Soap operas and Doctor Who have been an enduring part of British TV since the 1960s, and have become cultural phenomenons that attract an army of die-hard followers – as well as keeping most of the country’s actors at work over the decades.
The announcement that sixth Doctor, Colin Baker, is to appear in Emmerdale is exciting but it’s not the first time someone has crossed from the Whoniverse to Soapland. The likes of Jenna Coleman and Mandip Gill went from breakout soap roles to TARDIS companions, big stars with soaps on their CV like Bradley Walsh, Kylie Minogue and Suranne Jones have done both, but there are many more crossovers between the shows you’ve probably forgotten about.
RadioTimes.com presents a fascinating list of Doctor Who’s lesser-known links to Coronation Street, EastEnders, Emmerdale and Hollyoaks.
Emmerdale isn’t the first time the sixth incarnation of everyone’s favourite Time Lord (no offensive to any fans of the Master out there) has done a soap stint: back in 2000 Baker played the judge in Luke Morgan’s rape trial, one of Hollyoaks’ most groundbreaking stories. He put evil attacker Mark Gibbs behind bars, so even when not playing the Doctor he was still righting terrible wrongs.
By our reckoning, the only other Doctor to appear in a soap is Baker’s successor, Sylvester McCoy. Not only was it also in Hollyoaks, playing another legal eagle (a barrister called Leonard Cave), his character presided over the case of another member of the Morgan family, Beth, who was on trial for running over slimy footballer Scott Anderson after he tried to sexually assault her. That’s so many cosmic coincidences it’s a wonder the words ‘Bad Wolf’ didn’t appear somewhere in the courtroom.
In 1973, more than a decade before she donned the laundrette tabard and lit her first fag as soap icon Dot Cotton (later Branning), Brown played Lady Eleanor, a very grand medieval aristocrat, in Jon Pertwee story The Time Warrior. This adventure is additionally significant for introducing iconic companion Sarah Jane Smith, villainous alien race the Sonatarans, the famous diamond DW logo, and was the first time we learnt the Doctor’s home planet was called Gallifrey. “Ooh, I say”, as June would later declare in numerous scenes as Dot.
It may feel like it but Worth hasn’t always been put-upon, perennially-widowed Gail. Three years prior to her Coronation Street debut as Gail Potter (later Tilsley, then Platt, then Hillman, then back to Platt, then Rodwell… still with us?) the actress featured in futuristic third doctor story Colony in Space, shown in 1971 but set in 2472, also an early appearance from the Master who had made his debut a few months earlier in Terror of the Autons. Next time the Doctor wants to kill the Master he should get him to marry Gail – he’d be dead in months.
Between her rival soap stints as spiteful Cindy Beale in EastEnders and Corrie landlady, and Leanne’s long-lost mum, Stella Price, Collins squeezed in a DW role in David Tennant story 42, playing Kath McDonnell, captain of a doomed spaceship. Shown in 2007 during the Russell T Davies era, it was the first Who TV story written by future showrunner Chris Chibnall, who would steer Jodie Whittaker’s time in the TARDIS from 2018. 42 also features Elize du Toit who played Izzy in Hollyoaks but we’re getting very niche now.
The start of Matt Smith’s tenure as the 11th Doctor was the appropriately-titled The Eleventh Hour in 2010, which featured a disappointingly brief cameo from 2021 Strictly star Wadia as the no-nonsense Dr Ramsden, an employee of Amy Pond’s local hospital. Wadia was still in EastEnders at the time playing moody matriarch Zainab Masood so maybe she could only get an afternoon off? At least she can say she played ‘the doctor’, if not ‘The Doctor’. The episode also has a curiously small role for a pre-megastar and future Oscar winner Olivia Colman, who would later be discussed as a possible Doctor herself.
An entire generation knows him as EastEnders’ rum-loving plucky pensioner Patrick Trueman, a role he’s played for 20 years, but the screen legend has been acting since the 1960s and popped up in Doctor Who back in 1969. He played the small role of Harper in The War Games, final story for Patrick Troughton’s flute-playing second Doctor. Niche territory alert: this was also the last outing for companion Jamie McCrimmon played by Frazer Hines who later became part of the original Emmerdale cast as Joe Sugden (Victoria’s uncle to newer viewers).
He can sing, he can act, he can dance, he can write Gavin & Stacey, he can host chat shows from a car – Corden is so versatile it’s no wonder his character was one of a select few ‘civilians’ (ie not recurring companions or villains) who’ve appeared in more than one story. Bumbling Craig Owens rented a room to the 11th Doctor in 2011’s The Lodger, and the pair hit it off so well they were reunited for another adventure, Closing Time, later that year. So what’s the soap link? One of Corden’s early telly roles was as cleaner Wayne in Hollyoaks. Bet you’d forgotten.
Lovable patriarch Rishi Sharma has been an Emmerdale regular since 2011, but three years earlier the actor who plays him popped up in 2008’s Turn Left. An unsettling, dystopian ‘What If?’ tale, it showed an alternate timeline for companion Donna Noble if she’d never met the Doctor. Patel played the chatty temp’s boss, Jival Chaudry, at the job she ended up getting when she changed her mind about which of the two interviews she had lined up on opposite sides of town – turning left instead of right changed the course of history and meant she never came into contact with David Tennant’s 10th Time Lord. Which was pretty bad news for planet Earth.
