Doctor Who’s Matt Smith and Karen Gillan were almost the stars of Merlin – but the series creators say they have no regrets

Julian Murphy and Johnny Capps spoke to about the near-casting of the future Doctor Who stars

On Location For

The creators of Merlin have said that they wouldn’t make any changes if they were to go back in time and recast the show – despite the fact that Matt Smith and Karen Gillan were close to landing lead roles.


As has reported previously, Smith and Gillan were originally in the running for the parts of Merlin and Guinevere, at a time when both actors were still relatively unknown.

But speaking to during a live Q&A last night, Julian Murphy and Johnny Capps said they had no regrets about their casting choices – with Colin Morgan and Angel Coulby having eventually starred in the series.

Gwen (Angel Coulby) and Merlin (Colin Morgan)
Gwen (Angel Coulby) and Merlin (Colin Morgan)

“It was a really hard show to cast, it was very hard to find the actors that you thought had that likability and charm,” said Capps.

“Funnily enough Karen Gillan was also on the shortlist to play Gwen. Looking back on the recalls now there were a lot of really brilliant actors that we nearly chose.

“But there wouldn’t be anybody that we would, looking back, recast. It was just one of those shows where all the cast just gelled beautifully, and not only did they do the parts brilliantly but they were all a joy to work with.”

Meanwhile Murphy reiterated that the main reason they opted for Morgan over Smith for the lead role was purely to do with age – with the younger Morgan a more suitable fit for the role.

“The reason we went for Colin rather than Matt was very straight-forward – Colin was younger,” he said.

“He brought more innocence to it and we felt Merlin had to begin this series at least almost as an innocent boy who was going on a journey to manhood.

“So it’s incredibly hard to imagine what it would be like now, but a Merlin who was less innocent than Colin in that episode, less open and willing to show that vulnerability that he did would have meant a different show.”


Of course, within a couple of years Smith and Gillan would be starring in series five of Doctor Who, with both going on to huge success, while Merlin became a big hit over its five series run – so it’s safe to say it worked out well for all concerned in the end.