Patrick Troughton: The Biography of the Second Doctor Who, by Michael Troughton

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Finally in December [1945] he managed to persuade the owner of a large dilapidated building on the Finchley Road in London to rent him two rooms. A friend of my mother describes it well, ‘After the war they rented a flat in Swiss Cottage on a stretch of the Finchley Road opposite the old Odeon and close to the famous pub. In those days there was a row of substantial detached houses, each with what had been stables, but then converted into garages with flats above. I remember a very rickety staircase inside the garage up to the flat, and the intriguing fact that the bath was in the kitchen, with a large wooden cover serving perfectly as a table during the day. I envied them living there so close to the bright lights, and the fact that they had such a relaxed ‘bohemian lifestyle’ which included going out for breakfast when they felt like it!’

Slowly working through the published biographies of Doctor Who crew and cast, and it's time to look at Patrick Troughton, possibly the most versatile actor to take on the role as a regular, and certainly the only one to appear in a Oscar-winning film (as the Player King in Olivier's 1948 Hamlet, which also features Peter Cushing as Osric; John Hurt is in A Man for All Seasons which won the Oscar for Best Film in 1966, and of course Peter Capaldi shared the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film in 1994). The author is one of Troughton's many acting descendants, his third child Michael, who actually appeared in the 2014 Christmas special Last Christmas as Dr Albert Smithe.

It must be very difficult to write about a father like Patrick Troughton, who was loving but physically distant. Troughton's own life was full of much human drama, which we must largely infer from Michael's childhood memories and his father's preserved correspondence. Soon after Michael was born in 1955, Patrick left his first wife, Margaret, for another partner with whom he had another three children; at the point that he decided to take on the Doctor Who role, he was in the middle of a brief and ultimately unsuccessful reconciliation with Margaret, played out to a certain extent in front of the children. At the same time there was a third partner in the mix. He married someone else entirely in the mid-1970s. He said to Michael, years after the final split with Margaret,

‘I needed change. Things have to change all the time for me I’m afraid, that’s the way I am made. I am sorry if I hurt you.’

Reminiscent of one of his first lines as the Doctor: "Life depends on change and renewal."

He seems to have been a man who broke many hearts, but continued to take his emotional commitments to all his lovers and children very seriously, but always suffered from the pressure of generating enough income to meet his financial obligations to his two families, which eventually ground him down; he had his first heart attack at 58, and died of another at a convention eight years later. (Incidentally the circumstances of his death are clarified here, and are much less exciting than we had been led to believe.)

There is quite a lot here about Troughton's approach to acting, including his early education ain London and New York. He is on record (sometimes contradictory) about his philosophy of theatre, particularly on how it defined his own sense of personhood:

My father was a complex man but one thing was very clear – he had to act. He once confessed to me, whilst working together on an episode of the seventies TV nursing drama Angels, that acting was part of his being, something he had to do rather than had chosen. He likened the process of inhabiting another character in performance to ‘a drug-like craving that seemed to keep my whole self in order. I can’t imagine my world without it. It sparks me with life.’

This craving for multiple identities perhaps played out in his complex private life, and even his approach to being an ex-Doctor Who, where he embraced the American convention circuit once he had discovered it, but was much less visible in the UK, where he wanted to avoid typecasting for the sake of future acting work. He would no doubt be pleased that IMDB ranks The Omen as his most notable performance. There's not much on politics here (Troughton fought in the second world war, where he became noted for wearing a tea-cosy; he was contrarian for the sake of it in argument). Interestingly, there is more on religion: Troughton was deeply hostile to organised Christianity, boycotted one son's wedding service and was dismayed when another decided to get ordained.

It's a more lively book than Jessica Carney's biography of her grandfather, William Hartnell, because Troughton had a more lively life, and Doctor Who came in the middle of his career rather than at the end (chapters 7, 8, 9 and 10 out of fifteen total). It scratches one's itch of curiosity about its subject, while inevitably leaving you wishing you knew more. Well worth getting.

(Next up, if I can find it, is Directed by Douglas Camfield by Michael Seely; if I can't find it, I'll turn to Robert Holmes: a Life in Words by Richard Molesworth.)