15 People Who Could Have Played The Doctor on Doctor Who

James Pardon, BBC America
James Pardon, BBC America

British sci-fi TV series Doctor Who has had a long and storied history since it first premiered in 1963 (and its 2005 revival). Although its iconic protagonist, the Time Lord known only as “The Doctor,” never seems to truly age, he has gone through quite a few changes in appearance and demeanor over his past 13 regenerations—most notably last year, when Jodie Whittaker, the Thirteenth and current Doctor, became the first woman to take on the lead role.

While each Doctor has brought his or her own unique flair to the role—it’s hard to imagine anyone else in Fourth Doctor Tom Baker’s striped scarf or Tenth Doctor David Tennant’s classic Chuck Taylors—casting decisions could have gone much differently. Here are 15 other actors who were considered for the role.

1. Hugh David

The first would-be Doctor, Hugh David, was also the first actor to be turned down for the role. David had the distinct honor of receiving an offer from Rex Tucker to originate the role. Tucker was a personal friend of David's who happened to be a member of the production team preparing for the series’ launch. But when the show named Verity Lambert as its producer, she made the executive call that David, who was 38 years old at the time, was too youthful to play the wise and relatively wizened Doctor she envisioned.

David was passed over in favor of William Hartnell, an actor two decades his senior, though the smooth-faced Matt Smith would later be cast as the Eleventh Doctor at the tender age of 26. David did get a chance to leave his mark on the Whoniverse though; he directed two Doctor Who serials—season four's "The Highlanders" and season five's "Fury From the Deep"—both of which are part of the series' infamous missing episodes.

2. Geoffrey Bayldon

9th October 1970: English actor Geoffrey Bayldon, playing Catweazle, the starring role in the children's television series 'Catweazle Returns'. In one episode his tonic becomes mixed up with a fertilizer, resulting in a pair of ever-growing marrows
Paul Fievez, BIPs/Getty Images

Theater-trained thespian Geoffrey Bayldon was lined up as a potential First Doctor after Verity Lambert said no to Hugh David’s youthful visage, but he wasn’t thrilled by the lengthy commitment the role would have required of him. He was also concerned about being pigeonholed into “old” roles. Instead, he took on another starring role on British television: Catweazle (pictured above), a befuddled wizard from the 11th century accidentally thrust into the 1960s, in stark contrast to the more experienced time-traveling Doctor. After Catweazle took off, Bayldon was devoted to the career-defining role and refused a second offer to become the Second Doctor.

Bayldon appeared in a supporting role as Organon in Doctor Who's 17th season, but by the new millennium, he finally consented to take on the mantle of the Doctor—albeit only as a voice actor in the alternate-universe Doctor Who Unbound audio plays. He was 80 years old when the second of his two episodes aired, making him the oldest actor to ever play the Doctor and rendering his earlier objections highly ironic. Bayldon passed away on May 10, 2017 at the age of 93.

3. Richard Griffiths

Richard Griffiths attends the royal film performance of Martin Scorsese's 'Hugo in 3D' at the Odeon Leicester Square on November 28, 2011 in London, England
Ian Gavan, Getty Images

Venerated stage and screen actor Richard Griffiths, renowned in England as Uncle Monty of Withnail and I and Harry Potter’s nasty Uncle Vernon, was twice considered a possible Doctor. He was on the shortlist to succeed Tom Baker, but was passed over in favor of Peter Davison. Producers kept him in mind, and again considered casting him as a replacement for Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy, but the show was canceled before Griffiths could step foot inside the TARDIS.

4. Catherine Zeta-Jones

Actress Catherine Zeta-Jones attends the Broadway opening after party for 'A Little Night Music' at the Tavern On The Green on December 13, 2009 in New York City
Neilson Barnard, Getty Images

Though Jodie Whittaker made history in 2017 when it was announced that she would be the first woman to take over the TARDIS, the notion of a “Time Lady” isn’t new to the 21st century. Russell T. Davies, the writer/producer responsible for the series’s 2005 revival, was intrigued by the prospect of a female Doctor. He was particularly excited about the idea of Catherine Zeta-Jones as David Tennant’s potential successor—certainly a more glamorous choice than had ever been considered, but one with a long history of diverse dramatic roles to her name. However, Davies had no real pull with the casting decision, as he turned the show over to Steven Moffat in 2010, who in turn ushered in the reign of Matt Smith and his bow ties.

