Doctor Who: The League Of Time Travelling Gentlemen

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Hokey-cokey, pig in a pokey! Christopher Morley gets a day release from Royston Vasey...


With Reece Shearsmith's appearance in Sleep No More, all the performing members of The League Of Gentlemen have now also been involved with Doctor Who in some capacity.

Perhaps the most prolific of the troupe has been Mark Gatiss, the writer of Sleep No More, Robot Of Sherwood, The Crimson Horror, Cold War, Night Terrors, Victory Of The Daleks, The Idiot's Lantern and the Ninth Doctor adventure The Unquiet Dead.



Christopher Eccleston, the first New-Who incarnation to feature in a Gatiss script, had previously appeared alongside the League in their surrealist trip around the village of Royston Vasey before his casting as the Ninth Doctor, when he popped up in 2002's League episode How The Elephant Got Its Trunk as cat-obsessed theatrical impresario Dougal Siepp.



Three years later he would be donning a leather jacket and preparing to take Billie Piper's Rose Tyler on her first trip into the past - Rose & The End Of The World having taken place in the present day & far future respectively.

The Unquiet Dead would allow Gatiss the chance to indulge in a certain fascination with the Victorian period, seized upon by showrunner Russell T Davies as a decent basis for a pseudo-historical. As A Brief History Of Time Travel would recall...
"Despite outlining the entire season in his pitch document, Davies had no intention of writing every episode himself, and the Dickens story was one he had earmarked for another author. This was Mark Gatiss, an award-winning writer/actor best known as a member of the League of Gentlemen comedy troupe; he had also written scripts for the revival of Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased).

Gatiss possessed an avowed interest in the Victorian era and a sense of the macabre, making him ideally suited for the type of adventure Davies had in mind."
Which underwent many revisions before a final draft and eventual broadcast.
"At an early stage, under the title of “The Crippingwell Horror”, the adventure was set at a “spiritualist hotel” owned by a Mrs Plumchute, and involved a psychic named Noah Sneed contacting the Gelth. The maid, Gwyneth (named for a character in the Desirous Of Change episode of Upstairs, Downstairs), was a much more minor character at this stage; her brother, Davy, was interred at the nearby Crippingwell Cemetery.

Subsequently, the setting was altered, with Sneed (now given the first name Gabriel) becoming the owner of a funeral home and Gwyneth assuming the role of the psychic. In Davies' original conception, the story had been set in 1860; towards the end of the scripting process, it was decided to shift the timeframe to 1869, during Dickens' waning days."
Following Eccleston's departure as the Doctor, Steve Pemberton would appear alongside Tenth Doctor David Tennant in Silence In The Library/Forest Of The Dead as Strackman Lux.



By this time Gatiss had already stepped in front of the camera in The Lazarus Experiment as the titular Professor Richard Lazarus, later doing the same as Gantok in The Wedding Of River Song. Just to show off even further, its his voice we hear as Spitfire pilot "Danny Boy" in Victory Of The Daleks and A Good Man Goes To War.



Which leaves Shearsmith - who you may recall made a short cameo as Patrick Troughton during the reconstruction of William Hartnell's passing of the torch in the Gatiss-written An Adventure In Space & Time.



And then, of course, we recently had his turn as Professor Rasmussen in Sleep No More.



From Papa Lazarou to Pat & the Professor, you might say.



Indeed, we might say that his performance as the oddball member of the travelling community was a perfect dress rehearsal of sorts before donning the Beatle cut & fetching bow tie. Patrick Mulkern of the Radio Times could certainly see similarities!
"At 43, Shearsmith is only three years younger than Troughton was when he took on Doctor Who. He has thick dark hair and is about the right height. But, more importantly, as anyone who watched The League of Gentlemen or Psychoville knows, Shearsmith is absolutely brilliant at creating characters (Edward of the Local Shop, Papa Lazarou, Mr Jelly, Maureen Sowerbutts...) who are both funny and sinister. And that, for me, is Troughton’s Doctor all over."
His old friend clearly saw something of the cosmic Chaplin in him, too.
"I first asked Reece about 12 years ago when I started thinking about this project. We were in the midst of League of Gentlemen and I just remember thinking, if anyone plays Patrick Troughton, it should be Reece. Like the Second Doctor, he’s small, saturnine and a comic genius. The complete package. He thought it was a fantastic idea and I’ve kind of nurtured it all this time."
But as it turns out Reece's taste in Doctor Who is of a somewhat more recent vintage. As Gatiss observed-
"Reece has a funny relationship with Doctor Who – mostly to do with impressions of the Borad from Timelash! He and a friend were obsessed with season 22. One of my earliest memories of Reece is him going, ‘I am the Borad!’ He’ll do the whole of Timelash at the drop of a hat. Which is a strange qualification. He’s not steeped in Doctor Who like I am, but has been lightly dipped over the years."
Which explains Rasmussen's appearance - Dastari's specs topped off with a Vengeance On Varos-ish uniform.



And as a Telegraph appraisal made clear,
"The part as written was somewhat hammy, with the deranged Rassmussen variously hyperventilating to camera and outlining his plan, evil-genius fashion, to the Doctor. Shearsmith, however, introduced a note of creepy understatement. Rather than portray Rassmussen as a lunatic in a lab-coat , he brought a chilling whiff of true-life psychosis."
As a great man once wrote, "Methought I heard a voice cry, 'Sleep no more!'". Or was that "You're my wife now...."

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