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Doctor Who and The Comedians

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by David Vincent (subscribe)
Occasional blogger and sometimes freelance writer, hammering away in the West Midlands.
Published January 3rd 2021
Top comics stand-up to TV's Time Lord
john bishop, doctor who, dr who, tardis
John Bishop joins the cast of TV's Doctor Who in 2021. Image (C) BBC Press Office

As comedian John Bishop is revealed to be the latest actor to join the recurring cast of TV's Doctor Who, we take a look back and some of the other comedy guests to have appeared in the series since it's inception ...

First appearing in 1963, Doctor Who is the longest-running TV sci-fi in the world.

The series, which features the fantastic adventures of (one of) the last surviving Time Lords and their constantly changing group of companions and associates, amassed 26 seasons before initially disappearing from screens in 1989.

A one-off 1996 TV movie, with actor Paul McGann as the Doctor, failed to result in new episodes, but the series was eventually rebooted by writer/ producer Russell T Davies in 2005 to huge acclaim, prompting two spin-offs (Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures).

Behind the success of the series is undoubtedly the fact that the central character can regenerate - allowing various actors to take on the role and retain continuity.

The First Doctor was played by William Hartnell, with Christopher Eccleston helming the 2005 reboot. Jodie Whitaker became the first female actor to star as the two-hearted time traveller in 2014.

Since the late-1970s, Doctor Who has long prided itself in attracting numerous notable guest stars, with such names as Kylie Minogue, sitcom legend June Whitfield and former 007 Timothy Dalton all appearing.

2021 sees comedian John Bishop join the Doctor's inner circle - but he's not the first acclaimed stand-up star to step onboard the galaxy-hopping / century-jumping TARDIS - here are a few others ...

Above: The Doctor and Mel arrive at the Navarino spaceport to discover they are the ten billionth customers. Welcoming them is a familiar face ...

Ken Dodd (Delta and the Bannermen - 1987) - the Liverpudlian funnyman appears as the colourful Tollmaster in the three-part story for the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and companion Mel. 'Doddy' made his name as a comedian in the 1950s and was famed for his lengthy live appearances, as shows went on for hours.

Chris Addison (2014) - the Mock The Week and Thick Of It comic made three appearances in the eighth series, alongside Peter Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor, as a resident of The Nethersphere.

Simon Pegg (The Long Game - 2005) - best known for his TV and film roles, including ace sitcom Spaced, zombie fest Shaun of the Dead, and blockbuster franchises Star Trek and Mission: Impossible, Pegg began his career in the 1990s as a stand-up comic.

Catherine Tate (2006-2010) - while the Catherine Tate Show catapulted her to stardom, Catherine's early career also includes some time being funny, on stage, in comic mode. The actress joined the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) as his assistant, Donna Noble, debuting as The Runaway Bride in 2006.

Above: Nardole and the Twelfth Doctor.

Matt Lucas (2015-2017) - the former stand-up, who was one half of Little Britain (with David Walliams), becomes a companion of the Twelfth Doctor (Capaldi) as alien Nardole. Initially working for Doc's missus, River Song, he loses his head in the 2015 Christmas Special but returns intact for tenth series (of the reboot).

Alexei Sayle (Revelation of the Daleks - 1985) - the alternative comedy circuit legend cut his teeth at the famed Comedy Store before appearing in the seminal Young Ones with Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson. He appeared as a DJ in a Dalek storyline alongside Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor.

Above: A heavily costumed Peter Kay attacks actor Marc Warren prior to the arrival of the Tenth Doctor and companion, Rose.

Peter Kay (Love and Monsters - 2006) - Phoenix Nights creator Kay finds himself donning a latex suit and facing Tennant's Tenth Doc' as the hideous Abzorbaloff, a gargling absorbing creature.

Bill Bailey (The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe - 2011) - comic Bill joins The Fast Show's Arabella Weir for an Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) adventure.

Frank Skinner (Mummy On The Orient Express - 2014) - following up his spoof The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot (2013) appearance, Black Country comic Skinner joins pop singer Foxes for a mummified romp with the Twelfth Doctor.

Above: Lenny Henry may have made his first official Doctor Who appearance in 2020, but it wasn't his first trip in the TARDIS as 35 years earlier he imagined himself as the first black Doctor. Here he makes a comedic trip to 2010 ...

Lenny Henry (Spyfall - 2020) - pioneering comic, who cut his teeth in 1970s clubs before making his name on the talent show New Faces and archaic kids TV custard pie fest' TISWAS. Sir Lenny played dodgy tech CEO Daniel Barton in a two-part tale with the Thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) - some 35 years after he'd parodied the series in his own Lenny Henry Show.

Lee Mack (Kerblam! - 2018) - before creating long-running sitcom Not Going Out, and appearing as a team captain in panel show Would I Lie To You?, Mack made his name on the UK's stand-up circuit, winning the prestigious So You Think You're Funny award at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1995. Thirteenth Doctor romp Kerblam! takes a poke at online shopping.

Hale and Pace (Survival - 1989) - comedy double-act Gareth Hale and Norman Pace co-starred in a three-episode storyline from the 26th season, helmed by the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy). Survival is also notable for being the final adventure of the good Doctor's original run.

John Bishop (2021-?) - the Liverpudlian comedian joins Doctor Who for the eight-episode Series 13 alongside Jodie Whittaker and companion Mandip Gill (Yaz). Speaking about joining the show, John - who's character is called Dan - says: "If I could tell my younger self that one day I would be asked to step onboard the TARDIS, I would never have believed it. It's an absolute dream come true to be joining Doctor Who and I couldn't wish for better company than Jodie and Mandip."

Special mentions:

Above: While in a Parisian art gallery, critic John Cleese mistakes the TARDIS for a work of art.

John Cleese (City Of Death - 1979) - not a stand-up comedian exactly, but the Fawlty Towers star has certainly trodden a fair few stages over the years, both solo and as part of the esteemed Monty Python team, with who he packed out LA's Hollywood Bowl and London's O2. Cleese made a cameo appearance in an art gallery during the Tom Baker era.

Stephen Fry (Spyfall - 2020) - as a member of Cambridge uni's esteemed Footlights with Hugh Laurie Fry made a number of live comedy appearances. He later appeared in a Jodie storyline as spy boss 'C'.

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