5. and 6. Joanna Lumley and Dawn French

Joanna Lumley, British actress, wearing a floral print dress while posing in a garden at Pinewood Studios during filming of 'The New Avengers', in Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, England, Great Britain, 12 July 1976
Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The idea of a female Doctor was also floated in the 1980s, when the series was experiencing a ratings slump so severe that it was put on temporary hiatus from airing. Sydney Newman, the show’s original creator, suggested reviving audiences' interest with a female lead. He was called in to advise BBC One on how to bolster the show’s reputation. His plan consisted of temporarily bringing back Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor before regenerating the Seventh Doctor in female form, though not “a flashy, Hollywood Wonder Woman because this kind of heroine with no flaws is a bore.” Candidates for this game-changing new Doctor included future Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley (pictured above) and The Vicar of Dibley's Dawn French—both well-respected, established actresses felt to be equal to the historic role. The BBC nixed Newman’s radical proposal, choosing to keep the Time Lord a lord, not a lady, and the show’s waning popularity led to its 1989 cancellation.

7. Frances de la Tour

At the same time Lumley and French were being considered to take over the role of The Doctor, Frances de la Tour—the Tony and Olivier Award-winning actress who played Mrs. Lintott in The History Boys in both London and on Broadway—was also in the running. But her name made headlines yet again in 2017 when, after announcing his departure from the show, Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi said that de la Tour was his personal pick to replace him. "I would like Frances de la Tour to be first female doctor," Capaldi told The Mirror.

8. Liam Cunningham

 Liam Cunningham attends the Night For Love Charity Ball in aid of The Samuel L Jackson Foundation and Irish Autism Action on February 13, 2010 in Dublin, Ireland
Phillip Massey, Getty Images for Samuel L Jackson Foundation

The crowded field of aspiring Doctors vying for the part after Sylvester McCoy stepped down attests to the show executives’ confusion about who could best rekindle Doctor Who’s former glory. Irish actor Liam Cunningham put in a bid to become the Eighth Doctor, using both his natural Dublin accent as well as a put-upon “neutral American” one. Though neither voice netted him the job, he appeared as Captain Zhukov in the revived series. He found even greater fame on the small screen as Davos Seaworth in Game of Thrones.

9. Billy Connolly

Comedian Billy Connelly attends the 'War Horse' world premiere at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts on December 4, 2011 in New York City
Neilson Barnard, Getty Images

Better known as a comedian and folk singer, Billy Connolly was another contender for the Doctor’s eighth regeneration. Though he was shortlisted for the part, it seems the decision was never his to make. "It was brought up in a meeting, apparently, but nobody told me until after they decided against it," Connolly told The Scotsman in 2010. "If I had done it, he would have been angrier, a much angrier Doctor Who. I would have loved it. I'd have taken it."

10. Mark McGann

Liverpudlian Mark McGann auditioned for the role of the Eighth Doctor at the same time as his older brother Paul. In a double blow to Mark, he didn't get the part—but his brother did. Talk about sibling envy.

11. Hugh Grant

Hugh Grant attends the UK premiere of 'The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists' at The Mayfair Hotel on March 21, 2012 in London, England
Ben Pruchnie, Getty Images

Rom-com star Hugh Grant may seem like an unlikely choice for a sci-fi hero, but he was one of the first actors approached when casting a Ninth Doctor for the 2005 series revival. Grant said no, due to skepticism about the show’s potential to succeed, but he later got a second chance of sorts when playing one of the Doctor’s regenerations in a 1999 spoof production for charity (which also featured fellow would-be Doctor Joanna Lumley). With trademark self-deprecation, the actor notes that while he regrets his choice, it might have done the show some good, as he’d “probably make a mess of it” anyway. 

12. Bill Nighy

British actor Bill Nighy arrives for the premiere of `The Boat That Rocked' at the Dendy Opera Quays on March 31, 2009 in Sydney, Australia
Lisa Maree Williams, Getty Images

Bill Nighy also said no to playing the Doctor, but unlike his Love Actually castmate Grant, his refusal was due to a premonition that the show would take off and garner him an excess of unwanted media scrutiny. It was a character, he claimed, that came with “too much baggage.” He did, however, make an uncredited but significant appearance in 2010 as Musée d’Orsay curator and Vincent van Gogh enthusiast Dr. Black.

Although Nighy was forthcoming about his reasons for passing on the role when he came clean in 2012, he didn’t indicate at what point he turned down the opportunity. Out of respect to “whoever did” take the role, he has refused to say which Doctor he might have been. Despite speculation that he might have been the Ninth Doctor instead of Christopher Eccleston, Nighy’s career has spanned most of the show’s 55-year run, so there’s really no telling.

13. Eddie Izzard

 Actor Eddie Izzard arrives at the National Movie Awards at the Royal Festival Hall on September 8, 2008 in London, England
Dan Kitwood, Getty Images

Comedian Eddie Izzard was once rumored to have been cast as the Tenth Doctor, with word coming straight from the mouth of the Fourth Doctor himself. In 2003, former Doctor Who star Tom Baker claimed on BBC Radio Five Live that Izzard had landed the role, touting Izzard as “mysterious and strange and seem[ing] like he has a lot of secrets”—all qualities befitting the inscrutable Doctor. The BBC itself discounted his comments as mere "speculation," and a spokesman said simply that no decision had yet been made.

