Celebrating the centenary of Doctor Who’s Patrick Troughton

To mark 100 years since his birth, we’re looking back at the actor’s life and career across five decades in Radio Times

RT 1966 Troughton Power

Patrick Troughton, the man destined to become a Time Lord in Doctor Who, was born 100 years ago on 25 March 1920 in Mill Hill, north London. He trained as an actor in Swiss Cottage but his vocation was put on hold by the Second World War, during which he served in the Royal Navy.

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After the war, he soon gained acting work – his first BBC Radio credit appearing in Radio Times in 1946. He disliked stage acting, which he memorably called “shouting in the evenings”, and quickly realised that television was his preferred medium.

To a generation of kids watching British telly in the 1950s, Troughton was the first Robin Hood, and Alan Breck in Kidnapped. In the 1960s, he created a terrifying Quilp in The Old Curiosity Shop. In the 80s, he became genial magician Cole Hawlings in the BBC classic, The Box of Delights. But his most enduring role was of course the second Doctor in Doctor Who.

To mark the centenary of this mesmerising character actor, we’ve scoured the Radio Times Archive to pick out highlights and landmarks in his BBC TV and Radio career – rare extracts and photographs from the 1940s until his death in 1987.


1940s

Patrick Troughton received his first credit in Radio Times at the age of just 26, playing Nicolaus of Damascus, Herod’s biographer, in Christ’s Comet, a three-act play in verse by Christopher Hassall. It was broadcast on Christmas Day 1946 on BBC Radio network, the Third Programme.

RT 1946 Troughton first radio credit 25 Dec

His BBC Television debut came less than a year later (on 30 October 1947) when he played Baldock in a production of Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II.

RT 1947 Troughton Edward II first TV credit 30 Oct

Science fiction came surprisingly early in Troughton’s career. On 4 March 1948, in Karel Capek’s play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), he played Radius, an “intelligent robot who leads the revolt”. This garnered the 27-year-old actor his first photograph in RT.

RT 1948 Troughton RUR 4 March
RT 1948 Troughton RUR 3 4 March

On 13 July 1948, he was photographed again, looking rather slick as Lord Lebanon in an Edgar Wallace “murder play”, The Curse of the Frightened Lady.

RT 1948 Troughton Case 13 July

These were the days of mostly live television, and none of these productions have survived.


1950s

Across the next decade, Patrick Troughton started to become a well-recognised face, especially on BBC Children’s Television.

In 1952, he played the swashbuckling Alan Breck in Kidnapped. Each episode of this live version of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic was performed twice a week in the summer of 52. John Fraser played the young hero David Balfour. (Years later, Fraser would play the Monitor in Tom Baker’s Doctor Who story Logopolis.) Such was the popularity of this serial, adapted and produced by Joy Harington, it was completely remounted in 1956, with Troughton back as Breck but with Leo Maguire as David Balfour. This version was telerecorded and at least one episode survives. When Kidnapped was repeated in 1957, Radio Times printed this rare shot of Troughton as Alan Breck.

RT 1957 Troughton Kidnapped

In the meantime, in 1953, he had also become familiar as the first significant Robin Hood on British TV. A six-part serial for Children’s Television, also produced by Joy Harington, Robin Hood was never repeated, but at least one episode survives in the BBC Archive.

RT 1953 Troughton Robin Hood 7 April

In 1959, RT caught up with Troughton when he was playing “comical but terrifying old lag” Uncle Jim in The History of Mr Polly. This was the first time he was quoted in the magazine. Of being thrown in a river while filming, he said: “It was all good fun.”

RT 1959 Troughton Mr Polly September

1960s

1960 saw a huge undertaking for the BBC Children’s Television department when it presented Paul of Tarsus. Billed as “a cycle of ten plays telling the story of the Acts of Christ’s Apostles”, this ambitious Sunday-teatime serial, written and produced by Joy Harington, starred Patrick Troughton as Saint Paul. It called for a long location shoot in Crete and a month’s filming in Ealing Film Studios. RT ran a full-page feature on the serial.

RT 1960 Troughton Paul Tarsus October

In 1962, Troughton made his first appearance on the Radio Times cover for The Sunday Night Play, The Sword of Vengeance.

RT 1962 Troughton Sword of Vengeance

Also that year he joined the cast of the long-running series, Dr Finlay’s Casebook. In fact across eight years he would play three different characters. On 11 October 1962, he appeared as Dr Cameron’s gardener, Alex Dean. He returned in 1964 as a recurring character, schoolteacher Mr Miller. Finally, in 1970, he played Jack Baird. Miraculously – given how many episodes of Dr Finlay were made – photos of all three characters (taken by Don Smith) remain in the Radio Times Archive.

