Current Doctor Peter Capaldi has confirmed that the upcoming series of Doctor Who will be his last. Which means that for Whovians everywhere it’s time to start making a list of possible replacements.
(It’s part of the grieving process. Don’t come at me.)
Ever since Doctor Who returned to our TV screens back in 2005, the casting of a new Doctor has become more fraught with conjecture, fervent hopes, and – sometimes – bitter recrimination. Nowadays, with it’s global popularity, it’s possible to imagine an actual “big-time” star taking the role. It didn’t used to be that way. When Tom Baker got the part back in 1974 he was working as a bricklayer.
While it’s fun to imagine how the show might work with someone like, say, Colin Firth or Helen Mirren as The Doctor, it makes more sense to have someone who isn’t such a “known quantity”. Of the recent actors to have captained the TARDIS, only Christopher Eccleston comes close to being a “star”. But even after appearing in films like 28 Days Later and Gone In 60 Seconds, he essentially remains a character actor. It’s the part of The Doctor that’s the star; not the person playing it.
That’s the trick with casting a new Doctor. The actor needs to have great screen presence, but a lack of “baggage” for want of a better term. You can see a bit of that with Capaldi – his brilliantly scabrous performance as Malcolm Tucker in political satire The Thick Of It loomed large in his first series of Doctor Who. Many fans were wondering if Capaldi’s Doctor would unleash a torrent of profanity the first time he encountered a Dalek. That may have contributed to many people’s initial resistance to him in the part.
So, now that Capaldi has officially announced he’s leaving, the question arises: who will be the next Who? Well… I have some suggestions. But first, some basic rules:
1: The Doctor Must Always Be British.
I’m sorry. On this I do NOT budge. The Doctor has an accent that hails from England, Scotland, Ireland or Wales. Is that too reactionary of me? Too narrow minded? I care not.
2: The TARDIS Must Always Be A Police Call Box. And Blue.
Every so often, some bright spark gets it into their head to go and mess with perfection. I sincerely doubt that incoming show runner Chris Chibnall is one of those sorts, but if he is? I’m warning him here and now: mess with the TARDIS and you’ll live to regret it. There are fewer more perfectly iconic inventions than the outward appearance of the Doctor’s time machine. Disrespect it at your peril.
3. Continuity Is Fine, But Don’t Over Think It.
If Doctor Who had been concerned with strict continuity, we’d never have ended up with three separate explanations of the sinking of Atlantis, or with John Hurt’s wonderful appearance as the War Doctor. Playing fast and loose with it’s own history is one of the more charming elements of the show. There’s no reason for that to change after 54 years.
And really, that’s it for hard and fast rules. So. Who should the next Doctor actually be played by?
I’m going to parse my choices into three categories – Utterly Possible, Practically Improbable, and Wishful Thinking. Right off the bat I will say this: I am firmly of the opinion that The Doctor can be played by anyone; male, female, black, white, Asian, Venusian, or whatever. I’m not particularly interested in debating if the Doctor must be played by a particular type of actor. In this day and age and at this stage of the show’s development it’s clear that anyone can and should be considered for the part. I sincerely hope Chris Chibnall is doing that very thing as I write this now.
Utterly Possible (Or, “This Could Happen!”)
Colin Salmon IS the new Doctor Who!
Actually, this is a bit of a cheat. Salmon was rumored to be taking over the role when David Tennant stepped down, but instead it went to Matt Smith. He’d still be a great choice – I picture him as a quietly confident, William Hartnell-style Doctor. Salmon has a steeliness that could be a nice variation from the more antic tone of recent Doctors. And he plays the trumpet! He could start a band with Doctor 12 on guitar and Doctor 2 on piccolo. (You’re welcome, expanded universe writers!)
Tamsin Greig IS the new Doctor Who!
Greig has been a staple across UK TV since appearing in Black Books in 2000. US audiences may know her from the Showtime series Episodes, where she and Stephen Mangan play husband and wife comedy writers forced to work with Matt LeBlanc. Greig has an offbeat, eccentric screen presence that would fit Doctor Who like a glove.
Peter Serafinowicz IS the new Doctor Who!
