15 SF & fantasy TV characters who inexplicably changed their appearance…
You know how it is when you tune into the new season of a show, and suddenly there’s an impostor playing your favourite character. Even worse, nobody else on the show seems to notice!
It’s a practice that’s widespread in soaps (every one of Blake’s children in Dynasty went through an actor change) but it’s not unheard of in SF and fantasy TV. The thing is, in SF and fantasy you could always explain an actor change (shapeshifting, magic, DNA restructuring) and yet the producers still sometimes seem to expect to slip the change past us without so much as a “My, you’ve changed!” or “This never happened to the other guy”.
Here are a few cases from SF and fantasy TV where the actor's changed but there’s been no (or barely any) explanation of why in the script. So Doctor Who doesn’t count; nor does K-9, because his different voice was explained away (although, to be honest, it did change back without explanation). Films don’t count, and neither do remakes of old series; these all exist within one show’s (or franchise’s) continuity. So, are you ready for the invasion of the body snatchers?
First played by: Dick York (seasons one to five, 1964-69)
Then by: Dick Sargent (seasons six to eight, 1969-72)
Possibly the most famous actor swap in history, to the extent that when it happens now, it's referred to as “doing a Darrin”. York had to drop out of the role due to ill health; he had a severe back condition as the result of an accident while shooting the film They Came To Cordura in 1959. He limped on through season five, often having to be written out of episodes altogether, until the producers were forced to make the swap.
Similarity rating: Not bad. They were certainly physically similar, but perhaps York seemed more perpetually hassled and on the edge of a nervous breakdown than the slightly more laid-back Sargent.
Show: Red Dwarf
First played by: Clare Grogan (sporadically in seasons one, two and six, 1988-93)
Then by: Chloe Annett (seasons seven and eight, 1997-99)
Similarity rating: Completely and totally different physically and in terms of personality; from the petite, Scottish, punky, spunky Grogan to the curvy, schoolma’am-like Annett.They may as well have been different characters. Was it done deliberately?
Show: Blake’s 7
First played by: Stephen Greif (season one, 1978)
Then by: Brian Croucher (season two, 1979)
Similarity rating: Pretty bad. He went from a genuinely scary, intense thug with what looked like a cancerous growth over half his face to an avuncular, slightly irritable middle-management type teacher with a piece of tissue paper over his eye.
The Borg Queen
Show: Star Trek Voyager
First played by: Susann Thompson (“Dark Frontier” 1999, “Unimatrix Zero” 2000)
Then by: Alice Krige (“Endgame” 2001)
Okay, this is a bit of an odd one, because Alice Krige played the Borg Queen first, but that was in the film First Contact . Thompson was first to play the part on TV but after she’d played her for four episodes, the Trek producers asked Krige back to reprise the role for Voyager ’s final episode. We presume the money was good because the script certainly wasn’t.
Similarity rating: Well, casual viewers may have found it hard to tell the difference with the actresses under all that make-up, but while Thompson did an okay impression of the big screen Borg, when Krige came back there was something more steely, and regal, and dangerous about her.
Show: Star Trek: Various
First played by: Jon Paul Steuer ( Star Trek: The Next Generation “Reunion” 1990)
Then by: Brian Bonsall (“New Ground”, “Ethics”, “Cost Of Living”, Imaginary Friend”, “Rascals”, “A Fistful Of Datas” 1992, “Firstborn” 1994 )
Then by: Marc Worden ( Star Trek: Deep Space Nine “You Are Cordially Invited”, “Sons And Daughters” 1997)
Alexander was Worf’s son, in case you didn’t know, remember or care. By our exact rules, (that there should be no explanation for the change of actor) you could rule out Marc Worden, because there’s some guff about Klingons growing up faster, but it’s a pretty feeble excuse for his complete change in bone structure. Alex was also played by James Sloyan in “Firstborn” but that doesn’t count because he was a future, grown-up version of the Klingon tot, and you could hardly have expected Bonsall to play that (but again, Sloyan didn’t look anything like Worden or Bonsall even underneath all that hair and make-up).
Similarity rating: The leap from Steuer to Bonsall isn’t too bad but you could never imagine Bonsall growing into the extremely wet and willowy Worden.
First played by: Julie Newmar (13 episodes, 1966-7)
Then by: Eartha Kitt (5 episodes, 1967-8)
Okay, we know Lee Meriwether played her as well, but that was only in the movie version, so it doesn’t count.
Similarity rating: Chalk and cheese. But who cares? They were both fabulous in completely different ways. Newmar was a sleek panther; Kitt was a pedigree Persian. And while we’re on the subject of Batman…
First played by: Frank Gorshin (10 episodes, 1966-7)
Then by: John Astin (2 episodes, 1967)
Similarity rating: Astin had the unenviable job of following the simply magnificent Gorshin, who seemed to be born to play The Riddler. Astin had the same lunacy, and made a pretty good stab at the role, but he could never quite match the same intensity Gorshin had. Gorshin’s Riddler was a force of nature; Astin was a freak of nature. Astin also had a terrible, bargain basement costume.
