Peter Cushing: The Forgotten Doctor Who

This weekend, BBC America will debut its eagerly awaited new season of the decades-long-running science fiction television show Doctor Who, with the young Matt Smith taking over the lead role.  As I have written before, the show has a brilliant premise that allows a new actor to step into the role of the Time Lord while allowing all the episodes that came before with previous actors who have played the part to all fit within the series' long-lasting continuity.  Since 1963, eleven actors have now played the iconic part of the Doctor.  Well, twelve if we count the great Peter Cushing, whose portrayal of the character in two movies is a footnote in the history of Who.

The movies, Dr. Who and the Daleks in 1965 and the awkwardly titled sequel Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. in 1966, are brushed off as not part of the television series continuity because they stray from the established canon.  It was based on the second season of the British television series, and as is often the case when films adapt content from other sources, changes were made.  In the films, the nameless alien Time Lord is actually a human being, born on Earth, whose last name happens to really be "Who."  The relationship to his companion becomes a familial connection, and the TARDIS time machine becomes an invention that Dr. Who created.  (The killer Dalek robots are as menacing as ever in all their cheesy goodness.)

Watching the films, I can understand that they do not fit with the established premise of the television series, but I side with those who still accept the Cushing portrayal as a possible "alternate universe" version of the good Doctor, rather than just pretending that it never happened.  It's Peter Cushing after all!

I wonder if there is a way to explore that character again somehow in the ongoing Doctor Who television series.  Maybe the technological special effects marvels of today can allow the writers to imagine an episode in which the new Doctor travels to that alternate world and meets the human Dr. Who, using actual clips of Peter Cushing in the role from the movies.  (Sort of like the way Deep Space Nine successfully used footage of the original Star Trek series episode "The Trouble with Tribbles" for its new episode "Trials and Tribble-ations.")

I look forward to the new Doctor Who, and respect all the official Doctors who have come before: the original William Hartnell and all his successors -- Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker (my nostalgic favorite), Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, the short-changed Paul McGann, Christopher Eccleston (my second favorite), the popular David Tennant, and the newbie Matt Smith.

But I hope Peter Cushing is remembered for his contribution to the lore, however out of canon it might have been.


Gavin Drake said…
The reason why Peter Cushing is not accepted is simple - his two films were just re-makes of the first two Dalek stories.

So his 'Dr Who' is simply the first Doctor re-made for the big screen. Same stories, changed for the cinema to cash in the Daleks popularity.

There's no reason to try and fit them in. They are just fun re-makes. If you are going to include Cushing's Doctor in canon where does Trevor Martin fit in?

Let's just live with it and enjoy them for what they were - examples of Dalekmania and nothing more.
Rich said…
Thirteen if you count Richard Hurdnall, who stepped in for the late William Hartnell in The Five Doctors. :)
MediumRob said…
So many traps there! Dr Who and the Daleks was based on the second Doctor Who TV story (aka The Mutants aka The Daleks - arguments to be had already); the concept of season numbering in those days is arguable (the show ran continuously 52 weeks a year at that stage); at that point, the Doctor hadn't been identified as a Time Lord, merely alien; the TV Doctor's first companion was Susan, his granddaughter, which wasn't a change - it was Barbara who became related to him; the Daleks aren't robots, they're aliens inside travel machines.

And as for how many Doctors and how many actors have played him, that's a thorny minefield of thorniness - do you count the stand-in in The Massacre? The robot Doctor in The Chase? How about the "previous Doctors" shown in the Brain of Morbius? How about the Watcher in Logopolis? Michael Jayston in Trial of a Timelord? And does David Tennant count as both the 10th and 11th Doctor thanks to Journey's End?

What about the stage show Doctors, of whom there have been at least two official ones? What about Richard E Grant in Scream of the Shalka? Are the Big Finish audio plays canon, including the 'Unbound' range (if we're including Peter Cushing), in which case we have to add in David Collings, David Warner, Derek Jacobi, Geoffrey Bayldon and Arabella Weir at least?

Can. Worms. Opened. ;-)

Cushing was fun, but given the costs involved of licensing the material and the fact that the movies didn't really add anything to the mythos - and you'd have to explain why Bernard Cribbins was in the second movie as well as as Wilf on TV - I'm not seeing the point. It's fun, it's there, but once you start acknowledging Cushing, you're going to end up with a Flash-animated Matt Smith chatting with Richard E Grant and that way lies madness.
Nick said…
Rob, thanks for addressing and clarifying my "traps" -- yikes, you're right, that does sound like a continuity nightmare!

-- Nick