The Mirth Makers

As 2014 draws to a close, let’s remind ourselves of two comedians who brightened up Series 8 with their commendable performances, Frank Skinner and Ben Miller, playing Perkins and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Both carried off their parts with ease and their inclusion in the show proves that stunt-casting can work. We hope that Series 9 continues the trend.

However, it isn’t the first time that comedians and comic actors have turned their hand to drama in Doctor Who. Let’s look at “The Mirth Makers”, an article which first appeared on ‘Whovian Leap’ earlier this year. 

Let’s take a trip back to 1964 adventure “The Sensorites” and meet our first comic actor, Peter Glaze. He was famous for his appearances in children’s favourite TV show “Crackerjack” and played a hairy Voldemort lookalike – “Third Sensorite” (top left)

The following year in “The Romans” we see a comic turn by Derek Francis as Nero (top right). The actor was known for his roles in six “Carry On” films and also appeared in comedies such as “Up Pompeii” and “Rising Damp”. 

Fellow “Carry On” actor Peter Butterworth played havoc as the “Meddling Monk” (bottom left) in the appropriately named “The Time Meddler”. He was a mysterious rogue from the Doctor’s home planet and even owned a Tardis! 

Lynda Baron, who played Nurse Gladys Emmanuel in Eighties sitcom “Open All Hours”, recorded the soundtrack for “The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon” in “The Gunfighters”. She would later appear with Peter Davison as Captain Wrack in “Enlightenment” and more recently with Matt Smith as Val in “Closing Time”.

Another “Carry On” comedian Bernard Bresslaw (bottom right) appeared in the show. He was a performer of some stature, quite literally. His impressive build made him the perfect choice to play the Martian leader Varga in 1967’s “The Ice Warriors”. 

Leaping forward into the Seventies, Monty Python comedian John Cleese appeared in the all-time classic “City of Death”. Alongside Eleonor Bron, he played an art critic (bottom left) who was rather enamoured with the Tardis which had just turned up in the Louvre:

Cleese: To me, one of the most curious things about this piece is its wonderful afunctionalism. 

Bron: Yes, I see what you mean. Divorced from its function and seen purely as a piece of art, its structure of line and colour is curiously counterpointed by the redundant vestiges of its function. 

Cleese: And since it has no call to be here, the art lies in the fact that it is here. 

(The Doctor, Romana, and Duggan run into the TARDIS, which then dematerialises.) 

Bron: Exquisite. Absolutely exquisite.

In the Eighties producer John Nathan Turner “stunt-casted’ many comedians and comic actors into the show. Both “The Liver Birds” Nerys Hughes and Poly James appeared in Davison stories “Kinda” and “The Awakening” respectively. Michael Robbins of “On the Buses” fame appeared as Richard Mace in “The Visitation”. 

Modern day great Martin Clunes appeared in “Snakedance” as Lon (top left), a far cry from his role in hit comedy “Men Behaving Badly”.

Whatever happened to “Likely Lad” Rodney Bewes? He played a unlikely Dalek agent, Stien, in 1984’s “Resurection of the Daleks”!  

Impressionist Faith Brown appeared as a Cryon (top right) in “Attack of the Cybermen”. Her daughter was thrilled that her mum was appearing in Doctor Who and exclaimed “My mummy is playing a crayon!”.

Loveable lunatic Alexei Sayle of “Young Ones” fame, gave a touching performance as the DJ in “Revelation of the Daleks” (bottom right). His emotional scenes with Peri still bring a tear to the eye. 

In 1986’s “Trial of a Time Lord” we meet another Carry On actor Joan Sims. She gives a feisty performance as warrior Katryca – Queen of the Free (top).

A second “Young Ones” star, Christopher Ryan, plays the reptilian Lord Kiv (middle) in the same story. Twenty years later the actor would play Sontaran, General Staal in “The Sontaran Strategem”. 

Many cringed when Ken Dodd appeared as the wacky Tollmaster (bottom) in “Delta and the Bannermen”. Some fans hadn’t responded well to the new fluffy, child-friendly and cartoonesque direction the show had taken in McCoy’s first season. With hindsight it is clear however that Dodd was perfect for the role.

“Delta” features other noteable comics. Hugh Lloyd had appeared with comedy legend Tony Hancock and in Doctor Who played bee-keeper Goronwy (top right). Fans have speculated on whether the character was actually a Time Lord in retirement. 

Comic actor Stubby Kaye played Weismuller (left). He had enjoyed a long career in stage and film, playing alongside even Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra.

Sheila Hancock played larger-than-life Thatcheresque dictator Helen A (bottom right) in “The Happiness Patrol”. Her final scenes with pet pooch Fifi had everyone sniffling into their hankies. Hancock, along with the late great Richard Briers who played “The Chief Caretaker” in “Paradise Towers” with obvious passion, are both known for their long careers with both comic and serious roles. 

Classic Who bowed out with “Survival” and featured comedy duo Hale and Pale (top left) who played shopkeepers Len and Harvey. Inexplicably they swapped roles at the last minute before filming began!

