5 Alternate Casting Choices for 1980s-Era ‘Doctor Who’

TV Doctor Who
TV Doctor Who

In 1980, John Nathan-Turner, an openly gay production manager with a background in theater, became the ninth and longest-serving producer on the BBC show Doctor Who.

Each successive Doctor Who producer ran the show with a different style. There was Philip Hinchcliffe‘s Gothic horror era, then the comedic era of Graham Williams who introduced the Doctor’s faithful robot dog, K-9. When John Nathan-Turner joined at the start of the 18th season, he focused on trying to make a serious sci-fi show. Nathan-Turner got rid of K-9 and decided to focus on “ideas.” Fans loved the new direction, but the show got beaten by the flash new import Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. His tenure expired when the show was canceled in 1989.

What follows isn’t really an ultimate casting wish list. We wanted to know what casting dreams could have happened if there were no rules. What if we opened the casting net wider to showbiz personalities rather than mere popular TV actors.

So, here are the five greatest John Nathan-Turner-era casting choices that should have happened but never did.

Howard Keel


We know our John liked old Hollywood musicals and US soap operas. And he was working in British sci-fi. So it was entirely possible that he would have gone for the man at the center of the related Venn diagram: Howard Keel. At this stage, Keel was playing Clayton Farlow on Dallas, but he was doing tours and appearing on British talk shows like Wogan so was around enough to be able to join for an episode or two. Millions of besotted over-50 housewives adored Keel and flocked to see him on stage.

Keel would have been perfect to play one of the CIA men in “Delta and the Bannermen” alongside fellow comedy Western alumnus Stubby Kaye. He would also have fitted in with the original concept of Howard Foster in “Planet of Fire” as a doddery old prospector-type.

Pat Phoenix

Pat Phoenix

For those who do not know who she is, Phoenix was THE British soap star of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. She was most well-known for her role as Elsie Tanner in Coronation Street. While she was almost Captain Briggs, there are a few roles she could have easily filled the shoes. The role of The Rani is one that feels like it could have been created with her in mind.

She also would have been an ideal Captain Wrack or she could have been Captain Styles in “Resurrection of the Daleks”. She could have even been Chessene of the Franzine Grig. Sadly, she passed away in 1986, but if she’d lived a little longer, she could have been in “The Trial of a Time Lord” opposite her fellow Coronation Street star, Geoffrey Hughes. Other parts that she would have been great in include Katryca, The Inquisitor, Professor Sarah Lasky, or perhaps even Glitz!

Toyah Willcox

Toyah Willcox

Punk princess Toyah became a well-known name as a musician, television presenter, and actress. She was also a Doctor Who fan, which she talked about in the BBC One documentary 30 Years in the TARDIS.

Toyah’s belief in punk as an emotional rebellion could have been put to great use as a companion for either the highly volatile Sixth Doctor or the manipulative Seventh Doctor, or perhaps even alongside the rebellious Ace. Given the similarities in style between them, Toyah would also have brought a lot to the show as space pirate Kari in “Terminus”. She could have also been one of the crew in “Resurrection of the Daleks”, or maybe Vena or Katz in “Timelash”.

Les Dawson

Les Dawson dressed as an old woman wearing curlers

We could have suggested almost any British comedian of the era here, especially the members of The Young Ones cast, but Les Dawson is a comic who never really got the chance to stretch his acting chops despite clearly having the talent.

Best known for hosting Blankety Blank (a UK adaptation of Match Game), he often played rather masculine middle-aged women in his sketches. His style would have best suited a role like the bus driver/ace space pilot, Murray in “Delta and the Bannermen” rather than the Tollmaster.

Shakin’ Stevens


Shakin’ Stevens is often described as the Welsh Elvis. After years of trying to find success, Stevens came to fame in the early 1980s. He portrayed Elvis in his army and movie star years for his role in a 1977 West End musical about The King. Stevens then became a huge solo star, known for his rock and roll revival style and covers of old standards like “Green Door” and “This Ole House”.

He reportedly turned down the role of the DJ in “Revelation of the Daleks” and while he would have been good, he’s no Alexei Sayle. He could have made it work as Keillor or perhaps Murray in “Delta and the Bannermen”, but the ideal role for him would have been an awkward cameo as himself on the Concorde in “Time-Flight”. Perhaps he could have been on board, wondering if he was dreaming, or perhaps he could have missed the plane altogether.

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