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Doctor Who Essentials #2: Patrick Troughton

With the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who approaching in November, Need Coffee Dot Com celebrates the legacy of the show by examining all Eleven Doctors. Every Doctor will be profiled (one each month) as part of the series.

At the end of each overview is a recommended list of commercially available DVD titles from that particular Doctor. For the sake of simplicity only complete stories will be considered.

Patrick Troughton as The Doctor with his 500 Year Diary


Patrick Troughton, the actor who would make a name for himself as the Second Doctor, was born in Middlesex, England on March 25, 1920. Growing up in North London provided the young Troughton the golden opportunity of indulging his passion for drama. In his teens, he attended Mill Hill School, where his interest in theater led to his first starring role in a production of Bees on the Boat Deck in March of 1937.

[ad#longpost]Troughton then moved on to the prestigious Embassy School of Acting at Swiss Cottage in London. His time there was intense and challenging but rewarding as his dramatic work was recognized via a scholarship from the Leighton Rallius Studios at the John Drew Memorial Theatre in Long Island, New York.

Troughton’s time in America was curtailed with the outbreak of World War II in Europe. Determined to do his share, Troughton set aside his stateside ambitions and returned to Britain. The war became very real for him after the Belgian ship he was traveling on collided with a mine. Although the vessel sunk, Troughton escaped in a lifeboat.

Once home, Troughton signed on for duty with the Royal Navy in 1940. His first assignment–serving coastal convoy duty in the North Sea–proved just as challenging as performing on stage. As a sailor he moved up through the ranks, serving as a member of Britain’s coastal forces from 1942-1945. His distinguished military service there led to his own command of a Rescue Motor Launch.

In the Navy, Troughton lightened the mood by oftentimes sporting a tea cosy on his head and telling jokes. His affable nature made him popular with his fellow servicemen. For his service to King and Country he was decorated with two esteemed medals, the 1939-45 Star and The Atlantic Star.

In the postwar years Troughton adapted to working in austerity Britain by focusing his attention to performing on stage. He was a member of several drama companies–including the Amersham Repertory Company, the Old Vic and The Pilgrim Players at the Mercury Theatre, Notting Hill. His stage work of this time provided him an income and allowed him to experiment with his style and decide on what type of actor he wanted to be. The theatre work also allowed him to serve as a versatile character actor in several productions. By happenstance, one of these productions saw him as an understudy for William Hartnell.

In 1948, he debuted with a part in Laurence Olivier‘s Hamlet (with Peter Cushing). Later that year he appeared in a TV film called R.U.R. as a robot. 1948 also saw an interesting twist of fate as Troughton appeared in Escape with Rex Harrison and William Hartnell (who played Inspector Harris). In 1950, Troughton turned to television, appearing in small parts in several episodes of the BBC Sunday Night Theatre and The Whole World, Treasure Island and Once In A Lifetime.

He returned to the world of Robert Louis Stevenson again in 1952 as Allen Breck in Kidnapped. In 1953, he showcased his versatility in six episodes of Robin Hood for the BBC, making him the first actor to portray Robin Hood on television. This role led to another series, Clementine, in 1954.

Patrick Troughton as Robin Hood

By1956, his resume included three episodes of The Count of Monte Cristo and eleven episodes of The Scarlet Pimpernel. In 1960, he starred in six episodes of The Splendid Spur and both episodes of Paul of Tarses. By the late 50s and early 60s, Troughton had established himself as a versatile thespian that could act for the stage, screen and television.

In time, Troughton decided that he preferred television as a medium for his work. It kept him busy and afforded him the opportunity to branch out into new characters. The decision paid off, since Troughton would spend the next three decades of his life (even after Doctor Who) scoring plumb guest starring slots on many high profile shows including Danger Man, The Saint, Z Cars, Sherlock Holmes, Survivors and Space 1999.

By 1965, Patrick Troughton was in an ideal place with his career. He had steady work and a variety of challenging parts under his belt. However, despite his success he yearned for a steady lead role that would utilize his talents for both drama and comedy.

In 1966 his luck changed when (as legend has it), at the urging of William Hartnell, he was selected by Doctor Who series producer Innes Lloyd to play The Doctor. Hartnell remembered working with Troughton and thought he would be ideal to take over for him. When Troughton took over the role in 1966 he wanted to put some space between himself and the First Doctor.

He aimed to make The Doctor something different by making him seem more unkempt. His Beatles haircut was the idea of costars Michel Craze and Anneke Wills who thought the wig he was supposed to wear was “rubbish.” His costume came literally from dumpster diving and he made it a point to make his Doctor seem shabby and unsuspectingly harmless.

