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Famous Actors You Forgot Appeared On Doctor Who

Since its debut in 1963, "Doctor Who" has grown from a fun little family program to one of the biggest sci-fi franchises in TV history. With several spin-off shows, two theatrical films, countless books, comics, and audio dramas, this British institution has become ingrained in pop culture — and it has turned over its cast more than a dozen times over the decades. There have been over 800 episodes (some of which have sadly been lost to time) so far, and many of the biggest names in the TV and movie worlds have passed through its doors since its inception.

We all remember the likes of David Tennant, Matt Smith, and Peter Capaldi from their turns as the titular Time Lord, but what about those who made smaller, less-heralded appearances? From Marvel heroes and villains to a pair of powerful wizards and even a former James Bond, we've put together a list of famous actors who you probably didn't realize had made their mark on "Doctor Who."

Michael Gambon (Kazran Sardick)

Though his career has spanned decades, it wasn't until the early 2000s that Michael Gambon made it big. He became well known to worldwide audiences when he took over the role of Albus Dumbledore following the death of Richard Harris, making his debut as the Hogwarts headmaster in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." It became a career-defining role for Gambon, who would later pop up in another beloved British franchise. The actor played a major role in the 2010 "Doctor Who" Christmas special "A Christmas Carol," released in between the final two "Harry Potter" films.

In the episode, Gambon plays a miserly old man named Kazran Sardick, who controls the skies above the planet Ember. When the Doctor comes to Ember to help a failing starliner, he needs Kazran's help to land the wayward vessel. The heartless Kazran refuses to aid him, and so the Doctor takes it upon himself to change the old timer's wicked ways. The Doctor travels back in time to Kazran's youth, visiting him once every Christmas day and helping the younger Kazran grow into a kinder, gentler ruler. Back in the original timeline, the changed Kazran finally decides to help the Doctor land the ship.

Ian McKellen (The Great Intelligence)

Like Michael Gambon, Ian McKellen had been acting for decades before he became a major star. He had a similar career trajectory, appearing in British television and film roles before transitioning to Hollywood. McKellen played small parts in movies like "The Shadow" and "Last Action Hero" before suiting up as a supervillain in "X-Men," taking on the role of the titular team's arch-nemesis Magneto. It wasn't long before he'd land an even bigger franchise part — the career-defining role of Gandalf in Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

McKellen would reprise the role of Gandalf when J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" got turned into a trilogy. It was during the making of those prequel films that he added "Doctor Who" to his already impressive resume, taking on a part in one of the show's Christmas episodes. In the 2012 special "The Snowmen," the actor became the latest to voice the mysterious entity known as the Great Intelligence. Though he didn't appear on screen, McKellen's distinctive vocal performance added gravitas to the famous "Doctor Who" villain.

Simon Pegg (The Editor)

Simon Pegg came to the attention of international audiences after starring in Edgar Wright's hit horror-comedy "Shaun of the Dead," the first entry in the filmmaker's so-called Cornetto Trilogy. He played Benji in the J.J. Abrams film "Mission Impossible III" a few years later, which would lead to the director casting him as Scotty in his "Star Trek" reboot. He's reprised both roles numerous times since, becoming an important figure in both franchises. What you may not know is that he also has a history with "Doctor Who," having appeared in an episode back in 2005. Pegg played the villain in "The Long Game," the seventh episode of the reboot series.

In the episode, the Doctor and Rose visit a space station above Earth in the year 200,000, where Pegg's character — the Editor — has been manipulating humanity through his space-based news network. Pegg, a longtime Whovian, was overjoyed when he got asked to appear on the show, though the shoot was far from a walk in the park. "I had to say: 'The Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe,' which is the name of the Editor's alien boss," he told the BBC. "It is absolutely and without question the toughest line I have ever been given to say in anything I have done — it was hilariously arcane and quite purposely so."

Nick Frost (Santa Claus)

Another frequent Edgar Wright collaborator, Nick Frost has often appeared as a sidekick to characters played by Simon Pegg. Most notably, he starred alongside Pegg in "Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz," "The World's End," and the 2011 alien comedy "Paul." Frost usually portrays bumbling but affable oddballs, but that wasn't the case when he popped up in "Doctor Who." He played against type in the 2014 episode "Death in Heaven," appearing as Father Christmas himself. The comedian and actor reprised the role in the 2014 Christmas special "Last Christmas."

In the special, the Doctor and his assistant Clara Oswald encounter Santa Claus at a remote research station. He saves them from a horde of zombified creatures before they realize that they're being tormented in their dreams. Whether Santa was a part of the dream or was indeed the real Saint Nick is a question that's left unanswered. Speaking to Den of Geek about the experience, Frost revealed that he went to great lengths to make his version of Santa Claus different. "I think that 'Ho ho ho!' Santas, over an hour or so, is kind of a bit boring to watch," the actor said. "He's a bit like De Niro in 'Mean Streets.'"