Serafinowicz is the voice behind Darth Maul and the morbidly compelling “Sassy Trump” videos. In “Sassy Trump” Serafinowicz simply dubs over Donald Trump’s words exactly, only in a slightly campier tone of voice. It’s hysterically funny and utterly chilling now that the man is ensconced in the White House. In happier roles, Serafinowicz made several appearances on Simon Pegg’s classic Spaced series, as well as guest bits on Black Books and Little Britain. He also voiced the nightmarish Fisher King creature in the recent season of Who, so he’s already got a foot in the door. If nothing else, I am convinced that his interpretation of The Doctor would be the single strangest one to date.
Bill Nighy IS the new Doctor Who!
This is just a straight up old-school cheat. Nighy would be great as The Doctor. Because Bill Nighy is great in everything. It wouldn’t be ground-breaking or a particularly brave choice, but he would be perfect. In fact, it’s too perfect. It would be too obvious! Forget I said anything, ok?
Practically Improbable (Or, “In Your Dreams, Mate”)
Cate Blanchett IS the new Doctor Who!
I know, I know. I just stated that The Doctor shouldn’t be played by a big star and here I go suggesting a two-time Academy Award winner. But then, that’s kind of the genius of Cate Blanchett: you never feel like you’re watching Cate Blanchett. Her ability to vanish into a role is remarkable. Blanchett is one of the only famous names floated for Who where I’ve actually thought “Hang on… that would be fantastic!” Of course, it’d be impossible. Oh my word would it be brilliant, though.
Chiwetel Ejiofor IS the new Doctor Who!
Much like Cate Blanchett, Ejiofor is one of those actors who always seems to disappear into a role. Even with numerous big-screen credits and award-winning performances to his name, I feel like he would be able to assume the role of the Doctor and make us forget it was being played by a “star actor”. I’d love to know what kind of voice he’d use as The Doctor; imagine if it was the creepily determined tones of The Agent from Serenity. I’m getting chills just thinking about it.
Saoirse Ronan IS the new Doctor Who!
I think it would be amazing to see a character as ancient as The Doctor played by an actor as young as Ronan. The trick of course, is that she’d have no trouble pulling it off. Much like Matt Smith (who Ronan acted alongside in Ryan Gosling’s semi-coherent directorial debut ‘Lost River’) Ronan would be able to show the weight of all those lives and all that time behind The Doctor. Plus, she’d be the first Doctor with a real Irish brogue!
Wishful Thinking (Or, “If I Ruled The World”)
Alan Cumming IS the new Doctor Who!
How amazing would this be, eh? Cumming would be brilliant as The Doctor. He can do anything – comedy, drama, singing, dancing, you name it. Vitally, he’s got that ineffable element of charisma needed for the part. And it would be neat if he kept his Scots accent as a holdover from Capaldi’s incarnation.
Hayley Atwell IS the new Doctor Who!
This shouldn’t be a surprise. I already endorsed this notion back in 2015 when Atwell herself said she wanted to play the part. She’s got screen presence to burn and cult cred from her stint as Marvel’s Agent Carter. A no-brainer, frankly.
Paul McGann IS the Eighth Doctor Who!
Ok. This is total fantasy, wish-fulfillment time.
I would LOVE to see a full season (or two) of Paul McGann as the 8th Doctor. It would have to be a flashback series, obviously. It can take place right before the Time War started or some such. The 1996 TV movie and the 2013 mini-episode ‘Night Of The Doctor’ are such tantalizing glimpses of what McGann could have done with the role. A nagging source of regret for me is the fact that we have been cheated out of a whole chunk of the Doctor’s TV adventures. If I ruled the world, well… I promise you McGann would have at least 3 seasons under his belt.
I imagine that in the real world, we should discover just who Chris Chibnall and the BBC have lined up to take over from Capaldi by Thanksgiving. I’m looking forward to seeing what Chibnall does with the show. Maybe he’ll stay the course and give us a “safe hands” actor to steer the TARDIS controls, but I have an odd inkling that won’t be the case. I seriously doubt any of my above picks will come close to the final reality. Still, I think this next incarnation of The Doctor will be something new. Something a bit more off the beaten path.
After all, that’s what the show has always been about, really. To quote The Doctor: “Change, my dear… and it seems not a moment too soon.”