Doctor Who has a long fabled history of actors — from Julian Glover to Carey Mulligan — showing up in the series before they went on to explode into international stardom, and Doctor Who as a veritable who’s who (sorry) of famous stars before they really started shining is a concept as old as the show itself. But now, 15 years on, we’re looking back at one surprising guest star in particular.
Fifteen years ago today, Doctor Who’s third revived season saw the broadcast of “Daleks in Manhattan,” the first in a bonkers two-part escapade that saw David Tennant and Freema Agyeman’s 10th Doctor and Martha Jones travel back to ‘30s New York and uncover a sinister plot by a cult of Daleks — survivors of their seeming 23,057,929,365th time of being wiped out forever for really real this time at the end of the prior season — to keep their race alive through creepy genetic manipulation to create hybrids of human and Dalek DNA.
It’s an utterly absurd story. The Daleks are creeping around in New York’s sewers, and also kidnapping random people, turning them into Pigmen for absolutely no reason at all other than “hey we needed some henchmen because there’s four of us and our hands are a plunger and a killer raygun shaped like a whisk,” and eventually one of the Daleks is transformed into this humanoid, walking Cthulhu-esque creature in a spiffy suit and spats:
There’s an impromptu dance number. The climax involves the very top of an in-construction Empire State Building, and the Doctor getting electrocuted to sabotage the Dalek’s gene-splicing experiments. Hugh Quarshie — not the surprise famous guest star of the episode in hindsight, although you might best know him as The Phantom Menace’s Captain Panaka — plays a hobo. And, because it’s Doctor Who and you can’t just cannot get enough actual American people to play Americans, pretty much the entire guest cast is people putting on some, diplomatically speaking… exaggerated accents. Including one such accent wielder in particular: then little-known actor Andrew Garfield.
At this point in his career, Garfield was still five years away from becoming the next cinematic Spider-Man after Tobey Maguire, and was months from making his American film debut in Lions for Lambs. Doctor Who was another TV role in a sea of British TV roles, and before he’d shoot to the dizzying heights of his current career. No Social Network, no Never Let Me Go, and certainly no lying his pants off about showing up in Spider-Man: No Way Home yet. Just a young, fresh-faced Garfield as Frank, a Tennessee transplant who picked up and moved to New York to find work to help support his family. One of the people sleeping rough in a homeless camp in Central Park plagued with mysterious disappearances (which was, it turns out, the Daleks capturing people to turn into Pigmen), Garfield’s Frank is the wide-eyed innocent foil to the seasoned Doctor and Martha, whisked up for adventure and even falling a teeny-tiny-little bit in love with the latter.
But he also has the broadest, strangest rootin’-tootin’ accent you ever did hear on an episode of Doctor Who. Garfield — who is a dual British/American citizen — has gone on to play many American characters in his blockbuster career, so it’s not like we know he can’t do one these days. His Peter Parker sounds Perfectly Passable! But going back to see his younger self just completely vocally all over the place as Frank is both weirdly endearing and hilarious all these years later. It’s not every day you get to remember that time the Amazing Spider-Man helped the Doctor beat up some Daleks, but today’s the day to do so… and then maybe quickly forget just how he sounded while doing it.