In Spyfall, British legend Stephen Fry plays ‘C’. Blogtor Who takes the opportunity to look at his long and varied career. And his connection to Doctor Who.
Usually when Blogtor Who profiles an upcoming guest star on Doctor Who, it’s to let you know more about an actor you may not have heard of. We give you a run down of their career up to the present. And to let you know why exactly you should be excited to have them join the Doctor Who family. This time, obviously, is a little different. After all, who hasn’t heard of Spyfall guest star Stephen Fry?
He’s a face that will be familiar to almost everyone from thirteen seasons as the First QiMaster. Before the character regenerated into Sandi Toksvig as the Second QiMaster, that is. But he’s also a peerless comic actor, an award winning dramatic actor, and a best selling novelist. And that’s before we mention that for every English speaker east of the Atlantic he’s the voice of Harry Potter across seven audio books.
In roles both large and small, Stephen Fry has been a mainstay of British television and cinema for decades
In fact, his credits read like a shopping list of all the great British comedies of the past forty years. Sometimes these are mere cameos. One of his first television appearances, for instance, was as University Challenge contestant Lord Snot in iconic Young Ones episode Bambi. But he’s also been a major part in the success of many of them. His Melchett in the Blackadder series was first a sycophantic Elizabethan courtier and then a belligerent and incompetent WWI general. And in his partnership with Hugh Laurie he created not one, but two, legendary shows. The sketch show A Bit of Fry and Laurie was followed by the Wodehouse adaption Jeeves and Wooster. In the latter, Fry became the definitive Jeeves, Bertie Wooster’s sardonic and resourceful butler, discretely moving mountains to keep his disaster prone boss out of trouble.
Jeeves’ status as the straight man to Laurie’s boggle eyed Wooster, also helped Fry segue into more serious roles. But rarely was his natural charm far away. In Peter’s Friends, he plays a man summoning together his old university friends for one last bittersweet hurrah. And in Wilde, he charted the triumphs and tragedy of his personal hero Oscar Wilde. A role which saw him nominated for a Golden Globe. And he was the pivotal supporting character Deitrich in V for Vendetta. Its dark future vision saw him attempting to keep subversive art and culture alive in a Britain fallen to fascism. His twinkling intelligence has also popped up in unexpected places, like 24 and Bones.
The former ‘Minister of Chance’ has visited the world of Doctor Who before
His is also a career in which even his less remembered projects shine with quality. Absolute Power, in which he played a PR guru almost sociopathically uninterested in the damage he does people, deserves to be better remembered. In contrast, his series Kingdom gently charted the dramas of a small town solicitor supporting a community of eccentrics. Yet, like Absolute Power it should have lasted longer. Yet it’s a testament to his over one hundred and sixty acting credits that even his more minor projects and cameos sparkle with quality.
As an author, Fry has thirteen bestselling books on his resume. They range from the alternate history SF novel Making History to Mythos, his retelling of the Greek myths. And from non-fiction books like The Ode Less Travelled to his series of memoirs including Moab is My Washpot.
Fry also enjoys a deeper connection with Doctor Who itself than you might imagine. In 2001 it was a very different world for the show. It had been off the air for twelve years, give or take an American TV movie, with apparently no prospect of returning. So at the time the animated webcast Death Comes to Time was seen as a potential new beginning. And, alongside Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor, Fry played a central role as the Time Lord Minister of Chance.
Spyfall isn’t Fry’s first brush with the show since its revival, having written a script for the 2006 season
Years later, when Russell T Davies had revived Doctor Who on television Fry even came close to writing an episode. In fact the 1920s set script, revealing the legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as having alien origins, was completed but deemed too expensive for its slot (which instead went to Matthew Graham’s Fear Her). Fry was subsequently unavailable to do rewrites replacing Rose with Martha, meaning it never made it to screen. Though with both Tennant and Billie Piper now working with Big Finish, perhaps if we’re very lucky, it will one day appear as a Lost Story.
Spyfall won’t be Stephen Fry’s first time working alongside Thirteenth Doctor Jodie Whittaker either. In 2007’s riotous comedy St. Trinian’s he played a version of himself, hosting the School Challenge game show. Suffering from pre-show anxiety, he encounters St. Trinian’s secretary and resident drug dealer Beverly (Jodie Whittaker), who sorts him out with some reds to bring him up, and blues to bring him down again.
In Spyfall, Fry kicks off Series 12 as C. The spymaster recruits the Doctor and her friends to investigate a potentially alien attack on the Earth’s intelligence community. It’s a part perfectly suited to his urbane intelligence and sense of English gentility. Whether it’s the beginning of a new point of contact for the Doctor on Earth following the de-funding of the UK branch of UNIT remains to be seen. But, as a 21st century successor to Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier, it would be hard to imagine anyone more appropriate than Stephen Fry.
After Doctor Who, Fry will be going on to appear in Russell T Davies’ new drama BOYS as Arthur Garrison MP. And following that as Cecil Rhodes in Let My Country Be!
Doctor Who: Spyfall
Intelligence agents around the world are under attack from alien forces, so MI6 turn to the only people who can help: the Doctor and friends. As they travel the globe looking for answers, attacks come from all sides. Earth’s security rests on the team’s shoulders, but where will this planet-threatening conspiracy lead them?
Doctor Who returns with Spyfall on New Year’s Day at 6.55pm
Jodie Whittaker is back as the Doctor alongside Tosin Cole (Ryan) Mandip Gill (Yaz) and Bradley Walsh (Graham). Chris Chibnall returns as showrunner with Matt Strevens as Executive Producer. Spyfall guest stars Stephen Fry and Sir Lenny Henry CBE and is written by Chris Chibnall.