In the process of plotting out a post about TV and film spies, with stats for the old James Bond RPG, I got to thinking about the succession of actors who played James Bond, which in turn got me thinking about the succession of actors who played the Doctor. I wondered about the timing, so I put together a timeline of the two franchises and found that their classic periods match up almost perfectly.
Please enjoy this little retrospective of Bonds and Doctors, as they regenerated through the years … including a couple who snuck in from alternate timelines!
The film journey of James Bond begins in 1962 … not counting the American Jimmy Bond of the C.I.A. that showed up in the mid-1950’s on American television. Rugged Sean Connery took the role of the super spy, who started life a little bit more grounded, but ended Connery’s reign with the crazy gadgets and super-cars (not to be confused with Super Car) firmly established in the Bond universe. Connery’s Bond is the ruthless assassin of the novels. He appreciates the material pleasures, and keeps an emotional distance from others, as one might expect from a person in his position. Fortunately for Bond, Connery had an undeniable charisma on the screen, so we like the secret agent more than we probably should.
A year later, we get our first glimpse of the wonderful TARDIS and its pilot, the Doctor, played by William Hartnell. Hartnell had a career in crime movies, and so brings a little subtle menace with him to the role of the mysterious Doctor. I remember reading somewhere that the show was intended to teach children about history … and then I found out the Daleks showed up pretty early in the series and realized that any history education kids were going to get was probably incidental.
It’s really early on our journey, but we’ve already reached a fork in the road. In 1965, a non-BBC movie version of the good doctor appeared in the form of Doctor Who and the Daleks, starring Peter Cushing as the Doctor. Well, actually, starring Peter Cushing as Doctor Who, for that is how he was addressed. The movie is not in continuity with the TV series, despite the name and the presence of the Daleks, but it is kinda fun. The sequel was not as good. Still, I love the idea of Peter Cushing as an alternative First Doctor … maybe we should invent an alternative timeline of Doctors regenerating from Cushing?
Hartnell’s time as the Doctor was to last only three years. Here’s where the creative team did something extraordinary. Instead of just replacing the lead actor, they regenerated him into somebody new and also the same. What a concept. Patrick Troughton steps into the roll of the Doctor, and brings with it an irrascible energy and vigor that I personally love. I really wish more of his series survived the BBC’s cost-cutting measures. My daughter and I call him the Angry Doctor (or sometimes Doctor Moe), and we both love him.
In 1967 we make our second detour from “canon” with Casino Royale, a weird little parody of the series starring Peter Sellers, Woody Allen and, as the real James Bond (I think – it’s an odd film), David Niven. Had the Bond film franchise started in the 1950’s, Niven may well have played the roll. The movie didn’t do much for me, though I always appreciate Niven, and it had both an awesome movie poster by Robert McGinnis and a great theme song.
The Doctor’s first regeneration is followed three years later by Bond’s first regeneration, with George Lazenby taking over for one film to very mixed reviews. Lazenby’s bond was a departure from the formula. Where Connery’s Bond was a more emotionally distant, Lazenby’s Bond gets married in the film to Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo, played by Diana Rigg. This was faithful to the novel, but would not be repeated in the series for many years. Lazenby’s tenure was followed two years later by one more outing for Connery.
The Third Doctor appears three years before the Third Bond, with Jon Pertwee beginning his celebrated tenure as the Doctor. Pertwee’s Doctor struck me as a bit less irrascible than Troughton’s, but still testy. This is also our first Doctor in color … big, bright, beautiful color. There’s so much right about this run. It was the first run of Who that I saw after I started watching the Tom Baker years, and I wasn’t sure at first that I was going to like it, but I really did.
Just as many people associate the classic Doctor with the actor who had the longest tenure in the roll (just wait a minute, he’ll be along any time now), I think my generation probably associates Bond with Roger Moore. Yeah, when we got older, Gen X took the tack that Connery was cooler because he was more serious yadda yadda yadda … but in our hearts we loved Roger Moore. Moore would spend 13 years as James Bond, and though he started off the cold, dashing assassin you would expect, his own more jovial personality ultimately took over. I love camp, so I have no problem with thus, though I totally understand those who don’t like it.
