Brian Blessed: ‘I was approached to play Doctor Who – but my ideas scared the BBC to death’

The legendary actor reveals how he missed out on playing the Time Lord in the 1960s.

Flash Gordon (1980)

Brian Blessed has suggested he missed out on the role of the Doctor in Doctor Who because the BBC was “scared” by his idea of how to play the part.

Advertisement

The Flash Gordon star has spoken in the past about how he was approached about taking over from William Hartnell in the mid-1960s – in a new interview, he told RadioTimes.com that figures at the BBC “nearly had a heart attack” when he revealed how he wanted to play the part.

“I was [approached],” Blessed confirmed. “It’s a long story. I was in [BBC police drama] Z-Cars for two years playing ‘Fancy’ Smith, the tough, heroic Yorkshireman. And then [BBC producer] Andrew Osborn took me for a long walk and he said, ‘Bill Hartnell’s very old and we want a young Doctor Who’.”

Blessed claims he had “a long meeting with them all” as he weighed up whether to accept the part or take on another role he’d been offered, that of Porthos in a BBC adaptation of The Three Musketeers. “I said, ‘Really guys, I love Doctor Who, I love watching it, but I don’t see him the way you see him’.”

His ideas – which allegedly involved donning make-up to “make [the Doctor] Chinese” (via The Sun) – were quickly shot down by BBC producers. “They nearly had a heart attack. It absolutely scared them to f**king death. So I went off and did The Three Musketeers.”

Brian Blessed in Doctor Who
Brian Blessed as Yrcanos in Doctor Who (1986)
BBC

Though Blessed’s ideas never made it to screen, certain classic episodes of Doctor Who have attracted controversy in recent years for, amongst other things, having white actors play Chinese characters – with streaming service BritBox adding a content warning to a number of episodes.

Advertisement

Blessed would eventually appear on the show in the 1986 story The Trial of a Time Lord, playing the warlord Yrcanos, and says he’d have loved to have play the lead character. “My biggest love in life is space,” he explained. “I mean, there’s the Flash Gordon thing, but of course in reality I’ve done six months training in Moscow in Space City, so I’m a fully qualified cosmonaut, and I’ve done work with NASA on Reunion Island in the Pacific, with lots of microbiologists and geologists. I’ve done a lot.”

Flash Gordon is screening now in select cinemas to mark the film’s 40th anniversary, with a 4K UHD Collection’s Edition set to follow in Blu-rayDVD, Steelbook and digital formats from 10th August.