Doctor Who was already a fantastical and whimsical show, but in 1966, the production team came up a concept that was absolutely extraordinary – the process of regeneration. Replacing the main actor midway through a series was something that was previously unheard of, but when William Hartnell left the role of The Doctor behind due to illness, that’s exactly what happened. The old Time Lord collapsed after a battle with the Cybermen, there was a powerful flash of light… and then, in his place, appeared today’s birthday boy: the late, great Patrick Troughton!
Already well known for several other roles – including being the first actor to play Robin Hood on television, back in 1953 – Troughton was a safe pair of hands for the part of The Second Doctor. The very idea of replacing Hartnell was a risk at the time, but his performances provided more than enough proof that the regeneration had been a storming success, and indeed that Doctor Who had the potential to go on and on and on, with an unstoppable ability to outlast each and every one of its incumbents. In stepping aboard the TARDIS, Troughton helped to rewrite the very mythology of the show – and television history along with it.
Troughton served as The Doctor for three years between 1966 to 1969, first appearing in The Tenth Planet (his first full serial being the now missing The Power of the Daleks) and bowing out in The War Games, in which he was put on trial by the Time Lords and forced to regenerate as punishment for interfering with the laws of time. Along the way, he would take on classic monsters like the Daleks and the Cybermen as well as fresh foes like the Great Intelligence and the Yeti, and he would also meet new friends like the Brigadier and Jamie McCrimmon, who served as his companion for the entirety of his tenure. However, regeneration could not keep The Second Doctor away – he would later return for the show’s tenth-anniversary story The Three Doctors, and then again in The Five Doctors for the twentieth anniversary… and then yet again two years later in The Two Doctors, starring alongside Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor.
Troughton’s portrayal as the “cosmic hobo” was much more comical and mischievous compared to Hartnell’s tough persona, making his incarnation a stark change in tone yet still remaining every bit The Doctor that audiences had come to know and love. Best known for his scruffy, impish appearance and playing the recorder, Troughton would also later inspire Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor, complete with the character’s love for bow ties.
Though he is no longer with us, Patrick Troughton’s legacy remains an important part of Doctor Who’s long-lasting success. On what would have been his 96th birthday, join us today in fondly remembering his contributions to the show and celebrating his amazing career both in and out of the series…. and if by any chance you can play Happy Birthday on the recorder, by all means, today’s the day to do it!