Alan Cumming (King James I)

Alan Cumming is known to American moviegoers for his role in the second "X-Men" film. He portrayed the blue-skinned mutant Nightcrawler, who attempts to assassinate the president in the opening sequence. He has also appeared in the family adventure franchise "Spy Kids" and the critically acclaimed James Bond film "GoldenEye," to name but a few. Today, he's best known for his role on the hit TV show "The Good Wife." The Scottish actor was a latecomer to "Doctor Who," appearing opposite Jodie Whittaker's Time Lord in 2018's "The Witchfinders."

Cumming took on the role of King James I in the episode, which revolves around a witch hunt in 17th century England. Interestingly, years before his guest appearance on the series, Cumming had twice been offered the lead role of the Doctor, first by showrunner Russell T Davies and later by series writer Mark Gatiss. He turned it down both times because he didn't want to relocate to Wales. "[They] told me I'd have to go to Cardiff for eight months of the year," Cumming said during an interview for Listowel Writers' Week (via HuffPost). "I'd do anything for 'Doctor Who,' but I won't do that."

Andrew Garfield (Frank)

Like many of the actors on this list, Andrew Garfield has become closely associated with one role, despite starring in several acclaimed pictures. Before he took on the part of Spider-Man, he was best known for his turn as Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin in Aaron Sorkin's best picture nominee "The Social Network." He went on to deliver Oscar-nominated performances in "Hacksaw Ridge" and "Tick, Tick... Boom!" but remains most famous for playing the Marvel hero, having reprised the role in the MCU threequel "Spider-Man: No Way Home."

Before he became known to American audiences, Garfield had a steady career in England. He played a character named Frank in two 2007 "Doctor Who" episodes featuring the Doctor's greatest foes, the Daleks. Garfield starred opposite David Tennant in "Daleks in Manhattan" and appeared again in the follow-up episode "Evolution of the Daleks." Frank, a Depression Era coal miner, had recently relocated to New York from Tennessee. Garfield (whose father is American) is known to be brilliant with accents, and he handled the role like a pro.

Daniel Kaluuya (Barclay)

In recent years, Daniel Kaluuya has made a name for himself as one of the best actors in the business. He received widespread acclaim for his role in Jordan Peele's hit horror movie "Get Out," and he went on to land a role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, appearing as W'Kabi in "Black Panther." In 2021, the London native won his first Oscar for his turn as Fred Hampton in "Judas and the Black Messiah."

Long before he took Hollywood by storm, Kaluuya had a varied career on British television, including a standout role in the hit teen drama "Skins." His breakout performance was in an episode of the acclaimed sci-fi anthology series "Black Mirror," but it's an earlier part in the 2009 "Doctor Who" special "Planet of the Dead" that earns him a spot on our list.

In the episode, Kaluuya plays a character named Barclay, one of the passengers aboard a London bus that inadvertently travels through a wormhole to the desert planet San Helios. Thankfully, the Doctor is also on board. He gets the passengers back to Earth — but not before a wild adventure. The young Kaluuya is fantastic in "Planet of the Dead," which was the first "Doctor Who" episode to be filmed in high definition.

Felicity Jones (Lady Robina Redmond)

She's best known to American audiences for her turn in "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," but British viewers knew that Felicity Jones was a talented actor long before she took on the role of Jyn Erso. She had previously plied her trade on several British TV shows, including "Weirdsister College," "Servants," "Cape Wrath," and, of course, "Doctor Who." Jones popped up in a 2008 episode of the cult sci-fi series entitled "The Unicorn and the Wasp."

Set in 1926, the episode features the celebrated crime author Agatha Christie, writer of "Murder on the Orient Express," "Death on the Nile," and dozens of other Hercule Poirot stories. Christie (played by Fenella Woolgar) teams up with the Doctor and his companion Donna Noble to track down a murderer who struck at a dinner party, killing one of its guests. Jones plays Lady Robina Redmond, one of the prime suspects in the case. Her character did not turn out to be the killer, but she was discovered to be much more than she appeared, and Jones' sly performance proved a highlight of the memorable installment.

Carey Mulligan (Sally Sparrow)

Carey Mulligan has built quite a career for herself since hitting the big time, with several acclaimed performances. She starred opposite Ryan Gosling in "Drive," alongside Natalie Portman and Jake Gyllenhaal in "Brothers," and with Michael Douglas in "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps." More recently, she was nominated for an Academy Award for her lead performance in the drama "Promising Young Woman," which itself was nominated for best picture and took home best original screenplay.

