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Doctor Who's Who: Ranking the Doctors

by Kevin Marshall   August 07, 2013 at 12:00AM  |  Views: 11,322
Source: BBC

BBC made it official this weekend: Peter Capaldi is the new Doctor.

He's probably best known as one of the leads in the British political satire "The Thick of It" (currently streaming on Hulu) for his portrayal of the gruff, foul-mouthed, sleazy political operative Malcolm Tucker. In real life, though, he's more like The Doctor: light, fun-loving, goofy, and he loves what he does. He's also a huge "Doctor Who" fan, going all the way back to when he was a child drawing pictures of Tom Baker and writing gushing odes to the opening title cards for fanzines.

His casting is a culmination of a lifelong dream. I'm sure, though, that a lot of the joy he's feeling is matched with plenty of nerves. After all, he has big shoes to fill. Eleven pair of them, in fact, all coming in varying shapes and sizes.

Which brings us to this list of the best Doctors.

Eleven (arguably twelve depending on how that cliffhanger from last season plays out) actors have portrayed The Doctor, each of them putting their own unique spin on the iconic Time Lord from Gallifrey. But (Doctor) Who is the best Doctor (Who)?

I'll show you my list, but first, a few things to keep in mind.

First, this list is entirely subjective. That should be obvious and isn't meant to stifle any debate, just something to keep in mind when you decide that my placement of The Sixth Doctor on this list is the worst thing that has ever happened to you.

Second, this list really ought to have the subtitle "an American's perspective." Despite the wish for so many American Who fans to claim it as their own, "Doctor Who" is as British as they come. It's very much informed by their culture in a way that the vast majority of Americans just can't grasp.

And finally, I'm not counting "The Valeyard" as an incarnation of The Doctor. Some of the fans I talked to when writing this thought it might be pertinent to include him for the sake of being a completist. My understanding, though, has always been that he was an amalgamation of negative energies from the twelfth and thirteenth Doctors, which isn't really the same thing as being The Doctor. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, then that's awesome for you. Seriously.

Let's get this list started, shall we? Fantastic!


11. THE EIGHTH DOCTOR (1996 TV Movie)

Played by: Paul McGann

Poor Paul McGann gets the short shrift on every Doctor debate, and he always will. The fact of the matter is that he probably could have been higher on this list if only his tenure as everyone's favorite regenerating Time Lord hadn't been marred by a doomed attempt to "Americanize" Doctor Who, which resulted in a pilot that didn't get picked up and aired as a TV movie in 1996. Something got lost in the translation, even with the BBC co-producing it. Some credit where it's due, though: this more youthful portrayal of The Doctor influenced the more recent incarnations of the character, even though it took another nine years for a new series to launch.

Source: Harry Todd/Hulton Archive

10. THE FIRST DOCTOR (1963-1966)

Played by: William Hartnell

A former roommate of mine once provided the best description I've ever heard of the First Doctor: "old and terrifyingly British." Modern audiences know The Doctor as precocious and adventurous, but his first incarnation was more like a crotchety grandfather who would yell at his child companions and seemed bothered by their seeming inability to grasp the complexities of the world(s) around them. It's a characterization that probably only works with British audiences, and would change drastically with the next incarnation.

09. THE SEVENTH DOCTOR (1987-1989)

Played by: Sylvester McCoy

Although he appears in the first half of the 1996 TV movie introducing the Eighth Doctor, many fans bristled at the notion of considering it canonical. And so, for many years, Sylvester McCoy's Seventh Doctor live in the minds of many as the final iteration. His run is mostly remembered as the death knell of the franchise, which is unfortunate. McCoy himself was more than serviceable in the role and could have had a run that was memorable for all the right reasons, but he faced a Sisyphean task, having to contend with uneven writing and a limited budget that resulted in most of the stories aging very, very poorly. The fact that the Seventh Doctor appears as high as he does on this list is a testament to what McCoy was able to do with what little was given to him. Our (panama) hat is off to him.

Source: Harry Photoshot/Hulton Archive

08. THE FIFTH DOCTOR (1981-1984)

Played by: Peter Davison

All things considered, Davison actually did quite well in the role of The Doctor. Unfortunately there was no getting past the fact that he was following one of the most memorable runs of any character in television history and…well, he was just too damn handsome. I know that sounds unfair. Davison is a smart, funny guy who put everything he could into the character, but the Doctor should never look like a dashing leading man. Maybe he should have been given a large scar that ran down the center of his face or worn a fake nose like Orson Welles or something. I don't know. All I do know is that he's the one with the Tardis, not me, so I can't go back and make him something he wasn't.

