Fifty Years of Doctor Who: Part 3, The Second Doctor – Patrick Troughton
The departure of William Hartnell left a large doctor sized hole in the universe, it could only be filled by veteran character actor Patrick Troughton. Who, in one fell swoop re-invented the character, and cemented The Doctor and the series into the public consciousness.
The fact that 30% (Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Matt Smith) of the actors who have been the Doctor point toward the Second Doctor as their favorite, and he was handpicked by William Hartnell to take over the roll makes the significant loss of over half of his episodes almost more than I can bear. His performance is almost impossible to appreciate completely, because of this. Due to poor archival standards of the BBC at the time, 62 of his 119 episodes can’t be seen in their entirety today. There are reports of these episodes having been found in a BBC affiliates archives in Ethiopia, however the quality of these tapes has not been confirmed at this time. Which means, this influential actor is the doctor with which I am least familiar, but my hope is that will soon change.
The first problem Patrick Troughton, and the writers, had to solve was convincing the audience, and the rest of the cast, that this new Doctor, was the same Doctor, while also allowing this new Doctor, to be entirely different from the first. It seems basic now, but nothing like this had ever been tried. There had been shows where an actor was replaced, but by a look alike, or a talented actor that mimicked their predecessor, this was not only risky, but also ingenious. Patrick Troughton took the grandfatherly character crafted by William Hartnell and turned him into a Chaplinesque “cosmic hobo”. A very calculating, cunning, and whimsical buffoon that would steer your ship into the sun if needs be. He brought darkness to the character that only hinted at by Hartnell, a completely ruthless edge that has remained just beneath the surface in every incarnation since.
Before he became The Doctor, Patrick Troughton was already a well-known performer, and was regarded as one of the great actors of his time. A dedicated character actor he approached the roll Doctor with zeal. His initial thoughts were to play him as a tough sea captain, or some kind of Arabian Knight performing in blackface (also with a long grey beard, monocle and turban). I am going to pause here, because that took me aback. Keep in mind, this was 1966, and sensibilities were very different at that time. His motivations for this do not appear to be racist, but to preserve the mystique of his craft. It wasn’t about the performer it was about the role. As he famously told one interviewer, “I think acting is magic. If I tell you all about myself it will spoil it”. Fortunately, for the role, they chose to adopt the Charlie Chaplin type of hobo.
There were a number of notable elements of the character that were revealed, or expanded upon by Troughton. The Doctor’s telepathic abilities, he could enter into other’s minds, or pack his thoughts into a psychic cube and send messages off to other Time Lords. The Doctor’s natural gift for diplomacy, and manipulation came to the forefront in these years. As well as his sonic screwdriver, and diary, and the infamous convenient pockets from which the most useful objects could be pulled. Also, there was a fondness, or need, to run, frequently.
Troughton’s time as the Doctor ended after three seasons when the Time Lords finally caught up with him. Having been exiled to earth and sentenced to a forced regeneration for violating the Time Lord laws of non-interference with history, The Doctor had been shielded by the Celestial Intervention Agency for some time. Until events forced him to call on the Time Lords for help, at which time they forced him to regenerate.
Patrick Troughton’s time was highly influential in forming a character that would live long past his time in the TARDIS. Even now, with Matt Smith we see his echoes. If he had turned down the role, as many have, or if he had made the choice to continue on the same patch as William Hartnell, we would likely be talking about an obscure show that ended in 1969. He was the second Doctor, but the first mad man with a box.