How Every Doctor Who Got Cast

Some Doctors wrote a heartfelt letter – others auditioned in Steven Moffat's kitchen.

Doctor Who William Hartnell Ncuti Gatwa
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images/BBC Studios

Russell T Davies recently referred to the role of the Doctor as "the Crown Jewels" of UK television, and heavy is the head that wears that crown.

Only 14 actors have played the Doctor's 15 primary incarnations between 1963 and 2024, and careful consideration is always paid to who will inherit the TARDIS.

Casting director Andy Pryor has been instrumental in casting all of the modern Doctors, and therefore has a unique perspective on what goes into finding the next Time Lord. In an interview with Digital Spy, Pryor described some of the things he looks for in a potential Doctor:

"We've always wanted really good actors rather than people who are just known for one thing."

This is something that's true of every actor who's played the Doctor. Versatility is key to a great Doctor, which is why established character actors like William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton were cast in Doctor Who's earliest days.

The process of how every Doctor Who got cast has changed over the years, given the shifting landscape of television. Some were offered the role outright, others had to audition, and one had to... perform in Steven Moffat's kitchen?

Well that's alright then!

15. William Hartnell

Doctor Who William Hartnell Ncuti Gatwa
BBC Studios

William Hartnell had been acting for over 30 years by the time he was offered the role of the First Doctor. A role in the 1944 war movie The Way Ahead secured him a fairly consistent career playing tough men, from army generals to hard-boiled detectives and sinister crooks.

In 1957, Hartnell was cast as Sergeant Major Percy Bullimore in sitcom The Army Game, and became a household name. When The Army Game ended in 1961, Hartnell fell back into guest spots in other TV shows, and a movie role that would change his life.

The Army Game William Hartnell
ITV Studios

Lindsay Anderson – a key figure in the British New Wave of cinema – cast Hartnell as the elderly rugby scout "Dad" Johnson in 1963's This Sporting Life. Hartnell gives an astonishing performance here, displaying a tender interest in Richard Harris' Frank which appears to go beyond rugby.

It was Hartnell's performance as Johnson that caught the attention of Doctor Who's first producer, Verity Lambert. The First Doctor was imagined as an older man, and Hartnell's ability to play tough characters with a soft centre made him perfect for the role.

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