Oh, my giddy aunt, we’re running late, everyone. Quick, grab your recorders and follow me to the TARDIS so we don’t miss the party! This is a special one, and a party indeed as today we celebrate the Doctor himself—the second incarnation, that is.
On this, what would have been Patrick Troughton’s 102nd birthday, we remember the man who brought the Second Doctor to life for fans across the globe. While this is his best remembered role, Troughton has other equally notable accolades to his name, among them being military service to his country and landmark performances as another legendary troublemaker of fiction. It’s a sad fact that he is one performer for which a good deal of his work has been lost to the ravages of time and bureaucracy, so today as we celebrate let’s kick up a little extra noise so no one forgets a moment of the life, times, and work of a beloved actor and respected veteran.
Born March 25, 1920, in Mill Hill, Middlesex, England, Patrick Troughton lived in his hometown for most of his life. Bitten by the acting bug at the age of seventeen, his first performance was in a school production of J.B. Priestly’s Bees On The Boat Deck. His formal training in the art came at the Embassy School Of Acting via the Embassy Theater in London, as well as the the Leighton Rallius Studios at the John Drew Memorial Theatre in Long Island, New York, to which he was awarded a scholarship.
When World War II broke out, Troughton abandoned his studies and returned home to enlist in the Royal Navy. By 1941 he received a commission as a member of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, and later served on the Coastal Forces’ Motor Gun Boats from 1942 to 1945. During his service, he earned decorations such as the Atlantic Star, the 1939-45 Star, and was mentioned in dispatches for “outstanding courage, leadership, and skill in many daring attacks on enemy shipping in hostile waters.” Foreshadowing his future role as the Second Doctor, it was once said that, during cold weather on the North Sea, he would wear a tea cozy on his head.
After the war, Troughton returned to acting with some small movie roles, but preferred television as a performance medium. While he was known for playing many roles in productions such as The Scarlet Pimpernel, Jason And The Argonauts, and radio productions like 1984, Troughton’s second most notable role is that of the mythical Robin Hood. In 1053, he became the first actor to portray him on television in an eponymous series consisting of six half-hour episodes between March and April of that year.
1966 would be a landmark year for Troughton, as he was not only cast to replace William Hartnell as the Doctor, but recommended by the lead actor himself. Faced with the challenge of not only taking over for the beloved Hartnell, but for getting audiences to accept the radical choice to change the character entirely within the framework of the story, Troughton’s versatile experience as a character actor served him well in adapting to the task. After giving several takes on the new incarnation of the Doctor serious consideration, he eventually accepted the suggestion of ‘cosmic hobo,’ in the vein of Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp character.
During his tenure, Patrick Troughton left his mark on the show in many ways. Along with being the first Doctor to have his face appear in the show’s opening credits, he was also notable as one of the first to portray two different roles on the show in the story The Enemy Of The World, playing both the Doctor and story antagonist, Salamander. He made the character notable during his short three year run as a deceptively clever clown; often playing the role of buffoon, he used his antics to disguise a sharp intellect and incredible cunning. Not above manipulating others to achieve his ends, he remained a highly moral character with a strong desire to help the oppressed.
Out of fear of typecasting and being unable to earn future roles as a character actor, Troughton was not only notorious for a lack of presence in the press to preserve his mystique, but left the series in 1969 due to a grueling filming schedule and the aforementioned fear of typecasting. He did, however, return more than once for specials such as The Three Doctors in 1972-73, The Five Doctors in 1983, and The Two Doctors with Colin Baker in 1985.
Patrick Troughton continued to act after his departure from Doctor Who, but never strayed too far from the fandom, appearing at conventions regularly for the remainder of his life. Ill health plagued him in his later years due to heavy smoking and drinking over the course of his life, but despite doctors’ warnings about overexterting himself he maintained a busy work schedule until his death in 1987.
While it is rare in this day and age, another of Troughton’s hallmarks in the history of Doctor Who is the relegation to many of his performances in the realm of lost media. Many of the Second Doctor’s episodes were victims of the BBC’s practice of purging material from its archives until it was discontinued in 1978. Through strenuous restoration efforts, and the preservation of audio recordings by many fans, gradually Troughton’s era is being located and restored through the use of these audio recordings, stills, images, and even animation that fills in the gaps that cannot otherwise be located in his recordings of the show.
These extensive efforts to preserve his work are a testament to how greatly he is beloved by the fanbase, and respected by his peers the world over. An icon of British television and science fiction media at large, Patrick Troughton will not be forgotten any time soon. Whether it’s through his pioneering work as television’s first Robin Hood, his military service, or the adventures of a recorder playing intergalactic time traveler, Patrick Troughton’s legacy will last for generations to come.
Happy Birthday, sir – we will always remember you.
Liz Carlie (she/her/he/him) is a regular book, TV, and film reviewer for SCIFI.radio and has previously been a guest on ‘The Event Horizon’. In addition to being an active member of the traditional fandom community, she’s also an active participant in online fan culture, pro wrestling journalism, and spreading the gospel of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She resides in Southern California with her aspiring superhero dog, Junior, enjoying life one hyperfixation at a time.
What a wonderful man. It’s such a shame to have lost so much of his work. And Jason And The Argonauts! I loved that movie as a child and still do! I’ll have to go back and rewatch it to catch where his character appears.