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The Making of the Second Doctor

Patrick Troughton was famously reluctant to take on the role of the Doctor. Contacted by Shaun Sutton, the BBC’s Head of Serials, whilst shooting Hammer film The Viking Queen on location, Troughton’s initial response, recorded in his son Michael’s 2012 biography, was unequivocal: “Quite preposterous. Quickest way to make it die a death!”
He would be persuaded, of course, thanks to the persistence of Sutton, producer Innes Lloyd and Sydney Newman, the executive who had dreamed up the concept for the show and still took a keen interest in its future. It’s likely that, as well as being intrigued by the challenge of taking on the lead in an already established show, the promise of regular secure income had an influence on Troughton, a man with a complex domestic life and young children to support. William Hartnell was supportive of the choice and, with key personnel convinced of his ability to make a success of the role, Troughton agreed to become the second Doctor Who. It would not be long before doubts set in, however, and the story of how Troughton’s uncertainty over how to play the part combined with an unfavourable early response from viewers came close to spelling an end to the series is one of the most fascinating lesser-known aspects of the programme’s early years.
Troughton’s initial thinking on his portrayal resembles one of those scenes, familiar to any long-term viewer of the series, in which a new Doctor goes through the TARDIS wardrobe, trying on an ever-more bizarre selection of outfits. Victorian gent, mad scientist, Arabian Nights character, Mississippi steam boat captain; all options were thrown into the mix as he struggled to settle on a characterisation that would be a marked difference from his predecessor’s and also (crucially for an actor worried that he would be typecast) disguise his usual appearance.
One gets the sense of an actor struggling to settle on how he should play the part, combined with a nervous production team trying manfully to rein in some of their new lead actor’s more outlandish ideas. Sydney Newman was decidedly unimpressed when he was invited to come and see Troughton trying out the options for the new Doctor’s image and found the actor dressed in showboat captain gear. It seems the costume which they finally settled on, a scruffy, dishevelled outfit not too far removed from what Hartnell had worn, was settled on as the least bad option, though Troughton himself was not keen.
Tomb of the Cybermen 2nd Second Doctor Patrick Troughton
If the process of finding a suitable costume and image for the new Doctor had been problematic, things certainly didn’t get any easier when his first episodes were screened. An audience research report compiled after episode three of of The Power of the Daleks  must have made for difficult reading. Overall the programme was awarded a less than emphatic B/C, with viewers in the sample critical of the new Doctor: “He didn’t seem right somehow”, “comes over as a half-witted clown”, and “his character is peculiar in an unappealing way” being typical of the response.
Fascinatingly, Troughton’s prediction that the series would be cancelled within six weeks of his taking over came far closer to being fulfilled than may have been thought. Michael Troughton recalls being told later by Innes Lloyd that those early weeks were ‘almost the death of Doctor Who‘, and that the BBC had been close to pulling the series. But by this time his father had already begun to deliver a more measured performance, toning down some of the more bizarre elements and emerging as a warmer character whom the audience could respond to. By the end of The Power of the Daleks’ six week run ratings had risen to around 8 million and the programme had come off BBC executives’ critical list.
Web of Fear 2nd Second Doctor Brigadier Patrick Troughton
It’s an intriguing story, demonstrating the scale of the task Troughton had taken on in replacing William Hartnell and serving as a tribute to the actor’s considerable skill in developing his performance in a highly pressured atmosphere. It could be argued that no actor ever faced a harder task in Doctor Who than the man who took over from the programme’s first lead but Patrick Troughton proved that it was possible for the series to survive with a different actor in the lead role.
Read more about Patrick Troughton’s life and career in Patrick Troughton – The Biography of the Second Doctor Who by Michael Troughton, available from Amazon.

Jonathan Appleton

A regular Doctor Who viewer since Pertwee fought maggots and spiders, Jonathan isn't about to stop now. He considers himself lucky to have grown up in an era when Doctor Who, Star Trek and Blakes 7 could all be seen on primetime BBC1. As well as writing regularly for The Doctor Who Companion he's had chapters included in a couple of Blakes 7 books.

The Making of the Second Doctor

by Jonathan Appleton time to read: 3 min
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