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Karen Gillan as the Soothsayer in The Fires of Pompeii

Have no fear, we do not come here to mock, but to praise. When you think about the rate at which Doctor Who chews up actors – a fresh batch for each new adventure, most of which will be buried under latex or metal – it should be no surprise to discover that a lot of them come back more than once.

Many’s the Cyberman who has occasionally doubled up in a Silurian costume, or popped inside a Dalek. To list each and every one of these fine people by name would take an age although credit is undoubtedly due, but there have been a few key actors withing the show’s history that have managed to make the transition from third alien on the left to someone with an actual name. And here are the top 10:

Colin Baker

Let’s start at the top, with an actual Doctor. Colin’s first appearance on the show was as part of the Fifth Doctor adventure The Arc of Infinity, in which he plays a grumpy Time Lord, Commander Maxil. The story goes that during a break in filming, he entertained the rest of the cast so thoroughly that Producer John Nathan Turner marked his card as a potential future Doctor, claiming that his performance had been “quite arch.” So much so, in fact, that he took to calling him Archie.

Karen Gillan

Here’s a thing. Karen’s first appearance in Doctor Who was as a soothsayer in The Fires of Pompeii. I wonder if anyone thought to ask if she could predict how it would affect her career?

Freema Agyeman

Before there was Martha Jones, there was Adeola, an employee of Torchwood, who appears in Army of Ghosts. When Freema got the job as Martha, there was a little twist inserted in one of her early scripts which suggested that Adeola was actually her cousin, just in case pedants were getting in a froth. You wouldn’t do that, would you?

Nicholas Courtney

Nicholas’s first appearance on Doctor Who was as a soldier called Bret Vyon in The Daleks’ Master Plan, helping out the First Doctor. His next was as Alasdair Lethbridge-Stewart, the show’s longest running companion. Not a bad run, all things considered.

Mark Gatiss

We all know Mark from The Lazarus Experiment (and as scriptwriter for Doctor Who and Sherlock) , but did you spot him among the rank and file in The Wedding of River Song? Well if not, that’s because he looked like this.

John Levene

Another UNIT regular, John climed the Whovian career ladder, starting out as a rank and file cyberman, then getting this plum role as the Yeti in The Web of Fear. This set him up nicely for playing Sergeant Benton, opposite the Third Doctor and the Brigadier.

Chipo Chung

Not everyone makes the journey from uncredited extra to named character; Chipo actually went the other way. Having already appeared in full facial latex as the alien Chantho, assistant to the man who turned out to be the Master in Utopia, Chipo then reappeared as the nameless fortune teller in Turn Left. Two iconic roles from the Tenth Doctor’s time, both completely different.

Ellen Thomas

Ellen played Carmen in Planet of the Dead, and delivered this chilling prophecy to the Tenth Doctor. But did you know she also played a clockwork woman in The Girl In The Fireplace?

Eve Myles

“We must all join hands” indeed. There’s been some suggestion that the Victorian Gwyneth is a forebear of Gwen Cooper, the character Eve plays in Torchwood (and the Who adventures The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End), or even that she’s Gwen herself, having come through the rift into modern Cardiff. It doesn’t spoil things either way, really.

Alexander Armstrong

Poor Mr Smith (voiced by Alexander) sounds rather tired in this clip. Must be Dalek interference. Anyway, Alexander was sure that his central role in this spin-off part of the Whoniverse would rule him out of making a personal appearance in another. Anyone who has seen this year’s Christmas Special, in which he plays Reg Arwell, knows this is not the case.


Bernard Cribbins proving that it’s perfectly possible to bookend your career with appearances in Doctor Who (ish). Here he is in the not-massively-loved movie Daleks – Invasion Earth, some 45 years before his sterling work as Donna’s grandad Wilf.

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Filed Under: Doctor Who
By Fraser McAlpine