Doctor Who season 14: digging into the new Doctor's family tree and more
8-9 minute read
By Daisy Goddard
From Tom Baker to David Tennant and Ncuti Gatwa, we made some fascinating finds in the family trees of actors known for depicting this much-loved British TV character.
Doctor Who returned to our screens on 25 November 2023, with fan favourites David Tennant and Catherine Tate reprising the roles they played almost 15 years ago.
In celebration of the show's 60th anniversary, a run of three special episodes written by Russell T Davies ran on successive Saturday evenings.
On Christmas Day, a brand new time lord joined the Whoniverse. Ncuti Gatwa joined the show as the Fifteenth Doctor. Before David Tennant's brief return, there were a total of 13 Doctors, beginning with William Hartnell in 1963. When the show was revived in 2005, it found even more success than its original run in the 1970s and 80s had done.
The question of who has best portrayed the time lord is much contested. David Tennant is top of many people's lists, while Jodie Whittaker, the first-ever female doctor, was a popular and exciting addition to the show's run of stars.
We've delved into the family trees of some of the most-loved Doctor Whos, from Tom Baker to David Tennant. We may not have a TARDIS granting us the ability to time travel - but that doesn't stop us from delving into the rich landscape of the past.
With tales of adventure, travel and struggle, read on to learn about the family histories of your favourite Doctor Who stars.
Although there are no Daleks lurking in their family trees, these actors' family stories are almost as entertaining - and surprising - as the show itself.
Tom Baker's family tree
Famous for playing the role between 1974 and 1981, Tom Baker is one of the most popular original Doctor Whos. With his trademark curly hair and long striped scarf, he's one of the franchise's most recognisable figures.
As his birth record reveals, Tom was born Thomas Stewart Baker on 20 January 1934, in Liverpool. His parents are Mary Jane Fleming (1904-1968) and John Stewart Baker (b. 1902). Both Mary and John were born and raised in Liverpool, making Tom a Liverpudlian through and through.
With a little digging, we found Tom's mother Mary Jane Fleming in the 1921 Census, living on Arlington Street, Kirkdale, West Derby.
Aged 16, she was living with her widowed mother Christina (b. 1876), three sisters, and a brother. Christina and William had seven children in total - Thomas, Christina, Louisa, William, Mary, Ann, and Margaret - born between 1892 and 1909.
As their census entry reveals, the family had to work hard to make ends meet. In 1921, Mary, her two sisters, and her mother all worked at Henry Tate & Sons Sugar Refiners, located on the romantically named Love Lane. Interestingly, this was the same year that Henry Tate and Abram Lyle merged their rival refining companies to form the Tate & Lyle brand that we know today.
As this simple search reveals, we can find over 1,600 Henry Tate employees in the 1921 Census.
Liverpool's sugar industry was built upon the forcible enslavement of African people, and their transportation to the Caribbean to produce consumer goods for industrial European countries. Liverpool was Britain's main slave port in the 18th century - Liverpudlian ships carried an estimated 1.5 million enslaved people across the Atlantic between 1700 and 1807, returning to Liverpool with sugar, tobacco, coffee and other goods.
As determined by Liverpool's Maritime Museum, the city controlled 80% of the British slave trade in the 1790s. Startlingly, it also controlled over 40% of the European slave trade as a whole. Although slavery was formally abolished in 1807, its legacy is an undeniable part of Tate & Lyle's business in the early 20th century.
Workers closer to home were also responsible for the production of Tate & Lyle's sugar for consumers. Mary (Tom Baker's mother) worked as a sample collector in 1921, while her sisters Margaret and Louisa were chemist assistants. Their mother (and Tom's grandmother) Christina was a dining room attendant at the same company.
The livelihood of Tom Baker's maternal side was closely tied to Liverpool's sugar industry. With refinery workers, upholsterers and house decorators in his family tree, Baker's acting pursuits are a far cry from the occupations of his Liverpudlian ancestors.
David Tennant's family tree
Known for Shakespearean theatre as much as for playing the Doctor between 2005 and 2010, David Tennant is an indisputable fan favourite. But how much do you know about his roots?
For regular viewers of Who Do You Think You Are, David Tennant's family history won't be too much of a mystery. David was a guest on the show back in 2006. He uncovered several surprising stories within his family tree, including a famous footballer relative, and his family's involvement in some key moments of Ireland's history.
We used our records to dive into these stories even deeper.
David Tennant - whose real surname is, in fact, McDonald - was born in Bathgate, Scotland on 18 April 1971. His parents are Helen McLeod (1940-2007) and Alexander 'Sandy' McDonald (1937-2016).
His father was born on 5 November 1937 in Bishopbriggs, Scotland. After working in the timber industry and serving his National Service in the Royal Air Force, Sandy trained as a minister for the Church of Scotland. He rose to the role of Moderator of the church's General Assembly - a role that he held from 1997 to 1998.