1962, Dr Finlay's Casebook: Troughton as Alex Dean and Marion Mathie as Annie Dean (copyright Radio Times Archive)
1962, Dr Finlay’s Casebook: Patrick Troughton as Alex Dean and Marion Mathie as Annie Dean (Don Smith, copyright Radio Times Archive)

1964, Dr Finlay's Casebook: Patrick Troughton as Mr Miller (copyright Radio Times Archive)
1964, Dr Finlay’s Casebook: Patrick Troughton as Mr Miller (Don Smith, copyright Radio Times Archive)

1970, Dr Finlay's Casebook: Patrick Troughton as Jack Baird (copyright Radio Times Archive)
1970, Dr Finlay’s Casebook: Patrick Troughton as Jack Baird (Don Smith, copyright Radio Times Archive)

RT 1970 Troughton as Jack Baird Dr Finlay 11.11.70_0001
1970, Dr Finlay’s Casebook: Patrick Troughton as Jack Baird (Don Smith, copyright Radio Times Archive)

In a letter written in 1980, Troughton wrote: “My favourite role, I think, was Mr Quilp in The Old Curiosity Shop – but Dr Who comes a very close second!” Over the winter of 1962/63, he starred as the disreputable Quilp in a magnificent 13-part adaptation of the Dickens classic. Many similar serials of this period survive in the BBC Archive, so it’s a crying shame that not one episode of The Old Curiosity Shop does. As small compensation, here are the articles we printed in Radio Times at the time.

RT 1962 Troughton Old Curiosity 1
RT 1962 Troughton Old Curiosity 2
RT 1963 Troughton Old Curiosity 3

In 1964, we printed a letter calling for Troughton to be given his own starring role. Doctor Who was still a couple of years away.

RT 1964 Troughton letter

On 27 February 1965, he guest-starred as troubled Cornish gentleman Mortimer Tregennis in The Devil’s Foot, part of BBC1’s excellent Sherlock Holmes series starring Douglas Wilmer and Nigel Stock.

RT 1965 Troughton Sherlock Holmes 27 Feb

A few weeks later he landed the major role of French physician Dr Manette in BBC1’s ten-part adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities. Don Smith took a series of portraits of the character at different ages.

RT 1965 Troughton as Dr Manette Tale of Two Cities 1
1965, A Tale of Two Cities: Patrick Troughton as Dr Manette. (Don Smith, copyright Radio Times Archive)

Actor Patrick Troughton in the BBC television mini-series 'A Tale of Two Cities', 1965. (Photo by Don Smith/Radio Times via Getty Images)
1965, A Tale of Two Cities: Patrick Troughton as Dr Manette. (Don Smith, copyright Radio Times Archive)

On Bonfire Night 1966, there were very few fireworks – or fanfare in Radio Times – for Patrick Troughton when he replaced William Hartnell in Doctor Who. Presumably the BBC wanted to keep his scruffy new look and off-the-wall portrayal under wraps. RT promoted his six-part debut, The Power of the Daleks, with Daleks, not the new star, on the cover. It was only with Troughton’s second adventure, The Highlanders, that RT splashed a one-page feature on the new Doctor and the man who played him.

RT 1966 Troughton Who

In 1967, RT’s Don Smith photographed the Doctor Who star on location in Snowdonia, alongside one of his new monsters, the Yeti.

RT 1967 Doctor Who Abominable Snowmen
1967, Doctor Who: Patrick Troughton on location in Wales with a Yeti

In January 1968, the second Doctor finally appeared in colour on the cover. And later that year we shot Troughton in colour in the Tardis with co-star Frazer Hines (companion Jamie).

RT 1968 Troughton cover
RT 1968 Doctor Who Mind Robber
1968, Doctor Who: Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines in The Mind Robber 

In 1969, fatigued after two and a half years on the Tardis treadmill, Troughton gave up the role. “It’s been great fun,” he told RT, “but now I’m going to sit at home again and wait for the phone to ring.”

RT 1969 Troughton Who April

1970s

He didn’t have to wait long for a call from the BBC. On New Year’s Day 1970, he was playing the Duke of Norfolk in the prestigious The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Also early that year he was in BBC1’s Paul Temple and Radio 4’s adaptation of War and Peace. In November 1970 he was playing Mr March in Little Women (below), and in June 1971 he popped up in The Chopper, an edition of the sci-fi anthology Out of the Unknown.

RT 1970 Troughton Little Women
Little Women, 1970: Patrick Troughton as Mr March (Radio Times copyright)
RT 1971 Troughton Out of the Unknown 16 June

It only took three years for Troughton to be tempted back inside the Tardis. Christmas 1972 saw him gleefully joining his predecessor William Hartnell and successor Jon Pertwee in The Three Doctors. It was a fabulous, very early tenth-anniversary gift for their legions of fans. RT gathered the Time Lord trio for a special photoshoot by Ray Rathborne in October 1972.

RT 1972 Troughton Three Doctors
RT 1973 Troughton RT 10th special

In 1973, Troughton guest-starred as Tamberlane the Terrible in Frankie Howerd’s fruity sitcom, Whoops Baghdad.

