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Published on August 7th, 2013 | by Christian Cawley

Did A Black Actor Turn Down Doctor Who?

Back in late 2008, we were led to believe that actor Paterson Joseph had been cast as the Eleventh Doctor. So strong was our source that we even had an announcement pre-written. It came as a considerable surprise to find strong betting and an eventual announcement of Matt Smith on January 4th 2009.

In a recent exchange on his blog, writer Neil Gaiman (whose work beyond The Doctor’s Wife and Nightmare in Silver is well-regarded) revealed that he knew of a black actor who had turned down the chance to star in Doctor Who.

Was it Paterson Joseph, or perhaps Chiwetel Ejiofor?


Said Gaiman, when asked if he thought there would ever be a non-white Doctor:

Of course. (I thought I’d said that I was disappointed that it didn’t happen this time, and that there are some amazing actors out there. I was rather disappointed that Paterson Joseph didn’t get it last time, although I’ve loved Matt’s Eleven.) And yes, I have no doubt there will be. (I know one black actor who was already offered the part of the Doctor, and who turned it down.)

So who turned it down?

Back in 2009, Joseph and Ejiofor were both considered the most likely black actors, with Colin Salmon a little behind. Back in 2010 Joseph told the Coventry Telegraph that he would have accepted if offered.

Oh God yeah! I would have hesitated, but I think I would have done it – I think I would have had to have done it. What’s the worst that could happen? The worst that can happen of course is that you get typecast, but then you can’t be as the Doctor because [the show] is so old.

Chiwetel Ejiofor expressed interest in Doctor WhoBack in June this year, Chiwetel Ejiofor was rumoured to have been high on the list of Twelfth Doctor actors, but as we now know, nothing came of this. Back in 2011, the actor admitted he would like the role if offered.

So was it the American Gangster actor who rejected the role?

We’ll probably find out in a few years time, but let’s not get too concerned – we’ve got a great new Doctor in Peter Capaldi!


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About the Author


A long-term Doctor Who fan, Christian grew up watching the show and has early memories of the Graham Williams era. His favourite stories are Inferno, The Seeds of Doom and Human Nature (although The Empty Child, Blink and Utopia all come close). When he’s not bossing around the news team, Christian is a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology and domestic computing, and enjoys classic rock, cooking and spending time in the countryside with his wife and young children. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

29 Responses to Did A Black Actor Turn Down Doctor Who?

  1. avatar FrancoPabloDiablo says:

    I suppose I’ll be classed as racist when I say I’m glad the part has always gone to white British males! Guess I’m also sexist and xenophobic too! Oh well. I guess that a very small minority won’t be content until The Doctor is played by Whoopi Goldberg or Robert Mugabe!

    • avatar Mugen Pharoah says:

      “I’m glad the part has always gone to white British males!”


      • avatar Bob James says:

        I can only agree with the British male part, as a British male of color in the role would be fine by me.

      • avatar David F says:

        If you preface a point with “I suppose I’ll be classed as racist when I say . . . “, you will always end up seeming racist. Better not to draw attention to the traces of racism in your statement.

        And by the way: “I guess that a very small minority won’t be content until the Doctor is played by Whoopi Goldberg or Robert Mugabe” does suggest that you’re deeply uneasy with the idea of equality and want to portray open-minded people as idiots compared with you.

        Also, it’s blatant nonsense. The people who want a white Doctor don’t want Jimmy Tarbuck or Adolf Hitler. The people who want a female Doctor don’t want Joan Rivers or Myra Hindley. Everyone wants a good actor. And it’s not your place to declare that it’s a small minority, merely in order to belittle it.

        If anyone classes you as a racist, sexist or xenophobic (and, purely on the evidence of your comment, I do) it’s because of the words you chose and typed.

        I’m disappointed in the people who liked your remark.

    • avatar Darren K says:

      The reason you will be classed as racist is because what you said is racist, sexist and xenophobic. There was perhaps some room for you to have a civilised point, but then you brought up Goldberg and Mugabe, which is pure nonsense and ridiculous. I am very disappointed that people have actually thumbed up your trolling.

