Each time Doctor Who’s titular Time Lord has regenerated in the modern series, fans have called for the next actor to take on the role to defy the white-male tradition—whether that’s calls for a Female Doctor or a non-white male actor. We know that black actors have been offered the part before, but now we may know just who turned the role down.
The idea of a black Doctor is in the news again. We already knew that a black actor had turned down the role since Neil Gaiman’s comments in 2013 in the wake of Peter Capaldi’s casting. But now, comments have emerged from outgoing showrunner Steven Moffat who spoke about the show’s need to diversify its cast in the wake of Pearl Mackie’s casting as the next companion. Speaking in the latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine, Moffat once again confirmed that the part of The Doctor had been offered to a black actor, but they declined:
We’ve tried. The part has been offered to a black actor, but for various reasons it didn’t work out. Should the Doctor be black? Should the Doctor be a woman? So long as the Doctor is still the Doctor, anything is possible.
Naturally, this has lead to a lot of speculation about who turned down the role. The Radio Times has come forward, too, citing sources who worked on the show during the transition from Russell T. Davies to Steven Moffat that claim 12 Years a Slave’s (and upcoming Doctor Strange co-star) Chiwetel Ejiofor was offered the part of the 11th Doctor. They allege Ejiofor couldn’t come to an agreement with the BBC, so the part was then offered to Matt Smith.
This is of course not exactly official confirmation that it was Ejiofor, but it’s not exactly surprising if it turned out to be true. The actor’s name has cropped up on many a list of potential Doctors over the years and betting odds in the run up to a Doctor’s casting, joining fellow black actors like Paterson Joseph, David Harewood, and Idris Elba. But sadly, it might just be that we’ll forever be imagining what might have been if he did indeed turn down the role. That said, hopefully by the time Doctor 13 rolls around the show will get a more diverse lead.