He debuted in Doctor Who at the end of The Tenth Planet on October 29, 1966 when the show was in the first of many transitions. When he vacated the role on June 22, 1969 he had no idea how much of an influence his portrayal would become to the others that took on the role later. Like Hartnell before him, Troughton loved the role and had mixed feelings about departing the TARDIS. Luckily ill health was not a reason for his exit–and he would go on to have an amazing career after his run ended in The War Games.

Patrick Troughton as The Doctor with friends
These parties are always so *awkward*...

When he began as The Doctor, things were not easy. Audiences were not used to a new actor in the role and the idea of regeneration was not yet a fixture of the program. He was deeply hurt when both fans and critics voiced negative opinions of his first three episodes.

At one point the clamor for his head was so loud that BBC executives considered canceling Doctor Who. Fortunately his luck changed with Season Five, the epic “Monster Season.” Season Five was a game changer in that it not only introduced The Yeti, Ice Warriors and UNIT to the show but it also saw The Cybermen become a real menace to the universe. One of the stories in that season, The Enemy Of The World, featured Troughton in an amazing performance in dual roles as both The Doctor and the maniacal despot, Salamander.

The Second Doctor was very different from the one established by William Hartnell. This incarnation was more eccentric, manipulative and whimsical. Troughton initially played The Doctor as a cosmic hobo–however, by the end of his first season it was clear that he may be a bit too over the top at times. As a result this aspect of The Doctor was reined in somewhat as he continued in the role. Beginning at the end of Season Four and carrying over into Season Five, Troughton gave the role an edge–toning down the Chaplinesque antics in favor of a more enigmatic figure. The comedy was still there, but now it was cloaked in a deeper layer of guile. Many of his stories, including Evil of The Daleks, Tomb Of The Cybermen, The Web of Fear and The War Games are regarded as classics of the original series. Sadly, a majority of his era has been wiped from the BBC archives.

Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, William Hartnell: Three Doctors
They fight crime.

After leaving the show in 1969, he returned as the Second Doctor three more times in The Three Doctors, The Five Doctors and The Two Doctors. His Second Doctor had a profound affect on actors who followed him. Troughton was a huge influence on Peter Davison’s and Sylvester McCoy’s Doctors. The current Time Lord, Matt Smith, has continued this trend by citing him as an influence. Smith became giddy after watching Tomb of The Cybermen and decided at that moment that he had found an inspiration for his take on the legendary character.

Troughton is on record from several conventions as saying he would love to have stayed on longer. He discussed his departure at a Panopticon convention in North America. Feeling somewhat pushed out by BBC brass and generally anxious about his impending departure, Troughton became more and more difficult for the producers to work with. There is a legendary story that he was stingy about how explosives were set off on location for The War Games. He bullied the pyrotechnics team and moved his location for the scene they were filming. Everyone thought he was being unreasonable until when the explosive went off in the very the place where he would have been standing.

In a 1985 interview, he discussed he departure from Doctor Who and addressed concerns about being typecast. When asked if he was tired of the role by 1969 he commented: “I don’t think so by then, because it had been very popular with me. It had been with Billy too. It was a lovely part, I loved doing it and the family audience liked me very much in it, and I regretted leaving it very much, but again you can’t stay in one job forever, not as a character actor.”

Like Hartnell before him, Troughton took great care to guard the role. But unlike Hartnell, he owned a reputation as a prankster on set. In most cases Frazer Hines (Jamie), an actor whom Troughton had known from a production of Smuggler’s Bay, was a willing accomplice as the two actors delved deep into mischief on a regular basis. The duo’s merry ways kept the set light at a time when location and studio filming often ran very long.

After his retirement from Doctor Who, Troughton would go on to find success in a variety of high profile horror and fantasy films. In 1963 he appeared in Jason And The Argonauts. He appeared in Hammer‘s Scars of Dracula alongside Christopher Lee in 1970. In 1976, he was iconic as Father Brennan in Richard Donner’s The Omen starring Gregory Peck, David Warner and Lee Remick. In 1977, he was Melanthius in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.

Old habits did not die hard and Troughton returned to his preferred medium of television after his journeys in time and space ended. His post-TARDIS career saw him turn up in several character parts. He was Thomas Howard in five episodes of The Six Wives of Henry VIII in 1970. He was the villain in The Feathered Serpent, a drama set against the backdrop of the Aztec Empire for two years (1976-1978). In 1987, he starred in thirteen episodes of the thriller Knights of God, some of which were aired after his death.

Patrick Troughton from The Feathered Serpent
Please excuse me whilst I positively rock this hat.