      • avatar FrancoPabloDiablo says:

        The holier than thou PC brigade have proved my original point perfectly! How dare I prefer the idea of a white British male to play The Doctor!

        • avatar David F says:

          Ah . . . There’s the giveaway phrase. “PC Brigade”.

          Well, in the interests of fairness, let me try to rephrase the kernel of a reasonable point that might be buried at the centre of your comment.

          “It’s impossible for William Hartnell to play the Doctor forever, so for the show to continue, it’s necessary to have a mechanism for change. But, to aid my suspension of disbelief, it helps if the Doctor doesn’t change too much from the original type.”

          I suspect that’s close to your original point. I think it sounds almost reasonable put like that. (Or it would, if not for the colossal change in the nature of the Doctor that was evident even by the early seventies.)

          Political correctness is a good thing. It’s a harmless, friendly thing. It’s just a lose way of describing of people trying to be a bit nicer to each other. That’s all. There’s no reason why it should trouble you.

          • avatar Philip Bates says:

            Ah, political correctness. Tread carefully, everyone.

            It’s a tricky one. For the record, it’s not that I was against black actors taking on the role – I was against certain black actors taking it on, same as certain white actors. I didn’t want Paterson Joseph because he plays a bit of a creep/ slimeball in the two things I’ve seen him in (Doctor Who and Death in Paradise). And I didn’t want Ejiofor as he doesn’t look Doctor-y enough. (Does that make sense?) Similarly, I didn’t want Rory Kinnear or David Thewlis. Etc, etc, etc.

            Then I saw Luther, and yes, Idris Elba would be brilliant as the Doctor.

            Okay, so political correctness is a lovely notion: a way of getting people to be nicer about one another. But there are problems with this. Firstly, people, I believe, will always have their own prejudices. I think that’s human nature; to judge. And political correctness could be seen as a danger to freedom of speech. ‘You can think what you want to think, but be quiet about it.’

            I encourage absolutely everyone to read Fahrenheit 451. Gives much food for thought.

            Surely, it’s better to have discussions about our beliefs, whether they upset someone or not?

            What’s perhaps more important is true intent: is said person saying because he/she genuinely wants to cause upset? I don’t really think FrancoPabloDiabo wished to upset anyone.

            It’s an interesting and, if you really think about it, terrifying subject. But one well worth discussing. I write this fully knowing someone (maybe quite a few) will dislike my comment!

          • avatar Ford says:

            Are you familiar with the term “Cultural Marxism”, for that is Political Correctness by it’s true name.

          • avatar Ford says:

            It’s a subversive tool designed to destroy individual thought, and to condition a population into a cohesive, social mindset that goes contrary to established thoughts and values . It is not friendly, and is in no loose way designed to make people nicer to each other. In fact it is social engineering of the most dangerous sort, intended bring about a cultural revolution that is socialist/librettist in nature, and to transform people into sheeple…Please, open your eyes!

        • avatar Tommygun264 says:

          Taking offense at offensive remarks is neither “holier than thou” nor “PC”. Prefacing your original remark with “I suppose I’ll be classed as racist” doesn’t immunize you from being thought a racist when what follows is what can only be interpreted as a racist statement. You’ve had two chances to explain how your original post is not a racist statement, why you don’t want to see the role go to a black actor, both in the original statement and in this follow up, but you haven’t explained anything, only that you don’t want a black actor to do it. Instead you get defensive when people understandably accuse you of making a racist statement. Not wanting a black actor to play the role simply because they are black IS racist. If there is some valid reason for your preference, state it. But if your only reason is that you don’t want to see a black actor in the role, then people are going to proceed on the obvious assumption.

        • avatar Mary1 says:

          No. Just no. Preferences are one thing and are fine. You sound racist. Big difference. That your comments have gotten so many thumbs up shows we have a looong way to go.

        • avatar Mary1 says:

          You totally lost me when you mentioned ‘PC brigade.’ Heaven forbid that one day the best man for the role actually be black.

          And as I said below. Learn the difference between stating your preference vs sounding like a flaming racist.