Long before she made her mark on Hollywood, Mulligan starred in a fan-favorite episode of "Doctor Who," playing the now-iconic role of Sally Sparrow in 2007's "Blink." The Steven Moffat-penned story was a landmark entry in the series, acclaimed for its unusual script: Mulligan's character, who has never met the Doctor, is the main character and the story is told from her perspective.

In the present day, Sparrow encounters a race of alien creatures who take the form of stone statues that can only move when you're not looking at them. She must communicate with the Doctor (who is trapped in the past) using an old videotape, uncovering the clues he left behind to stop the alien menace. "Blink" introduced the Weeping Angels and is considered by many to be the best "Doctor Who" episode ever.

Kylie Minogue (Astrid Peth)

Australian pop star Kylie Minogue's song "Can't Get You Out of My Head" was a hit in America, but she's always been more popular in Europe, specifically in Britain. She endeared herself to audiences in the U.K. when she appeared as a judge on "The Voice," and her starring role opposite David Tennant in the 2007 "Doctor Who" Christmas special was a big deal. "We are delighted and excited to announce that Kylie Minogue will be joining the Doctor," executive producer Russell T Davies said (via The Guardian). "'Doctor Who' Christmas specials are always a joy and we feel very confident that this will be the most ambitious and best Christmas episode yet."

Minogue was equally excited at the prospect of appearing in the beloved sci-fi series. "It is an incredible thrill to be joining David and the entire 'Doctor Who' production for this year's Christmas special," she said following the announcement. "'Doctor Who' enjoys a unique history and it is going to be very exciting to be a part of that." The episode, titled "Voyage of the Damned," takes place aboard the Titanic — not the doomed ocean liner struck by an iceberg, but a starship that borrowed its name. Minogue plays Astrid Peth, a waitress who helps the Doctor uncover a diabolical plot hatched by a tycoon who wants to destroy the ship.

James Corden (Craig Owens)

James Corden is best known to American audiences as a late night TV personality, but before he was singing in cars with celebrities, he was one of the stars of the hit British sitcom "Gavin & Stacey." He went on to feature in films like "Into The Woods," "Peter Rabbit," and the utterly disastrous big screen adaptation of "Cats," but before all of that, he popped up in two memorable episodes of "Doctor Who."

In 2010, Corden appeared in the episode "The Lodger," in which he played ordinary Colchester resident Craig Owens. Craig has a chance encounter with the Doctor after the TARDIS vanishes and the Time Lord tracks the problem to Craig's upstairs flat. The Doctor winds up renting a room from him, and the two become besties while the Doctor tries to resolve the issue. Craig would return the following season in "Closing Time" when the Doctor intrudes on his life once again and they battle another Cybermen invasion together.

Bill Nighy (Dr Henry Black)

Bill Nighy is best known for playing Davy Jones in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films "Dead Man's Chest" and "At World's End," despite it being a motion capture performance. A renowned character actor, Nighy's great work often goes unsung. He's perfect for playing important side characters because of his ability to put his own unique and distinctive stamp on even the most innocuous parts. He does just that in "Doctor Who," shining in a pair of scenes that bookend one of the show's most touching episodes.

In "Vincent and the Doctor," we travel back in time to visit Vincent van Gogh, whose so-called madness allows him to see an invisible monster that the Doctor has been tracking. At the end of the episode, as a thank you for Vincent's help in his quest, the Doctor takes the famed artist forward in time. There, the artist who toiled in obscurity in his own time sees an exhibit of his paintings at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. The gallery's curator Dr Henry Black — played impeccably by Bill Nighy — describes in vivid detail just what Van Gogh's life and work mean to the history of art.

Timothy Dalton (Rassilon)

Like "Doctor Who," the James Bond franchise has been reinvented many times over the years, with several different actors taking on the eponymous role. Timothy Dalton, who played 007 in "The Living Daylights" and "License To Kill," popped up in "Doctor Who" in 2009 and 2010, playing the villain in the two-part episode "The End of Time." The first part aired on Christmas Day, while the second went on New Year's Day.

Dalton took on the role of Rassilon, the despicable leader of the Time Lords who is bent on nothing less than the destruction of the Doctor. Rassilon fears that the Doctor's actions are unpredictable and could destroy their entire race. He hatches a plot to unleash billions of copies of a renegade Time Lord known as the Master. Interestingly, Dalton was one of the names on a list of actors considered for the part of the eighth Doctor.

Olivia Colman (Mother)

The term Hollywood royalty is bandied about a lot nowadays, but it's certainly apt when it comes to Olivia Colman: She won an Oscar for her performance as Queen Anne in "The Favourite" and scooped an Emmy for her turn as Queen Elizabeth II in "The Crown." The talented actor cut her teeth in British shows like "Peep Show" and "Broadchurch" before hitting the big time, and she also made an early appearance in "Doctor Who."

