“It stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space”
57 years ago today Doctor Who first graced television screens in “The Unearthly Child,” with the centuries old alien Time Lord whisking us away in his TARDIS (shaped like an old-fashioned British Police Box – for the time-being at least) on the first of many adventures across the breadth of time and space. It seemed only appropriate during Time Travel Month here at ScreenAge Wasteland that we take a moment to appreciate the good Doctor and see who was your favorite – of the official AND unofficial portrayals – of the madman with a box.
Just in case you need a refresher, here’s a couple of quick hits on the 13 official Doctors (and the 2 non numerical Doctors, which we’ve included for the hell of it). If you’ve got your favorite in mind already you can skip down to the poll get started!
And below THAT is a poll on some of the lesser known UN-official Doctors. We almost included stuff like the Doctors from “Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death” Red Nose Day Special (Rowan Atkinson, Richard E. Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, and Joanna Lumley), but that would have just been silly!
The First Doctor: William Hartnell. (1963-1966)
The man who started it all. William Hartnell was primarily known for playing heavies and military men before taking on the role of the time traveling alien known simply as The Doctor. Though his version of The Doctor is mysterious and irascible when we first meet him and his granddaughter, Susan, over the course of his travels he becomes warmer and more grandfatherly. Eventually he even comes to enjoy his travels with various companions before the centuries – and the Cybermen – finally catch up with him in Antarctica, forcing him into his first regeneration.
The Second Doctor: Patrick Troughton. (1966-1969)
Troughton’s “Cosmic Hobo” was different enough from his previous incarnation that his companions were initially unsure if they were the same person – he even referred to his own prior self in the third person! Luckily the Daleks cleared all that up. More light-hearted and scruffy in appearance, the second doctor had a dark side he would employ on occasion when he had to. It was during the Second Doctor’s tenure that were first introduced to his people, the Time Lords – who rewarded his contacting them for help by forcing him to regenerate for a second time.
The Third Doctor: John Pertwee. (1970-1974)
Trapped on Earth (for budgetary reasons as much as Time Lord rules), Pertwee’s dashing Third Doctor engaged in far more derring-do than his predecessors, mixing things up with Venusian Aikido and a fantastic vintage roadster named “Bessie.” Though the limitations of a disabled TARDIS wouldn’t last, other aspects – like the Time Lord villain The Master, international military group UNIT and its leader Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart (“Five rounds rapid!”) – would.
The Fourth Doctor: Tom Baker. (1974-1981)
The longest portrayal of the Doctor (seven consecutive seasons), Baker’s run is perhaps the most iconic and certainly one of the most recognizable. With his curly mop of hair, crooked grin and seemingly endless scarf, the Fourth Doctor was the first to gain popularity in the United States – though his favorite snack, the Jelly Baby, did not gain an equal level of fame. Some of the Fourth Doctor’s companions – notably Sarah Jane Smith and the robot dog K-9 – have made appearances in modern Doctor Who, as has Tom Baker himself in 2013’s fiftieth anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor” as a museum curator who may or may not be a future version of the Doctor.
The Fifth Doctor: Peter Davison. (1982-1984)
The Doctor’s fourth regeneration was problematic, forcing him to merge with a future version of himself and resulting in an exceptionally youthful incarnation. Davison’s Doctor was much more serious, despite an being outfitted like a cricket player and sporting a celery stalk, and his adventures included the first death of a companion. The Fourth Doctor was also forced to confront a series of old enemies, including The Master, the Cybermen, Omega and the Silurians. There was a late note of humor though, in the 2007 Children in Need Special “Time Crash” the Tenth Doctor and the Fifth Doctor appeared together to great comedic effect.
The Sixth Doctor: Colin Baker. (1984-1986)
Colin Baker’s loud, abrasive and arrogant Sixth Doctor was a sharp departure from previous incarnations – as was his attire, a brain-busting conglomeration of disparate styles and patterns that was difficult to look at it. Baker was signed on for a full four year run as the Sixth Doctor, but behind the scenes decisions left him with a much truncated run and he ended up appearing in a total of 31 episodes. The Sixth Doctor has enjoyed an extensive “expanded universe” run in various books and Big Finish audio plays, however, and these have allowed the character more room to grow with input from Baker himself. The behind the scenes difficulties meant that Baker did not return for the death of the Sixth Doctor.
The Seventh Doctor: Sylvester McCoy. (1987-1989)
Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor started out similar to Patrick Troughton’s “Cosmic Hobo,” a bumbling and whimsical character just a few steps removed from a clown. By the time the series ended – in 1989 with declining ratings and inimical board members at the BBC – he’d grown into a dark and manipulative gamesmaster, not above using his protégé Ace to further his plots and plans. Despite his clever and secretive nature, however, he somehow allowed himself to be talked into transporting the remains of his old foe the Master from Skaro to Gallifrey… BIG. MISTAKE.