Sandy was the son of Alexander M. McDonald (1899-1950) and Jessie Helen Low (1914-2006). We found Jessie's mother (and David's great-grandmother), Margaret Low (b.1892) in our newspaper collection.
On 30 April 1935, Margaret attended her sister Helen's wedding in Edinburgh. A detailed report in the Berwickshire News and General Advertiser describes how the bridesmaid party (which contained Margaret) 'made a smart group in their dresses of daffodil taffetas'. We learnt that 'in their hair, they had wreaths of polyanthus in different shades, and they carried baskets filled with the same blooms'. They were presented with 'marquisette clip earrings' by the bridegroom.
From this article, we also learn that Margaret's grand-uncle was the Bishop of Argyll, revealing that David's father Alexander was following in his family's religious footsteps.
But the discoveries don't end there. Turning to David's maternal side, we find the interesting figure of Nellie Blair. Born in Derry to parents Agnes and William in 1913, Nellie is Helen McLeod's mother and David's grandmother.
As recounted by the Londonderry Sentinel on 6 October 1928, Nellie was part of a 'Derry beauty competition' aged 15. Her story is brought to life by the photo included in the article.
Nellie once again made the papers ten years later, when she married Scottish Derry City football player Archie McLeod at Clooney Hall Methodist Church. This article in the Belfast News-Letter describes their wedding and even names their best man and bridesmaid.
After an injury ended his football career, Archie moved with his family back to his native Scotland. Nevertheless, Nellie's family history remained rooted in Ireland.
Her very own parents - William Henry and Agnes - were involved in Ireland's bitter sectarian struggle. Their names are among the signatories of the Ulster Covenant in 1912, which saw hundreds of thousands voicing their opposition to Irish independence from the English. William was also a member of the Orange Order, a British unionist and Protestant loyalist organisation known for its annual marches and the anti-Catholic violence they have often entailed.
William followed in the example of his father, James Blair, who had been a local councillor in Derry.
They followed in the example of their forebears - William's father, James Blair, had been a local councillor. As records reveal, he was involved in a vote-rigging scandal that maintained the Protestant minority's control of the council.
From beauty queens to unionist politicians, David Tennant's family history is full of fascinating figures. With roots that stretch from Mid Lothian to Northern Ireland, his tree has no shortage of surprises hiding within it.
Ncuti Gatwa's family tree
Last but not least, we've also delved into the past of Ncuti Gatwa, the newest in a long line of much-loved Doctor Who actors.
This Rwandan-Scottish actor was born Mizero Ncuti Gatwa in Nyarenge in Rwanda's capital, Kigali, on 15 October 1992. He has two siblings - Sabano (b. 1987) and Sangano (b.1988). His parents are Josephine and Tharcisse Gatwa. His father is a journalist and human rights worker with a PhD in Theology.
Ncuti's family migrated to Scotland in 1994, escaping from the Rwandan genocide that saw over half a million members of the Tutsi ethnic group killed by Hutu militias. Ncuti was aged just two when his family's lives changed dramatically.
Although Ncuti Gatwa's Rwandan ancestors have proved difficult to trace in historical records, our newspaper collection provides insight into the life of his father Tharcisse.
From this article in The Scotsman from 14 July 1994, we learn the details of Tharcisse's journey to Scotland. Tharcisse recounts how he had 'sheltered a Tutsi family by hiding them in the roof of his mother's house', an act that made him a target of the militia once the family were tragically discovered by a band of '200 militiamen'.
Tharcisse and Josephine fled with their three young children to the Zaire border on 14 May. They left Rwanda on foot, after 'realising it was too dangerous to stay'.
Once he arrived in Edinburgh, Tharcisse mobilised the National Bible Society of Scotland, raising over £50,000 for Rwanda's refugee camps. Tharcisse studied for a PhD in Christian Ethics, while Josephine gained a degree in international health management at Edinburgh's Queen Margaret College.
We find Tharcisse again in our newspapers, just four years later. His story was recounted by The Scotsman on 21 December 1998, in an article discussing the experiences of refugees and the cold reception they've often received in Scotland.
Having fled a tragedy-struck Rwanda aged just two, Ncuti Gatwa has gone on to have a rich and successful acting career. Despite the immense struggle faced by his family, Gatwa is now the latest in a long line of actors to take on the role of Doctor Who. His family history is just one example of the important stories that can be understood using the millions of pages in our newspaper collection.
What discoveries lie within your family tree?
As Tom Baker, David Tennant and Ncuti Gatwa's stories show, you can uncover rich and emotive details about your familial roots using our historical records and newspapers. With our handy family tree builder to help you, it's easier than ever. For advice on starting your Findmypast family tree, check out our beginners' guides, expert top tips and more.
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