Patrick Troughton was an English character actor whose legacy stretched far beyond Doctor Who. You’ll have seen him at some point in your childhood in something, whether it be The Box Of Delights, where he played an old Punch and Judy man who owns the titular box, or The Omen, where he gets impaled by a church. Depends what sort of films you were watching as a youngling, really.
It’s telling that Christopher Eccleston, in an interview prior to taking the role of the Ninth Doctor, talked about the history of the show and referred to his predecessor as “the great Pat Troughton”.
Troughton was an actor’s actor. He could lead, add to and energise an ensemble cast. He read his lines as a rough approximation of the script, fresh and different each time, to give options for the edit and to keep his fellow cast members on their toes. He rarely gave interviews, stating that he regarded acting as ‘magic’ and that detailing the processes would spoil it for people.
You can see why Eccleston would refer to him as great. The man was clearly a joy to work with for many, and a consummate professional. No matter how unfair it is on William Hartnell, it’s a fact that nearly every Doctor since Peter Davison (those who had the chance to grow up watching Troughton) has cited him as a major influence as an actor.
In multi-Doctor stories it’s often Troughton who steals the show (with, of course, sterling work from Nicholas Courtney as The Brigadier, the straight man for the Second Doctor to bounce off in The Three Doctors and The Five Doctors). The sense of fun on set during one small scene in The Five Doctors was enough to persuade then producer, John Nathan-Turner, to bring Troughton and Fraser Hines (as companion, Jamie) back for The Two Doctors.
Hines is on record as saying that, if it weren’t for pressure from agents and partners, the two of them would probably still be playing The Doctor and Jamie to this day. As it is, Hines plays Jamie for Big Finish Audio Productions, and can do an uncannily accurate Troughton impression, if required.
However, in multi-Doctor stories, the Second Doctor is often misrepresented as ‘the funny one’. It’s not that he isn’t funny in his own stories, it’s just that this aspect of his character is played up against other Doctor’s more straight-laced characteristics. You only have to watch The Three Doctors for five minutes to realise that Troughton is tremendously enjoying the chance to wind up Jon Pertwee, as did Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy at later conventions. This is another key thing we learned from Patrick Troughton, that it was tremendous fun to wind up Jon Pertwee.
The other important lesson is that it’s possible to replace the irreplaceable. It’s a different kind of pressure to the one that Peter Davison and Matt Smith faced, because they both knew that it was possible, thanks to Troughton. To be the actor who originates the concept, and makes it work is something that sets him apart from all his successors. Hartnell made the show work. Troughton changed how it could do so.
Oddly, his first series saw him play the role in an unsettled style, with broad comedy moments, including outlandish accents, and a short-lived predilection for hats and dressing up, initially resulting in viewers failing to warm to him.
Despite fandom’s fondness for the Second Doctor, the viewing public of the time largely regarded the series as becoming more comedic, lighter and child-friendly. This is detailed in the BBC’s Doctor Who site’s synopsis of The Power Of The Daleks, where contemporary viewer reactions are quoted. In hindsight, it’s obvious that this was partly down to the sheer contrast between the two, but also because it took Troughton a while to maintain a consistent character.
The whole concept of the Doctor as someone who talks to misdirect originated with Troughton, the Second Doctor being a lot more genial and outgoing than his predecessor. This was almost the opposite approach to the First Doctor, whose stern and haughty exterior belied a chuckling mischief maker. His appearance is less austere, more clownish.
Indeed, the Second Doctor is so seemingly benign that it can be incredibly shocking when he reveals it to be a front. The Evil Of The Daleks, despite some of the most convoluted padding in the history of the show, features one of the best individual Doctor performances, as Troughton sells the threat perfectly, driving Jamie to a bitter rebuke of his friend’s duplicitous actions. And yet, he holds his companion’s hands and clings on to Jamie when dangerous things happen. It’s all very sweet, and completely at odds with the image the previous Doctor impressed upon people.
If Hartnell was the grandparent who sent you off to bed with a heartfelt “Goodnight, my dear,” Troughton was the avuncular uncle who let you stay up late and eat far too many sweets. It set a different tone.
There’s something about the chemistry of the leads that reinvigorates the show when they all get along that communicates itself to the viewer. Much of the best dialogue between the Doctor and companions comes from the Troughton era. Possibly the difference between the Second and First Doctors is that Troughton excels, with a more gentle, inclusive relationship with his companions.
The First Doctor is more about conflict. Many (but not all) of Hartnell’s most memorable moments come as a result of a disagreement with a friend, whereas Troughton’s are about the quiet moments of friendship: jokes, games and comforting sounds. This isn’t to say that both actors couldn’t perform in a similar way, but a more general overview of trends in their respective eras.
Despite these differences, though, the best trick that Troughton managed was to maintain continuity. David Tennant and Matt Smith’s first episodes make sure that they explicitly state that this is the same man as before. In Power Of The Daleks there’s initially some vagueness as to what’s happened, but by the end of the story we’re left absolutely certain that this man is the Doctor, by the Daleks’ reaction to him.
It also helps that Power Of The Daleks is one of the best things to have been broadcast on telly in the world, ever. Besides this, we can see that the Doctor is the same man. He’s still a scientist, he’s still curious and ever able to get into trouble, but he’s still changed in conspicuous ways.
He’s a bit like The Fall, as described by John Peel: “Always different, always the same.