THE PIP TORRENS FACTOR
Christmas, as we all know, is a time traditionally spent at home, sitting on a sofa, eating chocolate liqueurs, drinking brandy, breaking wind and watching television. But while you’re curled up in front of a Harry Potter movie, or a prestigious BBC costume drama, or a box-set of sitcom, why not pass the time by also playing The Great Doctor Who Cast-Spotting Game?
The rules are simple. Whenever you’re watching a British film, drama series, sitcom - or even when you’re going out to see a play – and you recognise an actor because they’ve been in Doctor Who, you must immediately shout out the name of the Doctor Who story they were in. This scores you five points.
You can then score an additional five points if you can name the character the actor played and another five points if you can name the actor. And finally ten points are awarded if you can accurately quote a line of their dialogue (and not just a “yes”, “no”, “help” or “aaargh!” – it must be a line unique to that story).
Say, for instance, you’re watching On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and you spot the guy out of The Deadly Assassin. Name the story, that’s five points. Say Chancellor Goth, that’s another five. Identify him as Bernard Horsfall, that’s another five. And quote the line, “He is abusing a legal technicality” and that’s another ten.
(Plus you can score bonus points by remembering the same actor’s appearances in The Mind Robber, The War Games and Planet of the Daleks, playing Gulliver, First Time Lord and Taron respectively. If you can recollect any of his dialogue from these stories, you’re a better fan than me. And while you’re watching On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, don’t forget there are points to be gained from spotting George Baker – Login, Full Circle – and Catherine Schell – the Countess, City of Death, “It’s a very rare and precious Chinese puzzle box, you won’t be able to open it” – ten points.)
Additional rules. Clearly it is not entering into the spirit of the game to check the Radio Times for the cast-list beforehand or to look up information on the internet while the programme is being broadcast. If you are familiar with the Big Finish adventures, you can include them – that way, you can score points with Matt Lucas, David Walliams, Tony Blackburn, Leslie Philips and all three Goodies. Similarly, I would say that The Sarah-Jane Adventures, Torchwood, The Scream of the Shalka and Death Comes to Time all count (if only for the sheer pleasure of counting Alan Dale and Stephen Fry amongst Doctor Who luminaries). Whether you include Dimensions in Time or The Curse of Fatal Death is a matter for you and your conscience.
And if you like – because this game is supposed to be fun – any actors who have played Doctors or companions score ten points (though you’re not allowed bonus points for listing all the stories they appeared in or for quoting any dialogue, as that would throw out the whole scoring system).
So there you have it. The Great Doctor Who Cast-Spotting Game. It works better if you’re playing it with a like-minded friend with a similar level of Doctor Who nerd-how, but to be honest, don’t we all play a variation of the game when we’re watching television alone anyway?
I’m not talking about deliberately seeking out shows because they feature Doctors and companions. I do that as well, of course, but that’s another article for another YANA. No, it’s about the surprise, the thrill, of seeing an actor you only really know from one or two Doctor Who stories appearing in something else. It’s like bumping into an old friend – spotting Drax in Midsomer Murders, spotting Li H’Sen Chang in Rome, spotting Fabian from The Twin Dilemma in Kingdom (and “May my bones rot for obeying it” – ten points). Plus there’s the comfort of knowing that the actors are still alive and well and that appearing in Doctor Who didn’t bring about a premature end to their acting career.
Similarly, at the theatre, there’s something spine-tingling about seeing an actor from Doctor Who in the flesh. Someone you’ve only ever seen in two-dimensions standing in a futuristic space corridor is now in front of you, on stage, in three-dimensional real life. The temptation is always to shout out a line from their Doctor Who story, to see if they recognise it – but I strongly recommend you don’t. Though I do remember once seeing ‘alternative comedian’ Lee Cornes doing a stand-up routine about how crap Doctor Who was, and heckling him by pointing out he’d played the Trickster in Kinda.
It’s the reason why I buy theatre programmes, just to look through the actors’ biographies to see if they were in Doctor Who. It’s one of those shows that every actor has to have appeared in, along with Doctors and The Bill. Though there was a period during the eighties when Doctor Who got accidentally misplaced from many an acting CV – and even now it’s interesting when an actor neglects to mention their appearance in the show, as though it’s still something to be ashamed of. Though to be fair, if I’d once played a Swampie in The Power Of Kroll I’d probably want to keep quiet about it too, Philip Bird*.