Late in life, his most memorable performance was as the hopelessly disheveled Cole Hawlings in the BBC’s The Box of Delights (1984). Despite wearing a grizzled beard for the part, he remained recognizable to Whovians. The Box of Delights was a success on PBS and as a result interest in Troughton by American fans was rekindled.

Patrick Troughton was a workaholic who loved acting. His passion for drama never yielded and he used work as the foundation that fortified his private life. Interestingly enough, the private life of Patrick Troughton is the most controversial aspect of his character.

Offscreen he was funny, witty, jovial and at times a bit cranky and hurtful. He also was known to have a terrible temper. This temper would manifest itself when Troughton indulged another one of his passions: playing golf. He loved golf almost as much as acting. If he missed a putt, had a bad drive or a bad round he was known to scream expletives and knock his clubs about. Golf also brought out a rather bizarre trait in Troughton in that he was known to pee in the open air. In his biography of his father, Michael Troughton tells how his father would take great delight in urinating in as many places on the golf course as he could manage.

In addition to golf, Troughton loved to slow things down and make nature paintings. His passion for the sea and sailing never really left him and he loved to get off of land whenever possible. His decades-long acting career made him a competitive person. Seeking to relieve the tension, Troughton became a master swordsman.

His domestic life was far from tranquil. In fact most of the time, it was in tatters. This side of Troughton was layered and unpleasant. His genteel onscreen image is shattered to bits when one discovers that Troughton left his first wife Margaret and three children in order to move in with his girlfriend Ethel Nuens.

Thus the man known as the Second Doctor had a dark side, living two separate lives. He had one life in Mill Hill with Margaret (whom he left) and his children from that marriage–Michael, David and Joanna–and another life in Southwest London with his flame Ethel and their kids, Peter, Jane and Mark. Almost as if acting in his own personal drama, Troughton undertook elaborate pains to hide this dual life from some of his friends and even his mother. For her, Troughton played the role of dutiful family man, showing up with his first family on holidays as if nothing had ever happened. His duplicity was so well executed that she passed in 1979 blissfully unaware of her son’s dalliances and busted first marriage.

The sometimes-callous actor was not very close to all of his children. Not being a fan of religion Troughton skipped his son David’s wedding. He also was known to not speak to his children for extended periods of time.

But wait, there’s more. His devotion to Ethel deteriorated badly in the mid 1960s and Troughton began yet another affair–this one with an actress named Ann Morrish. He is also rumored to have been deeply infatuated with Lee Remick while they were filming The Omen. Despite his attraction it is believed that nothing ever happened beyond their professional relationship. There were affairs in that relationship as well and after Ann Morrish, Troughton married his third wife, Shelagh, who was his partner until his death in 1987.

The other great tragedy of Patrick Troughton’s life was his complete disregard for his health later on. As a workaholic and energetic performer, he never put on the breaks in the late 7os and 80s. After he suffered heart attacks in 1978 and 1984, he kept on working at a breakneck pace as much as possible. His third heart attack proved fatal and he died on the morning of March 28th 1987 in Columbus, Georgia, where he was a guest at Magnum Opus Con II.

Patrick Trougton left behind an interesting personal legacy filled with great performances yet tinged with controversy. Nonetheless no one can take away the fat that his time on Doctor Who arguably set the table for both the success of the classic and current series.

Patrick Troughton as The Doctor with umbrella

Essential Viewing

Here are five complete Second Doctor stories that you should watch to get a feel for Trougthon’s Doctor. Most of the Troughton era remains missing–and only a handful of complete stories exist. Thus selecting stories that set the tone and feel of that era is a tad difficult.

Tomb of The Cybermen

Since there are no complete stories from Troughton’s first season this chilling adventure from 1967 gives fans the earliest glimpse of the Second Doctor. It is nothing short of a masterpiece. The claustrophobic sets are still creepy and the episode sees the strongest use of horror in the early series. It opened Season Five and hit the ground running. Tomb was a bold new direction for the show, at that time offering an about face from the children’s frolic television that preceded it. By 1967, it was felt that the show had stagnated and needed something new. This was what they came up with: an epic “adventure of the week” escapist tale of entrapment and terror.

One could argue that the plot is a mess–and that it is and a loosely plotted one–however it did two things: it made The Cybermen mythic and it completely entrenched Troughton as The Doctor. Here we see him come of age by bringing in some darker aspects to the character that still resonate today. Troughton’s cold and calculating manipulations are delightful to watch and Frazer Hines is skillfully utilized in this story as well.

Many of the elements of this story resurfaced in Colin Baker’s Season Twenty Two opener, Attack of The Cybermen and will be tread on again in the upcoming The Last Cyberman from Neil Gaiman.

