With that unmistakable whooshing sound, the Tardis materialises into existence from the depths of space and time, the blue police box door opens and the Doctor steps out to say: “Fit like?”
A Doric Time Lord? It’s not as unlikely as you might think. In fact, it was almost a reality.
Aberdeen-born actor Michael Sheard was once approached to play Doctor Who after appearing in blockbusters such as The Empire Strikes Back – released 40 years ago today – and, of course, playing tyrannical deputy head Mr Bronson in Grange Hill.
But the Doctor was the role he aspired to most, after a long association with the iconic BBC show. He worked with more Doctors – including the original, William Hartnell, and much-loved Tom Baker – than any other actor, with numerous guest appearances during the classic series.
Hugely popular with fans
And Michael, who lost his battle with cancer 15 years ago, would have been a fantastic Time Lord and one hugely popular with the fans, according to Allan Lear, of the UK’s Doctor Who Appreciation Society.
“He was a firm fan favourite, partly because of doing so much service for the series, but also he was a regular at conventions both here and in the States,” said Allan.
“I think (as the Doctor) he would have been a lot more understated and possibly with more of a dark edge, rather than some of the wackier Tom Baker or Matt Smith style of Doctor. There would have been more depth of character.”
Proposed film version of Doctor Who
Michael was approached to step into the Tardis in 1998 for a proposed film version of the then mothballed TV series.
The Evening Express reported at the time that film producer Mitch Henderson saw Michael as the ideal Doctor for his plans. Mitch said: “Michael would love to play the Doctor if the rights could be secured.”
He was the most
on the show.”
The project sadly fell through for Michael, who made six guest appearances on the TV show from 1966 in a William Hartnell episode called the Ark through to a headmaster in Remembrance of the Daleks with Sylvester McCoy in 1988.
Lifelong Who fan Allan said: “He appeared with William Hartnell, with (Jon) Pertwee, twice with Tom Baker, with (Peter) Davison, with Sylvester McCoy and he did an audio production with Paul McGann.
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“He is the most recurring character actor on the show.
“Michael was such a phenomenal actor he disappeared completely inside his characters.
“So he brought that solidity of character acting that is essential to a fantasy show like Doctor Who.
“You need the characters to be grounded in reality in order you can suspend your disbelief in the unreality of the situation.”
Always warm and friendly
Michael, who was brought up in Carlton Place in the West End and went to Aberdeen Grammar, earned a special place in fans’ hearts through his love of attending Doctor Who conventions.
“He was always very warm and very friendly. He was one of those actors who embraced the fans and made the fans embrace him,” said Allan.
Allan has a personal favourite among Michael’s many appearances on Doctor Who.
“Because Sylvester McCoy was my Doctor growing up, my favourite role of Michael’s was the headmaster he played in Remembrance of the Daleks, which is widely regarded as the best Sylvester McCoy story ever.”
Callback to Mr Bronson?
A teaching role must have been a callback to Mr Bronson in Grange Hill?
“Well, he was the deputy head in Grange Hill, he never made it to headmaster – so Doctor Who actually promoted him as a reward for his long service,” said Allan.
And he thinks Michael would have loved the new Doctor Who, which was launched just months before the actor died in 1995.
“I think he would be very keen to be in it and to continue what he had done for so many years. He respected his fellow actors and seeing people like Chris Ecclestone and Derek Jacobi, that sort of quality of actor on screen, he would have been champing at the bit to get stuck in with them.”
Lucas’s favourite death scene
Of course, Doctor Who wasn’t the only science fiction blockbuster which featured Michael, who moved to England when he was 15.
Star Wars aficionados remember him fondly for his appearance in The Empire Strikes Back as Admiral Ozzel, the commander of an Imperial Star Destroyer who is choked to death by Darth Vader using the Force in one of the franchises most memorable scenes.
Even George Lucas thought so.
That revelation came in an interview with the Evening Express in 1997 with Michael – whose father was Church of Scotland minster Donald Perkins.
He was a naughty
admiral… Darth Vader
killed him just by
looking at him.”
He said: “Admiral Ozzel was in charge of Darth Vader’s spaceship. He took it too close to the planet too soon and revealed its position. He was a naughty admiral, Darth Vader killed him just by looking at him.
“Later on with Steven (Spielberg) we went off to film in France and George Lucas met us off a boat. He said ‘I’ve been wanting to tell you, your death scene in The Empire Strikes Back was the best I’ve ever seen’.”
Michael appeared in two of Spielberg’s biggest blockbusters, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, playing a German U-boat captain and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade – where he played none other than Adolf Hitler.
Michael recalled: “Steven said ‘we’d like you to come and play Hitler. It’s only a walk on, but will you do it’.”
Michael played Hitler five times
The scene became one of the best in the film, where Indiana Jones, played by Harrison Ford, is trying to escape the Nazis with his father’s (Sean Connery) precious notebook, but bumps into Hitler at a book-burning rally. Hitler grabs the book, signs it and hands it back.
