Doctor what? ‘Doctor Who’ is turning 55

A timeline of Doctor Who’s 13 incarnations over 55 years.


The original “Doctor Who” (Screenshot by: Patrick Kline)

Patrick Kline, Contributor

For over 50 years the universe has been saved countless times by the Doctor, protagonist of the British science fiction show “Doctor Who.”  The Doctor is an alien who travels through space and time saving the day in their ship called the T.A.R.D.I.S. This stands for Time and Relative Dimensions in Space. The Doctor has traveled to the Aztec empire, the end of the universe, an alternate dimension, and of course other planets.  

“Doctor Who” was first broadcasted on Nov. 23, 1963, just a day after President Kennedy was assassinated. Then due to declining viewership, the show ended in 1989. In 1996, a made for television movie with the same name aired as a hope to revive the series. However, the show wouldn’t be revived until 2005.

The show began from the request to fill a time slot in the Saturday evening television lineup for the British Broadcasting Company. Sydney Newman who was the BBC’s head of drama was given the task to create a show that would appeal to all age groups. Newman along with Verity Lambert, the show’s producer and studio’s only female drama producer at the time, quickly began to shape what would eventually become a global phenomenon.

The First Doctor — William Hartnell

The first actor to portray the Doctor was William Hartnell. The Doctor was accompanied by his granddaughter, Susan (Carole Ann Ford) and her two schoolteachers Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill) and Ian Chesterton (William Russell). Hartnell’s run went until 1966, with Hartnell’s health declining the producers were faced with the decision of how to ensure the show would last far into the future.

One of the show’s producers, Innes Lloyd, and one of the show’s story editors, Gerry Davis, worked together to solve this issue. Together they came up with the concept of regeneration. It was through this process that the Doctor is able to in a way, cheat death. When he is about to die, his body renews itself in a way that results in the Doctor becoming essentially a whole new person with a different body and personality. This can be done twelve times.

The Second Doctor — Patrick Troughton

The next actor to portray the Doctor was Patrick Troughton. While now it would seem ridiculous for anyone to turn down the opportunity to be the Doctor, Troughton had to be talked into the role. He feared that he would not live up to the expectation of the viewers. Troughton is actually the fourth most popular Doctor, according to IMDb. Troughton’s run lasted until 1969, in the show he was forcibly regenerated as punishment from stealing the T.A.R.D.I.S. and interfering with time, as well as Troughton’s desire to avoid being typecast.

The Third Doctor — Jon Pertwee

The following year Jon Pertwee took over as the Doctor, as part of the former incarnations’ punishment he was trapped on Earth. During his exile, his knowledge on how to pilot his ship was blocked out, ensuring he would stay on Earth. For the period he was trapped on Earth, the doctor would work for U.N.I.T. or the UNified Intelligence Taskforce. This organization would persist even after Pertwee’s run ended in 1974.

The Fourth Doctor — Tom Baker

The same year the most popular Doctor appeared on screen. The Fourth Doctor was portrayed by Tom Baker. His run as the Doctor lasted for seven years, the longest run for any actor. Baker’s Doctor is easily identified by his multicolored scarf. It at one point in the show is 24 feet long. The length was an accident, the costume designer was given a large amount of colored wool to make a regular length scarf. Due to a miscommunication, all of the wool was used and the result is the iconic scarf.

The Fifth Doctor — Peter Davison

After Baker left the show, Peter Davison took over in 1981. Davison was the youngest actor at the time to portray the Doctor, being 29 at the time. Davison also had a unique piece of his costume, a piece of celery that he wore like a brooch. This proved to be an advantage, as the celery would turn purple in the presence of certain gasses that were toxic to the Doctor. Davison’s run only lasted three years after Troughton’s recommendation to avoid being typecast.

The Sixth Doctor — Colin Baker

The next doctor was also a Baker, Colin Baker. Wearing a multicolored suit similar to the scarf of the fourth, the sixth doctor was anything but inconspicuous. This Baker was not nearly as popular, being ranked as the 13 most popular, or dead last. The sixth doctor was only on screens for two years.