07. THE SIXTH DOCTOR (1984-1986)

Played by: Colin Baker

It's a good thing this is being written out instead of dictated, because you wouldn't be able to hear me over that loud outfit that the Sixth Doctor was rocking. I'm pretty sure it was made entirely out of the fabric used in that giant parachute you'd play with in gym class. Oddly, though, his demeanor rarely reflected his attire. The Sixth Doctor was written as far more dark, cynical, and violent than his predecessors. As was the case with every actor that appears on this list, Baker was a talented guy and there were even some legendary storylines during his run. Unfortunately, this version of the Doctor just seemed slightly off, if not outright inconsistent.

Source: BBC

06. THE SECOND DOCTOR (1966-1969)

Played by: Patrick Troughton

Here we go: the part of the list where it starts getting tricky and I start getting hate mail. Sure, others had better storylines and greater moments, but the Second Doctor and the actor portraying him truly shaped the Doctor into the one we've come to know. The departure of the First Doctor, actor William Hartnell, would have spelled the end of any other series. But the writers came up with the clever idea to have The Doctor's alien physiology allow him to "regenerate" whenever he's near death. Not only did it allow them to continue the series regardless of who was in the title role, it also allowed them to rewrite the character entirely and give it a chance to change with its audience. Troughton's doctor was more youthful in not only his appearance but also his approach to his travels and adventures: he was naturally curious, inquisitive, and clever. He also introduced the motif of The Doctor playing the fool and allowing everyone around him, both friends and foes, to vastly underestimate him.


Played by: Christopher Eccleston

When the highly anticipated relaunch of "Doctor Who" came in 2005, it was thought that its star Christopher Eccleston would set the stage for a pop culture revival of the series. In a way he did: his portrayal was surprisingly light and endearing despite some of the harsh environments and situations he found himself in. Unfortunately, Eccleston came to the conclusion that continuing to play the character would mar his career and pigeon-hole him as "The Doctor." He has a point. Even talented and versatile guys like Tom Baker and David Tennant have had trouble shaking the fandom. Yet it was still disappointing for fans, many of whom still seem to hold it against him given the tepid response many give to his portrayal. The truth is, though, that while his tenure was brief, it was still great and a fresh take on the character.

Source: Aby Baker/Getty Images Entertainment

04. THE ELEVENTH DOCTOR (2010-2013)

Played by: Matt Smith

The unveiling of Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor was met with some hesitation since he was replacing the beloved Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and appeared almost too young to be taken seriously. Through sheer force of will, though, he was able to put his own stamp on the character and develop a strong fan base of his own despite some very wonky if not outright bad writing throughout his run (many of the reveals and payoffs to long-running plots seem to be way too contrived and ludicrous even by "Doctor Who" standards).

03. THE THIRD DOCTOR (1970-1974)

Played by: Jon Pertwee

This incarnation is a bit controversial given his propensity for physical action: he was a karate master who, when knowing he was in danger, didn't hesitate to disengage the threat in front of him. Yet he didn't appear violent or vengeful in his actions like The Sixth Doctor, and he had other personality quirks that more than made up for it. In hindsight, The Third Doctor was sort of a good balance of all the disparate elements that the character has had over the years. He was technologically proficient, adventurous, curious, remorseful, thoughtful, and protective of Earth. A lot of the major elements of not only the character but the current series as a whole were introduced in this era.

02. THE TENTH DOCTOR (2005-2010)

Played by: David Tennant

"I don't want to go." Those were the final, heartbreaking words spoken by David Tennant as The Tenth Doctor before he regenerated into Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor. It was sort of a meta moment, as Tennant genuinely seemed to love the character and view the end of his run with a bit of sadness. His expression of uncertainty and fear was disarming, particularly since they were transitioning to a new character. Yet it was a fitting end to one of the most memorable runs of any character in television history.

Source: Michael Putland/Hulton Archive

01. THE FOURTH DOCTOR (1974-1981)

Played by: Tom Baker

Newer fans would put Tennant in this spot, but for those of a certain age, there is only one Doctor and all others are merely pretenders to the throne. The Fourth Doctor's look was unique, but not garish. He was brave, but not aggressive. And the scarf! The scarf alone earns him the top spot. All joking aside, Tom Baker is the Doctor by which all others are measured.


As always, feel free to yell in the comments about how awful and terrible this list is. And while you're writing out your screed, you can watch our latest episode of All Access Weekly from the floor of the San Diego Comic-Con. Guess who we ran into? Oh, only AARON ECKHART and SNL star and future Late Night host SETH MEYERS. Fancy that!


Check out the video below.