Masterpiece's Alan Cumming to Guest Star on 'Doctor Who'

A shot of Alan Cumming from Great Performances special "Alan Cumming Sings Crappy Song" (Photo: Credit: Courtesy of Erik Kabik / The Smith Center)
A shot of Alan Cumming from Great Performances special "Alan Cumming Sings Crappy Song" (Photo: Credit: Courtesy of Erik Kabik / The Smith Center)

PBS' Masterpiece will be represented on BBC America next fall, as Masterpiece Mystery! host Alan Cumming will have a guest role on Doctor Who Season 11.

Cumming: Whoops, the cat's out of the bag. I'm in an episode of Doctor Who!

In a move that could be described as "all your British Actors belong to us," the BBC has cast Cumming as a guest star next season on the corporation's flagship science fiction series. Cumming is known for his 25+ year career where he's starred in everything from the James Bond film GoldenEye to Stanley Kubrick's Eye Wide Shut to The Spice Girls' Spice World. But he's best known to PBS fans as the face and voice of Masterpiece Mystery! since the rebranding of the series in 2008.

Doctor Who Season 11 (or Series 37, if you want to be extra nerdy) is already one of the most highly anticipated shows of Autumn 2018, as it will feature Jodie Whittaker in the lead role, the first time the series has awarded the Doctor title to an actress in its 50+ year history. Cumming is the first adversary to be revealed for the upcoming season so far.

The new key art for "Doctor Who" Season 11. (Photo: BBC)

There may be a reason for that too: Cumming wasn't supposed to tell anyone that he was going to appear. Spoiler culture is such that nowadays when shows cast big names as guest stars, they're not supposed to reveal it until the BBC is ready to make an official annoucement. (See also, David Suchet as one of the Doctor Who Season 10 bad guys, whose character was not revealed ahead of time.)

Unfortunately, no one at the BBC thought to tell him that until it was too late. By the time Cumming found out he wasn't supposed to tell anyone, he'd already revealed to the Homo Sapiens podcast not only that he'd been cast, but who he is playing:

Cumming: I’m about to go and do an episode of Doctor Who. I’m so excited.
Host: Are you a baddie? 
Cumming: Like a nice baddie. I’m James I, so I’m kind of like a dandy, foppy sort of coward who comes all right in the end. They said he might come back.

King James I was the first Stuart King and the first to style himself "King of Great Britain." He was actually King of Scotland first, as James IV, having ascended that throne in 1567. When Queen Elizabeth I died without issue in 1603, he inherited that throne as well, bringing English and Scottish rule together. He's mostly known for his writings, including the King James Bible, which is still the translation used most heavily today. 

While James was a good King of Scotland, having learned from childhood how to play off the different competing factions, he was not prepared for ruling England. He clashed with both Parliament and the nobility constantly during his 22-year reign. One might even argue that James' failure to ever figure out how to rule England properly was what lead to the civil wars under the rule of his son Charles I, who was beheaded by Oliver Cromwell.

For the record, Cumming has already apologized on Twitter for the mix-up.

As Doctor Who is a time-traveling series, this character reveal lets fans know that along with present day and future episodes, the show will be heading to the 1600s for at least one episode this season. The suggestion that King James might even be a recurring character means the show is considering making visiting the 17th century a semi-regular occurrence. That is, if Cumming didn't screw that up by telling everyone.

Doctor Who will premiere on BBC One and BBC America in the fall of 2018.