Sci Fi TV Trifles: Doctor Who Transforms to Save a Show

By | May 28, 2016

Tidbits, trivia, anecdotes, little-known nuggets and more from the worlds of sci fi and fantasy television.

doctor-who-william-hartnellThe character of the Doctor from the British Doctor Who series, with all of his incarnations, has become universally recognized the world over, along with most of the actors that have played the lead role.  But did you know that the Doctor’s ability to reincarnate into new forms to allow for continuity when actors wanted to depart the role was not part of the original plan for the series, but came about as an act of desperation to save the series?

William Hartnell first took up the mantle of the Doctor when the series debuted on the BBC in 1963 and became famous in that country as the popularity
of the show took off. But failing health began to impact the performance of the elderly actor toward the end of his tenure. Hartnell suffered from arteriosclerosis which affected his memory and made it difficult for him to remember his lines. He decided to leave the series in 1966, but the show was at the height of its popularity at that point, and the producers wanted it to continue. Then they happened upon a brilliant idea that has allowed the show to continue for thirty-five
seasons and counting. They came up with the idea that the Doctor would regenerate when mortally wounded, thus allowing a new actor to step into the role and not tying the series to one particular person. Since Hartnell’s departure, eleven actors have taken up the mantle of the Doctor and the series has experienced a new resurgence in popularity with the revival that began in 2005.

And for those curious, following are the reasons that subsequent actors have departed the role:

Patrick Troughton (1966-69) – Troughton left in part because he found the work schedule overbearing and also because he wanted to avoid typecasting.

John Pertwee (1970-74) – Pertwee departed to resume his stage career and to avoid typecasting. Also, he was apparently affected by the death of a close friend as well as departures from among the cast and the producers.

Tom Baker (1974-81) – Having the longest tenure in the role and being one of the most recognized actors to play the Doctor, Baker left allegedly because he did not like the direction the series was heading toward the end of his tenure.

Peter Davison (1981-84) – Davison was a well-known actor prior to taking on the role of the Doctor and apparently Patrick Troughton advised him not to stay too long in order to avoid typecasting.

Collin Baker (1984-86) – Having the disadvantage of being one of the least liked actors to play the Doctor, Baker also has the unfortunate distinction of being the only person ever dismissed from the role.

Sylvester McCoy (1987-89) – McCoy was actually well-liked as the Doctor, but his tenure was cut short when the BBC decided to cancel the show in 1989.

Paul McGann (1996) – Having the shortest tenure with the character (on television), McGann only appeared in the unsuccessful movie that tried to revive the series as a joint FOX/BBC production. He would continue with the character, though, in several audio plays starring the Eighth Doctor.

Christopher Eccleston (2005) – Eccleston departed after the first thirteen episodes of the revival originally claiming concerns over typecasting, though later he admitted that he did not like the politics and that he “didn’t like the culture that had grown up around the series”.

David Tennant (2005-10) – Probably the second most popular actor to play the Doctor (behind Tom Baker), Tenant left saying that “I don’t ever want it to feel like a job, so I want to move on when it still feels exciting and fresh.” He also had an interest in pursuing a movie career.

Matt Smith (2010-13) – Smith departed from his celebrated performance as the eleventh Doctor with the following comments: “It’s a very intense process to play the Doctor. The line-learning is really hard, and you have to live away from home for nine or ten months a year. I love the show, and it wasn’t an easy choice to come to, but it’s the right time for both of us”.

Sources: Wikipedia,, Huffington Post

Sci-Fi-TriflesSci Fi Trifles:  Useless but essential pop culture tidbits and trivia from the worlds of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror

Did you know that Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski wrote a proposal for a Star Trek reboot years before the J.J. Abrams movies came out? Did you know that Han Solo was originally supposed to be a green-skinned alien and some of the early actors considered for the role included Billy Dee Williams, Al Pacino, and Chevy Chase? How about that FOX originally wanted someone more like Pamela Anderson to play the roll of Scully on The X-Files? Or that in 1974, science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke predicted the Internet? Ever hear of Varney the Vampire?

Find out the truths about these and more in Sci Fi Trifles.  Trivia, anecdotes, little known nuggets and more that present an addicting glimpse into the story behind the story of sci fi. Once you’ve started reading them you will wonder how you have managed to live so long without knowing them!

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