Lisa Fowler entered the EastEnders hall of fame when she shot Phil Mitchell in 2001, but child star Benjamin made her acting debut when she was just 12 years old in Doctor Who. During a flashback in Peter Davison’s 1983 adventure Mawdryn Undead (part of the fifth Doctor’s Black Guardian trilogy, centrepiece of the show’s 20th anniversary that year), Benjamin plays companion Nyssa as a child. She looked so sweet, who knew she’d be reaching for a revolver less than 20 years later to try and bump off Walford’s hardest man?
Dunlop already had quite the glittering career before becoming cafe queen Brenda in Emmerdale from 2008, including big movies with the likes of David Lynch (The Elephant Man), Roman Polanski (Tess) and Elizabeth Taylor (A Little Night Music), BBC costume dramas and not one but two Whos. The first was as Norna opposite Peter Davison’s fifth Doctor in 1984’s Frontios, a grim tale of human colonists under threat from native aliens (also with Jeff Rawle, aka future Hollyoaks villain Silas Blissett), and the second was as brightly-haired Susan Q in 1988’s The Happiness Patrol, a satirical tale of a Thatcherite society in which sadness is outlawed on pain of death. Sheila Hancock, later Steve Owen’s barmy mum Barbara in EastEnders, also appeared in the seventh doctor story best remembered for its villain made entirely of liquorice allsorts, the Kandyman.
He’s just joined Hollyoaks as dastardly Dr Ali Shazhad, he was Ash Ferreira, part EastEnders’ ill-fated Ferreira family introduced in 2003, and played Dr Merchant who treated tragic Sinead Tinker in Corrie in 2018-2019. Doctor Who fans may know him from 2006’s epic two-part season finale Army of Ghosts and Doomsday, in which the 11th Doctor and Rose Tyler were torn apart and thrown into different dimensions (no, you’re crying). James played Torchwood employee Dr Rajesh Singh, whose boss Yvonne Hartman was played by his former ‘Enders colleague and ex-Queen Vic landlady Tracy-Ann Oberman.
News of the much-loved actor’s recent passing has inspired nostalgia for his work in a slew of TV hits during his impressive career, including EastEnders (we’ll get to that) and Who fan favourite Sabalom Glitz. A kind of intergalactic Del Boy Trotter, wheeler dealer Glitz first appeared in 1986’s The Mysterious Planet, part of sixth Doctor Colin Baker’s final season arc known collectively as The Trial of a Time Lord. The popular character returned the following year opposite Sylvester McCoy in Dragonfire, which saw him hook up (not like that) with Melanie Bush (later Walford’s Carmel Kazemi) as she passed the companion baton to Ace. Selby did two episodes of EastEnders in 2002 as Clive Mitchell, Phil’s long-lost and never-mentioned-since uncle who attended a family party officially welcoming little Louise into the cursed clan, having been born a Fowler when mum Lisa pretended hubby Mark was her daddy.
He was back in EastEnders recently as Lucas Johnson, 13 years after first playing the scary preacher/serial killer ex of Denise Fox. Prior to all that the acclaimed actor was jilted at the altar by Donna Noble in the 2006 Christmas special The Runaway Bride. Doomed groom Lance Bennett was used by the evil Empress of the Racnoss to help save her arachnid-like alien race, luckily the 10th Doctor intervened and saved Donna not only from the eight-legged clutches of the Empress but from being hitched to someone who tried to kill her. Lance was later fed to the Racnoss by being dropped into the centre of the Earth.
Soaps and Doctor Who have also referenced each other in numerous in-jokes and easter eggs over the years:
The only actual crossover was 1993’s crackers Dimensions in Time, a two-part special for Children in Need in which the Doctor’s third to seventh incarnations were trapped in a time hole centred on Albert Square (yes, really) and joined forces to save the universe. It featured several companions and EastEnders characters, and was originally broadcast in 3D (a pair of glasses came free with that week’s copy or Radio Times!).
A specially shot scene from a fake episode of EastEnders was playing on Jackie Tyler’s telly in 2006’s Army of Ghosts, in which Peggy Mitchell (played by good sport Dame Barbara Windsor herself in character) told the ghost of Den Watts to get out of her pub, referencing the plot’s global phenomenon of spectral figures appearing among humans.
Hollyoaks’ Lomax girls Leela, Tegan, Peri and Rose are all named after Who companions as dad Daniel was established as a closet Whovian.
EastEnders’ Bradley Branning was a proper Who geek and dragged girlfriend Stacey Slater to an exhibition during their rocky romance in 2008. She wasn’t impressed.
In Turn Left, proud Londoner Donna Noble is forced to move ‘up north’ and disparagingly refers to an unfriendly neighbour as ‘Vera Duckworth’, proof that people in Doctor Who are Corrie fans.
EastEnders’ Christmas Day episode from 2008 saw several characters excitedly waiting for Doctor Who special The Next Doctor to start.
The Idiot’s Lantern (2006) was set on Florizel Street, which was Corrie creator Tony Warren’s original name for his serial drama that changed TV. A tea lady at Granada reportedly said it sounded like a cleaning product, so it was changed…