Who should be Who?

Being a Doctor Who fan in these Wholess times is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in the sense that Who fans are, at this point in time, being so long without the real deal, so to speak, the devoted, the true fans. A curse in the sense that every little rumor gets scrutinized to such a degree because there aren’t any new episodes, new series on the horizon and there’s simply nothing left to talk about except the future of Doctor Who. The current speculation on Doctor Who‘s future is whether or not the BBC will commission a new series to coincide with the 40th anniversary, and if so, who will star in the series.

While my personal preference would be to see Paul McGann, star of the 1996 FOX Doctor Who telefilm, return to the role that he’s continued in the Big Finish audios, it’s not a foregone conclusion that the BBC would want McGann to return.

Who else could essay the role? The current rumor, according to Outpost Gallifrey, is that Anthony Stewart Head, best known to Americans as the Maxwell House Coffee guy or Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, has been tapped by the BBC for a future Doctor Who series, but Outpost Gallifrey has also debunked the rumor in the same breath with which they reported it. I have no objection to Head as the Doctor; based upon his performance in Big Finish’s Doctor Who: Excelis dramas I think he could do a creditable job with the role. Head’s strength is his quiet reserve, a trait that several Doctors (particularly Troughton’s and Davison’s) displayed in contrast to the bombast of the Bakers, Tom and Colin.

Head would not be my first choice, however, for a ninth Doctor. And no, neither would Rowan Atkinson, despite his appearance in “Curse of the Fatal Death” as the ninth Doctor.

If Doctor Who ever returns to television (at least, within the next five years), I would want Stephen Fry as our favorite Time Lord from Gallifrey. I can’t put my finger on exactly what qualifies Stephen Fry to be the Doctor in my mind. Some of it comes from watching Jeeves & Wooster. Some of it comes from watching the Oscar Wilde biopic he did a few years back. Some of it’s just a gut feeling. There’s nothing I can really point at and say, “That makes him the Doctor.” On the other hand, I have the feeling he’d do a pretty damn good job.

Imagine for a moment, Malcolm McDowell. He’s a real stretch to visualize as the Doctor, especially because he’s not all that young any more and all of his roles tend towards the sinister, with Time After Time being about his only not-sinister role. However, if you ever watched the revised Fantasy Island, you’d see the Doctor’s qualities in Mr. Rourke.

The problem with McDowell as the Doctor is this: going by his past roles you’d expect him to be a very dark Doctor, almost sinister. And yet, McDowell is capable of a hell of a lot more than that. Even as Mr. Rourke he had more than a slight touch of sinisterness beneath the surface, but the way Rourke was presented he didn’t come across as being dark or vindictive. Manipulative, yes, because that was the whole point of the show, but not malignant and evil. And I think the final episode, where Rourke’s daughter appeared, went a long way toward affirming for me the qualities in McDowell that suit him to being the Doctor.

To be the Doctor, to really carry it well, McDowell would have to play the role against his type. He’s got the perception of being a sinister character, a loose cannon, and I think that could get people tuning in or packing the seats, and I wonder if he couldn’t play the role in an almost Hartnell manner, the kindly grandfather sort. People certainly wouldn’t be expecting that out of McDowell, and I imagine he might not be able to picture himself in the role in that manner, either. All of that said, I can see McDowell stepping out of the TARDIS and looking around. Even with his white, spiky hair.

Another oddball choice might be Tim Curry. He seems a little bit of a lightweight to play the Doctor, but in many of his roles he has the manic quality that being the Doctor almost requires. I could see Curry as being bombastic and ruthless. In other words, a lot like Colin Baker. I think Curry could do it, and be absolutely stunning in the role. I think he’d come across as a Troughton-like Doctor, clownish and out of touch but in the end a force you really wish you hadn’t messed with and underestimated.

The problem with making any cast list, I think, is that I keep looking for actors that demonstrate qualities that past Doctor actors have shown. In other words, I’m looking for someone who could be a Tom Baker-ish Doctor or a Troughton-ish Doctor, instead of looking for a good actor that could do the role justice on their own merits. After all, if Peter Davison couldn’t picture himself as the Doctor when John Nathan-Turner offered him the role, then surely there’s some British actor out there today that could do a damn fine Doctor but hasn’t had a role that would necessarily play up the characteristics we normally think of being associated with the Doctor. While I can see any of these actors as portraying the Doctor well and effectively, the truth of the matter is that the next Doctor after Paul McGann will probably be someone we Americans are absolutely unfamiliar with, just as the previous Doctors had largely been.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

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