Published on May 23rd, 2013 | by Philip Bates
Introducing: John Hurt
When those words flashed up in the final scene of The Name of the Doctor, a nation gasped. In fact, if it weren’t for the Daily Mail producing enough hot air to kill all the Ice Warriors in the universe, our atmosphere would’ve completely collapsed in our collective gasp.
Ah yeah – it’s that bloke who played Quentin Crisp! Y’know, the one who voiced the Dragon in Merlin! Younger viewers might’ve even recognised him as the voice of the owl in The Gruffalo.
The Doctor Exposed
Many will know 73-year-old, Chesterfield-born John Hurt from 1975’s The Naked Civil Servant and its 2009 follow-up, An Englishman in New York, in which he played flamboyant homosexual, Quentin Crisp. It brought Hurt into the public consciousness, but he was already a well-established name in the industry.
His first on-screen appearances were in 1961’s Probation Officer and Drama ’61- ’67 before playing James Hogan in Z Cars. He also starred in ITV Play of the Week, Gideon’s Way and Armchair Theatre before his big break came in 1966’s A Man For All Seasons, in which he played Richard Rich, Lord Chancellor from 1536. Based on true events, the film, written by Robert Bolt and directed by Fred Zinnemann, focuses on Sir Thomas More, whose strong Catholic beliefs stopped him from signing a letter to Pope Clement VII asking for the annulment of the marriage between King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. (Interestingly, More also coined the word, ‘utopia,’ which fans of a particular Doctor Who Series 3 episode might be thankful for…)
Following The Naked Civil Servant, Hurt’s next high-profile job was as Caligula in I, Claudius (1976), alongside Derek Jacobi (Utopia, of course!), George Baker (Full Circle) and Brian Blessed (Trial of a Time Lord).
Hurt is such a massively prolific actor, it’s a surprise he’s never been in Doctor Who before. But amongst his credits include seminal works like Alien (the first actor in what would become a film series to have his chest wrecked by HR Giger’s repulsive creations), the Harry Potter film series, and The Elephant Man, in which he took centre stage as the deformed John Merrick.There was also the superb performance as Winston Smith in the movie adaptation of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
More recently, Hurt has been seen in V For Vendetta (2005), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008).
For many, though, he will always be the voice of Watership Down’s lead character, Hazel, in the 1978 movie, Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings (another 1978 animated film), and General Woundwort in the 1999-2001 cartoon series, Watership Down (which I personally have loving memories of).
But now, he’ll forever be known as the Doctor.