Patrick Troughton may have died in 1987, at only 67 years old, but more than three decades later his legacy endures. On what would have been his one hundredth birthday, Blogtor Who remembers him.
The role of the Doctor is one that can overpower an actor’s career. Even talented performers with a broad range can find their CV becoming a footnote in Doctor Who’s history. But for Patrick Troughton it’s most definitely the other way around. With him, Doctor Who is just one credit in a life time of diverse roles. Many of these would have been sufficient to make him an icon by themselves. Even without his time aboard the TARDIS, he would still have been a face known to millions.
His over 200 film and TV credits include Robin Hood, the heroic highlander Alan Breck Stewart in Kidnapped, Christopher Lee’s henchman in Hammer Horror’s The Scars of Dracula, the good wizard Melanthius in Ray Harryhausen’s epic adventure Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, and similarly kindly old magician Cole Hawklings in perennial Christmas favourite The Box of Delights. Even in the final year of his life he was appearing in projects that still generate nostalgia and affection. He was Arthur, leader of the resistance against The Knights of God in the young adult serial that transplanted Arthurian legend to the far flung future of the year 2020(!) And of course in the The Omen, his Anti-Christ hunting priest died one of mainstream cinema’s most famously gruesome deaths.
But it as the Doctor that Patrick Troughton will be best known to Blogtor Who readers. He took over the role in 1966 (supposedly according to his predecessor William Hartnell the “one man in England” who could.) It’s hard to overstate the impact his performance went on to have. Though Hartnell had originated the role, it was Troughton who hit upon the characterization that inspired so many that followed. He brought a genuinely childish enthusiasm for whatever he was doing. But also a mind ready to close like a steel trap on unwary villains who mistook him for a fool.
And it was Troughton who had one of the toughest tasks ever set for an actor taking on the role. He was the one who had to convince audiences that the recasting could work. Had Troughton taken a wrong step and failed to ignite imaginations there would have been no Third Doctor. No 2005 revival, and no Thirteenth Doctor.
Patrick Troughton became one of the show’s first great ambassadors
More than that he was an actor that truly embraced the show and its fandom. Despite being famously private (so much so that even his mother went to her death bed not knowing he’d left his first wife two decades prior) he became a beloved figure on the convention circuit of the 1980s. It was a less cynical, and certainly less corporate, time. Conventions would regularly feature celebrities happily propping up hotel bars after hours. And stars would chat with fans outside the structure of panels and scheduled photo ops. His love of the experience shone through and he regularly appeared on costume. He similarly delighted in Doctorish pranks on other guests and attendees.
Sadly, it was this absolute adoration for the fans and conventions that caused him to defy medical advice to fly to America for Magnum Opus Con II. After a packed schedule of events on the Saturday, he died that Sunday morning.
Had he lived, it’s difficult to imagine who Patrick Troughton at 100 would have been. Driven by a powerful work ethic, it’s hard to imagine him in retirement. Instead he would surely have continued to take new roles as long as he possibly could. A twilight career full of a mix of sparky, grumpy, magical old men – all of them deftly portrayed – would have beckoned. And who could argue that, at the age of 90, he wouldn’t have been competing with Tom Baker to be one of “just the old favourites” in The Day of the Doctor?