Show: Lois And Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman
First played by: Michael Landes (season one, 1993-4)
Then by: Justin Whalin (seasons two to four, 1994-7)
Similarity rating: The problem here was not a lack of similarity to each other, as too much similarity between Michael Landes and the show's star Dean Cain (on the DVD commentary for the pilot of Lois & Clark, Dean Cain has admitted that he and Landes looked like they could be related). So, if the producers didn’t want someone who looked like Cain, they were going to have to cast someone who didn’t look like Landes either. Enter gerbil-cheeked Whalin. Exit half the female audience who always preferred Landes to Cain anyway.
First played by: John Haymes Newton (season one, 1988-89)
Then by: Gerard Christopher (seasons two to four, 1989-92)
Similarity rating: Newton was ousted after one season for three reasons: he asked for more money, he was arrested for drunk driving (bad publicity for playing a goody two shoes like Superman) and, frankly, he was a bit rubbish. Christopher was a great match looks-wise but came with the added bonus that he could actually act and walk at the same time without looking like he was concentrating too hard. The show much improved when he took over.
Show: Doctor Who
First played by: Michael Wisher (“Genesis Of The Daleks” 1975)
Then by: David Gooderson (“Destiny Of The Daleks” 1979)
Then by: Terry Molloy (“Resurrection of the Daleks” 1984, “Revelation of the Daleks” 1985, “Remembrance Of The Daleks” 1988)
Then by: Julian Bleach (“The Stolen Earth”, “Journey’s End” 2008)
Similarity rating: Well, the first two should have looked identical because it was the same mask. Sadly the mask didn’t fit Gooderson properly, and he also failed to imbue Davros with the icy, psychotic evil that Wisher managed. Molloy was better than Gooderson but had a mask that looked (as fans at time put it) like a frustrated Ena Sharples (in case you don’t know, Ena Sharples was a Coronation Street character from the 1830s or somewhen with a face like an overboiled cabbage and bags under her eyes you could carry your weekly shopping home in). Molly also had a habit of getting really squeaky during rants. Bleach was fabulous, and benefitted from great new, 21st century prosthetic techniques, but somehow he still lacked the subtlety of Wisher, going for the rant, when the original Davros would have smoldered.
The First Doctor
Show: Doctor Who
First played by: William Hartnell (series one to four, 1963-6)
Then by: Richard Hurndall (“The Five Doctors” 1983)
Similarity rating: Hurndall stepped in to play the First Doctor for the show’s 20th anniversary special when Hartnell had the temerity to die in the meantime (has he no respect for the fans?). Hurndall was given the role after allegedly looking and acting a bit like William Hartnell’s Doctor in an episode of Blake’s 7, which is clearly nonsense since he didn’t fluff any of his lines. Hurndall, bless him, really throws himself into the role, but he isn’t the First Doctor, or even an actor doing an impression of the First Doctor. He’s Richard Hurndall playing the Doctor, and while there are superficial similarities to Hartnell’s he simply hasn’t got the same irascibility or charm. He’s a great support character, not a lead.
Show: The Munsters
First played by: Beverley Owen (1964)
Then by: Pat Priest (1964-66)
Similarity rating: Owen apparently took on the role never expecting the show to be a success, and when it was, and she was potentially contracted to it for years, became depressed at having to leave New York and her boyfriend for an extended period. After she was seen breaking down and crying in the studio, stars Al Lewis and Fred Gwynne petitioned the studio to release her from her contract, which she was. She was replaced by Pat Priest who, to be honest, was pretty much a dead ringer (so much so we still aren’t 100 per cent sure we’ve got pictures of both actresses above) except she looked happier…
Show: Stargate SG-1 , Stargate Atlantis
First played by: Jessica Steen (Stargate SG-1, “Lost City” 2004)
Then by: Torri Higginson ( Stargate Atlantis, seasons one to four, 2004-2008)
Similarity rating: Erm, are we talking the same character here? There’s barely any similarity between them. They may as well have created an entirely new character for Atlantis .
Show: The Six Million Dollar Man
First played by: Martin Balsam (pilot 1973)
Then by: Alan Oppenheimer (seasons one and two, 1974-75)
Then by: Martin E Brooks (seasons three to five, 1975-78, plus The Bionic Woman )
Similarity rating: Hell, it was so long ago and he was such a minor character and they all had cheesy moustaches. What we’re trying to say is, when we were kids, we hardly even noticed.
Show: Babylon 5
First played by: Julie Caitlin Brown (season one, 1994, season five, 1998)
Then by: Mary Kay Adams (season two, 1994)
Similarity rating: Julie Caitlin Brown was a brilliantly feisty Narn who acted her way through the make-up; Mary Kay Adams seemed to let the make-up overwhelmed her, and after two episodes the character was dropped. Brown left the role because of the discomfort of the prosthetics, but she was convinced to return to the show eventually in season five, making Na’toth the “Second Becky” of telefantasy.