      • avatar Jake says:

        It is not racist or sexist as it has always been played by a white British male because the character is that and would James Bond ever be a woman? So racist was not the case

  2. avatar Sean says:

    Yep, your Whoopi and Mugabe comments are certainly statements that should be classified as racist.

  3. avatar Philip Bates says:

    I dunno; this feels like Gaiman causing a stir for the sake of causing a stir.

    • avatar TonyS says:

      I’m not sure why being a hugely successful writer who has contributed two episodes to the programme in recent years should give his opinions any more weight. Actually, I can see it now. But I agree. It does sound like stirring.

  4. avatar timelord63 says:

    I personally think all this nonsense about a black Doctor is exactly that – nonsense! Why does he have to be black? He’s always been played by white, british actors. That is not racist – it’s just how it is. When characters in soaps/dramas have been replaced by another actor/actress when the original leaves I never hear people crying out for them to be replaced by black actors.
    We have had numerous characters in Eastenders played by more than one actor/actress. Has any of them been replaced by a black actor – no?

    • avatar FrancoPabloDiablo says:

      Nonsense it is! Sadly there will always be a vocal minority who believe that just because the Doctor COULD be black or female it SHOULD happen regardless of the integrity of the show.

      • avatar Mary1 says:

        So casting a black man would automatically harm the integrity of the show?

        Sure…no racism there. Smh

  5. avatar Hunka says:

    Of course, saying someone turned down the role could mean as little as they had several people they were really keen on, and one of them, who was black, made it clear he was not interested., rather than they flat out offered the role to someone who refused.
    I wonder when that was; the party line with Smith and Capaldi is that they were the first choices.

  6. avatar Drew says:

    What about Richard Ayoade? I’d LOVE to see him as The Doctor–he could be nerdy like “Moss” on IT Crowd and is probably a fine dramatic actor as well…and he’d look great in a Tennant-style long coat! (Now that he’s hit the big-time as a film director, he probably wasn’t an option…)

    • avatar Hunka says:

      Love Ayoade, but I have’t seen anything in The IT Crowd or Darkplace to suggest he’d ever be on any list to play a role like this.

  7. avatar greatdoctorwhocasting says:

    Idris Elba would be AMAZING if ever cast as the Doctor!

  8. avatar Hunka says:

    If anyone has seen Paterson Joseph in ‘Neverwhere’, they’d realise he’d make a brilliant, mercurial, dangerous, quirky Doctor,

  9. avatar TonyS says:

    I agree about “Neverwhere”. However there is a danger in casting someone because of how they played one role. The epitome of this is the people who wanted Benedict Cumberbatch to get the part based on his performance in “Sherlock”. He wouldn’t play the Doctor that way. And I would hope that Patterson Joseph would find a different way to play the Doctor than as a re-hashed Marques de Carabas.

  10. avatar CybexAl says:

    When I think Doctor Who, I think 1963. There are some things about Doctor Who that should remain constant and those are the things that began in 1963. One of those things is the TARDIS as a police telephone box. The other is the white middle class fellow who is weird beatnik, off the wall and terribly brilliant. These things are buried in its narrative furniture. The great thing about Who is that it is ever changing. However, with all the change there must be constants to measure those changes by. Rid yourself of these constants and what makes this show unique, is washed away. As a black fan who has watched the show since the sixties, I find it remarkable that anyone would want to mess with the most enduring and successful template in TV history. It doesn’t make sense. Widen the franchise, yes. Make another show about a travelling Timelady or a black Timelord, yes. But changing the lead in this way will change the nature of Doctor Who to such an extent, that it wont be Doctor Who anymore.

    • avatar Philip Bates says:

      “…with all the change there must be constants to measure those changes by.”

      That, my friend, is a beautiful sentence. I logged in simply to say that. A wonderful sentiment.

      I might steal it and claim it as my own. ;P

    • avatar FrancoPabloDiablo says:

      CybexAl, you speak the absolute truth and put it perhaps more eloquently than I ever could. Unfortunately, there will still be noise from the few who can’t comprehend or accept the essence of the show and it’s enduring constants.

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