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Not a Doctor…and They Didn’t Play One on TV

July 21, 2017

In 2013, Doctor Who head writer Stephen Moffatt said that it wouldn’t “feel right” to cast a woman in the lead role of the iconic, long-running BBC science-fiction series. But it’s 2017, and new showrunner Chris Chibnall got to pick a new performer to replace the outgoing Peter Capaldi. His first choice: British actress Jodie Whittaker—the first woman to ever play the Time Lord. Here are some other performers who came close to starring on Doctor Who.
Doctor Who

  • Before actor Sylvester McCoy was cast as the Doctor in 1986, producers strongly considered casting a woman as the Doctor for the first time, among them British sitcom stars Joanna Lumley (Absolutely Fabulous) and Dawn French (The Vicar of Dibley). Executives at the BBC overruled the idea, insisting that a male actor be cast.
  • Doctor Who originally ran from 1963 to 1989. When the BBC rebooted it in 2005, big movie star Hugh Grant was approached to star, but he turned it down because he thought it would be cheesy—as the show had been in the ‘70s and ‘80s. But when the new show, a well-made, special-effects laden bonanza, debuted starring Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor, Grant regretted his decision.
  • In addition to Grant and Eccleston, show producers almost cast Oscar-winning actress Dame Judi Dench as the Doctor.
  • Before Doctor Who returned in 2005, the BBC and Fox tried to reboot it with a made-for-TV movie in 1996. More than a dozen major actors were considered, including stand-up comedian and Head of the Class star Bill Connolly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer co-star Anthony Stuart Head, Monty Python member Eric Idle, and Peter Capaldi, who would finally land the role in 2013. (Actor Paul McGann got the gig this time.)
  • Alan Cumming is probably best known for his roles on The Good Wife and in a series of high-profile Broadway musicals. He was offered the role by one-time head writer Russell T. Davies but he turned it down because he didn’t want to leave his home and jobs in New York City to move to Wales, where Doctor Who is filmed, for as much as eight months out of the year.
  • Davies also lobbied hard to cast Oscar-winner Catherine Zeta-Jones as the Doctor. But that was in 2010, when he was no longer working on the show. The decision of who to replace then-outgoing Doctor portrayer David Tennant was up to Stephen Moffatt, and he went with Matt Smith, not Zeta-Jones.
  • In the mid-1980s, Paramount Pictures toyed with the idea of making a big-screen, big-budget version of Doctor Who geared toward American audiences. For the title role, the studio had two huge stars of the time in mind: music superstar Michael Jackson, and, if he declined, TV superstar Bill Cosby. Ultimately, the move was never produced.
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