Doctor Who is a British institution, a sci-fi mega series that began way back in 1963 and is about to evolve yet again with another actor taking on the iconic role of the Dalek-bashing Time Lord.
It’s one of the BBC’s most successful global dramas, sold to over 239 territories around the world and boasting a fanbase of over 77 million in the UK, US, and Australia alone. Impressed by the careers of Matt Smith, Jodie Whittaker, David Tennant, or Christopher Eccleston? They’ve all played the Doctor and the hit BBC series is now widely seen as a launchpad for actors going on to bigger things.
Fourteen actors have played the Doctor. The show has a natty plot device where the Doctor’s recasting is explained through the process of ‘regeneration’ (i.e. his/her appearance totally changes when necessary). The current Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, has already announced this series will be her last, so in theory the main role is currently open—just saying!
Obviously, it’s not only the main role that needs casting. Doctor Who is a massive British employer of both actors and crew. Billie Piper, Carey Mulligan, Daniel Kaluuya, and Andrew Garfield have all done their time on the show. The cast is talented, diverse and showcases all levels of experience. So if joining the world of Daleks, Sonic Screwdrivers, and Gallifreyans sounds fun, read on to learn how to wow the Doctor’s casting department.
Our first tip is to get to know the world of the Doctor. The show has been going for 57 years, has had 14 leading actors and over 860 episodes encompassing different planets, galaxies, and organisms. You don’t need to be a Whovian (lingo for a Doctor Who fan) to work on the show but as with any audition it helps to know a bit about what you’re going up for.
If you’ve never seen the show before here’s a VERY quick précis: The main character of the Doctor is a time-traveling alien who swoops around the universe helping those in need. S/he’s accompanied on this never-ending journey by some human companions and mainly travels in a blue British Police Box circa 1963 known as the Tardis. If you want to look knowledgeable you might want to drop in some chat about Daleks, Fallen Angels, and The Master who are all baddies and therefore should not be trusted.
Doctor Who may now be one of TV’s most coveted roles but it’s not always been that way. At one point in the late 90s the show was thought to be a tired, cheap drama that had run out of steam. The kids who had once hid behind the sofa in their millions now laughed at the lo-tech, old fashioned sci fi that had charmed their parents. The BBC ‘rested’ the show and many Whovians presumed that it was done but nine years later, in 2005, the Doctor regenerated itself into a big budget, global hit.
Newly equipped with the talented new showrunner Russell T Davies (It’s a Sin, Years and Years) and well-funded ambitions, the new Doctor Who played by Christopher Eccleston won audiences over almost immediately and has since gone from strength to strength. In subsequent years, Davies was replaced as showrunner by other top notch writers Stephen Moffatt (Dracula, Sherlock) and Chris Chibnall (Broadchurch), but for the next series Davies will return to the top job along with a new, as yet unnamed Doctor.
In the modern era the Doctor’s main production base has been in Wales, specifically Roath Lock studios in the Porth Teigr area of Cardiff Bay. However when Russell T Davies returns to the top job, the show will move nearby to the much larger Wolf Studios Wales. Fans see the move as a sign that the show is about to regenerate yet again into a much bigger drama. This new series due in 2023 (TBC) will also be the first made by an outside production company, Bad Wolf Studios, who made His Dark Materials and Discovery of Witches, so we’ll have to wait and see what all this change delivers for the Doc.
Jodie Whittaker has already wrapped on her time as the Doctor and Davies is due to take over control for the show’s 60th anniversary in 2023, so it’s safe to presume that production will have to start fairly soon. That means it’s time to get those feelers out re casting. If you have an agent ask them about it and register your interest. If they’re any good they’re probably already all over it. If you haven’t got an agent, you can still get prepped. Keep an eye out for casting opportunities, do your research and make sure your headshots, CV and showreel are up to scratch. When it’s time you need to be ready, so get to it.
Given the imminent return of Russell T Davies as showrunner, one of the top tips for any aspiring Doctor Who actor is hope you’ve worked with the main man before. If Davies likes you there’s a very good chance he’ll cast you again and again and again. The man has form, just look at his Doctors.
