I’ve been a fan of Doctor Who since 1983, and watched every episode the show’s ever put out (862 as of now), even including reconstructions of the lost 1960s episodes. I know probably far too much about this show than one person probably should. In all those episodes, I’ve seen a lot of actors. The show has a habit of recycling actors, but I wanted to write today about some of the best cameos the show has had.
I’m talking proper cameos, where someone is in there for a short amount of time. Not someone like Timothy Dalton, Maisie Williams, Carey Mulligan, or Simon Pegg. While those are all fun, they all played fully realized characters that filled an entire episode (or three). I’m talking about those short “Hey what the heck are they doing there” types. Not the kind of character that “fills an episode”.
With that in mind, here are my top 10 Doctor Who cameos…
10. June Whitfield
A well known British actress having appeared in nearly everything it seems, June was born on 11th November 1925, and she died on 29th December 2018. She’s well known for Abfab, for playing Miss Marple on all of the Miss Marple radio dramas on BBC4, not to mention several Carry On films – and a whole lot more.
In Doctor Who, however, she appeared in David Tennant’s final story, The End of Time as Minnie Hooper who got in a squeeze of David Tennant’s bum when she posed with a picture with him. She was part of Wilfred Mott’s posse who was going off looking for the Doctor.
Minnie was such a fun character, I wouldn’t have minded seeing her back again.
9. Alexei Sayle
Alexei Sayle is mostly well known for his stand up comedy. That’s not something I saw a tonne of here in the States, but I was aware of him when he made his Doctor Who appearance. Alexei was born on 7th August 1952.
His Doctor Who appearance was as “The DJ” in the 1985 Colin Baker story, Revelation of the Daleks. His character had invented a sound wave gun which would destroy Daleks. He amusingly said he was killing them with “Rock & Roll”.
An amusing one-off character, and, given it was a Dalek story, he was exterminated.
8. Ken Dodd
Ken Dodd was a well known comedian; he had been around for an exceptionally long time, and I always knew him as “that bloke who had the perpetually surprised face”. He also sang and was a ventriloquist. Kind of a pop culture person from a prior generation. He died in 2018 (11th March). In an interesting twist, he married his life-long girlfriend just two days before his death. They had been together since 1978.
Anyway, his legend finally hit the screens in 1987 in Sylvester McCoy’s first series of Doctor Who. The story was Delta and the Bannermen. If there ever were story to match the cameo, it was this one. This was a generally light season to begin with, and Delta was probably the “lightest” of the stories. Dodd appeared here as a tolltaker at a space station that the TARDIS came through. Ignoring the silliness of the TARDIS hitting a toll booth, it was a fun little scene.
Anne Robinson is most well known for being the host of the game show The Weakest Link. It should come as no surprise that her cameo in Doctor Who is related that.
In Christopher Eccleston’s season, the penultimate episode of his series was called Bad Wolf. In that episode, several games were played by the characters, and Rose’s was The Weakest Link. The host of this game inside the show was an Android named “Anne Droid”, a fairly amusing play on her being both an android, and it being, you know, Anne Robinson’s real name. Anne didn’t appear on screen, but she did voice the character named after her.
Jonny Lee Miller is an odd case. While his appearance in Doctor Who certainly qualifies as a cameo, it’s not the usual kind of “cameo” appearance. To that, I mean someone who you know from other stuff, and then it’s like “Hey, it’s so-and-so in Doctor Who”. In this case, Miller was a kid when he appeared in Doctor Who – 1982’s Kinda. He’s unrecognisable due to him only being 9 at the time. But it counts – so on the list it goes!
He’s known for several popular things, one being Trainspotting. He was also Sherlock Holmes in the 2010’s US version of Elementary, which ran for several years. He has been in a tonne of other things – TV, movie, and stage. But I had to get him in here for the uncredited Doctor Who appearance nearly 40 years ago.
Andrew Garfield is on my list for a single reason. Spider-Man. He was Peter Parker in-between Tobey Maguire and Tom Holland. When I looked at his list of credits, I saw a few things I recognised, but I’m not gonna lie on this one. He was the “middle Spider-Man”. That’s why he’s here.
