The Look of a Doctor

What makes the Doctor appear “Doctorish”? This week Whovian Leap attempts to identify this elusive quality, using face recognition technology.

Every time the Doctor regenerates, his new face is always of interest to him. Whether it be the new nose, ears or teeth, he considers it a matter of great importance. Just think how choosy the Second Doctor is when the Time Lords give him the opportunity to decide on a new body in “The War Games”.

All the Doctor’s faces have had their own individual traits and particularities. But the quality that makes a face “Doctorish” is quite difficult to pin down. Does the quality even exist? Probably. We all have our own opinions of which actors look like a potential Doctor, without necessarily knowing why. When the showrunner has to choose a new Doctor, it is that elusive quality he has to find. 

When defining “Doctorish”, can the wonders of modern technology come to our aid? Let us assume that each of Doctor’s twelve faces is a template for “Doctorishness”. I uploaded them all into face recognition software “Pictriev”. It gave some very interesting results.

Let’s start with the current Doctor, Peter Capaldi. It is startling to find Bill Nighy as his lookalike. Nighy was widely rumoured to be playing the Doctor when it was announced that Doctor Who was returning to our screens in 2005. The actor later admitted he had turned down the role. Incredibly, Sixties film Doctor Peter Cushing is also listed. Whatever the undefinable quality of “Doctorish” might be, has technology already proved its existence?  

Baywatch star David Hasselhoff was also rumoured to be playing the Doctor, in the proposed but never produced movie back in the Nineties. And does Charles Dance possess that Time Lord look? Many speculated he would play the Master before Missy sauntered into sight. It is not difficult to imagine this talented and experienced actor playing the Doctor, now that audiences have become accustomed to an “older” Doctor.

Second time lucky. The software comes up trumps and identifies Matt Smith. But also Argentinian footballer Lionel Messi. Coincidentally, the Eleventh Doctor is a talented football player (as seen in “The Lodger”). And what of Madonna’s ex? Does Sean Penn have the Doctorly look? Is he a potential darker, more dangerous Doctor who would woo the crowds stateside?

The software strikes gold again. Well almost. He identifies David Tennant, but apparently Wilmer Valderrama looks more like Tennant than the actor himself. Valderrama is an American actor, singer and dancer, best known for sitcom “That ’70s Show”, playing a character called “Fez”! Is he another potential heart-throb Doctor to please the fangirls? And does Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, have the look of our Gallifreyan hero? It is for sure an intriguing possibility. 

Eccleston is also recognised by the software. But what of his lookalikes? Peter Facinelli is known for playing another Doctor, that is, Carlisle Cullen in the Twilight films. Would hit Bollywood actor Hrithik Roshan be a good Doctor, with his deep and penetrating stare? And is that a mini-sonic he is holding?

The software fails to identify Paul McGann but reassuringly it is however 100% sure that he is male. It pays the actor a compliment by giving his age as 40. As for potential Doctors, successful English actor, Sean Bean, is not too hard to imagine as a mean and moody Doctor. 

If any confirmation is needed that Richard E. Grant is “Doctorish”, here it is. He played the Doctor both in online animation “Scream of the Shalka” and in spoof “The Curse of Fatal Death”. There is absolutely no reason why he should not be considered a future Doctor. For Hollywood star Matt LeBlanc however it requires a small stretch of imagination to see him as the Doctor, but he would certainly be fun and potentially Troughtonesque.

The next selection of faces provides us with, among others, larger than life footballer, Paul Gascoigne. Only in the late Eighties when Doctor Who suffered from an abysmal reputation would the football genius have been considered a potential Doctor, alongside the likes of Paul Daniels. German author Cornelia Funke writes children’s (fantasy and adventure) fiction. Maybe Steven Moffat could give her a call and ask her to provide a script?

More footballers! Gianfranco Zola and Ryan Giggs. Someone really needs to write an article on the connection between Doctor Who and football. Katarzyna Skowronska, on the other hand, is a Polish volleyball player. 

Macho actors Robson Green and Kiefer Sutherland definitely both look “Doctorish” and would give the Time Lord a heroic presence. Daleks beware though – fiery charity fund raiser, Bob Geldof would certainly be an “oncoming storm”!

Ricky Gervais as the Doctor? Why not? After all, Jon Pertwee was known for comedy before taking on the role. Legendary actor Ben Kingsley, on the other hand, would certainly bring depth and gravitas to the Doctor. 

The software correctly identifies Patrick Troughton. But Mother Teresa? And fez-wearing ex President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai? And Ben Kingsley again. Spooky!

We have almost reached the end of our quest. We find another actor who has played the Doctor, once again in “The Curse of Fatal Death”. Jim Broadbent is an entirely credible Doctor. Rocker David Lee Roth on the other hand would be a brave choice for the role. Anjelica Huston, Morticia in “The Addams Family”, possesses an other-worldly charm and depth of personality which might make her the perfect first female Doctor.

Are we now any nearer to pinpointing to what a “Doctorish” look actually is? Probably not. But among unfathomable fez and football connections, face recognition software gives us Bill Nighy, Peter Cushing, Richard E. Grant and Jim Broadbent. It confirms our ‘human’ consensus of who looks “Doctorish”. At the same time it opens our eyes to more unlikely actors in the role who we possibly had not thought of, such as Ben Kingsley. Who knows, when the day comes to look for a thirteenth Doctor, maybe the showrunner and production team should turn to technology to help them in their search. But probably not to make the final decision.


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