Total Recall

12 Movies You Didn't Know Feature the Doctor from Doctor Who

In this week's Total Recall, we look at some of the best films the Doctors have made over the years.

by | September 16, 2015 | Comments

The rejuvenated Doctor Who returns for its ninth series of episodes on BBC One this weekend, extending a beloved British television tradition that stretches back to the show’s November 1963 debut and has grown to encompass hundreds of installments, a variety of spinoffs, and a dozen (official) Doctors, all of whom did distinguished work outside the series. In that spirit, we’re honoring the actors who’ve inhabited the role by dedicating this list to some of the more interesting moments in their big-screen résumés — all, alas, with the unfortunate exception of the Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker, who’s focused his efforts outside the film industry. That still leaves us with an eclectic selection of movies,  some of which you may have forgotten — or simply never knew — featured one of the Doctors, so without further ado…it’s time for Total Recall!


William Hartnell Young Scarface (1947) 95%

01BrightonRock

Years before he became the original Doctor, William Hartnell scored a key role in Brighton Rock, director John Boulting’s widely acclaimed adaptation of the 1938  Graham Greene novel about a gang of British hoodlums whose enforcer (Richard Attenborough) murders a reporter in retribution for a story that got his leader killed — then grows increasingly violent and paranoid as he’s hemmed in on all sides by people who could prove his undoing. Hartnell appears as Dallow, the character who serves as Attenborough’s second in command and confidante, but whose loyalty may be trumped by the same nihilistic cynicism that pervades the film — an artfully bleak British noir lauded by the BBC’s Jamie Russell as “one of the darkest films ever to be made on these shores.”

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Patrick Troughton – The Gorgon (1964) 64%

02TheGorgon

A vintage monster thriller from the Hammer vaults, 1965’s The Gorgon repeats the studio’s classic formula with a bit of a twist — instead of a creature of more recent vintage, a la Dracula or the Mummy, this outing is inspired by the titular beast from Greek mythology, whose mere gaze was said to be enough to turn men to stone. The story unfolds in a small German village in the early 20th century, after a rash of mysterious murders — each one leaving behind a victim whose body has been dispatched Gorgon-style — leads an investigator (Troughton) to the medic-slash-coroner of the local sanitarium (Peter Cushing). Toss in appearances from Hammer vets Christopher Lee and Barbara Shelley, and you’ve got all the ingredients for above-average pulp from a studio whose name is synonymous with the stuff. Calling The Gorgon “Enjoyable nonsense,” F5’s Jake Euker wrote, “the passing decades have rendered it more nonsensical, and thus more enjoyable.”

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Jon Pertwee – The House That Dripped Blood (1971) 92%

03HouseThatDrippedBlood

The House That Dripped Blood promised viewers “TERROR waits for you in every room” — and if that promise proved somewhat unfulfilled in this typically uneven anthology effort, it was still true often enough to recommend the end result. Pertwee, whose Doctor Who tenure started the year before his appearance in House, appeared in one of the movie’s better-loved entries, an amusingly morbid piece about a buffoonish actor who buys a vampire’s cloak without realizing it has dark powers — or that he should keep it far, far away from his shapely co-star (Ingrid Pitt). “The first thing that should be noted about The House That Dripped Blood is that no blood is dripped,” mused Ken Hanke for the Asheville Mountain Xpress. “Knowing this will perhaps save disappointment along the way.”

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Tom Baker – Nicholas and Alexandra (1971) 67%

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Prior to becoming the longest-tenured and arguably most widely recognized Doctor — playing the role for seven consecutive seasons between 1974 to 1981 — Baker landed his first major film role in 1971’s Nicholas and Alexandra, in which director Franklin J. Schaffner dramatized the fall of the final house of Russian Romanovs. While Baker played neither Nicholas nor Alexandra (those honors went to Michael Jayston and Janet Suzman), he scored an even more satisfying part, playing the infamous mystic Grigori Rasputin. Although the end result certainly wasn’t to everyone’s liking — Roger Ebert argued that it “considers the Russian Revolution from, in some ways, the least interesting perspective” — many critics felt it struck a pleasing balance between character-based drama and epic historical sweep. “[Producer] Sam Spiegel,”  wrote Variety, “comes up with a rarity: the intimate epic, in telling the fascinating story of the downfall of the Romanovs.”

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Peter Davison – Black Beauty (1994) 80%

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Recognizing they had some big shoes to fill when Tom Baker left Doctor Who, the show’s producers opted to go in a different direction, but still wanted an actor who’d be familiar to British viewers. They found him in Peter Davison, who’d earned acclaim — and worked with Doctor Who producer John Nathan-Turner — on a BBC production of All Creatures Great and Small, and who put his own distinctive stamp on the venerable show during his 1981-’84 tenure. Davison has focused largely on television and stage work throughout his career, but he’s picked up a few film roles along the way, including an appearance as Squire Gordon in director Caroline Thompson’s 1994 adaptation of the oft-filmed Black Beauty — a family-friendly drama whose familiarity didn’t breed contempt for critics like Chris Hicks of the Deseret News. “Four (or more) movie versions precede this latest cinematic incarnation of Black Beauty,” admitted Hicks, “but none have managed to capture the spirit of the book as well.”

