‘Doctor Who’ Was Nearly Played In Blackface

“You[, Doctor,] can’t understand, being so ancient.” —Victoria, Second Doctor

In A Nutshell

Doctor Who celebrates its 50th anniversary today and is the longest-running sci-fi show in history—a TV series that has remained hugely popular in Britain since the days when color television was only a distant dream. So far, 12 actors have been cast in the title role, but in 1966, the second of those very nearly managed to destroy it forever. According to the BBC, Patrick Troughton came within an inch of playing the character in blackface.

The Whole Bushel

Although it seems relatively modern, British sci-fi series Doctor Who has been going roughly forever. Starting in 1963 with grouchy William Hartnell, it’s since seen 11 leading men come and go, with another shortly on the way. Unlike most shows though, change has never been a problem for the Doctor. Thanks to a nifty plot gimmick, the character is able to periodically transform himself into a whole new person—a trick that usually coincides with the lead actor getting a better offer. It’s a technique that allows the Doctor to change his appearance, his character, his style; and once very nearly allowed him to be played in blackface.

In 1966, character actor Patrick Troughton was poised to take over the role. Afraid of being typecast and worried that being so identified with a children’s show would ruin his career, he toyed with ways of disguising his appearance. According to interviews he gave after leaving the role, his preferred method was to play the character as a sort of Captain Nemo: complete with turban and dark skin. Since he was white, this would naturally require him blacking up for the role; a costume method was still unfathomably acceptable in the ’60s. In the end, the producer squashed his idea, asking him to instead play the character as a sort of intergalactic Charlie Chaplin.

It was a heck of a lucky escape for the show. Blackface was already getting kind of old by then, and in 2013 it would be nothing short of mortifying to know Matt Smith was playing a role once reserved for breathtakingly racist caricatures. No matter when your show started, that’s not the sort of past you can shake off lightly. Had Patrick Troughton got his way, the world’s longest-running sci-fi show might well now be just another historical curiosity, consigned to the same cultural dustbin as Disney’s cringe-inducing Song of the South.

Show Me The Proof

The Telgeraph: Doctor Who 50th anniversary—Patrick Troughton considered playing the Doctor in blackface
BBC: The Changing Face of Doctor Who—How to regenerate a Time Lord
Doctor Who Patrick Troughton Interview (video)

  • VikingBerserker

    It seems we are redefining what “Blackface” is, it’s gone from actors of all colors acting like buffoons to represent a specific race to white people wearing make-up to represent that race as they really are, normal like everybody else.

    • lbatfish

      If he’d done it as well as Peter Sellers did in “The Party”, it could have been kinda cool.

  • Ray

    Seriously? One guy thinking about wearing makeup for a minute would have ruined Doctor Who. This is the bullshit you come up with for the 50th anniversary of the show. Go back to outing gay famous people.

  • Timothy53

    “Cringe-inducing Song of the South”? Really? Have you ever seen it? If you have seen it, did you understand it? No, I didn’t think so.

    • Hadeskabir

      It was a bit racist, you have to agree with that.

  • Valkyrie

    There is actually no documented proof that Patrick Troughton was even taken seriously by the Directors of Doctor Who for the Turban and blackened face comment. From what I read it was a joke made by him as he was nervous about playing the second Doctor, he certainly wasn’t a racist. You do know that slander is an offence yes?

    • Hadeskabir

      What if Morris M. is a troll? Think about it, he trolls people by writing biased articles with dubious information. He could be one of the top trolls, a troll master!

    • William Arnold

      Everyone involved is now dead, so Morris can say what he likes…

      • Valkyrie

        There’s a multi- million pound industry wrapped up in the marketing of Doctor Who trust me if they wanted to they could close down this site and sue

  • Zach Hennen

    Oh look, another contribution by Morris that is terrible. Way to let this shit ruin your site, Frater.

  • Nathan Jacobsen

    That’s nothing. In “The Talons of Weng Chiang”, a Doctor Who story from 1977, John Bennett plays the villain in yellow face. In 1977.

    • lbatfish

      Let’s not forget John Wayne as Genghis Khan.

      “Wayne’s role as the founder of the Mongol Empire in “The Conqueror” is
      widely regarded as the worst piece of miscasting in cinema history. Few
      roles can compete with the awkwardness of seeing The Duke,
      not-really-disguised in a Fu Manchu and slanted eyebrows, spew lines
      like “I am Temujin, the Conqueror. No prison can hold me, no army defeat
      me” with essentially the same delivery he used in “True Grit.” —Jeff Royer

      Produced by Howard Hughes, back in the days before he started saving his pee in mason jars.

  • Hadeskabir

    I watched 2 episodes of Doctor Who a few years ago and I didn’t think it was that good, Maybe if I watched it when I was young I would have loved it.

  • MajorasMask

    Cultural dustbin? What about Splash Mountain! The whole ride’s based of that story! And we wouldn’t have “Zip-i-Dee-Doo-Dah”!

  • William Arnold

    This is absolute rubbish. Blackface was just one of a dozen suggestions mooted and there is no proof Troughton pressed for this. Jamie Frater should be ashamed for posting this crap.

  • pronto

    I never got into the Dr.Who show.I do believe that all of the actors essaying the Who role have been white.This article makes me wonder if the producers might not think that its time to have a black actor as Dr.Who.