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article imageBilly Connolly would play Doctor Who, considered for role in 1996

By Mathew Wace Peck     Nov 16, 2010 in Entertainment
The Scottish comedian and actor Billy Connolly has said that he’d jump at the chance to play the lead in the BBC’s science-fiction drama series, Doctor Who, and confirmed that he was once considered for the part.
However, Connolly, 67, wasn’t aware that he was being considered by the production team until after the role had been.
Connolly told the Sun that he is a huge fan of the show, and that: “It was brought up in a meeting, apparently, but nobody told me until after they decided against it. I would have loved it. I’d have taken it.”
Connolly was referring to the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie, which actually starred Paul McGann (Withnail and I) as the eighth Doctor. The film also starred Sylvester McCoy, who reprised his role of the seventh Doctor – something that caused confusion last week on a Channel 4 TV quiz show, Million Pound Drop – Eric Roberts (Hunt to Kill), as the Doctor’s archenemy, the Master, and Daphne Ashbrook (The Lodger) and Yee Jee Tso (Sliders) as the Doctor’s companions, Grace and Chang Lee, respectively.
BBC archive records do indeed show that Connolly was among an early list of possible actors for the lead role. Others on the list were Michael Crawford (Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em, Tim Curry (The Rocky Horror Picture Show), Trevor Eve (Waking the Dead), Robert Lindsay (My Family), Jonathan Pryce Pirates of the Caribbean) and Monty Python’s Eric Idle and Michael Palin.
The archives also confirm that a number of actors were later auditioned for the part. They included Liam Cunningham (Breakfast on Pluto), Lindsay, Tim McInnerny (Blackadder), Nathaniel Parker (The Inspector Lynley Mysteries), Peter Woodward (Babylon 5), John Sessions (Stella Street), Anthony Head (Merlin) and Tony Slattery (Peter's Friends).
Although the movie’s producer, Philip Segal (Mutant X), is on record as saying that McGann was his preferred choice, he wasn’t formally auditioned for the part until much later. However, McGann’s older brother, Mark McGann (The Hanging Gale), was auditioned at this time.
A number of the actors considered for the role of the Doctor in the 1996 movie have since appeared in other Doctor Who-related projects.
In 1999, Pryce played the Master in a Doctor Who special, which was broadcast as part of Comic Relief. The two-part story, The Curse of Fatal Death – which was written by the show’s future executive producer and head writer, Steven Moffat –also starred Joanna Lumley (Sapphire and Steel), herself considered for the role of the Doctor in the mid-1980s.
Head guest-starred with David Tennant’s tenth Doctor and Billy Piper (Rose Tyler) in School Reunion (2006), by Toby Whithouse (Being Human) – the story that reintroduced Elisabeth Sladen, as Sarah Jane Smith, and K9 (voiced by John Leeson), and led to the popular spin-off series, The Sarah Jane Adventures. Head has also narrated two series of Doctor Who Confidential – the “making of” documentary programme that accompanies every episode of Doctor Who – and has appeared in a number of Doctor Who audio dramas for Big Finish Productions.
Meanwhile, Sessions appeared with McCoy and Sophie Aldred (Ace) in a web-based animated drama, Doctor Who: Death Comes to Time (2001), by Colin Meek, and McInnerny appeared with Tennant and Catherine Tate (Donna Noble) in Planet of the Ood (2008), by Keith Temple (Angel Cake).
More about Doctor Who, Billy connolly, BBC, Sun, Paul mcgann
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