I check out most productions at the Globe in London - Henry Gordon Jago made a terrific Falstaff, the Steward from Platform One was a marvellous Timon and the rebel Areta from Vengeance of Varos excelled as Tamora in Titus Andronicus. Which is the other delight of seeing actors from Doctor Who – you discover that they’re much, much better than you ever gave them credit for, that you’d misjudged their abilities based upon a performance from twenty years ago (“...or something truly loathsome such as you!” – ten points). Though I also watch a lot of archive telly, which has led me to discover that the guy who is not totally great as Commander Millington in The Curse of Fenric was equally devoid of expression in an old Jack Rosenthal play (“The ancient enemies shall seek each other out and all shall die!” – ten points).
In a way, The Great Doctor Who Cast-Spotting Game is a celebration of, for want of a less trite term, the BBC drama repertory company. Those under-appreciated professionals who would do a Doctor Who, then a Softly Softly, then maybe a Play For Today or a prestigious BBC costume drama before returning to do another Doctor Who. The great unsung heroes of television – the Bernard Archards, the Bernard Holleys, the Bernard Kays. The Prentis Hancocks and the Eileen Ways. The Milton Johns. And the greatest of them all – the Ronald Leigh-Hunt. Nobody could end a scene with a proclamation of impending doom like the Ronald Leigh-Hunt.
To be serious for one moment, the sad fact is that the increasing prevalence of ‘star casting’ means there isn’t really a place for these sort of anonymous character actors any more. It’s understandable, in these days of diminishing viewing figures, why casting directors want to get as many big names in a show as possible. The problem is, you end up with travesties like ITV’s Marple, where the quest for famous faces has taken priority over whether actors are suitable for – or are even capable of playing – their parts.
The Great Doctor Who Cast-Spotting Game also throws up fascinating facts. For instance, John Hurt is the only Emperor from I Claudius not to have been in Doctor Who**. If you count The Infinite Quest – as surely you must - then the only regular from Linda Green not to have done a Doctor Who is Dave Hill (it can only be a matter of time). By my calculation, there have only been about a dozen or so episodes of EastEnders not to feature someone from Doctor Who – after all, Dot Cotton, Den Watts and Peggy Mitchell all count. Five Blue Peter presenters have been in Doctor Who***. During the eighties, nearly every member of the cast of The Pallisers turned up in Doctor Who (including three in Black Orchid alone). Each of the actors to play the Doctor has appeared in at least one sitcom, of some sort. And so on, and so on... this is the sort of thing that keeps me awake at night.
And on that note, I have a challenge for you. After you’ve finishing boggling at the merciless impossibility of the Watcher’s Christmas Quiz, why not try The Great Doctor Who Cast-Spotting Game Challenge. It comes in two parts.
Part one is to find a TV series – a British TV show, drama or comedy – from the last fifty years not to feature any actors from Doctor Who. It must, however, be a TV series – not a one-off play or a single episode. And obviously this doesn’t include shows based around monologues – that’s cheating – or youth-oriented/children’s shows with a cast of TV newcomers.
It’s virtually impossible, I promise you. In the highly unlikely event that a show doesn’t feature Mark Benton in its cast, it will almost certainly include the actor Pip Torrens. He’s been in simply everything – hence ‘The Pip Torrens Factor’. He was Rocastle in Human Nature – (“I hope, Latimer, that one day you may have a just and proper war in which to prove yourself” – ten points). So if you can find a TV show which he hasn’t appeared in, that would be a good start.****
Part two is to find a TV series – again, a British TV show, drama or comedy – from the last fifty years where every actor has appeared in Doctor Who at some point. I’m not including extras – just speaking, credited cast members – and again you can’t have one-off plays, single episodes or monologues. And of course you can’t have Doctor Who as your answer, that would be cheating.
I don’t know what the answers are, by the way – or even if there are any, there might not be. But it’ll be fun trying to find out - I suspect Primeval might be a possible candidate for part one...*****
Footnotes from Jonny 2015:
* Actually he is quite proud of his Doctor Who appearance but doesn't count it because he was an extra.
** Well that dates this article, doesn’t it!
*** Actually I think it’s seven.
**** I once met Pip Torrens in real life, on the train near Honor Oak Park.
**** I once met Pip Torrens in real life, on the train near Honor Oak Park.
***** No, Jonny, the guy playing football in the opening scenes of Fear Her was a regular in Primeval.