A brief history of Doctor Who actors on stage
With the news that Jodie Whittaker has been named the next actor to take on the role of the Doctor (and the first woman to do so), we've delved into the archives to look back on the theatre careers of Doctors past and present.
Doctor Who actors in the West End
Check out the theatre credits of all 13 actors that have played Doctor Who over the years.
The original Doctor, Hartnell played the character when the series first began in 1963. Long before he entered the TARDIS, Hartnell worked as a stagehand for Sir Francis Benson. Benson was known as a prolific producer of Shakespearean plays and produced all but three of the Bard’s work. In 1926, Hartnell appeared in a number of these productions including The Merchant of Venice, Julius Caesar, As You Like It and Hamlet. In 1928, he appeared in Robert Neilson’s play Miss Elizabeth’s Prisoner alongside Heather McIntyre, an actress whom he married a year later.
Patrick Troughton took over the role from Hartnell in 1966. While he was training as an actor, he won a scholarship at the John Drew Memorial Theatre on Long Island, New York, and worked with the Tonbridge Repertory Company before the Second World War. After the war, he returned to theatre and worked with the Mercury Theatre in Notting Hill and the Bristol Old Vic company, but inevitably, his career very much focused on his screen work.
Tom Baker played the Doctor for longer than any other actor, appearing in the show from 1974 to 1981. In the 1960s, Baker was performing at a pub in York where he was watched by someone who worked for the National Theatre. They encouraged him to audition for the company, which was led at the time by Laurence Olivier. He was given a number of small parts in the theatre’s productions, which included Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (1968), The Merchant of Venice and The Rules of the Game.
On leaving Doctor Who, Baker took on a number of bigger stage roles. He played Oscar Wilde in Feasting with Panthers at Chichester Festival Theatre, Frank Bryant in the RSC’s Educating Rita, and both Sherlock and Moriaty in The Mask of Moriarty by Hugh Leonard.
Davison was the fifth Doctor. He had a substantial stage career, beginning at the Nottingham Playhouse in 1972. More recently, Davison has been a familiar face in the West End. He played King Arthur in the original West End production of Spamalot, he was Professor Calahan in Legally Blonde for four years, and played Herbie alongside Imelda Staunton in Gypsy.
McCoy was the final Doctor of the programme’s original run. His more recent stage credits include playing the Fool alongside Ian McKellen’s King Lear in the RSC’s 2007 production of the play. In 2008, he took on the titular role in Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado, which was produced by the Carl Rosa Opera Company, and he played Mr. Mushnik in the Menier Chocolate Factory’s 2009 production of Little Shop of Horrors. He has also appeared in two productions at the Tron Theatre Glasgow: The Three Sisters and Plume.
Eccleston was the first actor to take on the role in the modern era. Much like Patrick Troughton, he began his career acting at the Bristol Old Vic, appearing in productions of A Streetcar Named Desire and Dona Rosita the Spinster in the 1980s. He appeared in Bent at the National, Martin Sherman’s play about two gay lovers in Nazi Germany, and played Hamlet in Ian Brown’s first production as artistic director of the West Yorkshire Playhouse. In 2012, he appeared in Antigone at the National Theatre, Polly Findlay’s production of Sophocles's tragedy, and has recently starred in Macbeth at the Barbican.
In an interview, David Tennant once descried theatre work as his “default way of being”. His career began acting with the political theatre group 7:84 in Scotland, and also appeared in plays at the Dundee Rep. He moved to London and began acting extensively with the RSC. He played Touchstone in As You Like It, Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet in 2008, three years after he was handed the sonic screwdriver. He's also been in Don Juan in Soho and Much Ado About Nothing, and is due to star in Good at the Harold Pinter Theatre. Good is currently postponed.
Matt Smith’s first roles were as part of the National Youth Theatre’s productions of Murder in the Cathedral and The Master and Margarita. These roles let him to professional work in Fresh Kills (Royal Court) and On the Shore of the Wide World (Royal Exchange Manchester).
After OTSOFWW transferred to the National Theatre, Smith spent the next 18 months acting there. He got a role in The History Boys, before appearing in Burn, Chatroom and Citizenship. In 2007 he starred in a stage adaptation of Swimming with Sharks alongside Arthur Darvill, who went on to be one of the Doctor’s companion’s during Smith’s tenure. He was also in the Royal Court in Anthony Nielson's play Unreachable, which was about a film director trying to find the perfect light. In 2019, he starred with his The Crown co-star Claire Foy in Lungs at The Old Vic.
In 1983, Peter Capaldi appeared in three productions at the Young Vic, which included portraying John Lennon in Willy Russell’s musical based on The Beatles, John, Paul, George, Ringo... and Bert. His stage credits include playing Eddie in a UK tour of Blood Brothers, and Robbie Ross in The Judas Kiss, which transferred to the West End and Broadway following its opening at the Almeida. In 2011, Capaldi played Marcus in Graham Linehan’s play The Ladykillers. He'll star in Constellations at the Vaudeville Theatre, opposite Zoe Wanamaker.
Whittaker made her professional debut at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2005. She played Ampelisca in The Storm. She has since made two appearances at the Almeida with roles in Enemies (2005) and Awake and Sing! (2006), as well as starring in Bash at Trafalgar Studios alongside Harry Lloyd. As previously mentioned, she starred alongside tenth Doctor, Ecclestone, in Antigone.