In 2005 Doctor Who made its glorious return. “The Long Game” saw Simon Pegg of “Spaced” and “Star Trek” fame as the Editor (bottom left). The actor had some difficulty in saying the name of the character’s monstrous superior “The Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe”!

Marmite episode “Love and Monsters” (2006) featured stand-up comic Peter Kay as both Victor Kennedy (right) and his revolting alter-ego the Abzorbaloff. The actor later claimed that he regretted his appearance on the show, although many viewers had found his performance  “abzorbing”!

Barbara Windsor, much loved for her “Carry On” appearances, was seen as her “Eastenders” character Peggy Mitchell in “Army of Ghosts”. She ordered an invisible Dirty Den, back from the grave, to get out of her pub!

2006’s “Doomsday” saw the arrival of companion to be Donna Noble, played by comic genius Catherine Tate (right). Some fans were initially worried about her acting credentials, but were soon reassured by her tear-jerking performances in “The Fires of Pompeii” and “Turn Left”.

Whovian scribe and “League of Gentlemen” comic actor Mark Gatiss (top left) appeared as deranged scientist Lazarus in 2007’s “The Lazarus Experiment”. His comedy partner Reece Shearsmith would later give a unique and amusing performance as Patrick Troughton in “Adventures in Space and Time”. 

Jessica Hynes (bottom left), who had appeared alongside Simon Pegg on “Spaced”, played love interest Nurse Joan Redfern in the “Human Nature” two parter. 

“Dead Ringers” impressionist Phil Cornwell played a chirpy stallholder (top right) in the “Fires of Pompeii” (2008). Donna attempts to test the Tardis’s ability to translate and quotes some Latin at him, “Veni, vidi, vici”. The stallholder’s replies that he doesn’t speak Celtic! 

Felicity Kendall, who starred in popular Seventies sitcom “The Good Life” alongside Richard Briers, played Clemency Edinson in “The Unicorn and the Wasp”. Gatiss and Shearsmith’s colleague, Steve Pemberton (left), appeared in “Silence in the Library” as Lux.

Comedian and television presenter Paul O’Grady (right) played himself in “The Stolen Earth”. On seeing several moons in the sky he exclaimed “What was I drinking last night? Furniture polish?” – much to Ianto’s amusement! 

Ardal O’Hanlon, who played Dougal in hit Channel 4 sitcom “Father Ted” was “purrfect” in the role of a talking cat in “Gridlock” (top left).

Stand-up comedian Lee Evans played Malcolm (top right) a wacky UNIT scientist in the “Planet of the Dead” Easter Special. His character is mentioned again in “The Day of the Doctor” when Kate Stewart says “The ravens are looking a bit sluggish. Tell Malcolm they need new batteries!”

Comedy great and all-round nice guy Bernard Cribbins played Donna’s grandfather, Wilfred Mott (bottom left) in Tennant’s latter stories. Incredibly the actor had also appeared alongside Peter Cushing’s film Doctor in “Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 AD”.

Another comedy legend, June Whitfield, famous for her many “Carry On” film appearances, “Terry and June” and “Absolutely Fabulous” appeared in “The End of Time”. She played the bubbly Minnie Hooper, Wilfred’s friend and a fellow member of the “Silver Cloak”. She took something of a shine to the Tenth (see final photo).

James Corden played the loveable Craig (bottom right) in a perfect double act with Matt Smith in “The Lodger” and “Closing Time”. 

David Walliams of “Little Britain” fame played the rat-like Gibbis (top left) in “The God Complex”.

Bill Bailey (top middle) and Arabella Weir (bottom right) both played intergalactic forestry commission workers from Androzani Major in “The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe”. Alexander Armstrong appeared in the same story as World War II pilot, Reg Arwell (bottom right). He had previously appeared alongside Ben Miller in “The Armstrong and Miller Show”.

Rory’s Dad, Brian (top right), was played by Mark Williams in “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” and “The Power of Three”. The comic actor is well-known for his appearances as Ron’s dad in the Harry Potter films. His comic caricatures in “The Fast Show” are the stuff of legends. 

We didn’t actually see comedy duo Mitchell and Webb in “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” – they only voiced a pair of comedy robots (top), yet their trademark wit and humour shone through. Comedian Ingrid Oliver played the much-missed Unit scientist Osgood (below), who we sadly lost at the hands of Missy.

It is easy to track the evolution of British comedy, as it is signposted by the comedians and comic actors who have appeared in Doctor Who. First it was the cheeky “Carry On” films, then sitcoms like “The Good Life” and “The Liver Birds” that provided the show with acting talent. More recently all three “League of Gentlemen” have appeared, along with a plethora of sketch-show actors and stand-up comedians. 

In drawing up a list of comics and comedians, it is difficult to know who to include – some actors are not solely comic and almost all actors have had comedic roles in their careers. Should we include Barry Howard, famous for his “Hi De Hi” sit-com role as Yvone’s long-suffering husband? Should we include Doctors Pertwee and McCoy? After all, dressing up as a scarecrow and sticking ferrets down your trousers are hardly serious pursuits.

As the year draws to a close, let’s make a wish. May there be many more mirth makers in Doctor Who, in 2015 and the years to come! Happy New Year!


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