Doctor Who: Harry Van Gorkum Discusses ALMOST Being The Eighth Doctor

Normally at this point, a post on Doctor Who usually has to do with covering something that's coming up or covering something that's already happened. It's rare we get to travel into covering "what could've been" but that's where we find ourselves this time. Remember FOX's 1996 U.S. Doctor Who movie that introduced Paul McGann as The Eighth Doctor (as well as the amazing Eric Roberts as Bruce aka The Master)? While the film wouldn't be the springboard to a series restart that some had hoped (that would take another nine years or so), McGann would go on to portray The Doctor in the webisode "The Night of the Doctor" and on a monitor helping to save Gallifrey in "The Day of the Doctor"- as well as in several Big Finish audio dramas. But did you know that fans were this close to having a different Eighth Doctor? Yup, and now we're hearing directly from him why it all went so wrong.

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Image: BBC

In a recent Doctor Who Magazine, actor Harry Van Gorkum (The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones) revealed that he had been originally offered the role- one that he clearly relished. "There are only two roles in the world where, if the phone goes, and you've got it, overnight your life has changed," he said. "There's James Bond and Doctor Who." And from the way Van Gorkum describes it, his audition definitely won Universal and FOX over. "An hour later [after the audition] the phone goes. My agent says, 'Harry, I've got some news for you. You've got Doctor Who. Everyone loved you. Everyone said, 'This is fantastic – we've found him.' And I couldn't believe it. I remember I fell to my knees in my trailer and kind of collapsed. I had a bit of an emotional moment. It was the turning point in my career. I thought, 'My God, I'm going to play Doctor Who in America…'"

Except here was one not-so-small problem. While Universal and FOX may have given his casting a green light, the BBC hadn't. "Geoffrey Sax and Philip Segal said, 'Now we've got to sell you to the BBC.' I said, 'What do you mean?' They said, 'We called up the BBC and said, 'We've finally found Doctor Who.' And Alan Yentob [controller of BBC One] said, 'Well, who is it?' They said, 'Harry Van Gorkum.' And he said, 'Harry who? Never heard of him!' So I had to put myself on tape for the BBC, so they could agree that I was the right person for it," Van Gorkum explained.

And that's when the bad news came calling- literally. "I was ready to fly from England straight to Vancouver," he revealed. "And then around two days before Christmas I got a call from Philip Segal. He said, 'This is the worst phone call I've had to make. This is going to happen a few times in your career, because you are very good but you haven't got the name behind you. You haven't had your big break yet.'" The BBC wanted McGann, who had already made a name for himself with Catherine the Great, The Importance of Being Earnest, and Withnail & I- and what the BBC wanted, the BBC got. "So that was it. I was absolutely crushed. I flew back to America and not to Vancouver," he continued. "I'm not bitter about it at all. I was mortified at the time, but that's the career I've picked. You get close to parts. Until you get that big break, until you get on that A list, it doesn't matter how good you are, it's a case of 'Do the people want to come and see you or not?'"

About Ray Flook

Serving as Television Editor since 2018, Ray began five years earlier as a contributing writer/photographer before being brought onto the core BC team in 2017.