The Dominators

This Season Six story from 1968 is a bit of a romp. The TARDIS lands on the planet Dulkis and is immediately thrown into an adventure that sees The Doctor endeavoring to liberate the enslaved people of Dulkis. While not the best episode of the Second Doctor era it still remains an interesting one–because in it we see The Doctor taking a moral stand not holding back as he battles The Dominators. Troughton’s Doctor is stubborn and idealistic in this episode.

The Dominators themselves are a hoot. They have these cast-off pre-Romulan-looking outfits that are not visually appealing but do manage to invoke a sense of militaristic discipline. Then there are The Quarks. They simply are ridiculous sounding. As far as robotic servants go they are not the best choice. Nonetheless for the Troughton era they stand out and provide some fun for the viewer.

The Dominators, (along with the incomplete The Enemy Of The World and later The Sun Makers) serves as a model for future stories where the Doctor freely battles for the rights of the individual.

No, it’s not one of the best episodes of the classic series, however it is a bit of fun that has some really wonderful moments in it with Troughton and his costars, Wendy Padbury and Frazer Hines.

The Invasion

For starters, the DVD release of this story does use animation to fill out the missing episodes. However, it totally works and must be seen. This, the third story of Season Six, is a hugely important one. For starters it serves as the test model for the dynamic changes that were being planned for the Pertwee era, mainly the further evolution of UNIT and the return of The Brigadier. It showed that Doctor Who could flourish in a contemporary setting without leaving for an alien world. Second, The Invasion makes The Cybermen even MORE scary. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words and it is true because the iconic press photo of The Cybermen standing in front of St. Paul’s stems from this episode. That picture went a long way in promoting the serial and reviving interest in the show. Also you can see where elements of this story were subtly used in the Tennant Cybermen stories.

The Invasion also features the best on screen interaction between Troughton and Hines. Here they clearly are a double act that skillfully blends the comedy aspects they gradually built up over the previous two seasons with the dramatic dangers of facing The Cybermen. Maybe it was because they filmed some if it at the Guinness factory.

The Seeds of Death

This marks the last appearance of The Ice Warriors in the Troughton era. It also is the last time they were horrific and frightening. They appeared in two Pertwee era stories but were much more hokey and unintimidating when they did. And yes, it is another story set on The Moon–but this time those dastardly warriors of the ice are out to control the weather for their own ill gotten gains. This six part story was also directly influenced by the Apollo Missions. For that reason it is interesting to see how the show mirrored its times.

The War Games

Patrick Troughton’s ten-episode swan song is a massive piece of scientific fiction television and a rollicking fun dose of Doctor Who. But you have to stay with it. As Troughton exited in 1969, the producers needed to set up the next series with the new Doctor. Thus a wee bit of backstory was sprinkled throughout The War Games. The TARDIS lands on a planet where people from several eras of Earth’s history have been collected to duke it out so that a super-time-army of sorts can be created to take over the galaxy.

The Doctor, Jamie and Zoë join a band of resistance fighters from several epochs to battle the deadly War Lord. Things get messy when The Doctor discovers whom The War Lord really is. He does save the day but he must call The Time Lords to help him clean up the mess. When The Doctor is put on trial–discover just how unpleasant the Doctor’s own race can be.

There is lot of action and adventure in this story. There is also a great deal of tragedy and sadness as The Doctor and his companions are forced to part ways. Troughton does a lot of acting with his expressions here. He brings a sense of hopelessness and frustration to the character that would be mined by later incarnations over the years. He also skillfully runs the table of emotions at the end. We see him convincingly defiant and angry while at the same time acting as a paternal figure for Jamie and Zoë who he must now say farewell too.

While The War Games closed the book on the Troughton era it also opened another (color) chapter of the program. Despite all the changes that have happened since Troughton left in 1969, his portrayal of The Doctor still shines brightly, making Patrick Troughton, in the eyes of many fans, as the definitive actor for the role. His legacy has simply become that big.

Feathered Serpent image.


  • I bought Tim “The War Games” for Christmas, and it was pretty good, for being Old Who. The only weird part was the one girl going away and never coming back.

  • The pararaph about Patricks war service is missing one medal. In addition to the 2 listed he would have had the 1939-1945 War Medal as this was earned after 28 days service in the Armed Forces as long as the 28th day was completed before Sept 2nd 1945

  • It is not listed in his official discharge papers. Also they gave those medals out to almost anyone who served in the services for basically not dying. Even the mess cooks got them.. It also did not appear in his obituary and the other two mentioned did. Plus this is a general article not a full biography or book. But thanks for the comment.

  • Are there any photos of Pat when in the Navy on line especially any showing him wearing the tea cosy when on patrol in the North Sea?