David Tennant played Casanova in Davies’ 2005 adaptation of the Italian stallion's life and was also the tenth Doctor. Christopher Eccleston, the ninth Doctor, worked with Davies on The Second Coming in 2003 before emerging from the Tardis two years later. No wonder then that the bookies’ current favourites to be the next Doc mainly consist of the stars of last year’s Russell T Davies hit, It’s a Sin. Stay by your phone Olly Alexander, Omari Douglas and Lydia West because you never know.
Tennant told the Radio Times how Davies decided he was his new Doctor. “Casanova ended up being my kind of audition for Doctor Who, although I was completely unaware of it at the time because I didn’t know they were looking for anyone. So yeah, Russell asked me round to his house […] because he had a couple of rough cuts of the first series of Doctor Who and he knew that I was a bit of a fan, and that I might want to see how the show was looking. And then they told me that they wanted me to take over!”
Davies is clearly the boss but equally important is casting director Andy Pryor who has cast all the modern series of the Doctor. He told Backstage that casting Doctor Who has been his most rewarding job and that for him, casting means constantly being on the look out for new talent.
“You see talent at the theatre. You see drama schools, keeping an eye out for complete new talent coming through that way. Having good relationships with agents, not just the big corporate agencies, but the small agents who are brazen, going out and spotting new talent. And I think just keeping a general awareness of what’s going on in the industry be that television or theatre, but it’s keeping a bit of a finger on the pulse of who’s doing what at any given time.”
Pryor is also committed to diversity in the casting process and wants to do more to find great new talents. He told Backstage, “It’s an issue that we all share a responsibility for ... It’s our job as casting directors to encourage the people we work with to reflect the world that we live in. We live in a very diverse society and each element of society deserves to have their stories told, and be reflected on the screen. And we have to be conscious of making sure that we have an open mind about each role, and not just specific roles that are written, for example, people of color. I think, really, it’s essentially about everybody being vigilant about perfecting the world that we live in.”
As well as keeping your eyes peeled on Backstage and pestering your agent, it’s also an idea to stay across casting director Andy Pryor’s Twitter account. He keeps followers up to date with what he’s thinking on a range of subjects which is great for getting into his CD brain! Brilliantly, Pryor also has a personal website which invites submissions via email, snail mail or online. He asks for showreels, photos and assures actors they will be seen but not always replied to.
One benefit about trying to find information on one of the biggest shows on the planet is that there is plenty of it out there. Websites like Tardis Data Core and the Doctor Who site might not seem like the natural place to hunt for casting news but this lot know their stuff so keeping tabs on their updates seem sensible.
Casting director Andy Pryor says often inexperienced actors give themselves away in the audition room by failing to prepare: “The most important thing an actor can do is ... learn the role as best they can in the time that they’ve been given. You note a lack of camera technique in an actor if she’s green. But that’s part of what we’re here for, to help with that, correct that, and teach people who might be less experienced in camera auditions on how all of that works”.
Clearly, it’s time to binge on those Doctor Who box sets especially when you think that showrunner Russell T Davies is perhaps the world’s biggest Whovian. Pryor agrees that knowing who you’re meeting, what they’ve done in the past and the show you’re auditioning for is key to showing yourself in the best light when it matters.
“It’s not hard to find out about the project that you’re going in for. So, if your audition has been organized by an agent, then get as much information from the agent as possible. If you get the name of the director, perhaps look them up on IMDb, and see what work they’ve done. It doesn’t mean you have to sit and talk about their career, but it’s just having an awareness of who you’re meeting. And if you’re coming in for a series that has already been in production or already been broadcast, always seek out some material from that series so that you know the tone of the piece that you’re going in for. I also begin the [audition] within reason, not being afraid to ask questions. Make a decision about how you think the part should be delivered, but be prepared to deflect.”
Obviously Pryor’s advice needs to be heeded and like any good casting director he knows what works. When casting the 11th doctor Pryor put his foot down, as he told the Independent: “With Matt, Steven Moffat [the writer] really didn’t want a younger Doctor, but I just insisted on auditioning Matt because he’s an old man in a young man’s body.” It’s an audition Smith went on to nail. So do your homework, keep your eyes peeled and get into the brain of Andy Pryor.
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