Doctor Who - The Worst Guest Stars

Doctor Who

Steve Hendry was set the task of a small article regarding guest stars on Doctor Who. So without further ado here is Part One of a huge article, the worst ones...

This such is a long article, our esteemed Lord President has had to split it into two. This is what happens when I only get my coffee halfway through the article - here’s some of the best, the worst and the most unexpectedly awesome guest stars of Doctor Who.

The worst thing you can ever be in life is an unwelcome guest. You just know that something is wrong, the atmosphere is rancid and everyone is uncomfortable and looking for an excuse not to be around. And sometimes, dear reader, this happens in Doctor Who. On the odd occasion, that guest star whose casting grabbed the tabloid headline or, as is more commonplace these days, provided click bait on social media, turns out to be hideously miscast or hell-bent on turning in a hammy performance that would embarrass the most seasoned pantomime dame. In footballing parlance, these are Fancy Dans, luxury players whose contribution is all mouth and no trousers. Of course, there is the polar opposite as well, the actor with a one-off appearance who turns in the performance of a lifetime and makes a unique, indelible mark on the show’s history. I’ll be looking at both of these, and also discuss those others who we all knew would be more Rassilon than Romulus and Remus.

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Let’s kick off with a pair - Lee Evans and Peter Kay. A pair of what, exactly, I will leave for you to decide. There was a scary moment in Day of the Doctor, when Malcolm got a mention and the chilling thought briefly crossed my mind that a three minute, piss-poor ‘comedy’ skit was about to ensue, involving Evans trying to kiss Matt Smith and trying to pull his chin off, or something equally side-splitting. The relief when he didn’t pop up was only matched by that felt when I realised Billie Piper was clearly not going to be playing Rose Tyler. Planet of the Dead is a truckload of bad, with another half-hundredweight shovelled on in the form of Malcolm. If the Dubai filming seemed like a tribute to JN-T’s old, bad habit of taking Who filming to unnecessary locations (Colin Baker’s costume in Lanzarote, anyone?), then hiring Evans was surely inspired by some of the worst casting choices made by Nathan-Turner and his carpet bomb-style publicity seeking techniques. Even David Tennant appears largely disinterested throughout this showboating farce of an episode which seems to have been made with the sole intention of ensuring that a great edition of Doctor Who Confidential would follow it.

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Doctor Who pretty much ate itself in Easter of 2009, like a self-masticating chocolate egg. The right casting of the Malcolm character could actually have improved the episode, imagine Stewart Lee in that role for example, a dry and genuinely funny exchange between him and Tennant there would have been ideal. Yet Evans is given apparent free rein to replicate his stage act here, but to be honest I’m undecided as to what is the more heinous crime- this being allowed to go on or Peter Kay’s ham-heavy performance in Love and Monsters. Of course his character was borne out of a publicity stunt, the Absorbaloff having been designed by the winner of a competition to design a Doctor Who villain, so why not have casting to match? Jon Pertwee was a comedy actor, with the role of The Doctor being his first serious role on television, while Catherine Tate achieved fame with her sketch show. Yet surely both were subject to screen testing before landing their leading parts? Kay cannot have been, he ruins each scene he appears in, in a story that is far from being near the top 200 of most fans’ favourite Who serials.

Can it be that it is the story that lends itself to a horrendous performance from a guest star? Timelash is often heralded as the very worst of 1980s Who, yet the script itself isn’t what tends to come in for criticism. By the end of Season 22, which it apparently isn’t fashionable to like at all, the show’s budget had been frittered away on John and Gary’s Canary Island holiday and some really good quality sets for the likes of Vengeance on Varos and Time and the Rani . Anything left for this story had been spent on the, albeit visually impressive, mask for Borad. Consequently, when the time came for building the sets for Timelash there was a memo left for Colin Baker to bring in the contents of his daughters’ rainy day arts and crafts box. Alright, that may not actually have happened, but look at them! My vision is impaired after watching it, owing to the fact I squint whenever any cast member interacts physically with the flimsy sets, yet open them widely whenever Nicola Bryant appears on screen. Have you seen Ms Bryant lately, by the way? 

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Surely some Time Lord DNA made its way into her physiology as she doesn’t seem to be aging at a normal rate for a human. Bryant and Baker are, as always, magnificent. Most of the support cast aren’t bad at all, and the end reveal is every bit as satisfying as The Girl in the Fireplace. So, the sets apart, what’s Timelash’s most glaring disaster? Here’s where I upset Blake’s 7 fans by telling them and you that Paul Darrow’s performance is an absolute disgrace, and it is he that leaves Kay and Evans trailing in his wake to win the race and be crowned my all-time worst Doctor Who guest star. Darrow doesn’t have the excuse of being a comedy actor by trade, in fact he is superb in pretty much everything else I’ve seen him in (including Doctor Who and the Silurians). So, quite what possessed him to purposely turn in such an appalling, over-the-top showing, one that enraged John Nathan-Turner to the extent that he emerged from the gallery to give Darrow a bollocking during filming, is anyone’s guess.

Image - BBC.