Neil Gaiman Says A Black Actor Turned Down 'Doctor Who'

The long-running BBC series Doctor Who just named the twelfth person to play the title character: Peter Capaldi. The actor is a great many things: rakishly charming, savagely funny, frighteningly intense, and Scottish. He's also white and male, which isn't quite what some fans of the show hoped for.

Since the eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith, announced his departure, there were hopes among parts of the Who fandom that the show would turn towards an actor of color, or (gasp!) a woman to lead the show. After all, the actor changes are explained in-show through the Doctor's ability to regenerate into a new body, and there's no reason he has to be a white guy. The audience for the show has expanded exponentially in the last few years, and a non-white or female choice could both enrich the series and draw in even more viewers.

Maybe this won't be great for Capaldi — no one wants to hear they weren't first choice — but Neil Gaiman, who has written for the show, says a black actor was approached to be the Doctor, but turned down the role.

Gaiman has been answering Doctor Who questions on Tumblr, and mentioned Paterson Joseph, who was in the adaptation of Neverwhere, being a possibility for the past incarnation of the Doctor. He went on to say,

And yes, I have no doubt there will be [a black Doctor]. (I know one black actor who was already offered the part of the Doctor, and who turned it down.) Just as there will be a female Doctor.

Asked to specify the actor, he replies:

You can ask, but seeing that it was something I was told in confidence by the actor in question, you won't get an answer.

There's a lot more talk on Tumblr from Gaiman, including a discussion about having a woman Doctor — Gaiman wrote a line into a script that made explicitly clear that gender could be changed during regeneration — which comes down to the writer opining " I'd rather see a female Doctor as a reaction to whatever Peter Capaldi is, than as a reaction to Matt's creation."

He also talks about the choice of Capaldi ("I'm glad that we're getting an older Doctor — we've had two puppies, it's time to see someone older. It'll change the nature of the relationship with Clara in interesting ways, for a start.") and explains his view of the series' long-standing rule that the Doctor can only regenerate thirteen times:

Well, that was the rule when we had Time Lords running the show. (And they were the ones who gave the Master his extra regenerations.) There aren't any Time Lords any more... MY OPINION (which is not Canon) is that the regeneration limit is a lot like the speed limit. You can break it, but things get a lot more dangerous if you do. The Time Lords were the traffic cops: they enforced the limit. With them gone, the Doctor can keep regenerating beyond 13, but with consequences.

There's more good material at Gaiman's Tumblr. The takeaway here is that Doctor Who producers were not thinking very much inside the same old box that some assumed surrounds them. Now let's sit back and get excited for Capaldi — the guy is fierce, and I can't wait to see what he does with the role.