It’s been just over a year since the BBC announced that Peter Capaldi would play the Twelfth Doctor. There were rumblings of his casting in the week before the announcement was made, to the point where bookies stopped taking bets on it.
We’ve spent the last twelve months in anticipation of what seems like dream casting for the Time Lord, but some of us were a little sceptical that an actor of his profile and standing would take the role until it was actually announced, but “he’s been in it before” was not atop the list of reasons why we thought it was too good to be true.
Over the course of 50 years, Doctor Who has inevitably reused actors as different characters- there are only so many jobbing actors out there after all. That Capaldi has featured as two other characters in the Whoniverse before taking on the big job is no bar to him playing the character and it might even prove to be a plot point in his first series.
With that in mind, here are a couple of the ways in which certain other actors have gotten away with playing more than one character in Doctor Who and its spin-offs.
Spatial genetic multiplicity
The use of quick technobabble shorthand like “spatial genetic multiplicity” has slightly fallen off since Steven Moffat took over as the head writer on Doctor Who, in which exposition and storylines have generally been a bit more complex.
As Russell T. Davies has it, spatial genetic multiplicity is a phenomenon that makes the Tenth Doctor and Rose giggle towards the end of the big New Who crossover episode Journey’s End. It basically means that because of the rift in time and space beneath Roald Dahl Plass, physical traits can recur over time. It’s just a shorthand explanation for why Eve Myles could be an undertaker’s maid called Gwyneth in 1869 and police officer-turned-Torchwood agent Gwen Cooper in present day Cardiff, but it’s indicative of a wider tendency to tie up these loose ends where somebody might notice.
For instance, you also have the throwaway reference to Martha Jones’ cousin Adeola – they look quite similar because they’re both played by Freema Agyeman. In retrospect, that seems like a reasonable caveat. If you watched Army Of Ghosts and Smith & Jones on transmission, they were nine months apart, but in binge-watching mode, there’s only one episode between them.
Still, the multiplicity doo-dah could retroactively explain how this sort of thing happened all the time in the classic series, especially with companions. Nicholas Courtney was Bret Vyon in the epic William Hartnell serial The Dalek Masterplan, but later became iconic as Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart. Ian Marter had a turn in Carnival Of Monsters before returning as Harry Sullivan in the Fourth Doctor’s first season.
The only time there’s an apparent in-story justification for reusing an actor as a companion is when Mary Tamm’s Romana regenerates at the beginning of Destiny Of The Daleks, adopting the features of Princess Astra, played by Lalla Ward in the previous season.
Some characters even got multiplied the other way, reappearing as different characters after playing regulars. Jacqueline Hill, who was so brilliant as Barbara Wright in the early days of the series, returned as Lexa in the Fourth Doctor serial Meglos, while Jean Marsh holds the distinction of playing Joanna of England in The Crusade, short-lived companion Sara Kingdom in The Dalek Masterplan and then coming back in the 1980s as Morgaine in Battlefield.
It’s not always acknowledged, but if it does really bother you, then spatial genetic multiplicity is a good enough explanation for us, given how Cardiff has been established as the pivotal and affordable centre of the universe since 2005.
Guest stars in disguise
Just because the series can get away with it, doesn’t mean that it’s always so blatant about different actors playing the same character, especially when there’s a good reason for some of them to don prosthetics and monster themselves up a bit,
For instance, the show’s regular monster players Paul Kasey and Alan Ruscoe have appeared as all the strange, strange creatures, from Cybermen to Ood, since the series returned in 2005. Ruscoe actually appeared on-screen in 2009’s The Waters Of Mars as the doomed Andy Stone, still donning make-up once he was infected by the Flood.