14. Benedict Cumberbatch

ctor Benedict Cumberbatch attends The Academy Of Television Arts & Sciences Performer Nominees' 64th Primetime Emmy Awards Reception at Spectra by Wolfgang Puck at the Pacific Design Center on September 21, 2012
Imeh Akpanudosen, Getty Images

When David Tennant departed Doctor Who after three seasons as The Doctor, he took a special interest in who his successor might be. He thought Benedict Cumberbatch had the chops for the role, but the Sherlock star didn't think it would be a good fit. "David [Tennant] and I talked about it but I thought it would have to be radically different," Cumberbatch said. "And anyway, I didn’t really like the whole package—being on school lunch boxes."

15. Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson performs on stage during is 'HIStory' world tour concert at Ericsson Stadium November 10, 1996 in Auckland, New Zealand
Phil Walter, Getty Images

The King of Pop could have been the man from Gallifrey. In the late 1980s, at the height of Jackson’s on-screen success with Moonwalker, Paramount Pictures proposed a full-length Doctor Who film starring the chart-topping singer. It’s not clear that he was offered the role of the Doctor himself, though the information lends itself to that interpretation.

An earlier version of this story ran in 2013.

10 Dramatic Downton Abbey Fan Theories

Jim Carter as Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey (2019).
Jim Carter as Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey (2019).
Focus Features

Despite its exhaustively polished veneer, Downton Abbey was always a soap opera. Julian Fellowes's historical drama about a family of aristocrats and their many servants could never resist a good shocker, and it deployed plenty of them over the course of six seasons. The valet was suspected of murder (twice). One of the Crawley sisters got knocked up by her older married boyfriend, who promptly went missing. And another sister’s first sexual encounter ended in death. Considering all this, it should come as no surprise that fans have developed similarly wacky theories about the show. These fan theories include secret parentage, undercover spies, and, of course, poison.

Brush up on the best of them before the Downton Abbey movie hits theaters—just in case the whole miscarriage curse comes up.

1. Mr. Carson is Lady Mary’s father.

This theory all comes down to eyes. As you may recall from science class, certain genes are dominant and others are recessive. This is perhaps most easily understood through eye color, where brown eye color, a dominant gene, is expressed as BB and blue eye color, a recessive gene, is expressed as bb. A parent with brown eyes might carry the recessive blue eye gene (i.e. Bb), but if you plot out genetic probabilities on a basic Punnett square, two blue-eyed parents with double bbs have seemingly no shot at producing a Bb baby. Now, what does any of this have to do with Downton Abbey? Both Lord and Lady Grantham have blue eyes, but their eldest daughter, Mary, has brown eyes. This has led some fans to speculate that Lady Mary is actually the daughter of Carson, the family’s beloved butler who has always acted as as sort of second father to Mary. As debunkers have noted, two blue-eyed people can have a brown-eyed child, because recessive genes aren’t that simple. But isn’t it wild to think of Carson and Cora having an affair?

2. Thomas Barrow poisoned Kemal Pamuk.

One of the soapiest subplots of Downton Abbey's first season involved “poor Mr. Pamuk,” the dashing Turkish diplomat who makes a fateful visit to the Abbey. After enjoying a day of fox hunting and an evening of sparkling conversation, Kemal Pamuk drops dead ... right in Lady Mary’s bed. The cause, it is later revealed, was a heart attack, but many viewers suspected something more sinister. Earlier in the episode, the Crawleys’ closeted footman, Thomas Barrow, made a pass at Pamuk, which the diplomat rejected quite forcefully—so much so that he threatened to get Thomas fired. That placed the footman in a tricky situation, but it was nothing a little poison couldn't fix, and that’s exactly why some fans believe Thomas slipped something into Mr. Pamuk’s dinner.

3. Lady Grantham’s miscarriage started a curse.

In the Season 1 finale, tragedy strikes. The newly pregnant Lady Grantham slips on a bar of soap, falling onto the bathroom tiles and inducing a miscarriage. It’s a sad moment, but it’s also, Reddit claims, the source of the house’s future misfortune. According to this theory, the miscarriage kicks off a curse of deadly pregnancies: Lady Sybil dies in childbirth; Matthew Crawley dies in a car accident soon after the birth of his son; and when the maid Ethel Parks becomes pregnant with Major Bryant’s child, he dies, too.

