Who Could Neil Patrick Harris Be Playing On Doctor Who? There Are 3 Intriguing Possibilities

Neil Patrick Harris in Doctor Who
(Image credit: Instagram)

Doctor Who is hard at work filming its 60th anniversary, and fans are continually amazed by the announcements for it. Former Doctor Who stars David Tennant and Catherine Tate are back in the fold, and we’ll have a new Doctor replacing Jodie Whittaker, played by Ncuti Gatwa. If all that wasn’t exciting enough, the franchise blew more minds recently when it announced a new actor for the special, Neil Patrick Harris

The “legendary” How I Met Your Mother actor is a great addition to Doctor Who. Incoming and returning showrunner Russell T. Davies teased Harris as “the greatest villain The Doctor has ever faced,” which obviously got fans thinking. Given that this is will be 60th anniversary, it feels possible Harris will play an iconic villain that longtime fans know well. Right now, there are three intriguing possibilities on who he might play worth discussing. 

The Celestial Toymaker on Doctor Who

(Image credit: BBC America)

The Celestial Toymaker

The Celestial Toymaker appeared in the seventh serial of Doctor Who Season 3, which aired way back in 1966. The character took on William Hartnell’s Doctor and forced him and his companions into a series of games they had to participate in. If they failed, they became his play things for all of eternity. What made it extra dastardly is the Celestial Toymaker intentionally rigged the games in his favor in order to better trap any unwitting subjects, so he didn't even play fair! 

Many Doctor Who fans on the internet are thinking Neil Patrick Harris will play the Celestial Toymaker. It’s a theory that I think is plausible, though it’s worth noting the character suffers from a bit of controversy. The name “Celestial Toymaker” might sound like some MCU villain in modern times, but back in the ’60s, “Celestial” was a slur for Asians. Additionally, the Toymaker wore traditional Asian attire, despite being played by white actor Michael Gough. It’s hard to imagine Doctor Who drudging up a character with so much controversial baggage unless the character was heavily retooled. 

With that said, Neil Patrick Harris’ character doesn’t really resemble classic depictions of The Celestial Toymaker. Additionally, fans spotted a toy shop during the filming of Doctor Who’s 60th in Bristol, England (via Twitter). There’s definitely a case to be made here that Harris is playing the classic Doctor Who villain, but I wouldn’t say it’s definitive. After all, this show loves to make things appear one way and then flip the script when fans least expect it. Can we really be sure Russell T. Davies isn’t leading us to believe it’s the Celestial Toymaker?

Peter Cushing in Dr. Who

(Image credit: Regal Films International)

Dr. Who

No, that wasn’t a typo above, there was once a Dr. Who. In the mid-'60s, actor Peter Cushing starred in a couple of films about a character named Dr. Who. The character is not a Time Lord, but rather an eccentric inventor who created a TARDIS in his backyard. Much like the actual Doctor, Dr. Who had some encounters with the Daleks and even eventually found his way into the universe’s canon. In the novelization of “The Day of the Doctor,” the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors note they’re fans of the Dr. Who movies and are friends with actor Peter Cushing. 

Curiously enough, the first image of Neil Patrick Harris in Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary special bore a striking resemblance to Peter Cushing’s Dr. Who. Including him as a character in the 60th would certainly be a great callback to the past, even if the character isn’t wholly related to The Doctor and hasn't really gotten a lot of mentions from the franchise over the years. 

The main problem with this theory is that Russell T. Davies described Neil Patrick Harris' character as the greatest villain the Doctor ever faced. Perhaps when it comes to identity theft, Dr. Who could be a threat, but he’s not exactly ever presented as someone directly opposed to the Doctor. In fact, his taking on the Daleks seemingly indicates he’d be a great ally if called upon. Of course, a great mind like Davies could find a way to twist the character around and spin some entertaining web, so I’m not ruling it out. 

The Master in Doctor Who

(Image credit: BBC America)

The Master

Look, you know we had to throw The Master into the mix. When it comes to the most iconic villains in the Doctor Who franchise, The Master is at the top of the list. I’m not sure The Doctor faced a greater enemy in the modern era, so it’s easy to think that he’d come along and ruin the 60th anniversary for The Doctor. Neil Patrick Harris would make a terrific Master, but is that what is happening here? 

It’s worth noting that Doctor Who already has an actor currently playing The Master, and that’s Sacha Dhawan (who had an incredible debut you can watch with an HBO Max subscription). With that said, it seems like there’s something wonky going on in the 60th anniversary so far, as we’ve seen a lot of David Tennant’s Doctor, but haven’t heard much about Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor outside of his casting. There are theories out there something is amiss with The Doctor that could explain this, namely that it’s possible The Doctor reverted to a previous incarnation. If that’s possible, is it also possible that The Master might revert to a previous incarnation? 

That’s a possibility, and it’s also a possibility The Doctor could encounter a prior or even previously unseen Master. The good thing about Doctor Who is that the timeline and rules are mostly fluid. If the story wants Neil Patrick Harris’ character to be The Master, there are enough avenues in past stories for that to happen with ease. When it comes to large-scale adventures and high stakes, it’s hard to think of many other Who villains who can shoulder a story quite as well. This is a safe and even great bet, but like with the other choices, it’s impossible for us to know with certainty. 

Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary celebration will kick off sometime in 2023 on BBC America, but we’re getting plenty of reveals in the meantime. So much so that it’s hard to remember fans still need to watch Jodie Whittaker’s final episode, which may unlock some of the mystery surrounding what’s happening in the upcoming special.

Mick Joest
Content Producer

Mick contains multitudes and balances his time reporting on big happenings in the world of Star Trek, the WWE, reality television, and other sci-fi shows.