BBC Almost Tapped British Rocker As ‘Doctor Who’

By November 7, 2016
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If you’re a Whovian, then you should have no problem naming the actor who played The Doctor after William Hartnell in Doctor Who.

Of course, you’d answer Patrick Troughton. And you’d be correct. Except it almost didn’t happen that away.

Anneke Wills, who played companion Polly Wright between the transition of Hartnell to Troughton in 1967, confesses there was actually another actor BBC was strongly considering in the lead role: Rocker and original teen idol Tommy Steele.

steele-inset110716Yes, yes, you’re likely scratching your head. Tommy who? While Steele might not be a huge name today, he certainly was in the late 1960s when Doctor Who was still looking for its space (and time) legs. He hit the top of the charts in 1957 with “Singing the Blues,” and his album – “The Tommy Steele Story” – was the first British album to top the music charts.

And yet, he almost traded in his guitar for a sonic screwdriver, Wills told The Daily Telegraph.

“We all knew Bill was going to leave at the end of the summer season. There were discussions about is that the end of the show, or shall we have another actor? And then there were all the different people who were up for it. Michael Hordern was one. Tommy Steele was another one. And I thought, ‘Cool! He’s sexy! That would be good!'”

In the end BBC went with Troughton, mostly on the recommendation of outgoing actor William Hartnell. The idea of replacing a series star with a new actor was not something common, and in fact, it was a huge gamble for BBC at the time.

willswho110716The show’s producers decided to explain the change in actor by describing it as a “change” for The Doctor – something that would later be known as “regeneration.”

Although Troughton considered playing his character as a “tough sea captain,” according to reports at the time, he instead decided to go with Doctor Who creator Sydney Newman’s suggestion that he play a “cosmic hobo.”

Troughton played The Doctor until 1969 when he was replaced by Jon Pertwee. Troughton died of a heart attack in Columbus, Georgia, in 1987, just two days after his 67th birthday.

Steele may have been a musical artist, but he was no stranger to acting. He was actually nominated for a Golden Globe in 1968 for most promising newcomer for his work in The Happiest Millionaire with Fred MacMurray. He also appeared in Half a Sixpence and Finian’s Rainbow, but seemed to retire from screen acting after writing and starring in the fantasy Quincy’s Quest in 1979.

Wills would not act much after Doctor Who. She played Evelyn McLean in the 1969 series Strange Report, but retired from acting after the cast turned down the opportunity to shoot a second season in the United States.

dalekspower110716She only popped back into the news recently when a lost Doctor Who episode that featured Troughton, “The Power of the Daleks,” was re-released as an animated feature in time for the 50th anniversary of its original broadcast. The original episode no longer exists, but a soundtrack survived. BBC used that soundtrack to craft an animated version, which is now available for sale in the United Kingdom.

BBC America will start screening the animated series beginning Nov. 19.

The current incarnation of Doctor Who, starring Peter Capaldi, returns for its Christmas special on, you guessed it, Christmas Day, on both BBC and BBC America.

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Michael Hinman

Michael Hinman

Managing Editor at GeekNation
Michael has spent more than 18 years of his way-long journalism career in entertainment reporting as the founder of SyFy Portal, which would become Airlock Alpha after he sold the SyFy brand to NBC Universal. He's based in New York City.