The Seventh Doctor — Sylvester McCoy

The Seventh Doctor was portrayed by Sylvester McCoy, or for fans of the “Lord of The Rings” series, the wizard Radagast the Brown in the Hobbit trilogy. McCoy was the last actor to portray the Doctor in the show’s original run. However, he did reprise his role in the 1996 movie.

The Eighth Doctor — Paul McGann

In the same movie, the eighth Doctor appears, portrayed this time as Paul McGann. This Doctor had the shortest amount of screen time, the movie and a short episode resulted in only 96 minutes of screen time. The short episode was made to prelude the 50th anniversary special, the Doctor regenerates to help fight in the what is known as the Time War. This is a war that is only mentioned in passing in the series starting after the 2005 reboot until the 50th special, it is and was waged across time and space.

The War Doctor — John Hurt

There was one Doctor that was almost forgotten, the War Doctor. Shown only in the 50th anniversary “Day of The Doctor” film in 2013, the War Doctor is played by John Hurt. This Doctor appears chronologically during the Eleventh Doctor’s run but is the regeneration between the Eighth and Ninth Doctors. The film ends with Hurt’s Doctor beginning the regeneration process.

The Ninth Doctor — Christopher Eccleston

In 2005, writer Russell T. Davies brought back the sci-fi show from its hiatus. The Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, appeared in the show saying a single word — “run” — and with that, made sure the show would last until today. While Eccleston only lasted for one season, to many of the newer fans he is “their Doctor,” and the majority of fans find it blasphemous if you skip this Doctor.

The Tenth Doctor — David Tennant

Taking over in the last episode of the first season, the most popular Doctor of “new who” took over, David Tennant. He also has the longest run in the new series, 2005 until 2010. This Doctor actually went through the regeneration process twice but the first did not result in a change of actors. He is most quoted by the line he gives just before he regenerates, “I don’t want to go.”

The Eleventh Doctor — Matt Smith

After the most volatile on-screen regenerations, one that resulted in the entire interior of the T.A.R.D.I.S. being destroyed, the Eleventh Doctor appeared on screen. Matt Smith, the youngest actor to play the Doctor, started playing the Doctor at 26. In the 2013 Christmas special, “Time of The Doctor,” the Eleventh Doctor finds himself defending a town called Christmas on a planet called Trenzalor. Here he spends nearly 300 years on his own using every tool he can find and his own ingenuity to defend the town. Having aged greatly, the Doctor starts to die due to old age. This regeneration being his last, the Doctor needed to be granted a new regeneration cycle. In one final showdown, the Doctor defeats the last of the invaders and begins to regenerate.

The Twelfth Doctor — Peter Capaldi

The special ended with the reveal of Peter Capaldi, who was the same age as Hartnell when he first began the show, 55. There are records from Pertwee’s run of Capaldi sending in scripts and other fan pieces that he had created. Capaldi ended his run in the 2017 Christmas special, giving his next incarnation advice that would ensure the next Doctor would be the best doctor they could be. “Laugh hard. Run fast. Be kind.”

The Thirteenth Doctor — Jodie Whittaker

For the first time in its almost 55 year history, the Doctor is being portrayed by a woman, Jodie Whittaker. This change was met with backlash from some Whovians, fans of the show and even one of the former actors who portrayed the Doctor.

“If I feel any doubts, it’s the loss of a role model for boys who I think Doctor Who is vitally important for. So I feel a bit sad about that, but I understand the argument that you need to open it up,” said Peter Davison, the Fifth Doctor.

The change has also been met with great support from fans of the show and other Doctors. The majority of fans of the series believe this change for the better.

“Anyone who has seen Jodie Whittaker’s work will know that she is a wonderful actress of great individuality and charm,” said Peter Capaldi, Whittaker’s predecessor.

You can watch the first episode of season 11, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” for free on the BBC America’s website or on the BBC America’s app.

Email Patrick at [email protected] or follow him on twitter @PaterickKline.

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