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.

8 Facts About Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Bloomsbury Children's Books via Amazon
Bloomsbury Children's Books via Amazon

Longtime Harry Potter fans who feel like first-years at heart may find it hard to believe, but the books have been around for decades. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third installment in J.K. Rowling’s fantasy series, which follows Harry as he faces Dementors, investigates the mysterious Sirius Black, and gets through his third year at Hogwarts.

From Rowling’s writing process to how it changed The New York Times Best Sellers list, here are some facts you should know about the wildly popular book.

1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was J.K. Rowling’s "best writing experience."

In a 2004 interview with USA Today, Rowling described the creation of Prisoner of Azkaban as “the best writing experience I ever had.” This had more to do with where Rowling was at in her professional life than the content of the actual story. By book three, she was successful enough where she didn’t have to worry about finances, but not yet so famous that the she felt the stress of being in the public eye.

2. The Dementors represent depression.

Readers who live with depression may see something familiar in Prisoner of Azkaban’s soul-sucking Dementors. According to the book, “Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself ... soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life."

Rowling has stated that she based the Dementor’s effects on her own experiences with depression. "[Depression] is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again," she told The Times in 2000. "The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad. Sad hurts but it's a healthy feeling. It's a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different."

3. Rowling regretted giving Harry the Marauder’s Map.

In Prisoner of Azkaban, the Marauder’s Map is introduced as a way for Harry to track Sirius Black and learn of the survival of Peter Pettigrew. But this plot device proved problematic for Rowling later on this series. In Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide, she wrote, “The Marauder’s Map subsequently became something of a bane to its true originator (me), because it allowed Harry a little too much freedom of information.” She went on to say that she sometimes wished she had made Harry lose the map for good in the later books.

4. Rowling was excited to introduce Remus Lupin.

One of the aspects Rowling most enjoyed about writing Prisoner of Azkaban was introducing Remus Lupin. The Defense Against the Dark Arts professor and secret werewolf is one of the author's favorite characters in the series, and as she told Barnes & Noble in 1999, “I was looking forward to writing the third book from the start of the first because that's when Professor Lupin appears.”

5. Crookshanks is based on a real cat.

Harry had Hedwig the owl, Ron had his pet rat Scabbers, and in book three, Hermione got a pet of her own: an intelligent half-Kneazle cat named Crookshanks. J.K. Rowling is allergic to cats, and she admits on her website that she prefers dogs, but she does have fond memories of a cat that roamed the London neighborhood where she worked in the 1980s. When writing Crookshanks, she gave him that cat’s haughty attitude and smushed-face appearance.

6. Prisoner of Azkaban was the last Harry Potter book Americans had to wait for.

Harry Potter fans based in America will no doubt remember waiting months after a book’s initial release in England to buy it from their local bookstore. Prisoner of Azkaban was the last Harry Potter book with a staggered publication date: Beginning with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the rest of the books in the series were published in both markets on the same date.

7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban broke sales records.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban sold 68,000 copies in the UK within three days of its release, making it the fastest-selling British book of all time in 1999. The book has since gone on to sell more than 65 million copies worldwide and helped make Harry Potter the bestselling book series ever.

8. It changed The New York Times Best Sellers List.

For part of 1999, the first three Harry Potter books—Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (which is known as Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone pretty much everywhere besides America), Chamber of Secrets, and Prisoner of Azkaban—occupied the top three slots on The New York Times Best Sellers list. It didn’t stay that way for long, though: Prisoner of Azkaban was the book that pushed the paper to create a separate list just for children’s literature, leaving more room on the original list for books aimed at adults. That’s why Harry Potter is missing from the famous bestsellers roundup during the 2000s, despite dominating book sales at this time.

Game of Thrones Star Emilia Clarke Turned Down the Lead in 50 Shades of Grey

Dia Dipasupil, Getty Images
Dia Dipasupil, Getty Images

Though Emilia Clarke is undoubtedly best known for her starring role on Game of Thrones, she has landed some other plum parts over the past several years, including Sarah Connor in Terminator Genisys, the role of Qi'ra in Solo: A Star Wars Story, and the lead in Phillip Noyce's upcoming Above Suspicion opposite Jack Huston. But there's one major role Clarke passed on, and has no regrets about it: Anastasia Steele in the 50 Shades of Grey franchise.

The movies, based on E. L. James's erotic book series, trace the sadomasochistic/romantic relationship between college graduate Anastasia Steele and millionaire businessman Christian Grey. Both the books and the movies have garnered a lot of criticism for their graphic nudity and sex scenes. While Clarke is no stranger to appearing nude on film for her role as Daenerys Targaryen, she said that 50 Shades of Grey would have taken her too far out of her comfort zone.

“There is a huge amount of nudity in the film,” the British actress told The Sun of her reasons for not wanting to get involved with the film series. “I thought I might get stuck in a pigeonhole that I would have struggled to get out of.”

Even without 50 Shades of Grey on her resume, Clarke says she has dealt with a lot of negative backlash because of the nudity in Game of Thrones. “I get a lot of crap for nude and sex scenes,” the 32-year-old star said. “Women hating on women. It’s so anti-feminist.”

When we last left Daenerys, she seemed to be getting serious about Jon Snow—who, unbeknownst to the two of them, is her nephew. We'll see how that unpleasant discovery plays out when Game of Thrones returns on April 14, 2019.

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