The Eighth Doctor: Paul McGann. (1996)
In 1996 the BBC, 20th Century Fox and Universal Studios produced a Doctor Who television movie staring Paul McGann as The Doctor and, I still can’t quite believe this, Eric Roberts as The Master. The hope was to use the film as a back door pilot for a new US television series, but didn’t reboot or recreate the series. It is, instead, a continuation of the original story, including the death of the Seventh Doctor as played by Sylvester McCoy and featuring the regeneration into Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor. This was McGann’s only appearance as the Eight Doctor until the 2013 mini-episode “The Night of the Doctor.” The Eighth Doctor (“Half-human on my mother’s side.”) is more emotional, enthusiastic and physical than previous versions. Though his screen representation is minimal, it has spawned numerous audio dramas, books and comics.
The Ninth Doctor: Christopher Eccleston. (2005)
In 2005, sixteen years after the original series went off the air, a new Doctor strode into the basement of a shopping mall, offered Rose Tyler his hand and told her to run. This was Christopher Eccleston, and he was the Ninth Doctor (though the 10th incarnation – we’ll get to that eventually). Eccleston’s Doctor was serious, goofy, haunted, silly, full of anger and wracked with guilt. He was, as he said in his last lines, Fantastic. Enough to launch the new series anyway. He was only around for one series, but he was my first Doctor, and so he remains tops in my book. Totally not trying to influence you. Much.
The Tenth Doctor: David Tennant. (2005-2010)
While the Ninth Doctor may have launched the modern Doctor Who series, it’s really David Tennant’s run that made it soar, starting with “The Christmas Invasion” in 2005 and lasting through a series of specials that ended with “The End of Time” in 2010. The Tenth Doctor is more easygoing and likeable than his previous incarnation, but he hides a deep well of rage and guilt for his actions (and inactions) during the Time War that can occasionally cause him to lash out at his friends and make choices that aren’t in his best interest. More than previous incarnations, the Tenth Doctor is defined as much by his Companions as he is by his own personality with Rose Tyler, Martha Freeman, Donna Noble and Wilfred Mott being particularly notable. (And shoutouts K-9 and Sarah Jane Smith.)
The Eleventh Doctor: Matt Smith. (2010-2013)
All good things must come to an end, and such was the case with David Tennant’s run on Doctor Who. Like Tom Baker’s run in the 70’s, whoever followed would have big shoes to fill. Lucky for everyone Matt Smith was more than up for the challenge. Smith’s Eleventh Doctor was even younger in appearance than Tennant’s, but that youthful appearance masked a Time Lord weary from centuries of loss. With headstrong Scot Amy Pond, mysterious time-traveller River Song and lots of other distractions Eleven faces his own death (again) the loss of his companions (again) his marriage (wait, what?) and a final adventure with the Tenth Doctor and a previous version of himself that he just so happens to have forgotten about… Personal note: I hated Matt Smith’s doctor when I first watched it, I was so attached to David Tennant. Now he’s one of my favorites. You gotta re-watch things sometimes.
The Twelfth Doctor: Peter Capaldi. (2014-2017)
The Twelfth Doctor reversed a recent trend in that he looked older than his previous incarnations. Capaldi was only a few years younger than William Hartnell when he was originally cast. A return to an ascerbic, distant and sometimes harsh version of the Doctor, Capaldi’s portrayal struck a chord with fans of the older series, preferring his less humanistic take – though it was easy enough to see how the Twelfth Doctor used his brusqueness as a shield for a heart badly broken. His eyebrows might have been attack eyebrows, but they guarded eyes that were filled with anguish.
The Thirteenth Doctor: Jodi Whittaker. (2018- )
Jodi Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor is also the first to be female, which turned out to be far less of a big deal than the internet made it out to be. While the show writing hasn’t been that great, Whittaker herself has done a great job – presenting us with a much warmer and expansive take on the Doctor. Thirteen refers to her companions as her ‘Fam’ and prizes intelligence, non-violence and creativity. Her open nature may be tested in the immediate future, given recent revelations (however you feel about them) regarding her past.
The War Doctor: John Hurt.
John Hurt’s The War Doctor Appears in the series finale of Series Seven of New Who, “The Name of the Doctor” when it’s revealed that there’s an incarnation between the Eighth and Ninth Doctor’s who has “lost the right to the name of the Doctor.” A haunted, hollow warrior of the Time War, William Hurt’s War Doctor also appears at the end of the “Night of the Doctor” mini-episode, when Paul McGann’s Eight Doctor regenerates. Finally, he joins forces with the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors in the 50th Anniversary Special “The Day of the Doctor” to save Gallifrey and reclaim the name of the Doctor, though the numbering convention is maintained.
The Fugitive Doctor: Jo Martin.
Jo Martin’s Fugitive Doctor appears in the Thirteenth Doctor episodes “Fugitive of the Judoon” and “The Timeless Children.” Not much is known about her, except that she seems to be an unknown regeneration of the Doctor – either previous or future – and that she is much more short-tempered and ready to use violence than other Doctors. The interior of her TARDIS resembles the starker, simple setting of the early TARDIS designs and she refers to it as her “ship” like the First Doctor.