“It’s good I’m Scottish!”: Scots and Scotland in the Doctor Who universe

  • Post category:News

The Scottish run of Doctor Who Worlds of Wonder feels, if you’ll excuse the pun, very timely. Only a few weeks prior to the launch of the exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland, we witnessed the sensational return of David Tennant as The Doctor. Then came the news that Rwandan-Scottish actor Ncuti Gatwa would be officially taking over as the world’s most famous Time Lord later this year. These are just the most recent connections between the iconic Doctor Who series and Scotland. Join David Smith, External Relations Events Coordinator and dedicated Doctor Who fan, as he reveals many more.

Scottish Doctors

To date, four Scottish actors have been cast as The Doctor. Sylvester McCoy, David Tennant, Peter Capaldi and Ncuti Gatwa now playing the Seventh, Tenth and Fourteenth, Twelfth, and Fifteenth Doctors respectively. Gatwa taking over after Tennant’s brief return marks the first time that back-to-back Scottish actors have played The Doctor.

A graphic on the wall of a museum exhibition showing each of the actors who played Doctor Who. Each actor is shown from the chest up within a hexagon, with the hexagons forming a chain. A galaxy swirls on the black surface behind them.
All the Doctors to date on a display in the Doctor Who Worlds of Wonder exhibition.

Though The Doctor is an alien of Gallifreyan origin, they often take on some notable human traits with each regeneration. Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor and Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor both had striking Scottish accents, something which is frequently pointed out by other characters. Hearing his own accent for the first time, Capaldi’s Doctor gleefully exclaimed, It’s good I’m Scottish. I’m Scottish. I am Scottish. I can complain about things, I can really complain about things.”

Scotland GIFfrom Scotland GIFs

Scottish companions

A number of frequent flyers in the TARDIS have been played by Scottish actors. Arguably the most popular is Amy Pond, played by the Inverness-born Karen Gillan before she hit the Hollywood A-list as Nebula in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Closeup of Karen Gillan, a red-haired young woman, as Amy Pond seen from shoulders up. Behind her is an abstract, swirling blue background meant to to evoke space travel and, each in small purple bubbles, three faces of Doctor Who villains including a Dalek.
Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, companion to Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor. ™ & © BBC

On Amy Pond’s first adventure with The Doctor, she found out the future fate of her home country, discovering that the Scots had built their own spaceship to evacuate Earth in the 29th century after refusing to join the Starship UK.

Paisley-born Neve McIntosh plays occasional Silurian companion Madame Vastra. After hearing her accent, Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor delightedly said, “Finally someone who can talk properly”.

Closeup of a prop character's head mounted within a museum exhibition with dark red walls. The head is humanoid but green with scales like a lizard and several ridges creating an elongated skull. Though alien, the character looks intelligent and compassionate.
Madame Vastra in the Doctor Who Worlds of Wonder exhibition.

The first incarnation of The Master as a woman, Missy (short for Mistress) was played by Glasgow-born Michelle Gomez, whose eccentricity and gleeful villainy made her a fan favourite.

Under the Lake / Before the Flood

In the two-part story Under the Lake/Before the Flood, The Twelfth Doctor and Clara Oswald visit an underwater mining facility in Caithness in the year 2119. During an awkward interaction, The Doctor can be seen reading cue cards designed to help him appear kinder and more human.

  • Peter Capaldi as Doctor Who running down a futuristic, circular corridor straight towards the camera. He's wearing an all-black outfit and looks worried.
    Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor in 2015’s ‘Under the Lake’. ™ & © BBC

One reads, “It was my fault, I should have known you didn’t live in Aberdeen”, a possible reference to when former companion Sarah Jane Smith was accidentally dropped off in Aberdeen in her final appearance as a regular companion in The Hand of Fear. Perhaps naturally drawn to visiting Scotland, the Twelfth Doctor also brings Clara Oswald to Glasgow after his first adventure in Deep Breath.

The Highlanders

The Doctor has made many visits to Scotland during their adventures. The 1966 episode The Highlanders saw Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor arrive in the Scottish Highlands in 1746 just after the Battle of Culloden. It was here that The Doctor met Jamie McCrimmon (played by Yorkshire actor, Frazer Hines), a piper of the Clan MacLeod who would go on to be a regular and popular companion to the Doctor.

Black and white image of a handsome young man vaguely resembling Luke Skywalker seen from the chest up, looking over the camera. He is dressed like a 18th century Highlander in a tartan cloak, over the shoulder strap, and discoloured white shirt.
Frazer Hines as Jamie McCrimmon in the 1966 serial, The Highlanders. Image ™ & © BBC

Many fans of another massively successful series, Outlander, may not know that McCrimmon’s time in the TARDIS inspired Outlander’s Scottish setting and the character of Jamie Fraser. Though the Doctor Who episode is historic in its introduction of Jamie as a character, the serial it is a part of is considered lost to the BBC archives with no full episodes known to still exist.

Terror of the Zygons

The classic 1975 Doctor Who serial Terror of the Zygons is set around Loch Ness and the North Sea oils rigs. The Doctor encounters the Skarasen, a large reptilian cyborg creature whose presence in Scotland from the 12th century is presented as the source for the legend of the Loch Ness Monster. During his visit to Scotland, The Doctor would even replace his iconic striped scarf to one with a tartan pattern.

