While Danny Dyer sends the internet into a frenzy, I’m wondering; is Lenny Henry the next Doctor?
When I first heard it suggested, my reaction was something like “Oh don’t be silly!” But, I have to admit, the idea has grown on me and now I’m pretty much convinced. There are some good reasons to think it’s possible he’s at least under consideration for the role, too.
Henry will be appearing in this year’s season of Broadchurch, produced by Chris Chibnall, who will be taking over Doctor Who in 2018 and choosing the new Doctor. It is not unheard of for the producer of Who to chose someone they’ve worked with recently. Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant had worked with Russell T Davies on Second Coming and Casanova respectively before being cast.
What’s more, Lenny Henry is something of a Doctor Who fan. Back in 1985 he made a comedy sketch lampooning much of the then current show. The sketch, while sending the cliches of the time up, still has an air of doing so lovingly.
There are little bits of attention to detail, hints of continuity, and Henry’s costume, while including a long scarf, seems ultimately just Doctor-y. Rather than playing off Colin Baker (the incumbent Doctor) it is a costume that captures an essence of the character.
Much of the dialogue in the sketch also feels right out of modern Doctor Who. Lines like “it’s knackered”, shouting “shut up”, the comedy sunglasses and “No, but it’s very difficult to say” could all easily fit easily into the show today.
There’s a wonderful breakdown of the sketch here by James Cooray Smith on Hero Collector.
Sir Lenny Henry is probably best known for his comedy. Those with long memories might recall his first appearance on the talent show New Faces (where he won with impersonations of Stevie Wonder and Frank Spencer). He eventually got his own series, and in addition to appearing in sitcoms and other shows, he helped found Comic Relief (which returns this year).
But he also has a great talent for serious roles as well as comedic ones. In 2009 played Shakespeare’s Othello at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. After a flurry of positive reviews, the production transferred to the West End and later to BBC Radio. It’s a role that many actors struggle with, but Henry’s performance has a gravitas, vulnerability, and confidence that really displays his talents. He also played Antipholus of Syracuse in Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors.
What kind of Doctor?
Lenny Henry has talked openly about his feelings of being an outcast. His family having come to England from Jamaica and him living a sort of double life. Having English speaking friends, and then a Jamaican speaking family, crossing the cultural boundaries and finding a new identity.
I think that he could recapture the Doctor’s feeling of being an outsider, of entering into a new world and becoming part of it. Finding new friends, and learning more about them. He might recapture something of the Ninth Doctor’s sense of rebuilding his identity.
He has been critical of the BBC’s lack of diversity and his criticisms have been credited with convincing the producers to cast Pearl Mackie in the new series.
Doctor Who has never shied away from tackling the big political issues of the day, and I for one would love to see Henry’s Doctor face off against some alien Trump. Or perhaps a Galactic Brexit.
Is it too much to hope that we’ll see Lenny Henry as the 13th Doctor?
Well, it’s about time, isn’t it?