Neil Patrick Harris had ‘never heard’ of Doctor Who, says Russell T Davies

Neil Patrick Harris as the Toymaker in Doctor Who.

Neil Patrick Harris is set to be seen in the third Doctor Who 60th anniversary adventure, “The Giggle”.

The actor is one of several LGBTQ+ stars appearing in Russell T Davies new era of Doctor Who, including Miriam Margolyes as the Meep, Yasmin Finney as Rose Noble and Jinkx Monsoon as another, mysterious, villain

The trailer for the last of three specials confirms Harris will play the conniving, calculating and fabulously styled antagonist The Toymaker, as The Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) battle against him to save the world. 

In an Instagram post announcing the casting, Davies teased: “Neil Patrick Harris, welcome to Cardiff. Playing the greatest enemy the Doctor has ever faced. Such a great actor, such a great man, it’s an honour and a hoot. Have fun.”

Below is everything you need to know about the screen star stepping into the role. 

Who is Neil Patrick Harris and what has he appeared in before?

Neil Patrick Harris is perhaps best known for his role as the provocative Barney Stinson in sitcom How I Met Your Mother.

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The actor, born and raised in New Mexico, has starred in numerous major projects over the years, including A Series of Unfortunate Events, It’s a Sin and his latest LGBTQ+ drama Uncoupled

Harris, who shot to fame as a very young doctor in Doogie Howser MD, came out as gay in an exclusive interview with People magazine in 2006, saying: “I am a very content gay man living my life to the fullest and feel most fortunate to be working with wonderful people in the business I love.”

A year later he went public about his relationship with professional chef David Burkta. The pair had been dating since 2004. 

Harris and Burkta welcomed twins, Harper and Gideon, into the world via surrogacy and tied the knot in 2014 after gay marriage was finally legalised in the US. 

Over his acting career, Harris has won several accolades, including a Tony Award for lead actor in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. He has also landed five Primetime Emmy Awards – one for a guest appearance on Glee.

Why did he get cast in Doctor Who?

Doctor Who is not the first time Neil Patrick Harris has worked alongside gay British writer and director Davies. In 2021, he starred in the award-winning Channel 4 series It’s A Sin, about the Aids epidemic in Eighties Britain.

Harris played tailor Henry Coltrane, who became one of the earliest members of the LGBTQ+ community to be diagnosed with HIV and eventually die from an Aids-related illness.

After that it isn’t surprising that the actor, now 50, came to mind when Davies started the search to cast The Toymaker.

“He had never heard of [Doctor Who], never,” Davies revealed. “He read the script then phoned me and said: ‘So, The Doctor’s an alien’. He really was from scratch.

“He was so glorious in [It’s A Sin] so we knew him. It was [producer] Phil [Collinson] who said: ‘Oh, Neil would be perfect for this because he loves magic and magic tricks’. The Toymaker does play with cards and does do magic tricks and sleight of hand.”

Neil Patrick Harris as The Toymaker.
Neil Patrick Harris plays one of The Doctor’s oldest foes. (BBC Studios/Bad Wolf/Disney)

Due to their prior connection, Davies was able go straight to Harris’ agent with the script.

“[Harris] read it and loved it. He wasn’t planning to be working that summer but he read it and just went: ‘Oh, I’m in’. I think he wanted to work with David [Tennant] as well.

And it looks like we have a lot to look forward to, with Davies describing Harris as phenomenal.

“He has so much range and has so much fun with it, it’s a great piece of work.”

Neil Patrick Harris’ The Toymaker is a classic Doctor Who villain

The Toymaker is an old adversity of The Doctor and hard-core fans might remember his appearance during the classic period of Doctor Who, which ran from 1963 until 1989.

The character, then played by Michael Gough (possibly best known as Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred in Batman Forever and Batman & Robin), an immortal entity, appeared in the season three adventure titled “The Celestial Toymaker”. The four episodes, which aired in 1966 – only fragments remain in the archive – starred William Hartnell as the first Doctor, whose companions were Steven Taylor (Peter Purves) and Dodo Chaplet (Jackie Lane).

A novelisation of the episodes was published in 1986.

The Toymaker will terrorise the Doctor and Donna
The Toymaker appears to hold on the cards, spelling trouble for The Doctor and Donna. (BBC Studios)

The Toymaker’s mode of villainy lies in laying difficult games and tricky challenges for unassuming travellers to fall victim to. To save himself and his companions, the Doctor was forced to complete the Trilogic Game.

However, his victory triggers the destruction of The Toymaker’s realm.

Almost six decades later, with occasional appearances in wider Doctor Who material, the villainous Toymaker will finally return to our screens. Cue mind games, destruction and chaos galore.

It’s likely that whatever challenges he has in store will be enough to force the 14th Doctor’s regeneration, leaving Ncuti Gatwa to step into the role in time for the festive special, “The Church on Ruby Road”.

“The Giggle” airs on BBC One and BBC iPlayer on Saturday 9 December. It will stream globally on Disney+.

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