A glistening monster's head in profile projecting from the right side of the image against a cloudy sky. The monster resembles a Plesiosaurus but with more reptile-like features including sharp fangs. The effect looks like the stop-motion creatures from mid-20th century sci-fi films.
Nessie? The Skarasen in Terror of the Zygons. Image ™ & © BBC

Though the episode is predominantly set around Loch Ness, no filming for the episode actually took place in Scotland, with West Sussex being the primary filming location for the episode.

Tooth and Claw

The Doctor and Rose approach a black horse-drawn carriage flanked by guards in red coats, all in front of a turreted mansion house with a stone Celtic cross in the foreground. A massive telescope lens resembling a cannon projects out from a steampunk-style addition on top of the mansion.
David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor and Billie Piper as Rose Tyler arrive at Balmoral Castle (though the building is not actually Balmoral Castle) in Tooth and Claw. Image ™ & © BBC

In the episode Tooth and Claw, the Tenth Doctor and Rose Tyler, played by Billie Piper, land in Aberdeen in 1879 and meet Queen Victoria while she is travelling to Balmoral Castle. Their encounter would lead to a fight with a shape shifting alien in the form of a werewolf, the Lupine Wavelength Haemovariform.

An upright werewolf strikes a powerful, predatory pose, snarling straight at the camera. It is inside a dimly lit wooden interior, with blurry candles in the foreground and a wooden door to its left.
The Lupine Wavelength Haemovariform strikes a fearsome pose in Tooth and Claw. Image ™ & © BBC

Though The Doctor would save Queen Victoria’s life, she nonetheless declared The Doctor an enemy of the crown and later established the Torchwood Institute, a secret organisation tasked with defending Earth against extraterritorial threats. A division of the organisation, Torchwood Two, was based in Glasgow.

The whole episode was a time-based misunderstanding. The Doctor was actually trying to see an Ian Dury concert in Sheffield, 1979, so their arrival in Aberdeen was a complete mistake (continuing a habit of visiting Aberdeen by accident!).

David Tennant and Billie Piper study books within a fancy library lined with navy blue curtains. Tennant looks neutral and is standing on part of a bookcase elevating him well above Piper, while Piper is reacting with excitement to something in the book she has.
David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor and Billie Piper as Rose Tyler in Tooth and Claw. Image ™ & © BBC

Eaters of Light

In one of the most Scottish-focused episodes in Doctor Who history, the Twelfth Doctor travelled to 2nd century Scotland to solve the mystery of what happened to the Ninth Legion of the Roman Army. Written by Scottish writer Rona Munro, the Eaters of Light explores the conflicts between the Romans and the Picts.

In this alternative version of history, the Ninth Legion and a Pictish clan team up to close an inter-dimensional portal and stop a “light-eating locust” from entering our world. Rona Munro holds the honour of being the only person to write for both the classic and revived eras of Doctor Who, having written the final serial of the original Doctor Who, Survival.

  • A dark, somewhat confusing image of several beams of light cutting through the darkness towards a monstrous beast. The beast resembles a dolphin mixed with a wolf, and has several blue stripes glowing in its chest.
    One of the Eaters of Light from the titular episode in Series 10. ™ & © BBC

The Eaters of Light are based on an enigmatic creature depicted on real Pictish carved stones, as seen on the below example from Birsay, Orkney, which you can inspect up close at the National Museum of Scotland’s Early People galleries. The ‘Pictish Beastie’, as it is often known, is theorised to be everything from an elephant or dragon to a dolphin or purely imaginary creature. What do you think it is?

Closeup of several carvings on a yellow-brown stone slab. From top to bottom are a circular shape supported by what looks like a small table; a downward-facng crescent bisected by a V-shape; a myserious creature resembling a dolphin with an elongated snout and four flippers or legs; and a hawk-like bird with feathers resembling bricks.
Details on a Pictish cross slab from Birsay, Orkney, dating from the 7th or 8th century AD. (X.IB 243)


A suit of Sontaran armour within a museum exhibition with red walls. The armour is very stout and bulky, with a massive domed helmet resembling a 19th century diver's gear, thick steel shoulder pads, shin and wrist guards, and a futuristic grey metal gun.
An armoured Sontaran warrior in the Doctor Who Worlds of Wonder exhibition.

Finally, Scotland provides the answer to the age old Doctor Who fan question “What do Sontarans do on their weekend off”. The answer? Fight the locals in Glasgow, of course!

Strax, a potato-shaped warrior alien wearing a suit and tie, faces off against a hulking man wielding a shovel inside a ransacked, dusty pub. Strax is letting the man hit him, but he'll be back for round two!
Glasgow is Strax’s favourite city on Earth as it is the only place where he has found worthy opponents. Here, he takes a KO to answer The Doctor’s ‘conference call’ in The Name of the Doctor. Image ™ & © BBC

See the blockbuster exhibition Doctor Who Worlds of Wonder until 1 May at the National Museum of Scotland.