Today is the birthday of Patrick Troughton. Known for his roles in The Omen, The Clash of the Titans and The Box of Delights, he’s probably best remembered for playing the Second Doctor in one of this blog’s obsessions, Doctor Who.
Troughton’s contribution to the show is immense – effectively he’s one of the key elements that have allowed it to survive for nearly 50 years. Back in 1966, the idea of writing out the show’s lead actor by transforming him into another incarnation of the same character wasn’t the taken-for-granted aspect of the mythos it is today. Losing William Hartnell was a risk that could have brought the whole thing crashing down.
Fortunately, casting Troughton turned out to be a fantastic move. His portrayal won over viewers and established the idea of regeneration – in effect, giving Doctor Who tacit permission to reinvent itself whenever necessary.
Troughton’s Doctor is more of an enigma than any of the others. He’s the clown, the trickster, a genius inspired by Charlie Chaplin, but there’s more to it than performance, direction and script-writing – BBC policy back in the day was to wipe old footage, meaning that the majority of Troughton’s run is missing, with only brief clips and still photos giving much indication of how the episodes actually looked and felt. The Second Doctor’s era is a mystery, opinions on it changing with every new bit of information – the story ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ was considered a lost classic until it resurfaced in Hong Kong, whereupon its reputation took a bit of a fall. The era is liminal, mercurial.
And yet despite this – possibly because of it – the Second Doctor is beloved. Later Doctors Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Matt Smith claim him as their favourite predecessor. It’s easy to see why – he’s loveable and funny, and while he played up the comedy and the clumsiness, there was always the darker suggestion that it was at least partly an act, that all the bumbling concealed an ultra-competent hero (at best), a dangerous schemer at worst.
His legacy is ensured, not just in its own right but in the way his influence is felt in the performance of his successors, Matt Smith in particular. And, when I was first getting into Doctor Who, reading the novelisations and watching episodes like ‘The Five Doctors’ and ‘The Three Doctors’, it was easy to love Troughton, the funny impish one standing alongside his more imperious colleagues. The power of that is such that, even though it’s likely we’ll never recover most of his episodes, he’ll still be loved and respected.
Happy birthday Patrick.