RT 1973 Troughton Whoops Baghdad 22 Feb

On 2 March 1976, he was back to a serious role for a BBC1 Play for Today. In Love Letters on Blue Paper, by eminent playwright Arnold Wesker, he played Victor Marsden, described in RT as “an old trade unionist who confronts death and his unrealised hopes”. It was directed by Waris Hussein, the original director of Doctor Who. Don Smith took photos of Troughton on set with co-stars Elizabeth Spriggs and Richard Pasco.

RT 1976 Troughton Love Letters_0034
1976, Love Letters on Blue Paper: Patrick Troughton, Elizabeth Spriggs and Richard Pasco (Don Smith/copyright Radio Times Archive)

RT 1976 Troughton Love Letters_0008
1976, Love Letters on Blue Paper: Patrick Troughton (Don Smith/copyright Radio Times Archive)

After transmission, Wesker wrote to Radio Times, quoting Troughton’s views on theatre and television: “When I asked him during rehearsals wouldn’t he like to be part of a permanent company, say like the National Theatre. ‘Never!’ he replied. ‘This here, this medium, this is the real National theatre.’”

RT 1976 Troughton Wesker letter X

In 1977, Troughton played Israel Hands in a memorable teatime adaptation of Treasure Island.

RT 1977 Troughton Treasure Island 16 Oct

1980s

1983 saw the 20th anniversary of Doctor Who – and Patrick Troughton gradually embracing the worldwide phenomenon that the series had become. He agreed to be part of BBC1’s special The Five Doctors, and attended his very first convention, the massive weekend-long Doctor Who Celebration held at Longleat House in Wiltshire. The Five Doctors had to work around the fact that first Doctor William Hartnell was dead (he was recast as Richard Hurndall) and fourth Doctor Tom Baker declined to appear (old clips were used in the special and Baker’s Madame Tussauds waxwork was borrowed for the photoshoot!).

RT 1983 Troughton 5 Docs group
1983, Doctor Who, The Five Doctors: Richard Hurndall, Peter Davison, Tom Baker’s waxwork, Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton – and K•9. (copyright Radio Times Archive)

RT 1983 Troughton 5 Docs
1983, Doctor Who, The Five Doctors: Richard Hurndall, Peter Davison, Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton. (Don Smith, copyright Radio Times Archive)

RT 1983 Troughton 5 Docs & Courtney
1983, Doctor Who, The Five Doctors: Patrick Troughton with Nicholas Courtney, aka the Brigadier. (Don Smith, copyright Radio Times Archive)

The Box of Delights, John Masefield’s children’s classic published in 1935, was finally adapted for BBC TV in the winter of 1984. It gave Troughton one of his last memorable roles – Cole Hawlings, the centuries-old magician who befriends schoolboy Kay Harker (Devin Stanfield).

RT 1984 Troughton Box of Delights 21 Nov

There’s a wealth of photos from the production of The Box of Delights in the Radio Times Archive. Here’s a rare selection of Troughton and Stanfield working on a blue- or green-screen set ready for visual effects.

RT 1984 Troughton Box Delights_0005
1984, The Box of Delights: Devin Stanfield as Kay Harker and Patrick Troughton as Cole Hawlings (Don Smith, copyright Radio Times Archive)

RT 1984 Troughton Box Delights_0003
1984, The Box of Delights: Devin Stanfield as Kay Harker and Patrick Troughton as Cole Hawlings (Don Smith, copyright Radio Times Archive)

RT 1984 Troughton Box Delights_0007
1984, The Box of Delights: Patrick Troughton as Cole Hawlings (Don Smith, copyright Radio Times Archive)

RT 1984 Troughton Box Delights_0006
1984, The Box of Delights: Patrick Troughton as Cole Hawlings (Don Smith, copyright Radio Times Archive)

Troughton gave his last RT interview in 1985 promoting the BBC2 drama Long Term Memory. Unusually, he was willing to discuss his complicated private life.

RT 1985 Troughton Long Term Memory 11 June

In his latter years, Troughton lived with a serious heart condition and had survived two heart attacks. He died suddenly of a third attack on 27 March 1987, two days after his 67nd birthday, while attending a Doctor Who convention in Columbus, Georgia. His death was noted in RT by a reader’s letter.

RT 1987 May letter

His last performance for the BBC aired posthumously on 9 April 1987. It was the Radio 4 Afternoon Play, Sunlight on the Garden, in which he played a teenager’s crusty neighbour, Mr Hammond. When it was repeated on 8 April 1988, RT added a footnote of praise from The Guardian.

RT 1988 Troughton Sunlight

Many of these excellent performances may have been lost or forgotten in the mists of time but, through Doctor Who, the legend that was Patrick Troughton lives on.


Catch up on Patrick Troughton’s era in the Radio Times Doctor Who Story Guide

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Also: The Three Doctors  The Five Doctors and The Two Doctors