Happy Fourth of July weekend to US-connected readers!
One of the results of a broken arm is I’ve been watching a lot of repeats of Frasier. And that poll got me thinking about the old “an American playing the Doctor” bit again, especially a suggestion about a separate US reboot. So I thought “Kelsey Grammer as the Doctor...” and then I thought... “the Sixth Doctor!” And the results followed... Some of these are complicated meta-references to real-world roles, some are just “kinda looks the part”...
Ian Wolfe started the series as the Doctor, a wise old man travelling through time and space in a ship disguised as an indoor phone booth, already slightly old-fashioned when the series began and now known mostly as the TARDIS. Highlights of the run include the Rod Serling story “Galaxy Four” and the famously authentic “The Gunfighters”, shot at the actual OK Corral.
There was concern about replacing the star of the show, but Burgess Meredith quickly made the role his own as a more adventurous “big kid” and trickster, with companions 1880s Bostonian Virginia and Apache brave “Jimmy Mac” featuring in classic stories like the Ray Bradbury adaptation “A Sound Of Thunder”.
When the series shifted to colour, a change in format to contemporary Earthbound action stories teamed Robert Lansing as the dashing Third Doctor with Teri Garr as Jo Grant. With his trusty sonic screwdriver the Doctor saved a world just taking its first steps into space. (Gag explained.)
The Seventies saw a shift to more space adventures and a strong horror element, with a larger-than-life Doctor played by Paul Michael Glaser. Some of his stories were so gruesome that the edited “movies” shown in British cinemas received A ratings!
Gregory Harrison, best known for medical drama Trapper John, M.D., played the Fifth Doctor as a young idealist in a series influenced by the blockbuster SF of the time, heavy on the starship battles and soundstage alien vistas.
The series was little loved by network executives by the time Kelsey Grammer took over as the Sixth Doctor, but fans warmed to his portrayal of the cantankerous Time Lord as he played against his “British” companion Penny.
Unfortunate enough to come in as the show was on the way out, Matt Frewer harked back to Burgess Meredith’s trickster portrayal for a single season.
But of course, you couldn’t keep a good idea down.
As his pilot was a BBC co-production set in the UK, the Eighth Doctor was nearly played by a British actor! As it is, Eric Stoltz faced off against the Master as played by Richard E Grant. The movie was a bit of a mess, cramming in too much for the intended international audience, but the running battle inside Big Ben at midnight on Hogmanay 1999 is still a highlight.
When JJ Abrams finally brought the show back in 2005, the Ninth Doctor was much more low-key and contemporary in style, as played by Terry O’Quinn. His speech about destroying the enemy fleet in “Dalek” is a dramatic high point of the revived series, and he turned his catchphrase “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!” into a rallying cry for the fans, playing it so many different ways over his short run.
He only stayed for one season before regenerating into the Tenth Doctor, played by David Krumholtz. Funny, charming, romantic, with just a slight streak of darkness compared to the Ninth.
Finally, it was recently announced that Fran Kranz is to leave with this year’s Thanksgiving special. The “mad boy genius” Doctor has shown off his gift for comedy as well as drama, fitting the whimsical tone of Bryan Fuller’s tenure as showrunner.
So what does the future hold for the Doctor? Will we see a female Doctor, a non-white Doctor, or even... a Canadian?