Skip to main content

Famous Actors Who Starred in ‘Doctor Who’ Before They Made It Big

Doctor Who has launched the careers of some of our favorite actors, like Matt Smith and David Tennant. But they’re not alone. Some of the biggest stars of the past few decades have hitched a ride on the TARDIS. The show has had pre-fame appearances from everyone from Marvel heroes to leading ladies to Oscar winners. There will probably be many more additions to this list in the future, but let’s take a look at which Who actors have hit it big so far!

Karen Gillan

Karen Gillan as Amy Pond in Doctor Who (BBC)

Appeared in: Seasons 5-7

Karen Gillan’s performance as Amy Pond, companion to the Eleventh Doctor, was so winning that it helped transform her into a massive Hollywood star. Since leaving Doctor Who, she’s starred in not one but two blockbuster franchises: the Jumanji series and (of course) the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Gillan is perhps best known for playing Gamora’s sister Nebula, turning what could have been a one-note character into one of the most beloved members of the MCU.

Andrew Garfield

Andrew Garfield as Frank in Doctor Who (BBC)

Appeared in: “Daleks in Manhattan” and “Evolution of the Daleks”

Andrew Garfield was in New York years before he was cast as Spider-Man! He appeared in the “Daleks in Manhattan” two-parter, playing a lovely young man named Frank who gets to fight the Daleks. You’ll be delighted to know that (spoilers) he survives the whole story, something not always guaranteed for Doctor Who guest characters. So, you know, if Russell T. Davies ever wants to bring him back, we wouldn’t be mad about it.

Daniel Kaluuya

Daniel Kaluuya as Barclay in Doctor Who (BBC)

Appeared in: “Planet of the Dead”

The Doctor Who Easter special “Planet of the Dead” is rather forgettable, if not for one thing: it stars future Oscar winner Daniel Kaluuya! Back in 2009, the Judas and the Black Messiah star helps the Doctor get a London bus out of a tricky situation. He’s another actor who could easily return to the show, although he’s probably too busy conquering Hollywood at the moment.

Chukwudi Iwuji

Chukwudi Iwuji as Carl in Doctor Who (BBC)

Appeared in: “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day of the Moon”

The High Evolutionary himself appeared in two episodes of Doctor Who! And Iwuji was acting opposite his future Guardians of the Galaxy co-star Karen Gillan, no less. His character was in both episodes for probably less than five minutes, which explains why Karen Gillan didn’t actually remember him. But from that tiny role came much bigger things, and now he’s one of the most acclaimed villains in MCU history.

Felicity Jones

Felicity Jones as The Unicorn in Doctor Who (BBC)

Appeared in: “The Unicorn and the Wasp”

Felicity Jones played Robina Redmond/The Unicorn in the season four Agatha Christie episode “The Unicorn and the Wasp.” Spoiler alert: It wasn’t her character who “dunnit”. Jones would go on to play Jyn Erso in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Ruth Bader Ginsburg in On the Basis of Sex, and Jane Hawking in The Theory of Everything, the latter of which earned her a nomination for Best Actress at the Academy Awards.

Gemma Chan

Gemma Chan as Mia in Doctor Who (BBC)

Appeared in: “The Waters of Mars”

One of Gemma Chan’s first TV roles was in the Doctor Who special “The Waters of Mars”, playing a character named Mia. Then her career skyrocketed. Chan starred in Crazy Rich Asians before racking up not one but two MCU appearances: first as Minn-Erva in Captain Marvel, and then as the heroine Sersi in Eternals. My favorite performance of hers is in the British sci-fi series Humans … where she played another character named Mia.

Carey Mulligan

Carey Mulligan as Sally Sparrow in Doctor Who (BBC)

Appeared in: “Blink”

Carey Mulligan had done some high-profile work in the UK when she was cast as the main character in the iconic Doctor Who episode “Blink.” Yep, the one that introduced the Weeping Angels to the world. Since then, Mulligan has become a two-time Academy Award nominee thanks to roles in An Education and Promising Young Woman. Yet even though she’s appeared in a huge amount of critically-acclaimed films, “Blink” is still one of the things most associated with her.

Letitia Wright

Letitia Wright as Anahson in Doctor Who (BBC)

Appeared in: “Face the Raven”

The episode “Face the Raven” is a pretty big deal for Doctor Who fans, since a major character dies (or do they?) in it. So with everything going on, it’s easy to miss the fact that Letitia Wright is also in it! And her character is a important part of what kicks off the plot. Watch episode on again and watch out for a character named Anahson. That’s the future Black Panther right there!

Joe Dempsie

Joe Dempsie as Cline in Doctor Who (BBC)

Appeared in: “The Doctor’s Daughter”

“The Doctor’s Daughter” is another huge episode for hardcore Whovians, since it features (are you ready for this?) Fifth Doctor actor Peter Davison’s daughter, Georgia Moffett, playing the literal daughter of the Doctor. Except now, Moffett is the Doctor’s wife in addition to the Doctor’s daughter because she and David Tennant fell in love on set and got married. This makes Tennant himself both the Doctor and the Doctor’s son-in-law. Got all that? Good. But this very important Who episode also features future Game of Thrones star Joe Dempsie in a minor role. He shares a kiss with Moffett in the episode, just to add to all the confusion.

Jonathan Bailey

Jonathan Bailey as Psi in Doctor Who (BBC)

Appeared in: “Time Heist”

Jonathan Bailey played a cybernetic human in the episode “Time Heist” back in 2014. Nearly a decade later, he’s a star thanks to the smash hit Bridgerton series, where he plays Viscount Anthony. Bailey will also star as Fiyero in the upcoming film adaption of Wicked.

Noma Dumezweni

Noma Dumezweni as Erisa Magambo in Doctor Who (BBC)

Appeared in: “Turn Left” and “Planet of the Dead”

Dumezweni gained a lot of attention—some of it very unwelcome—when she was cast as Hermione Granger in the stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. But before that, she was in two Doctor Who episodes, playing UNIT Captain Erisa Magambo. You can catch her now as Disney royalty, Queen Selina in The Little Mermaid!

Olivia Colman

Olivia Colman as Prisoner Zero in Doctor Who (BBC)

Appeared in: “The Eleventh Hour”

Just before she hit mega-fame, Olivia Colman popped up as the villain in the Eleventh Doctor’s first episode, “The Eleventh Hour.” Alas, she was only in the episode for a few minutes, and didn’t get a lot of time to showcase her incredible talents. But nine years later, The Crown star won an Oscar for portraying Queen Anne in The Favorite.

(featured image: BBC Studios)

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Filed Under:

Follow The Mary Sue:

Sarah Barrett (she/her) is a freelance writer with The Mary Sue who has been working in journalism since 2014. She loves to write about movies, even the bad ones. (Especially the bad ones.) The Raimi Spider-Man trilogy and the Star Wars prequels changed her life in many interesting ways. She lives in one of the very, very few good parts of England.