10 comedians who have appeared in Doctor Who

Now that Lee Evans has been confirmed as appearing in the next Doctor Who special, we look at other comedians who have popped up in the show...

Simon Pegg in The Long Game

With the news that Lee Evans is to joining the cast of Doctor Who in the upcoming special, Planet Of the Dead, our minds here at Den Of Geek turn to other comedians who have left the sweaty comedy clubs to travel in time and space (or simply stay on contemporary Earth). There’s certainly been numerous funny guys and gals who have either paired up with The Doctor or faced off against him and, as you may have guessed, this is a list of just those people.

For the purposes of the chart, I’m concentrating on comedians as opposed to comedic actors. I will point out that Rowan Atkinson does not get a mention for his top portrayal of the Time Lord in The Curse Of The Fatal Death (due to reasons of canon-icity) and neither does Brian “Gordon’s alive!” Blessed – yes he’s arse-achingly funny but he’s meant to be a ‘serious’ actor (though you could have fooled me).

10. Peter Butterworth as The Meddling Monk (1965-66) Ok, not technically a comedian but Butterworth is best known for his comedic roles in the Carry On films – so we’ll let the ‘rules’ slide for this entry. In Who he has popped up twice playing fellow time lord, The Meddling Monk, in an eponymous four-part tale and then alongside those pesky intergalactic pepperpots in The Daleks’ Master Plan. Old skool fans have a huge soft spot for the character and yearn for his return…

9. Peter Kay in Love & Monsters (2006) Did someone say Marmite? Russell T Davies tested Who fans with the introduction of the ‘Doctor-lite’ episode and all was going well until the Abzorbaloff raised its Slitheen-esque body. I know that Kay has his many, many fans but the Lancashire gagster does not do it for me in the comedy stakes (no matter how many endless Channel Four polls tell me otherwise). As performances go, it didn’t match the rest of the excellent cast and would have better suited to the show that originated his costume, Blue Peter.

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8. Hale & Pace in Survival (1989) Eighties Doctor Who had its fair share of hideous monsters and atrocities but none were more stomach-churning and brain-scratching than the human ‘comedy’ duo known as Hale & Pace. Even though their role in the last of the regular ‘classic’ series was small, it lasted longer in the mind than the other clown(s) in this episode….

7. Simon Pegg in The Long Game (2005) The narrator of Doctor Who Confidential Series One (ah, the days when it was only half an hour – good times) steps in front of the camera and delivers a rather lacklustre performance as The Editor – henchman of the ‘baddie’ known as Max. Personally, I think he would have been better served playing a more sympathetic role akin to Tim from his series Spaced. Also popping up in the same story was Black Books actress Tamsin Greig, though more laughs were probably gained from the woeful performance of Bruno Langley as Adam – an Adric for the Noughties.

6. Ken Dodd in Delta & The Bannermen (1987) Oh dear. And some Who fans wonder why the show got canned back in ’89. If you look at the latter years of the show it’s almost as if the Beeb were determined to turn Who into an unwatchable farce by throwing the most ridiculous names at it (and I’m not referring to McCoy – there I said it!); witness Nicholas Parsons!; view agog at Bonnie Langford!!; and then there’s Ken Dodd – as misguided as the production values were awful. Don’t take my word for it, though, Delta & The Bannermen is released (more like vomited) on DVD later this year. You have been warned.

5. Mark Gatiss in The Lazarus Experiment (2007) Gatiss is beloved by most Who fans and is one of those clever guys who made the transition from the New Adventures range of novels back in the Nineties to the new series (The Unquiet Dead, The Idiot’s Lantern and is currently writing for Series 5). Of course, his excellent Who-based sketches The Kidnappers (with Peter Davison no less!), The Web Of Caves and The Pitch Of Fear are some of the best in the Doctor Who parody oeuvre and his enthusiasm for the show is heartwearming in the extreme. Despite the episode’s failings, Gatiss plays the villain with perfect charm and never overplays the moment.

4. Alexei Sayle in Revelation Of The Daleks (1985) Liverpudlian oddity Alexei has popped up in some weird places over the years (such as Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade) but his appearance in Revelation Of The Daleks is an interesting example of a comedian transferring their skills onto the screen (rather than showing off by doing some ‘proper’ acting). Having said that, his stint as the Tranquil Repose DJ is as irritating as his ‘song’, Ullo John! Gotta New Motor? Fellow Young Ones alumni Christopher Ryan also starred in Trial Of A Time Lord (1986) and more recently in last year’s Sontaran two-parter.

3. Jessica Hynes (née Stevenson) in Human Nature/Family Of Blood (2007) Beating her Spaced counterpart, Simon Pegg, by some margin, Jessica played the best companion The Doctor never had in the now legendary (hold on, it’s not even two years old!) two-parter from the pen of Paul Cornell. Hynes plays the part of Joan Redfern beautifully and us fans of Jessica are struggling to comprehend why her career seems to be stalling (I mean, did you see According to Bex? *shudders*). She got on so well with Davey T that they paired up again on her terrific drama/comedy (a dramedy?) Learners.

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2. John Cleese in City Of Death (1979) Whilst the TARDIS is stuck in a Parisian art gallery, John Cleese plays an art lover who looks on at the Doctor’s favoured transport and says, “For me the most curious thing about the piece is its wonderful a-functionalism.” After a fellow art-lover responds, he adds, “And since it has no call to be here the art lies in the fact that it is here.” Straight out the pages of Python. It may well be a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him role. but Cleese’s cameo, like many facets of City Of Death, is totally memorable. Script editor Douglas Adams (no stranger to laughs) peppered this story with some of the best comedy the show has seen. Rumour has it that Cleese wanted to play The Master and saw this as an audition of sorts. Ah, what could have been…

1. Catherine Tate as Donna Noble The UK’s greatest comedienne upset the ‘fans’ (or should I say ‘idiots’) who dismissed her before she even began. The End of Year Poll in Doctor Who Magazine told a different story where Tate won the Biggest Contribution to Doctor Who award – so she must have been doing something right. Donna Noble retained all of Catherine’s comic stylings and groin-grabbingly punctual timing whilst displaying an acute ability for acting and making the temp from Chiswick a real and believable character. So much so that some of us are still mourning her loss…sniff… come back. Donna. I miss you.

Missing out on the Top Ten, but still worth an hounourable mention (and there’s a couple of comedic actors in here too), are:

Phil Cornwell in The Fires Of Pompeii Joan Sims in The Trial Of A Time Lord (Eps 1-4) Velile Tshabalala in The Next Doctor Faith Brown in Attack Of The Cybermen (what do you mean, who’s Faith Brown?) Steve Pemberton in Silence In The Library/Forest Of The Dead Bernard Bresslaw in The Ice Warriors Russell Tovey in Voyage Of the Damned Martin Clunes in Snakedance Paul O’Grady in The Stolen Earth


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26 January 2009