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Sylvester McCoy – The Hobbit Trilogy

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McCoy bears the distinction of being the final Doctor during the show’s original 26-season run at the BBC, assuming the role from Colin Baker in 1987 and staying with the series until late 1989, when the network broadcast “Survival,” the last episode to air until Doctor Who was revived in 2005. Since making his mark on series history, McCoy has mainly concentrated on stage and television roles, but he’s ventured onto the big screen from time to time — perhaps most notably as the wizard Radagast the Brown in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, which culminated with The Battle of the Five Armies in 2014. “The pleasure is intense, and mixed with awe,” wrote Joe Morgenstern for the Wall Street Journal. “There is majesty here, and not just because we’re in the presence of magnificently regal madness.”

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Paul McGann – Withnail and I (1987) 94%

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After the original series ended in 1989, Doctor Who fell into a long limbo — but even during its hibernation between official incarnations, there were still a few occasions for fans to enjoy the Doctor’s adventures. Paul McGann became the eighth Doctor when he assumed the role for a 1996 TV movie that was supposed to serve as an official relaunch, but instead mainly led to him starring in a lengthy series of audio dramas — and, much later, a 50th anniversary mini-episode titled “The Night of the Doctor.” But before all that, McGann was a member of the group of young UK actors dubbed “the Brit Pack,” and the proud owner of a series of film credits that included one of the main roles in the British black comedy classic Withnail and I. “The best British comedy ever made? Possibly,” mused Film4’s Ali Catterall. “A masterpiece? Unquestionably.”

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Christopher Eccleston – Shallow Grave (1995) 70%

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Every Doctor is special, but Christopher Eccleston will always hold a hallowed place in Doctor Who history, because — as the Ninth Doctor — he’s the actor who bears the distinction of bringing the character back to active duty when the series was brought back to life by the BBC in 2005. Already a wizened veteran of stage and screen before he stepped into his first TARDIS, Eccleston boasts a laundry list of distinguished credits — but since we have to choose just one, we’re going with 1995’s Shallow Grave, an early Danny Boyle film that mined the depths of British dark comedy with a cast that included a young Ewan McGregor. Calling it “one of the most solid debuts anyone could ask for,” Examiner’s Chris Sawin wrote, “Shallow Grave is a story that goes from bad to worse to nasty during its duration. The performances are solid as you can never get a clear read on anyone’s motives right until it’s about to be revealed.”

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David Tennant – Fright Night (2011) 72%

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After a string of short-term Doctors, David Tennant restored stability to the series when he assumed the role from Christopher Eccleston in 2005, taking over as the Tenth Doctor and keeping the reins for five years — including an animated spinoff — while maintaining his busy film and television schedule. He picked up right where he’d left off after leaving the show in 2010 — including a part in Craig Gillespie’s 2011 remake of the cult horror-comedy classic Fright Night, in which he played a supposed vampire expert who initially rebuffs the panicked efforts of a suburban teen (Anton Yelchin) to expose his allegedly bloodsucking neighbor (Colin Farrell). “Fright Night,” argued Colin Covert for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “is the best thing to happen to horror movies since red food coloring and Karo syrup.”

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Matt Smith – Terminator Genisys (2015) 27%

 

As the youngest Doctor, it’s understandable that Matt Smith has a relatively brief filmography; aside from his 2010-’14 stint starring in Doctor Who, a fair number of his credits have come in stage productions. But this is not to say that Doctor fans wishing to see Smith on the big screen are without options; in fact, earlier this year, he landed himself at the center of another decades-old sci-fi franchise when he scored the role of Skynet in Terminator: Genisys (next year, we can expect to see him in Patient Zero and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). While most critics felt the Terminator films were already long past their prime, this sequel did have its defenders; as Tim Martain argued for the Mercury, “There is a fine line between clever homage and lazy lip service. This film trips over that line, spills its drink, and pukes in the cab on the way home. But I had fun.”

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Peter Capaldi – In the Loop (2009) 94%

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Prior to taking over as the 12th official incarnation of the character in 2013, our current Doctor compiled a rather impressive list of screen credits, including roles in Local Hero, The Lair of the White Worm, and Dangerous Liaisons. But Capaldi is probably best known for playing spin doctor Malcolm Tucker in writer-director Armando Iannucci’s hit BBC series In the Thick of It, a character that helped him earn a BAFTA — and one that he reprised on the big screen for the show’s critically acclaimed spinoff film, In the Loop. Inspired by the run-up to the Iraq War, Loop ruthlessly skewers self-serving bureaucrats of all persuasions, adding up to one of the most relentless — and hilarious — political satires in recent memory. “[It’s] that rare film utterly without heroes,” observed the Boston Globe’s Ty Burr. “Instead, it amasses a group of boobs, users, and charlatans on both sides of the Atlantic and asks us to recognize our duly elected and appointed officials. You’ll laugh until you bleed, or vice versa.”

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John Hurt – The Hit (1984) 87%

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John Hurt may not be an “official” Doctor, but this Oscar-nominated thespian’s appearance as the “War Doctor” in the 50th anniversary feature The Day of the Doctor counts in our book — and gives us an excuse to heap additional praise on a marvelous filmography. Mr. Hurt has made so many great movies that it’s hard to pick just one — between 1978-’80, he fired off Midnight Express, Alien, and The Elephant Man in quick succession, with voicework in Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings movie in between — but for the purposes of this list, we’re settling on the hidden gem The Hit, in which he stars as a hitman tasked with retrieving a former associate (Terence Stamp) who rolled over on the gang. Praising both leading men in addition to director Stephen Frears, the Los Angeles Times’ Sheila Benson wrote, “The Hit is something special: thoughtful, perfectly performed and carrying the clear stamp of an extremely interesting director.”

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