As the longest Bond tenure was gettig started, the longest Doctor tenure arrived a year later. Tom Baker‘s run was similar to Moore’s run as Bond, starting out with a beautiful alien menace and growing more campy as they years went on. Again – no problem for me. I adore Baker’s Doctor, and he is without a doubt my favorite. He also had my favorite companion in the form of Lela. No, not because of her outfit, but because while the Doctor was figuring out a virtuous solution to a problem she was pulling a knife and saying the obvious – let’s just kill the bad guy. That was a great counterpiece for the Doctor.
Roger Moore would survive into the 80’s as Bond, but Baker would hand over the role of the Doctor to Peter Davison. I’ll state it up front – I dig Davison in the role. He had a daunting challenge ahead of him taking over for the beloved Baker. I’ll also state, frankly, that I don’t like most of the serials he played in. The writers didn’t give him as likeable companions (again, this is no slight directed towards the actors, who were great), and the stories didn’t always thrill me. Still, there was some good stuff there, and I think Davison should get more credit than he does. I do think, though, that the franchise at this point was losing steam … the assumptions on which it was built were shifting under its feet; and honestly, the Bond franchise was in the same boat.
The Roger Moore Bond era would be rounded out in the Doctor Who franchise by Colin Baker. Baker’s doctor was a return to the earlier menace of the Doctor’s alien mind, and maybe more so than any other doctor he has a severity that is shocking when compared to the wise fool played by Tom Baker. They say that Colin Baker wanted a more updated look for his Doctor – something not unlike that of the ninth incarnation, but instead the designers tried to catch lightning in a bottle with something more reminiscent of the fourth Doctor.
Roger Moore was 58 years old when he made A View to a Kill, and was ready to retire. The rumors started swirling that Remington Steele’s Pierce Brosnan was going to be Bond. Cool! Loved Remington Steele, and who better to take over for Moore than Brosnan. This is going to be so great, I can’t wait until … Timothy Dalton? Huh?
Well, when Remington Steele’s producers decided on one more season, Brosnan was out, Dalton was in, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Still, I was the right age for going to the movies with friends, and that poster for The Living Daylight was certainly enticing, so why not. Folks – I loved The Living Daylights, and was totally down with more Dalton as Bond movies. It wasn’t a complete departure from Moore, but a younger Bond was nice, the movie had some great action sequences and it was a nice return to a bit more realism in the films.
The Fourth Bond was going to be okay, but what about the Seventh Doctor? The first time I watched a Sylvester McCoy serial I was still high on watching Tom Baker, and I wasn’t so sure about this guy. When I got the chance to watch more of them on Retro TV, I found that I really liked McCoy in the role. The angry edge was gone, the tone was sometimes lighter and perhaps more manic, and I really looked forward to more. I think McCoy’s run reminds me the most of Tom Baker’s, so I guess it’s no surprise that I like it. But alas, after three years, the magic was fading and there would be no regeneration for the Doctor. He just faded away …
Or did he?
Are the Eighth Doctor and Fifth Bond part of the classic era, or a bridge to the reboots? Hard to say. There was a five year gap between License to Kill and GoldenEye, and a six year gap between McCoy’s final outing as the Doctor and the short-lived attempt to revive the franchise with Paul McGann. New creative teams, a new 90’s attitude (I was there, it sorta sucked – I think I prefered my tenure in the 80’s). Still, there was excitement and hope for the new series, and that’s always good.
Personally, I was super-hyped for Brosnan’s Bond. I’d been waiting for him to take over the roll for a long time, and was really looking forward for a good, old fashioned James Bond spectacular … but I really didn’t care for the movie. It was like they were trying to recreate by committee something that was born organically in the 1960s. The movies were certainly popular, but for me, Bond shifted into something I loved in the past from something I was going to watch in the present.
My experience with Doctor Who was different. As an American kid of the 70s, I’d never heard of the franchise (though I had an aunt who cosplayed at a convention as Lela! – didn’t find that out until just last year). I was too late for the showings of Tom Baker’s Doctor on PBS. I remember seeing pictures of him in Dragon Magazine ads, and being kinda meh about it. It wasn’t until the 2010’s that I finally got to see the series, starting with Tom Baker, and fell in love with it. I still haven’t seen McGann’s Doctor, so I can’t really say how it holds up with the past. Others will have to weigh in on the Eighth Doctor’s place in the classic vs. new debate.
So we reach the end of our journey – 1962 to 1996, more than thirty years for two solid and fun franchises. We all have our favorites – feel free to share yours in the comments … and no, we don’t need to hear about who you hate.