Another month, another storm in the Doctor Who fandom as truly wild speculation about the identity of the next Doctor takes hold. This time, we’ve traded former Doctor himself David Tennant for British acting icon Hugh Grant, in a move that the actor himself has already flatly denied. But does it help… that Hugh Grant is also a former Doctor?
Technically. Grant joined Rowan Atkinson, Richard E. Grant, Jim Broadbent, and Joanna Lumley to play the Doctor in the 1999 charity special Doctor Who: The Curse of Fatal Death, a 20-minute skit where, in true comedic style, the Doctor battles the Master (a gloriously camp turn by Jonathan Pryce) and manages to screw things up so many times they end up regenerating five times in the space of that 20 minutes. Well, even more impressively, it’s in the space of half of that—the first half of Curse is largely given to Atkinson’s Doctor, as he investigates the Master’s plans on the planet Tersurus and makes lovey-dovey eyes at his companion, Emma, played by Julia Sawalha.
Oh, and we should probably mention that yes, this was written by then-future showrunner, Steven Moffat. Arguably his greatest contribution to Doctor Who canon even before he got his hands on the TARDIS full-time, given its foresight.
Grant’s Doctor—making his appearance about 16 minutes into the special, and born from Broadbent’s Doctor managing to electrocute himself trying to re-wire a superweapon gifted to the Daleks by the Master—is exactly what you’d expect out of a 1999-era Hugh Grant, an immediate romantic hearthrob. His first and last act as the Time Lord is to flirt with Emma, only to be promptly shot by the aforementioned superweapon, which is capable of disrupting the Time Lord regeneration process.
Yes, Grant’s Doctor is meant to be the final Doctor—just another plot point Moffat would revisit two and a bit decades later!—until the Doctor magically revives from Fatal Death, this time as the first on-screen female Doctor, Joanna Lumley, and Fatal Death ends with the Doctor no longer longing for Emma, but flirting with the Master.
Alas, weird rumors or not, it’s probably the only time we’re likely to get to see Grant attempt to be the Doctor, even for only about a minute. But given the current silliness revolving around the very long wait for Doctor Who’s return—and its impending re-transformation under returning showrunner Russell T. Davies—it’s perhaps a good reminder to maybe not take all things pertaining to adventures in Time and Space quite so seriously.
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