4. Mr. Bates is actually a bad guy.

Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt in Downton Abbey (2019).
Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt in Downton Abbey (2019).
Focus Features

Downton Abbey invests a lot of time and effort in convincing us that John Bates, Lord Grantham's trusty, is a great guy—despite his checkered past and multiple murder allegations. But what if everyone’s assumptions about Bates are exactly right? Some Redditors believe Bates is just a remorseless serial killer, pointing to his intense hatred of his first wife and “creepy vibes” as evidence. Anna had better watch out.

5. Michael Gregson is a spy.

Lady Edith’s boss and lover Michael Gregson is the publisher of a London magazine, The Sketch. Thanks to his job, he knows tons of important people, travels all over the world, and speaks multiple languages. He eventually disappears inside Germany in season 4, and later dispatches to the Crawley family imply that he was a victim of Adolf Hitler’s “thugs.” (The show timeline places Gregson in Munich right around the time of the Beer Hall Putsch.) Or at least, that’s the official story. Another one suggests that Gregson was a British spy gathering intel on the insurgent Nazis—and he might not have died at all. His superiors simply needed to feed Edith a lie that would discourage her from poking around, so they made up a cover story that someone who follows the news would believe.

6. Lady Rosamund Painswick is Lady Edith’s mother.

When Lady Edith becomes pregnant with Michael Gregson’s child, she finds a strong support system in her aunt, Lady Rosamund Painswick. Upon learning Edith’s secret, Rosamund travels to Downton Abbey to help her niece through her pregnancy, and suggests adoption options as the due date draws near. Some fans have interpreted this empathy as a clue that Rosamund, not Lady Grantham, is Edith’s true mother. It could also explain why Edith looks (and behaves) so different from her sisters. Or it could just be a sign that Rosamund cares about her niece.

7. Lady Mary’s “operation” was IVF.

In season 3, Lady Mary claims to have undergone a “small operation” that will help her start a family with Matthew. It’s maddeningly unclear what this operation entails, but one wild guess is that she had an early version of IVF. The complete crackpot theory is that this was a cover for Matthew’s infertility, which the doctors wouldn’t disclose to him, presumably to preserve his 1920s masculinity.

8. Lady Mary’s son George becomes a Royal Air Force pilot in World War II.

Lady Mary’s son George is only five years old in the series finale of Downton Abbey. But that means he would theoretically be 18 in the fall of 1939, which is exactly when World War II broke out in Europe. He would almost certainly enlist, as show creator Julian Fellowes himself has suggested. But Decider has more specifically theorized that George would join the Royal Air Force (RAF), “with a desire to rebel against his emotionally distant mother and find purpose in a greater cause.” Sounds like George would be taking part in some dangerous missions, putting the entire family’s future at risk.

9. Public tours keep the estate alive.

The Crawleys spend much of Downton Abbey fretting about the future management of their estate—partially because Lord Grantham is kind of bad at it. But Lady Mary has taken over when the series ends, and Fellowes believes she’d find savvy ways to keep her family’s home in their hands. “She would probably have opened the house to the public in the 1960s, as so many of them did,” Fellowes told Deadline. “And she’d have retreated to a wing, and maybe only occupied the whole house during the winters. My own belief is that the Crawleys would still be there.”

10. The Dowager Countess keeps Denker and Spratt around for the drama.

Gladys Denker is a maid to the Dowager Countess. Septimus Spratt is her butler. These two do not like each other, and they’re quite public about it. Denker and Spratt’s unprofessional squabbles would’ve gotten plenty of other servants fired, but fans believe the Dowager Countess keeps them employed for her own amusement.

You Can Rent This Wizard of Oz-Themed Cottage in North Carolina

Airbnb
Airbnb

This year marks the 80th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz, the classic 1939 adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s book. In addition to watching the film, you can opt for a more immersive way to celebrate the occasion. As Travel + Leisure reports, a cottage in West Jefferson, North Carolina offered on Airbnb is perfect for any traveling Oz fan—and it’s only $35 a night.

The studio cottage is considered a glamping destination and is slim on amenities—it has a breakfast nook, porch, sofa bed, and a Porta John—but the Oz-themed details more than make up for the lack of luxurious perks.

A pair of stockinged feet are visible under the home, hinting at a witch’s untimely demise; a character mural of Dorothy and her three escorts, the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion, appears on the side of the cabin; inside, various other decorations pay homage to Baum's books, including a pair of ruby slippers and a few stuffed Totos.

A cottage with a 'Wizard of Oz' theme in West Jefferson, North Carolina is pictured
Airbnb

If you go, you’ll have to act quickly. The cottage is open only in the spring, summer, and fall, as it has no heat.

The Airbnb listing has a perfect score across 16 reviews. You can book it here.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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