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
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
These were the days of mostly live television, and none of these productions have survived.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
In 1962, Troughton made his first appearance on the Radio Times cover for The Sunday Night Play, The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In 1967, RT’s Don Smith photographed the Doctor Who star on location in Snowdonia, alongside one of his new monsters, the 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).
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.”
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.
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.
In 1973, Troughton guest-starred as Tamberlane the Terrible in Frankie Howerd’s fruity sitcom, Whoops Baghdad.
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.
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.’”
In 1977, Troughton played Israel Hands in a memorable teatime adaptation of Treasure Island.
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!).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.