He had a minor character in two episodes of the second series of Doctor Who with David Tennant. He was Frank in Daleks in Manhattan/ Evolution of the Daleks, along with the Doctor and Martha. I didn’t know him at the time — he was just another background actor in Doctor Who then — but when he got cast as Spider-Man, I thought “Hang on, he looks familiar”.
Felicity Jones was in the spectacularly brilliant movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. She played Jyn Erso, and was the primary character in the movie. She was in nearly every scene, and was awesome. She was also in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, alongside the entry right above this one, Andrew Garfield. But I mostly know her for the Star Wars movie; I know little else of her career.
She was in Doctor Who in a 2008 episode, The Unicorn and the Wasp. Her character was Robina Redmond, one of the people accused of the murder in a murder-mystery episode. This is a real cameo, as her Doctor Who appearance was a fairly minor character… although she’s sort of mentioned in the episode title.
3. Bill Nighy
Bill Nighy is someone I know for loads of things. Off the top of my head he was in Love, Actually, he was in the movie version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as Slartibartfast. He was also in one of the Harry Potter films, in several of the Pirates of the Caribbean films. He’s well known.
In fact, he was offered the role of the Ninth Doctor in Doctor Who before Christopher Eccleston, but turned it down. A side comment, had Alan Rickman turned down his role in Galaxy Quest, I could have seen Bill Nighy doing that one.
He did end up in Doctor Who in 2008 in the most excellent Vincent and the Doctor as a gallery curator who was obsessed with Vincent Van Gogh. It was a short, but very memorable character, but bizarrely was left uncredited!
2. John Cleese
John Cleese is a very well known person, probably only eclipsed by #1 on my list. Cleese is known for all kinds of stuff, but primarily for his work with Monty Python, and as a sort of extension to that, Fawlty Towers. But I know him best for James Bond. 25 years ago, I thought, if Desmond Llewelyn ever retired as Q, they should get Cleese to replace them. Then they actually did it! He was in two 007 movies, one as “R”, and the other as “Q” after Llewelyn died sadly. Then they rebooted the series, and dropped him. But I LOVED Cleese as Q.
Anyway, in Doctor Who, he had a super quick cameo in Episode 3 of the Tom Baker story City of Death. He played (alongside Eleanor Bron) an art critic who was in the Louvre talking about the TARDIS as a piece of art. Bron herself later had a larger role in the Colin Baker story, Revelation of the Daleks. Cleese’s cameo in Doctor Who is super short, less than one minute, and I thought fit perfectly the mood and feel of the season of Doctor Who he appeared in. One of my favourites.
1. The Beatles
The Beatles. How can you know music, and not know The Beatles? I’ve only ever seen one of them individually live, and that was Paul McCartney in 2019, but never mind. How do you not know the Beatles? If you’re a NuWho only fan, you may not know that they had a quick cameo in Doctor Who.
This was way back in 1966 when William Hartnell was the incumbent Doctor. The original – despite what Chibnall wants to think. In Episode 1 of The Chase, the Doctor had this Time-Space Visualiser, and it let them see points in history. It was never shown again outside of this story, but they used it to view a few historical figures, as well as a performance of the Beatles doing Ticket to Ride. The Beatles were never in the program with the other characters; they appeared only on screen, and did nothing more than play Ticket to Ride for 30 seconds, but they were there.
Sadly this clip has been excised from US prints of the story on DVD due to rights issues.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Colin Baker and Peter Capaldi.
Before both of them had a turn as the title role in Doctor Who, they both made appearances. Colin Baker’s was a little more than a year before he took the role as the Doctor, appearing in the Peter Davison story, Arc of Infinity – the first story of Season 20. Colin took over on the final story of Season 21.
Peter Capaldi’s appearance was in a David Tennant story, The Fires of Pompeii, about six and a half years before he took the role of the Twelfth Doctor. And of course, Karen Gillan was in it too.
There are plenty of other cameos out there, maybe some time I’ll do a second one, but these are my favorite ones – covering classic and NuWho as well.