The universe is big and vast and complicated, and sometimes, multiple castings happen and we call them miracles.
Yes, some people may have freaked out when Peter Capaldi was cast as the Doctor, because he had appeared in the Whoniverse before, as Caecilius in 2008’s The Fires of Pompeii and as John Frobisher in Torchwood: Children of Earth. And whilst there are rumours that these recurring faces may be addressed at some point in Series 8, we take a look back at twelve other actors who have played multiple roles in the show’s history, and we ask, Does it really matter if we’ve seen them before…?
The most famous example of a repeat casting would have to be the Sixth Doctor himself, who notably appeared in the show just a couple of years before his official debut, as Commander Maxil in 1983’s Arc of Infinity. Now, I wasn’t actually around when the news of Mr Baker’s casting hit the headlines, so I’m not sure if this was the subject of any lively debate at the time? But of course, Whovians were already aware that Time Lords could choose the faces of people they’d met before…
Case in point. Romana’s regeneration in the opening scene of Destiny of the Daleks is a controversial one, not least because the character cycles through bodies like she’s trying on sweaters in Primark, and apparently for no reason (she seemed quite healthy at the end of The Armageddon Factor!). But at least she acknowledges that she copied the body, as many viewers would have been aware that Lalla Ward had already appeared in the previous story in the guise of Princess Astra. So for Time Lords, at least, there’s a handy get-out clause for repeat castings.
But what about companions?
There’s really no escaping this one. Jacqueline Hill played the First Doctor’s companion Barbara Wright, and then returned in the 1980 story Meglos as Lexa, marking the first time in which a companion had returned to the series as a different character.
The event goes unchecked (in story terms) and that’s probably no bad thing, as it would have been a beast to explain! But then, Lexa is wearing a rather fetching turban, and is about twenty years older than the teacher from the Coal Hill School. Maybe this is enough of a disguise…?
Next we have the famous Brigadier nee Colonel Lethbridge Stewart, a stalwart of the series from 1968 until 1989. And as many of us know, he appeared in the series a few years earlier, alongside William Hartnell’s Doctor in 1965’s The Daleks’ Masterplan. Admittedly, he was a raring-to-go space agent, and he was missing his famous moustache, so any similarities to UNIT’s Brig were certainly minimal. If you’re an ardent continuity enthusiast, this one should give you the least cause for concern.
Finally, a character similarity that was acknowledged! Freema famously played the Tenth Doctor’s companion Martha Jones, first appearing in 2007’s Smith and Jones, but she’d popped up in the previous season as Torchwood employee Adeola, who’d been swiftly ‘upgraded’ by the Cyber hoard!
The fact that these two characters were identical was no biggie for script supremo Russell T Davies – they were cousins! Simples.
Oh boy – ‘simples’ this ain’t! The wonderful Michael Sheard made more comebacks than Anthony Ainley’s Master (almost), clocking up six appearances in the series, starting with The Ark in 1966, followed by The Mind of Evil in 1971, Pyramids of Mars in 1975, The Invisible Enemy in 1977, Castrovalva in 1982, and Remembrance of the Daleks in 1988.
However, thanks to the natural passage of time, Mr Sheard does look suitably different in each story in which he appears, so I think we can rest easy. If not, the ‘multiple cousins’ card is still on the table…
I love Pamela Salem, and I must admit I had to think hard about her various appearances, as the first one that always comes to mind is her role of Rachel Jensen in 1988’s Remembrance of the Daleks. But she did, of course, play the wonderful Commander Toos in 1977’s The Robots of Death, and I think it is more of a testament to her fine acting, rather than makeup, that makes this repeat casting so wonderfully subtle. I have no issue with Pamela Salem cropping up again – make her the Series 9 companion, I say!
Similarly, you have to think really hard about Karen Gillan’s Doctor Who appearances, aside from the obvious Amelia Pond between 2010 and 2012. She was also in The Fires of Pompeii as one of the Sisters of the Sybilline, buried under a ton of makeup and a fancy robe, with a distinctly un-Scottish accent.
In hindsight, though, it is fascinating to think that this obscure number from 2008 proved to be such a prophetic episode in terms of casting; it contains a future companion and a future Doctor! Now all we need is for the writer James Moran to become the show-runner and Gallifrey Base will go into lockdown!
Next we have the lovely Eve Myles, made famous as Gwen Cooper in the spin-off series Torchwood, who later appeared in 2008’s The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End. Rewind three years, though, and you’ll see her in 2005’s The Unquiet Dead as the similarly-named Gwyneth, who just so happens to live in Cardiff as well! Fortunately, the estimable Russell T Davies was on hand with his relatives and spacial genetic multiplicities to explain this uncanny resemblance, and fandom breathed a huge sigh of relief (and maybe scratched its head a little). In short – never live on top of a rift in time and space.
Neve McIntosh and Dan Starkey
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, The Paternoster Gang are scattered throughout the time vortex. Not only did Silurian Neve McIntosh and Sontaran Dan Starkey head up a detective agency in Victorian London, but they also had villainous relatives in previous adventures! Look out of Neve McIntosh in 2010’s The Hungry Earth and Cold Blood as the suitably evil Restac and her twin sister Alaya, followed by Dan Starkey as Commander Skorr and Lieutenant Skree in The Sontaran Stratagem and The Poison Sky (he’s in The End of Time and The Time of the Doctor as well). Given that the Sontarans are a clone race, and many of the Silurians look the same anyway, I don’t think we need to lose too much sleep over this one.
Finally, we have the wonderful Lynda Baron who made her first appearance in Doctor Who as the conniving Captain Wrack in 1983’s Enlightenment, followed by the somewhat friendlier Val in 2011’s Closing Time. As with Michael Sheard, the ‘passing of time’ plays a part in helping to distinguish these characters’ outward appearances. Plus, of course, one of them his pure evil, whilst the other is pure innocence!
I particularly wanted to mention Lynda Baron as she also features in one of my all-time favourite stories – The Gunfighters from 1966. Although she never appears on screen, she provides the omnipresent ‘Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon’ from behind the cameras. And whilst the song is unlikely to receive a Dominic Glynn remix anytime soon (or in fact, ever!), I definitely thought it was worthy of a mention, as it’s sung so brilliantly. Just as well, really, as it comprises about 50% of the story…!
So there we are – twelve shining examples of notable actors who have made multiple appearances in Doctor Who. Whilst some are tricky for continuity purists to circumnavigate, many of the repeat castings are explained by the story’s writers. And if anyone still has any concerns as to who, exactly, “frowned” the Twelfth Doctor’s face for him… Well, you probably won’t have much longer to wait…