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The Best Sci-Fi Characters on UK TV : Ken Barlow as Doctor Who

Updated on July 15, 2022

Sometimes you just can't get the staff. Or even if you can then you can't always hold onto them for long.

Employee retention can be a major headache for corporations these days especially as the most talented and popular drift off to pastures new.

The makers of the famous Doctor Who series, in other words the BBC, know this fact all too well.

In the 40 or more years that the show has been on and off the airwaves the dear old Beeb have went through 10 lead actors in the role.

That's not counting Peter Cushing who appeared as the Doctor in the 1960s cinemas or even Paul McGann who turned up in a TV movie version in the 1990s.

Not one of the so-called immortal Time Lords ever managed more than a few years tenure before handing in their resignation and morphing into the next employee. That has been consistent throughout the decades since William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton in the 1960s through to Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith, Peter Capaldi and a female Dr Who, Jodie Whitaker, in the 21st Century.

Even in these modern times of professionalised HR Departments and scientific recruitment the BBC can't hang on to an important employee.

But it could have all been completely different with the benefit of hindsight or inter-departmental time travel. If only they had chosen William Roache, AKA Ken Barlow of Coronation Street, way back in the beginning instead of William Hartnell. Why do I say this?

Well, because Roache has passed over 60 years in the role of Ken Barlow in Coronation Street and entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest serving actor in a continuous role. Who said there were no jobs for life any more. Bank managers are tearing up overdraft agreements in anguish

The flagship TV soap opera set in Manchester has enjoyed sterling service from a faithful employee for over half a century. This has made him one of the longest running TV characters on Planet Earth or any other heavenly body this side of Gallifrey or Deirdre Langton.

He has been clocking in to work since the black and white days of 1960 without ever an inkling of wanting to ply his trade elsewhere.

So imagine the consistency and continuity that the ageless Roache would have offered the role of the good Doctor.

In fact it would have been perfect if he had actually played the part as Ken Barlow himself.

It's been a casting opportunity missed and if only the Granada Studios and the BBC had the foresight and ingenuity to have realised that. They could have had a lifetime's service from the great man.

Even as a youngster he had that homely quality and self-effacing charm

Barlow: Hello mother, I'm home!

Mother: Oh hello Kenneth, it's so good to see you. You're very late. Where have you been?

Barlow: Just sorting out a territorial dispute between the Thargons and the Drelics over in the Tantamus Nebulae. It almost erupted in a thermonuclear exchange!

Mother: Dear Dear! What are the worlds coming to?

Barlow: Yes! It was a near thing to inter-planetary annihilation over there,

Mother: Well done! But please do tuck your shirt in. What else have you been up to?

Barlow: Oh I bought this new LP by The Rolling Stones,

Mother: Oh for goodness sake Kenneth? They're such rough types. You know I don't approve of them, don't like them at all. Why can't you follow The Beatles? They're such nice, tidy boys.

Barlow: Aw c'mon mum! They're bloody Scousers!!


His dress sense and feel for contemporary fashions would have been no worse than some of the actors who have popped out that Police box around the known universe.

Ken's round-necked pullovers with the overlapping shirt collar or his smart but casual suits and raincoats would have been fitting for the role.

You only have to consider the dandified and anachronistic elegance of John Pertwee who eventually left to become a scarecrow.

There was also the 'Multi-Coloured Swap-Shop' scarf that throttled Britain as worn by Tom Baker and the straw-boater tramp appeal of the diminutive Scotsman Sylvestor MacCoy. Compared to all those jumble sale relics Ken Barlow would have brought an understated sartorial quality to the show.

He would not only have been an intergalactic sensation for his wardrobe but he would have also encouraged kids to dress properly.

But Coronation Street would still offer outlandish costumes and strange creatures. Who can forget Bet Lynch's huge ear-rings and leopard-skin tops or even Hilda Ogden's matching cleaning apron and hair-rollers.

However, bookish, erudite and sensitive with a strong sense of fair play Barlow would have been more than a match for his perennial foes the Daleks as well as the evil Mike Baldwin.

Scene from the episode 'The Dalek Invasion of Blackpool Beach'.
Scene from the episode 'The Dalek Invasion of Blackpool Beach'. | Source

Of course it was the latter who eventually made gentle Ken crack and erupt that molten core in the 1980s.

With the ruthless emperor of the local Rag Trade trying to dominate the cobbles on the street it was more than our hero could stand.

Baldwin himself could easily have slotted into the role of the villainous Master who was truly the arch enemy of Doctor Who.

Baldwin: "You'll never stop my empire you pathetic old fart",

Barlow: "Yes I will! There's no place in the clothing trade for an evil monster like you",

Baldwin: "It is futile. I'm the Master around here buddy. Dressmaker to the planets",

Barlow: "So you think so?", shouts Barlow as he produces an object from under his jacket.

Baldwin: "What the hell? A rolled-up copy of the Weatherfield Gazette?"

Barlow: "Ah-ha!! No it isn't!", as he unrolls the paper,

Baldwin: "What now?,

Barlow: "It's my sonic screwdriver!",

Baldwin: "My arse! You bought that in B&Q"

Barlow: "Au contraire! This is your downfall my fiendish friend. This device will render your operations useless"

Baldwin: "Well you sure haven't been operating much if your Deirdre is anything to go by"

Barlow: "What are you talking about?"

Baldwin: "I'm saying that piece of junk will be the only screwing you'll have been getting"

Barlow: "What do you mean?"

Baldwin: "I mean! While you've been swanning about the universe I've been diddlin your missus"

So you see! Ken Barlow as Doctor Who would have certainly moved with the times. An all-action hero full of a resilience and fearlessness unmatched among any competing soap operas. He could even have adopted the robotic K9 as long as he secured a dangerous dog licence from the local council.

And even today in our modern 21st century our Ken is still fighting the fight and putting things right. Although punching one of his pupils at the school where he taught was perhaps taking things a little too far.

Nevertheless Ken Barlow would have undoubtedly made for a marvellous Doctor Who. Even if only for sticking out the job for over 60 years unlike the fly by nights we are used to viewing.

We can only wonder.


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