It may not have matched the legendary search for Gone With The Wind’s Scarlett O’Hara, but the casting process to find the Eighth Doctor probably has to go down as Doctor Who’s most exhaustive series of auditions in its long history.
Depending on which sources you consult, we could have had Rowan Atkinson, Liam Cunningham, Robert Lindsay, Eric Idle, Tim McInnerny, Nathaniel Parker, John Sessions, Anthony Head, Tony Slattery, or Rik Mayall. And that’s just some of the names that were linked with the part before Paul McGann was ultimately chosen to take the lead in 1996’s TV Movie. Not forgetting that Paul’s brother Mark also went up for the role (which must have made for an interesting conversation over the dinner table that Christmas…).
Peter Capaldi revealed in 2014 that he’d been asked to audition but declined because he didn’t think he’d have a chance.
Paul McGann’s audition tape makes for a fascinating historical curio not just because it gives us a glimpse of the long selection process, but also because it offers a snippet of one of the many early drafts of the script – one which would have seen a more radical re-imagining of the Doctor’s past than we ultimately saw. So there are references to Ulysses the great explorer who met a woman on Earth and fathered a blue-eyed child who… well, play the video and see for yourself how that “half human on my mother’s side” stuff could have played out.
It’s a short clip but it’s nonetheless easy to see why McGann, looking suitably dashing and Byronic, made a big enough impression to stand out from such a crowded field. It’s why we’re dedicating this week on the DWC to the Eighth Doctor.
The TV Movie may have had its flaws, but Paul McGann’s performance won universal praise and his one-night-only appearance (well, until Big Finish and The Night of the Doctor many years later) is one of the great might-have-beens in Doctor Who.