For over half a century, a mad man with a blue police box has traveled through time and space with companion after companion in a once low-fi BBC show called Doctor Who. He’s saved the world (dozens of times), met many new alien races, and made us fall in love with him again every time he turns up with a new appearance.
But what happens to the actors after that regeneration? William Hartnell had to retire early due to health concerns, but the rest of the 12(ish) actors that have followed in his footsteps have gone on to long careers in TV and movies. Some have managed to land roles in major franchises like Sylvester McCoy in The Hobbit or Christopher Eccleston in Thor: The Dark World. Others, like current TARDIS helmer Peter Capaldi, already had a lengthy resume before taking up the Sonic Screwdriver.
Here’s are 13 Roles That Doctor Who Actors Have Played Outside the TARDIS.
13. WILLIAM HARTNELL – THIS SPORTING LIFE
The man who started it all doesn’t very much look like the running and jumping kind of Doctor we recognize these days. He was a touch more prim and proper as a grandfather to Susan (Carole Ann Ford) and his first two companions, her teachers Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) and Ian (William Russell). But William Hartnell the actor had been active for a very, very long time when he was cast as the first Doctor.
Starting in 1933, Hartnell worked his way up the ranks and landed a role opposite Richard Harris in Lindsay Anderson’s This Sporting Life the same year he set foot in the TARDIS. This Sporting Life is in the Criterion Collection, but Hartnell is not the only Doctor Who actor with that critical distinction.
12. PATRICK TROUGHTON – THE OMEN
Younger than Hartnell, Patrick Troughton may have been cast to avoid his senior predecessor’s health problems. He brought a playful energy to the TARDIS that had been largely missing in the semi-serious era, but all good Doctors must move on to something else.
After his turn manning the controls of the TARDIS, Troughton went on to plenty of more TV and movie work like his role in the eternally creepy 1976 thriller The Omen. This time, he played not a doctor, but a priest in the fateful monastery where Gregory Peck’s character learns his child is the son of Satan. Thanks, Doc?
11. JON PERTWEE – WORZEL GUMMIDGE
Bringing back a bit more of the Doctor’s curmudgeonly side, Jon Pertwee brought back Hartnell’s stiff upper-lip approach to the TARDIS counsel. But perhaps that’s why his quieter take on the Doctor during his run didn’t lead to much more than television roles.
Pertwee’s next big hit was a series oddly titled Worzel Gummidge about a scarecrow that comes to life. It ran for several years and even inspired a follow-up series set in Australia. Both his son and daughter went on to acting careers, with Sean Pertwee currently playing Alfred Pennyworth in Gotham and Dariel as a voice actress in the video game Dragon Age: Inquisition.
10. TOM BAKER – THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD
Several actors who would later become the Doctor had experience working with on-set special effects needed for fantasy and sci-fi shows. The actor behind the longest running (and now oldest living) Doctor was no exception.
Tom Baker jumped aboard The Golden Voyage of Sinbad just before embarking on the TARDIS. In the Ray Harryhausen movie, Baker plays with his dark side (in unfortunate brown face) as the villainous Koura, the warlock-like figure who wants his golden tablet back from Sinbad.
9. PETER DAVISON – BLACK BEAUTY
Peter Davison was chosen as the handsome young cricket-playing Doctor followed Baker’s long kooky stint through time and space. Jumping out of the TARDIS in 1984 after only 70 episodes (his predecessors all stayed on for over a 100 episodes), Davison went on to other well-received TV shows and even starred in one of the peak millennial movies of your childhood, the Warner Bros. adaptation of Black Beauty.
In case you never realized it before, the former Doctor played Squire Gordon opposite the Black Beauty’s (Alan Cumming) narration. Fun fact: Future Doctor David Tennant often said Davison was his favorite Doctor of the original series, and that was before marrying Davison’s daughter Georgia in 2011. Hope that’s not too timey-wimey for you.
8. COLIN BAKER – STAR TREK CONTINUES
Ditching the cricket bat but picking up the most colorful wardrobe for the Doctor yet, Colin Baker took up the TARDIS’ mantle for only a few years, a scant 35 episodes in total. While he’s been active on returning for Doctor Who specials and meeting fans at conventions, Baker’s also been quite busy with multiple TV and movie roles since 1970.
Unfortunately, none seem to have taken off quite like his appearance in Star Trek Continues. The fan-made reboot, following the adventures of the original crew of the Enterprise has only seen seven episodes over three years, but fans have geeked out over the show’s loyalty to the original series. Baker made an appearance in last year’s episode called “The White Iris.”
7. SYLVESTER MCCOY – THE HOBBIT
We’re winding down the Classic Doctor Who era with the dandy-dressed Seventh Doctor, played by Sylvester McCoy. After briefly reprising the Doctor one last time to give him a proper regeneration, McCoy went on working his way towards Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit.
