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The Doctor as Sea Captain?


In 1966, as William Hartnell’s ill health grew worse, but as the show continued to be popular, Doctor Who producer Innes Lloyd looked for a replacement for the series' lead role. Story editor Gerry Davis and Lloyd came up with a novel way of moving things forward: as he wasn’t from Earth, they conjectured, perhaps he had the power to change his body when it became worn out or seriously injured. This was the beginning of the idea that was later to be called ‘regeneration’, by which the lead actor could be regularly replaced while maintaining the show’s continuity -a stroke of genius, and completely original at that time. John Wiles, the previous producer to Lloyd, found himself clashing with Hartnell from time to time over the direction of the show, and so, apart from the health issues, intended to replace Hartnell with another actor. Lloyd and Davis extended this idea to change the entire personality and appearance of the Doctor. Having previously considered Peter Jeffrey, and Peter Cushing, (who had played 'Dr. Who' in two movies) they cast character actor Patrick Troughton.

It was a bold move. The continued survival of Doctor Who depended on audiences accepting another actor as the Doctor; to then have this other actor portray the Doctor entirely differently was a serious make-break point for the show. While Hartnell had apparently approved of the choice, saying, ‘There's only one man in England who can take over, and that's Patrick Troughton’, it was Troughton’s range and versatile experience as a character actor which won him the role.

In taking it on, Troughton considered various ways to approach the role: Hartnell had played the Doctor as a grumpy grandfather figure, a wise old man with a short temper who didn’t suffer fools gladly, but Troughton thought about turning the Doctor into a ‘tough sea captain’ or even a piratical figure in blackface and turban. (It’s hard to find a picture of Troughton in a turban, but you get some of an idea of what he would have looked like from the pictures here. Seeing Tom Baker in a turban adds to the idea.)

The final choice apparently came from Doctor Who creator Sydney Newman: he suggested

that the Doctor could be a ‘cosmic hobo’ in the mould of Charlie Chaplin, thus continuing to have major influence on the programme.

Troughton tended to shun publicity and rarely gave interviews, telling one interviewer, ‘I think acting is magic. If I tell you all about myself it will spoil it’. But it is fascinating to think what might have happened had he chosen to play the Doctor as a pirate of sea-captain. Would the show have perished? Or would it have taken an entirely different course? We will never know.

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