Doctor Who: Black actor was offered role before Matt Smith but turned it down, reveals Steven Moffat

Rumours has it Chiwetel Ejiofor could have been the Time Lord, but this has not been confirmed

Jess Denham
Friday 03 June 2016 14:28 BST
Current Doctor Who Peter Capaldi with new companion Pearl Mackie
Current Doctor Who Peter Capaldi with new companion Pearl Mackie (BBC)

A black actor was offered the lead role in Doctor Who but turned it down, Steven Moffat has revealed.

The BBC sci-fi drama’s showrunner declined to name the person involved before the part went to Matt Smith, but reports suggest that it might have been Oscar-nominated 12 Years a Slave star Chiwetel Ejiofor.

“We’ve tried. The part has been offered to a black actor, but for various reasons it didn’t work out,” Moffat told Doctor Who magazine. “Should the Doctor be black? Should the Doctor be a woman? So long as the Doctor is still the Doctor, anything is possible.”

Before the casting of current Time Lord Peter Capaldi, there had been calls for a black actor to take on the role and, in an effort to improve diversity, mixed-race actress Pearl Mackie, whose father is from the West Indies, was cast as the Doctor's companion in April. This was a conscious decision made by Moffat because he “needed to do better”.

“I don't mean that we’ve done terribly - our guest casts are among the most diverse on television - but I feel as though I could have done better overall,” he said.

The casting of Mackie does not rule out casting a non-white actor as the next Doctor. ”Two non-white leads would be amazing. In fact, a lot of people would barely notice,” Moffat continued.

“Even a black James Bond would barely raise an eyebrow nowadays. He’s still got to be an establishment killer, but a black Bond would be great - and I certainly don’t think there's ever been a problem with making the Doctor black, which is why it should happen one day.“

Chiwetel Ejiofor is believed to have been offered the role before Matt Smith
Chiwetel Ejiofor is believed to have been offered the role before Matt Smith (BBC)

Moffat believes there is no excuse for non-diverse casting and Doctor Who has “absolutely nowhere to hide” on the issue. “Young people watching have to know that they have a place in the future,” he said. “That really matters. You have to care profoundly what children’s shows in particular say about where you're going to be.”

In 2013, Neil Gaiman sparked speculation when he wrote on his blog: “I know one black actor who was already offered the part of the Doctor, and who turned it down. You can ask, but seeing that it was something I was told in confidence by the actor in question, you won't get an answer.”

Additional reporting by Press Association

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