Casting Canton on Doctor Who

We all remember the season 6 opener of Doctor Who, “The Impossible Astronaut.” An older version of the Doctor (who looks exactly the same as the younger version) invites Amy, Rory, and River to the American Southwest for a picnic only to get himself shot by “the impossible astronaut.” Then enter from the hills an old man calling himself Canton Everett Delaware III. Who is this man and why did the Doctor invite him here to witness his murder?

marksheppardLater, we meet a younger version of Canton in the White House during Nixon’s reign. He is played by sci-fi royalty Mark Sheppard. Although he is English, this is his first British-produced role, having mainly starred in American and Canadian productions like  Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, Supernatural…and so on. The show approached him and asked something to the effect of, “Would you like to play a James Bond on Doctor Who?”

Initially, the Doctor Who producers planned to put Mark Sheppard into prosthetics for the Southwest scenes to make him look like an old man. Sheppard quite rightly suggested, “Well, why don’t you just ask my dad?” His father, William Morgan Sheppard (sometimes W. Morgan Sheppard) is a veteran actor, having appeared in not only science fiction greats like Max Headroom, Babylon 5, Quantum Leap, SeaQuest, and Star Trek but also many mainstream American shows like Gilmore Girls and Dexter. In addition to Doctor Who, Mark and Morgan have played the older/younger versions of themselves three times, including in NCIS. The Doctor Who producers hesitated: “Would he do it?”

“It’s Doctor Who. Of course he’d do it!” Mark Sheppard said. He didn’t even ask his father if he wanted to. He just called him up and said, “I think you’re doing Doctor Who.” While Morgan shot his scenes in Utah, Mark’s scenes were shot in Cardiff, Wales.

The real hiccup came when the Screen Actors Guild got involved. The BBC operates very differently than American television and does not have the budget that Hollywood requires by the union to pay its bit-part actors. Being a SAG member, William Morgan Sheppard was not permitted to work on the BBC production in Utah for BBC’s normal wages, so Sheppard senior phoned up SAG and tried to sound old and decrepit to perhaps gain some sympathy. “It’s only a bit part,” he pleaded, to which SAG’s response was, “Oh for Christ sake, Morgan, I saw you in Mad Men three weeks ago!” But God bless them, they let him take the role.


Jaime Pond is the editor of She lives and works in NYC. Follow her on Twitter.


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