Other regular monsters include Spencer Wilding, who played the minotaur in The God Complex, the Wooden King in The Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe and Skaldak the Ice Warrior in Cold War, and Jimmy Vee, who has played characters such as the Moxx of Balhoon and Bannakaffalatta, and will return for another alien role in the sixth episode of the next series. Julian Bleach is one of the few actors to have featured in Doctor Who, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, all in prosthetics, playing Davros, the Ghostmaker and the Nightmare Man respectively.
But other recurring guest stars have gotten away with more than one appearance by playing aliens and humanoids on separate occasions. Mark Gatiss made his on-screen Who debut as Professor Lazarus in The Lazarus Experiment, but also had a cheeky cameo as live chess player Gantok in The Wedding Of River Song, in which prosthetics made him look like a Bo Selecta character cosplaying as a viking.
Chipo Chung made an impression as sweet, doomed Chantho in Utopia, but came back in the same episode eleven slot in the following series as the fortune teller who leads Donna astray in Turn Left. Likewise, Adjoa Andoh had a regular role as Martha Jones’ mum, Francine, but not before wearing cat nun make-up as Sister Jatt in New Earth.
But we can also count another one in this category- Karen Gillan’s turn as a soothsayer in The Fires Of Pompeii, back in 2008. Her character’s not an alien, but the Tenth Doctor never meets her face to face and she at least looks different enough that there was no need to explain away the similarity once Amy Pond was introduced. Then again, we now know that they won’t necessarily dismiss another familiar face from that episode so readily.
As mentioned, Peter Capaldi has featured twice before, between the main series and its spin-off. In the main series, he played Roman family man Caecilius in The Fires Of Pompeii, providing ample room for certain fans to speculate about this as a previous meeting between the Tenth and Twelfth Doctors, and also memorably guest-starred as Home Office permanent secretary John Frobisher in Torchwood‘s third series, Children Of Earth.
As it turns out, Russell T. Davies really isn’t the type to let that kind of coincidence slide and Steven Moffat recently revealed that there’s a working theory as to why there are several Peter Capaldis in the Whoniverse.
“When I cast Peter, [Russell] got in touch to say how pleased he was,” says the Moff. “I said ‘Okay, what was your theory and does it still work?’ and he said ‘Yes it does, here it is’. So I don’t know if we’ll get to it… we’ll play that one out over time. It’s actually quite neat.”
This might seem counter to the rumblings that the new series is a change in direction in terms of narrative, focused less on the long-running arcs that have characterised Moffat’s first three series as head writer and more on standalone adventures.
Would it be too easy to speculate that it’ll be similar to Clara’s fairly recent multi-tasking in time and space, splintering herself into millions of lives in order to undo the damage inflicted by the Great Intelligence in The Name Of The Doctor? Whatever happens, we think this might be the sort of thing that bubbles under the stories in the Twelfth Doctor’s era without drawing too much attention.
And what of the Doctor’s question about whether or not he is a good man? Frobisher’s arc in Children Of Earth ends on a grim and hauntingly subtle murder-suicide with his family, backed by an emphatic epitaph from his devoted PA – “I want you to know John Frobisher was a good man.”
See how easy it is to read into these things? Discounting dual roles for the actor playing the Doctor in stories such as The Enemy Of The World, Human Nature and The Almost People, there’s only one instance of a guest actor coming back to play the Doctor.
In season twenty’s Arc Of Infinity, Colin Baker plays Maxil, a commander in the Chancellery Guard on Gallifrey, a humourless sort who shoots the Fifth Doctor while placing him under arrest. The following year, he inherited the title role from Peter Davison, leading Baker to quip that he was the only Doctor to have been cast in the role for taking a pot-shot at the incumbent.
Not that anybody ever mentions Maxil again, even though a whole season of the Sixth Doctor’s run takes place on Gallifrey when he’s put on trial by his own people. We’re not really sure that we need an explanation – if you can have Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, you should have Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. But we have to confess, in these days of spatial genetic multiplicity and lost relatives, we’re curious to see what the two showrunners have in mind to explain the latest, most ubiquitous face of the Time Lord.
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