That was actually one of five occasions the Aberdeen actor played Hitler in his career ranging from The Tomorrow People to Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission.
It was through his extensive film career that Michael became firm friends with screen legends like Harrison Ford, Roger Moore and David Niven.
Worked with almost every big star
“I’ve worked with almost every big star and I know them all and it seems like I’ve done every TV series under the sun,” he told the Evening Express, which noted Michael had no trace left of his Aberdeen accent.
Yet one role that stood out for many people – especially those of a certain vintage – was Michael’s portrayal of cantankerous and fearsome Mr Bronson in Grange Hill, and his booming catchphrase of “YOU BOY!”
It was one of his favourite creations.
Remembering Michael Sheard, born this day in 1938. pic.twitter.com/ITzISmadcu
— Archivetvmusings (@archivetvmus71) June 18, 2019
“I get so many letters from people who say they had a Mr Bronson at school,” he said.
“But funnily enough, I can’t remember one at Aberdeen Grammar.”
However, he never forgot his Aberdeen roots. He used to regularly return to visit his aunt Lesley, who lived in Broomhill Road until she died.
Campaigned to save Granite City’s Capitol
And Michael even got involved in the campaign to save the Capitol, writing a letter to the Evening Express in 1997 against the – eventually successful – plans to turn the iconic Union Street venue into a pub.
In it, he said: “The Capitol played a very big part in starting me on the road which resulted in my appearing as an actor in more than 800 TV programmes (Grange Hill, Doctor Who, Auf Weidersehen Pet, etc) and 37 movies, including Star Wars and Indiana Jones.
Proud to be born and bred in Aberdeen
“I was born and bred in Aberdeen and I’m very proud of the fact that the Capitol was one of my main sources of inspiration. In 1948, as a wee lad, I remember seeing Doris Day’s first movie, Romance on the High Seas, and hearing two very knowledgeable Aberdonians saying: ‘She’ll never make it as a star’.
“Please, don’t let them turn the Capitol into a pub, surely there are enough of them.”
If only he had become the Doctor, Michael might have been able to travel back in time and save the Capitol himself – just in time for a 40th anniversary showing of The Empire Strikes Back today.
Scot’s Who hae…
Had Michael Sheard taken over the console of the Tardis he would have been one of four Scottish actors to play Doctor Who.
Dunoon-born Sylvester McCoy picked up the sonic screwdriver as the seventh Doctor, from 1987 to 1989. He was the Time Lord in the show’s original run before it was mothballed, although he made a brief appearance at the start of the 1996 TV film, where he regenerated into Paul McGann.
McCoy portrayed the Doctor as a whimsical and thoughtful character, but one with a secretive and manipulative edge.
Tennant’s ‘Estuary English’ accent
David Tennant entered the Tardis in 2005 and quickly become one of the most-loved versions of the character – although the Bathgate-born actor adopted an Estuary English accent for his tenth Doctor.
Writer Russel T Davies said he didn’t want Tennant using his own Scots tones as he did not want the Doctor’s accent “touring the regions”,
Tennant said it was a childhood dream to play Doctor Who. When he was announced in the role he said: “Who wouldn’t want to be the Doctor? I’ve even got my own Tardis!”
Capaldi wanted to be ‘more alien’
Glasgow star Peter Capaldi became the twelfth Doctor in 2013. He had previously guest-starred alongside David Tennant’s doctor in 2008 as a Roman in The Fires Of Pompeii.
He got to keep his accent, saying he did so to feel closer to the character. His approach to the Doctor was as “more alien” saying he “doesn’t quite understand human beings or really care very much about their approval”.
Aberdeen not Croydon
There have, of course, been many Scottish links to Doctor Who, from the iconic character of Highlander Jamie (played by Frazer Hines) in the Patrick Troughton years, through to David Tennant’s Doctor battling werewolves threatening Queen Victoria at Balmoral.
Elizabeth Sladen and Tom Baker from the story "The Masque Of Mandragora" pic.twitter.com/oor0iQdBYf
— James Salter (@James_Salter) May 14, 2020
Aberdeen itself has featured, too, with Tom Baker’s Doctor dropping off his companion Sarah Jane Smith for the last time in what he thought was Croydon, but turned out to be Aberdeen.
Who’s who of Scottish writers
Leading Scots playwright, Maryculter-born Rona Munro, is the only writer to have penned episodes for both classic Doctor Who and the modern series. She set an episode for Peter Capaldi, featuring Picts and Romans, in the north-east in what would eventually become Aberdeen.
And in 2013, Dundee author AL Kennedy wrote a Doctor Who book, The Death Pit, which saw the Time Lord pitted against odd goings on in a golf spa hotel in 1978… in Arbroath.
I wanted it
to be a
At the time Author Alison said: “I know Arbroath a bit, I lived there for a few months and in Carnoustie for about a year.
“It just seemed a suitable place. I wanted it to be in a small town. I just remember Pleasure Land, and the weather being filthy.”
Alison said the backdrop to the story “is Arbroath”, but that the action was confined to a “mythical kind of resort or hotel complex”.