June 3, 2013
My picks for the next Doctor Who
This isn't a list of actors that are likely to get cast as the 12th Doctor. Instead this is a bunch of actors that I strongly believe would make an outstanding Doctor, and who represent a jump out of the box; a "what if" scenario for a world where the BBC is more adventurous that they're likely to be.
A female Doctor is, I think, an inevitability. A lot of people resist the idea, but then I suspect the same people would have resisted the entire concept of regenerating the lead actor if they'd been around in 1966. Why should we have a female Doctor? For me it's down to two reasons: firstly, because there's a dearth of smart, middle-aged female heroines for children; secondly, because Doctor Who is honestly the only show where you could do it. Why not do it?
Quite when we will get our first female Doctor is open to debate, and I have to be honest I don't think it's going to be in December 2013. Usually when a female Doctor is mooted, the standard list of names come up: Joanna Lumley, Judi Dench and Helen Mirren. My top choice for a British actress to play the Doctor, however, is Tamsin Greig - best known as Fran in the excellent comedy series Black Books.
Greig, also seen in Episodes, Green Wing, Friday Night Dinners and the Doctor Who episode "The Long Game", is a master of playing pent-up frustration; just the sort of register that you'd want when portraying a thousand year-old man now finding himself in a woman's body. She's 46 years old, placing her firmly in the age range I most favour for the Doctor (which is 40-65).
Let's push the experimentation out a little further: why does the Doctor have to be British? A good actor is a good actor, and if you're looking for an experienced and talented actor capable of both levity and gravitas, you don't need to step any further than Angela Bassett. She is an Oscar and Emmy nominee, is enormously talented, highly charismatic and has demonstrated a willingness to appear in television drama (she was great in ER). My personal favourite role for Bassett remains her Saturn Award-winning performance as Mace in Strange Days. She played the strongest female protagonist that James Cameron ever wrote, and when you consider that Cameron also wrote Sarah Connor in The Terminator and Ellen Ripley in Aliens I think that's high praise indeed.
Of course if casting a female Doctor would cause a storm in a tea cup, then I strongly suspect casting a black American woman would cause a typhoon in the entire tea set. And that's good. I think an audience that would be challenged by the idea of an African-American female Doctor needs to be challenged. Bassett is, like Tamsin Greig, also firmly in my desired age range (she's 54).
If we're open to considering non-British actors for the Doctor, let's look across the Channel to France. I honestly think French actor Vincent Cassel would be a stunning Doctor. He's 46, he's enormously talented, he has an intriguing and charismatic face and he would make the French viewing figures for Doctor Who skyrocket like nobody's business. Cassel has impressed me in so many different films: Brotherhood of the Wolf, La Haine, Black Swan and many others.
Yes, I know. He's French. Can you imagine the outcry? Can you image the Daily Mail front page when the BBC announced it? Good. If someone is offended by the idea of a French Doctor, or an African-American Doctor, or a female Doctor, they deserve to be offended. Personally my top criteria for the Doctor, as a lifelong fan of the series, is a good actor. Everything beyond that criteria is open.
So if a French Doctor is likely to cause an outrage, maybe the BBC could get away with an actor from Hong Kong. After all, until 1997 it was a British territory. That makes any Hong Kong actor playing the Doctor a little bit British, doesn't it? Anthony Wong is actually an Australian-born actor with an English father and a Chinese mother, but that's by-the-by to be honest. He's an outstanding actor, and any television drama would be a fool not to cast him if they could.
Anthony Wong has a lot of things going for him when it comes to playing the Doctor. First and foremost, he does speak English fluently. Secondly, he's immensely talented. Thirdly, he has an incredibly distinctive and idiosyncratic style; he's a little off-kilter and eccentric. He dresses fabulously. Watch him in the Young and Dangerous films, or any of the Johnnie To films he has starred in (Vengeance, Exiled, Punished), and you'll find a sensational actor with so much screen presence that you can't take your eyes off him.
Wong is, this time around, my top choice for the 12th Doctor. He would be fantastic. I am so hyped at the concept that if I'm not careful I might start writing Wong-as-the-Doctor fan fiction.
The bottom line for me, however, is this: I want to be surprised by a new Doctor. I want to read the name in a news article and be genuinely stunned at the boldness of Steven Moffat and the BBC's choice. To be completely honest, the last thing I want to see is another white male British actor under the age of 40. Now I'm also a realist, so I am completely prepared to be disappointed. It's almost certain that the BBC will cast a white British guy in the role, because Doctor Who is their highest-profile drama series and one of their biggest cash cows. They won't want to take the risk. That's a shame. I suspect the greater risk they take, the greater the reward they could receive.