When Doctor Who first went through the process of swapping out the actor for its titular hero—something that’s now weaved into the very fabric of the show’s worldbuilding as the process of regeneration—there was no precedent for the cast or crew. Could the show work without William Hartnell? Could audiences accept a new Doctor? Apparently no one was more nervous than its incoming star.
Speaking to the Radio Times ahead of the upcoming animated rerelease of “The Faceless Ones,” one of many Patrick Troughton serials mostly missing from the BBC’s programming archives, Anneke Wills—who played incumbent companion Polly alongside Michael Craze’s Ben during the transition between the First and Second Doctors—discussed Troughton’s extreme uncertainty about finding himself as the new leading man of Doctor Who.
“[Patrick] came in and he was incredibly anxious about getting it right,” Wills told Radio Times. “He felt the whole onus of this was on his shoulders...he didn’t so much trust [series producer] Innes Lloyd and the directors, he trusted me and Michael [Craze] and so he would always run things by me and Mike.”
The tight bond between Troughton and his new co-stars didn’t always work out, however, as Wills went on to reflect. An on-set gag she and Craze pulled on Troughton in the earliest stages of his arrival on the show apparently went down like a house on fire, when Wills and her fellow companion arrived on set wearing matching shirts emblazoned with what was meant to be a jokey demand to bring back William Hartnell.
“That was in the very beginning, those nervous times,” Wills noted. “By this time, Pat and Mike and I, we were buddies…[but] the joke fell flat. His little face was devastated and he shuffled away to his room…he wore his heart on his sleeve, it was so beautiful.”
Wills and Craze’s joke aside, maybe those t-shirts inadvertently inspired what would become over 50 years of Doctor Who fans demanding in a panic to bring back the old Doctor when confronted with, well, literally any new version of the Doctor. The more things change, the more they stay the same!
The animated restoration of “The Faceless Ones” arrives on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK from March 16, with a U.S. release date currently unconfirmed.
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