He played the antithesis of Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan) as the strange but endearing Radagast the Brown. I guess it’s not too far off-beat from playing the Doctor, strange tree-based headgear aside. But now I just want The Inspector Chronicles: Untitled Motion Picture About a Space Traveler Who Can also Travel Through Time to be a real thing in the next few years. Pretty please?
6. PAUL MCGANN – WITHNAIL & I
Poor Paul McGann. He never truly got to enjoy his run as the Eight Doctor of the series after a disastrous showing of the 1996 TV movie that was meant to revive the series. Fortunately, that hasn’t stopped him from participating in ancillary projects related to his nattily dressed steampunk Doctor. But before being the first Doctor to share an on-screen kiss with his companion, McGann was in the darkly comedic British classic Withnail & I.
As the slightly unkempt companion Marwood to the raucous Withnail (Richard E. Grant), the pair of unemployed actors take-off to the countryside in search of peace and beauty away from their squalid city apartment. This is also one of the other showings of a former Doctor in the Criterion Collection.
5. JOHN HURT – ALIEN
It took long enough for actor John Hurt to get into the TARDIS. The surprise Doctor, in-between McGann’s and Christopher Eccleston’s, was revealed in a 2013 special episode that united two Doctors in one space and time (something that happened quite frequently in the classic canon, but not in the rebooted series).
Well, three if you count Hurt’s War Doctor. Before making the cameo appearance in the series, Hurt has been a busy actor since the 60s. Then he enjoyed a bit of a cinematic breakout as the poor bloke in Alien with something to get off his chest. Or out of it, I should say.
4. CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON – THOR: THE DARK WORLD
Christopher Eccleston pulled off what McGann couldn’t, effectively reviving Doctor Who for a new generation, introducing us to Rose (Billie Piper) and explaining a bit of what he’d been up to since the Time Wars.
But after just one season, Eccleston split to return to his TV and movie career, taking on several roles from a part in The Sarah Silverman Show to playing John Lennon in the TV movie Lennon Naked. He finally hit McCoy level box office receipts with his turn as the Dark Elf Malekith the Accursed in Thor: The Dark World.
3. DAVID TENNANT – JESSICA JONES
So far, David Tennant has held onto the title of longest running Doctor in the rebooted series. His Tenth(ish) Doctor was much more on the serious and somber side, summed up in one of his famous last lines: “I don’t want to go.” But he’s had a lot of fun post-TARDIS getting married (see Doctor number 5) and taking on interesting roles like the coward Criss Angel type of illusionist in Fright Night or haunted detective in Broadchurch.
But perhaps it’s his turn as the most unsettling of Marvel villains, Kilgrave, in the Netflix series Jessica Jones that will set the tone for his career now that he’s dropped “Allons-y!” Kilgrave controls the minds of those around him, until Jones finally breaks his hold on her.
2. MATT SMITH – TERMINATOR: GENISYS
As the youngest ever actor to take over control of the TARDIS, Matt Smith was almost a full 180o from Tennant’s quietly depressed Doctor. Bubbly, but quick to anger, he was most often playful and silly. Upon leaving the TARDIS, Smith set out to kick-start his post-Who acting roles with roles in Ryan Gosling directorial debut Lost River and the latest in the franchise, Terminator: Genisys.
Strange spelling aside, Genisys put the young former Doctor on the world stage next to Arnold Schwarzenegger and J.K. Simmons, even if it may not have been that great of a sequel. But don’t worry, we’ll be seeing much more of Smith with the biopic Mapplethorpe and Patient Zero.
1. PETER CAPALDI – THE THICK OF IT/ IN THE LOOP
Peter Capaldi already had a fan base by the time he took over as the Doctor after Matt Smith’s departure. As the foul-mouthed, temperamental Director of Communications for the UK government, Malcolm Tucker, Capaldi was the king of cursing, the sultan of swearing on The Thick of It.
He and showrunner Armando Iannucci took their show to the big screen with the 2009 trans-Atlantic movie In The Loop, where Capaldi got to test his verbose taunts against equally foul-mouthed American general played by James Gandolfini. And because we Whovians know time to be a wibbly-wobbly thing, Capaldi played a World Health Organization (WHO) Doctor in World War Z around the time he was announced as the new Doctor.
BONUS: DAVID MORRISSEY – THE WALKING DEAD
Ah, another interesting story in Who lore, the man who could have been the Doctor. Morrissey made several appearances on the TV series during the Tennant era. Many thought he was the heir apparent after Tennant announced he was going to leave the series and his character Jackson Lake was seen imitating the Doctor on set.
As it played out on Doctor Who, Lake had the Doctor’s memories implanted in his mind by Cybermen, which caused him to act like the Doctor. Matt Smith would be announced as the Eleventh Doctor not long after. Morrissey doesn’t seem to have taken it too badly, since he’s moved on to the role of The Walking Dead’s villainous Governor in Season 3.
Also seen in: State of Play, Holding On, Nowhere Boy, Red Riding, The One That Got Away
What other roles have Doctor Who actors played that have excited you? Let us know in the comments!
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