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Michael Gambon (1940- 2023)

It’s with great sadness that we report the passing of acting legend, Michael Gambon, who has died at the age of 82.

Of course, Gambon’s credits are extensive, but Doctor Who fans will know him for playing Kazran Sardick in A Christmas Carol (2010).

He left school without any qualifications as he hated it there, but he fell in love with acting and created a CV full of fictional credits; he sent this to theatre impresario, Micheál Mac Liammóir, who ran the Gate Theatre in Dublin, and it landed Michael his first role playing “Second Gentleman” in Othello. He soon impressed Laurence Olivier, and was taken on in a number of roles for the National Theatre Company, initially at the Old Vic. Not long after, he joined the Birmingham Repertory Company, and played th title roles in his beloved Othello, as well as Macbeth and Coriolanus.

Olivier further gave Gambon his first film role, also Othello, with Maggie Smith and Derek Jacobi. This led to an immense number of acting roles for Gambon, on TV, film, and in the theatre, including Tales of the Unexpected, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, Gosford Park, Lucan, Churchill’s Secret, The King’s Speech, A View from the Bridge, Toys, Maigret, Layer Cake, Skylight, Dad’s Army, Joe’s Palace, Cranford, and one of his best-known roles, the lead in The Singing Detective. And younger fans will likely recognise him as the voice of Uncle Pastuzo in the Paddington films.

Many, however, will known Gambon for playing Hogwarts headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, in the Harry Potter movies.

He received three Olivier Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, and four BAFTA Awards, and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1999.

In 2010, he played Kazran in A Christmas Carol, opposite Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor. It was a wonderful role, and played beautifully by Michael. It’s certainly my favourite Christmas episode, against some tough competition, and Gambon’s performance, harsh yet sensitive, fearful and tearful, quiet and utterly commanding, is a key component in why A Christmas Carol is so special. It’s sad, then, that he said in 2015:

“I wasn’t very good. No, I wasn’t very good! I tried hard, but I couldn’t quite get it.”

Nonetheless, he said this in his typical self-deprecating, joking manner, and he said that it was “great fun”, especially noting that he loved acting with Matt Smith.

There’s a lot of excellent acting in the episode, including when Kazran goes to hit his younger self, only to realise that he risks turning into his father, then instead starts crying. Perhaps my favourite bit, though, comes earlier on, the first time Kazran is on the back foot — this incredible presence, master of his domain (in fact, the whole town), talks quietly to the Doctor, who says, “There’s a portrait on the wall behind me. Looks like you, but it’s too old, so it’s your father. All the chairs are angled away from it. Daddy’s been dead for twenty years, but you still can’t get comfortable where he can see you. There’s a Christmas tree in the painting, but none in this house, on Christmas Eve. You’re scared of him, and you’re scared of being like him, and good for you, you’re not like him, not really. Do you know why?”

Then, Gambon delivers this faltering, almost scared reply. A single word, laden with all the fears of his years: “Why?”

“Because you didn’t hit the boy,” the Doctor replies. “Merry Christmas, Mister Sardick.”

The Doctor Who world has lost one of its best guest actors, and the entire entertainment industry one of its brightest stars.

And it’s testament to the power of storytelling, of Doctor Who, of Gambon, that I’m sure I’ll think of A Christmas Carol, and of Michael, every time we’re halfway out of the dark.

Our thoughts go to his family and friends.

Philip Bates

Editor and co-founder of the Doctor Who Companion. When he’s not watching television, reading books ‘n’ Marvel comics, listening to The Killers, and obsessing over script ideas, Philip Bates pretends to be a freelance writer. He enjoys collecting everything. Writer of The Black Archive: The Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang, The Silver Archive: The Stone Tape, and 100 Objects of Doctor Who.

Michael Gambon (1940- 2023)

by Philip Bates time to read: 3 min
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