Colman featured in 2010's "The Eleventh Hour," Matt Smith's debut as the Doctor. The episode is about a sinister alien fugitive with powerful psychic abilities who can take the form of any being. In one memorable sequence during the episode's climax, the alien takes the form of a woman (played by Colman), but a mix-up in the alien's speech gives it away. The episode also marked Karen Gillan's first appearance as Amy Pond, the Doctor's companion.

Toby Jones (Dream Lord)

Another of England's great character actors, Toby Jones has plied his trade in several big franchises over the years, from "The Hunger Games" and "Harry Potter" to "Jurassic World" and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in which he plays Dr. Arnim Zola. He's become a go-to actor for scientists and devious criminal mastermind types, which is exactly the kind of character he played in "Doctor Who" back in 2010.

Jones was hired to play the main villain in the episode "Amy's Choice," and it was inspired casting. His character the Dream Lord draws the Doctor into a deadly game in which he and his companion must make a life-or-death decision over whether they're in a dream or reality. It's one of the most mind-bending episodes of "Doctor Who," and Jones plays a suitably creepy baddie who is much more dangerous than his innocent-looking human form led viewers to believe.

John Cleese (Art Gallery Visitor)

Best known as a co-founder of the landmark British comedy group Monty Python, comedian and actor John Cleese shot to fame in the late 1960s alongside his cohorts Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, and Terry Gilliam. He'd write and star in the iconic sketch comedy series for years, and he also appeared in several Monty Python feature films. Following Monty Python, Cleese starred in the acclaimed British sitcom "Fawlty Towers," which became so popular that it was the subject of no less than three failed American remakes.

By the 1980s, Cleese had transitioned to film, appearing in "Time Bandits" and "Yellowbeard" before starring alongside Kevin Kline and Jamie Lee Curtis in two films, "A Fish Called Wanda" and "Fierce Creatures." Later, he became known as a more tongue-in-cheek version of the gadget-peddling Q in the Pierce Brosnan James Bond films. He appeared briefly in the first two "Harry Potter" films as Nearly Headless Nick, and he voiced King Harold in the "Shrek" franchise. His lone appearance in "Doctor Who" wasn't as prominent, though it was no less memorable. Cleese popped up in the fourth part of "City of Death" in 1979 as an unnamed and sarcastic art gallery visitor.

Brian Blessed (King Yrcanos)

Younger moviegoers might remember Brian Blessed as the booming voice of the CGI toad Boss Nass in "Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace," but that was far from his first rodeo. The barrel-chested Brit has appeared in everything from campy classics like "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" and "Flash Gordon" to dramas like Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of "Much Ado About Nothing." With a big voice and a big smile, he's known for playing larger-than-life figures: Kings, lords, and tyrants. He played to type when he appeared in four episodes of "Doctor Who" in 1986, back when Colin Baker inhabited the role of the Doctor.

Blessed played King Yrcanos in parts five, six, seven, and eight of "The Trial of a Timelord," a massive, 14-part event that was later dubbed "one of the most bizarre and tragic chapters in 'Doctor Who' history" by The Guardian. Believe it or not, the Doctor is on trial for genocide after he sped up the aging process of the Vervoids, a race of humanoid plants hellbent on destroying all animal life. According to Baker, Blessed was a whirlwind on set, using the word "F***erons" when he couldn't remember his line. "The F***erons don't exist, of course," he told Doctor Who Magazine. "And that isn't a word we can use in 'Doctor Who.'" The special effects-heavy scene had to be re-shot at the cost of "thousands," Baker added.

Jonny Lee Miller (Kinda Child)

As an up-and-coming actor, Jonny Lee Miller appeared in iconic British television programs like "Casualty," "EastEnders," and "The Bill." He burst onto the Hollywood scene in 1995 with the techno-thriller "Hackers," starring opposite fellow newcomer Angelina Jolie, and cemented his position the following year when he appeared alongside Ewan McGregor in "Trainspotting." There were a lot of ups and downs in the decades that followed, but he found fame again starring in "Ementary" with Lucy Liu before joining the cast of "The Crown" as former U.K. prime minister John Major.

What only the biggest fans of Miller know is that he made his acting debut in an episode of "Doctor Who," appearing as an uncredited Kinda child in 1982's "Kinda: Part One." It sees the Doctor arrive on the jungle planet Deva Loka, which is seemingly a paradise. A small team of researchers has set up a base on the planet to ascertain whether it's suitable for colonization. The native population (the humanoid Kinda) comes under suspicion when three team members vanish, but the locals are not to blame.