Richard E Grant is to appear in this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special, playing an as-yet-unknown character alogside Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor, in the BBC’s long-running science-fiction drama series.
The announcement was made via the official Doctor Who Twitter feed just after midnight this morning.
Unofficial reports earlier today suggest that Grant is to play a villain in the episode, which enters production this week.
Grant, 55, is no stranger to the Doctor Who universe, having already played two different “alternate” versions of the Time Lord. On his new casting, he told BBC News that he was “honoured” to be returning to the show.
Before Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant took on the lead role, the Swaziland-born actor played “alternate” versions of the Ninth and Tenth Doctors, in, respectively, Scream of the Shalka and Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death.
Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death was a two-part mini-story, broadcast in 1992 as part of Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day. Written by Doctor Who’s current showrunner, Steven Moffat, the story is presented as a parody of the main show – hence, its “alternate-universe” status – but uses elements from it.
The first episode begins with Rowan Atkinson as the Ninth Doctor and Julia Sawalha (Absolutely Fabulous) as his companion, Emma, up against the Doctor’s Time Lord nemesis the Master – played by Jonathan Pryce (Tomorrow Never Dies) – and arch-enemies the Daleks. During the course of the episodes, the Doctor is forced to regenerate four times. The first regeneration sees Richard E Grant become the Tenth Doctor, swiftly followed by Jim Broadbent (Harry Potter), Hugh Grant (Bridget Jones) and Joanna Lumley (The New Avengers).
Scream of the Shalka was a flash-animated six-part serial written by Paul Cornell, which was webcast in 2003 to mark Doctor Who’s 40th anniversary. Sophie Okonedo played the Doctor’s companion, Alison, and Sir Derek Jacobi played the Master – a role he reprised for the TV series, in 2007, in Utopia; this time alongside Tennant’s Tenth Doctor.
Since 1989, Doctor Who had ceased to be in regular production and this webcast serial was promoted by the BBC as an official continuation of the TV series. Accordingly, the BBC promoted Grant as the official Ninth Doctor, Paul McGann having played the Eighth Doctor, in 1996, in the one-off TV movieDoctor Who.
However, during the course of its run, the BBC announced that Doctor Who was to return to television under the stewardship of Russell T Davies (Queer as Folk), and Grant’s Ninth Doctor was relegated to unofficial status.
Doctor Who began on Saturday, 23 November 1963. Saturday, 23 November 2013 marks the show’s 50th anniversary. To date, there have been eleven official Doctors on TV: William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith.
As well as Richard E Grant, a number of other actors have played “unofficial” Doctors, including Peter Cushing (1965, 1966), Trevor Martin (1974, 2008), David Banks (1989), Geoffrey Bayldon (2003, 2005) and David Warner (2003). Meanwhile, Richard Hurndall replaced Hartnell – who died in 1974 – as the First Doctor for the 20th-anniversary special, The Five Doctors, in 1983; and David Troughton, recreated his father’s role of the Second Doctor in 2011.
Grant – who starred with Eighth Doctor actor McGann in the cult film Withnail and I (1987) – has appeared in dozens of other films, including Gosford Park, the 2001 film directed by Robert Altman (M*A*S*H) and written by Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey).
The 2012 Doctor Who Christmas special – which is expected to be broadcast on Christmas Day in the UK and US – also stars Tom Ward (Silent Witness) and Jenna-Louise Coleman. Coleman will be making her debut as the Doctor’s new companion.