who had been too involved with the series for too long (Dan Slott). As far as the latter was concerned, the group felt that he had either become too complacent with the "aura of invincibility" surrounding Doctor Who, or too eager to roll its progress back to an earlier position in which he was more comfortable working.

After several weeks of careful thought, Segal and his allies reached several conclusions. It was immediately clear that a significant shake-up and an injection of new blood was sorely needed behind the scenes of the programme. It was decided that Gallifrey Pictures would be responsible for production of the series directly rather a through an appointed single producer, which was uncommon practice in Hollywood and a tradition maintained at Doctor Who largely as a result of inertia (a holdover not just from the days when the series was being produced by Verity Lambert, Philip Segal and no one else, but all the way back to its history with the BBC). A team of executive producers was instituted to manage the series behind the scenes; feelers were put out and the top levels of the production team re-staffed (in something of a coup) with an impressive team of veterans including Amanda Tapping, Zak Penn, Damon Lindelof and Simon Barry.

Recognising his experience as creator and head writer of the popular Canadian time travel series Continuum (which had just recently completed its five-season 62 episode run in 2016), Segal and his group installed Barry as the nominal head of the series writers' room and, correspondingly, the effective showrunner. Born in England but raised in Canada, Barry was an experienced and creative screenwriter, director and producer, and also had crucial experience running his own production company in Vancouver, still the primary shooting site for much of the North American production of the programme. Tasked with finding a new sense of direction and setting out a clear vision for Doctor Who as the series revival's twentieth year loomed, Barry took the job with the understanding that a more collegial approach between the production and creative halves of the behind the scenes team would be encouraged, which he hoped would afford him time to continue work on his own projects.

Finally, the most crucial component came into focus: the cast. Willa Holland and Franz Drameh, by now fan favourites in their own right, were committed to remaining with the series for the foreseeable future; at least one major "name" star had already entered a top-secret agreement to play the Master; British actor Benedict Cumberbatch, already famous in America for playing Sherlock Holmes in the 21st century updated adaptation Elementary; Emmy Award-winning actress Juliana Margulies had likewise agreed to appear in a heretofore undisclosed role. However, choosing the next Doctor was, to say the least, an altogether trickier proposition. Determined to take a completely new approach with the casting, the producers had already resolved that the Thirteenth Doctor was going to be played by a woman. The only question was, who would it be?

The most thoroughgoing search since that which resulted in the casting of Anthony Stewart Head at the outset of the revival 17 years earlier was launched: an early prospect was actually Amanda Tapping herself, but she declined, noting that she had played a very similar character in her own series Sanctuary several years before and citing a desire to focus on her new role as a producer and director; Simon Barry reached out to American actor Rachel Nichols, who had appeared as lead character Kiera Cameron in every episode of Continuum, but she too declined, having just completed a full run of a science-fiction series centred around time travel. It was clear that a wider net would have to be cast.

As they had when Tony Head was cast as the Eighth Doctor, Gallifrey Pictures was looking for someone who was already known to their target audience; a creditable "name" star capable of carrying the show while concurrently reassuring more conservative-minded members of the audience sceptical about the idea of a woman taking over a role which had traditionally been played by men. They had no particular preference between British and North American actors (as their initial informal approaches to Tapping and Nichols demonstrated) but it was generally agreed that a British lead was preferred, citing both the importance of the change and the informal arrangement (not precisely observed, but nonetheless acknowledged) that the series should at least try to alternate between British and American stars. On a significantly more cynical note, a memo was infamously (though judiciously not made publically known at the time) circulated amongst the producers and casting directors recommending that someone "appropriately pretty" should be chosen as the first female Doctor. While unfortunate in its connotations, Amanda Tapping in particular was prepared to acknowledge the reasoning which informed the message, and explained that as distasteful as making it an implicit part of the casting criteria was to her personally, choosing a conventionally attractive woman as the first female Doctor was expected to be a practical strategy to mollify some of the "dreadful" sections of the fandom who were instinctively unreceptive of a female Doctor.

The first name struck off the list was perhaps the biggest, as Gillian Anderson categorically declined to be considered. Anderson had been based primarily in Britain for many years and, since she had not particularly enjoyed her experiences on the set of the indifferently-received miniseries revival of The X-Files, did not wish to commit to another potentially long-term role, particularly one which would demand a great deal of time spent living and working in America. The producers were rumoured to have had Jennifer Morrison as their second choice in the event that Anderson turned them down, but she too was unwilling to commit to another extended run on a genre show, having just completed Once Upon a Time after seven seasons.

Several other reasonable prospects were likewise discounted or declined the offer. Emilia Clarke and Lena Headey were both still committed to 2018's final season of Game of Thrones, after which they each had several movie roles on the table which they hoped to keep open. Gwendoline Christie was keen, but did not expect that she would be able to fit a full-time lead role on television around filming for the final instalment in the Star Wars sequel trilogy. Hayley Atwell was another particularly highly-sought after candidate, but was locked in to her contract with Marvel Studios to play Agent Peggy Carter in a fourth and fifth season of the series of the same name, and had to decline regretfully.

Still, the TARDIS cannot go without a pilot forever, and after a difficult, often frustrating process, a decision was reached, an offer was made and accepted and the new Doctor – the first female Doctor in the history of the series – was at long last in place. She was to be played by a British actor acclaimed on stage and well-known for her screen roles in a diverse range of television series and films, including The Tudors, Elementary, The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones among many others. And now, she was the Thirteenth Doctor. The announcement of her casting was well-received.


Natalie Dormer

(2018 - ????)

As it enters its 55th year, Doctor Who is in good hands and fans are united in their keen anticipation of what the future will hold for their favourite series. The series can look back over a long and rich history, in which time it has broken and set many records, as twelve men and now one woman carried it through a host of ups and downs, enjoying adulation and facing adversity, experiencing towering successes and muddling through largely well-intentioned disappointments, making brave attempts to break new ground when it counted and knowing when to play it safe and follow the pack.

Today, with a "classic" run that spanned 1963 through 1991 and a "revival" which has endured since 2000, Doctor Who has occupied a consistent place on British television screens for a combined total of 47 years. In America, it has run for 18 consecutive seasons, and stands poised to overtake Law & Order and Gunsmoke to become the longest-running scripted drama in the history of American television. It could not have lasted as long as it has without its capacity for adaptation: Doctor Who can be a science-fiction adventure, a pulp action romp, a murder mystery, a political polemic, a crime drama, a romance, a Hammer Horror pastiche, a cyberpunk thriller and much more, and it is this capacity for adaptation, that supreme zest for adventure, that is the ultimate secret of its longevity and success.

The question is, just what will they think of next?