November 13 2008

Who Is The Best Doctor Who

With the recent news that David Tennant is leaving Doctor Who, it is time for speculation to run rampant again about who the next actor to enter the TARDIS will be.

Ever since Tom Baker (the fourth Doctor) had the longest run at the character, people have speculated wildly with each passing regeneration who would be the next man to enter the famous blue police box.  While the show was off the air officially from 1989 to 2005 (you can count the two hour movie on American television in 1996 if you like), the news it was coming back caused a huge stir as to what the Doctor would be like.  Then it all fired up again when Christopher Eccleston left after only one season as the famous time traveler.

Here we are again with the news that we will soon change Doctors, but who will it be?  We can drive ourselves nuts trying to figure it out, but it will all be moot once the name is announced in a year or so.  In the mean time, lets take a look back at all eleven (yes, eleven) men to play the role.

William Hartnell

The first man to play the role, he traveled in the TARDIS from 1963 – 1966.  This is one of the hardest for people to judge because large portions of his episodes are lost and haven’t been seen since the originally aired.  From what I have seen of him, he always came off as too much of a curmudgeon, and bordered on being cruel to his companions at times.  You honestly had to wonder sometimes why they even stayed with the guy.

There is no denying his important contribution to the series, and all fans of the series owe him a debt of gratitude for taking on what was originally conceived as a children’s show to teach them about history.  Does kind of make you wonder whatever happened to that portion of the concept.

Peter Cushing

Peter Cushing played the Doctor in two theatrical movies in 1965 and 1966.  His incarnation was different than the television series as he was actually named “Dr. Who” and his two companions were believed to be his granddaughters.  The stories were reworks of television episodes and they were… well, they were just odd. They never quite felt like they fit, and why they decided to do two movies with a different concept while the television show was so young is just completely beyond me.  Talk about confusing your audience!

While this version is not counted in the official regeneration count for the character, it is still interesting to note the existence of the two films.  This is how I got to the eleven Doctors count I mentioned earlier.

Patrick Troughton

From 1966- 1969 Patrick Troughton was the man at the controls of the time machine.  The second Doctor seemed to play more coy with his personality than Mr. Hartnell did.  He wore mismatching clothes, played a recorder at times and actually seemed to have a sense of humor.  Unfortunately a large number of his episodes are also missing from the BBC archives, so it will always be difficult to get a complete picture of his tenure in the role.

He did seem to set a tone for the future that the Doctor didn’t always have to be so serious.  Pater Davison (the fifth Doctor) also said it was Troughton that told him to only stay in the role for three years while they were filming The Five Doctors, so it seems you can also thank him for setting the tone of how long an actor should play the role.

Jon Pertwee

The third Doctor ran from 1970 – 1974 and was handicapped by budget concerns as folklore surrounding the series goes.  At the time of his regeneration, the Doctor was found guilty by the Time Lords of interferring in things he shouldn’t have, and he was exiled to modern day Earth… well… 1970’s Earth.  Instead of traveling everywhere in the TARDIS, he drove an old yellow car he nicknamed “Bessie”… this made things not quite as exciting.

The main difference between this Doctor and the previous two was that he seemed to actually like his companions and value them.  He was also far more physicallya ctive, quite often relying on his “Venusian Aikido” to fight off enemies.  It was almost enough to forgive his frilly shirts.

Tom Baker

This is where most of the United States first got their taste of the series.  He spent the longest time in the role, playing the character from 1974 – 1981.  While he was prominently remembered for his 16-foot long scarf and wild, curly hair, he was also the first Doctor to show a truly eccentric side.  He always had a bag of Jelly Babies handy, a sonic screwdriver at the ready and also showed a much darker side to the character than the previous actors had.  You could tell at times that there was something seething just below the surface of this Doctor, some hidden pain that only he felt he could deal with.

While some feel his seven year run was too long, for Americans who were just learning of the Doctor, it was hard for us to deal with the idea of anyone else playing the role, and we had no idea what to expect from a regeneration.

Peter Davison

Following Tom Baker would have been a tough chore for any actor, but Peter Davinson did it from 1981 – 1984.  The series made a fatal mistake with this Doctor in they put too much emphasis on the costume after Baker’s scarf had become iconic.  They answered this on Davinson with having him pin a piece of celery to his cricketing costume with some bogus reason about it helping him detect dangerous gases or something or the other.  It just looked downright silly that a man traveling through space and time had a vegetable pinned to his lapel.

This Doctor turned back to the old days where he seemed short tempered, not so caring about his companions, but then you would find out down the road that he had actually cared the entire time, he just didn’t always choose to show it.  It was a very odd time on the show to be honest.

Colin Baker

From 1984 – 1986 we had to endure “the technicolor nightmare” as I called Colin Baker’s rendition of the Doctor.  He was the first Doctor to regenerate before the absolute end of a season, so the final story of Peter Davison’s last season was actually with Colin Baker playing the Doctor.  Not that it mattered, we were back to the cantankerous version of the Doctor, similar to what Hartnell had portrayed.  He also displayed an ego that was unusual for the character, and almost seemed like he expected people to be grateful for everything he did and heap praise upon him.  Totally not what I wanted from a Doctor.

Due to the show going on an extended hiatus at the end of the 23rd season, when the show returned 18 months later, Baker was unavailable and we were introduced to the seventh Doctor with no explanation as to what had caused the regeneration of the Time Lord.  Some novels covered the cause, but they all differ in opinion.

Sylvester McCoy

Sylvester McCoy started off somewhat comical, almost like an old Vaudeville performer, playing spoons and telling bad jokes.  As time progressed, he began showing a darker, almost cruel side of himself as he let his companion, Ace, get into danger, and then making her figure her own way out.  Though it was never revealed in the series due to cancellation, it was later noted he was actually testing her to possibly become a Time Lord, a subject never before touched on in the series.

At times he seemed to be most like the Troughton version of the character, playing a fool as a means of tricking his enemies, but he seemed to bring it off with some depth.  McCoy sadly never got a chance to go past season 26 as the series finally was canceled at the end of his third season.

Paul McGann

Poor Mr. McGann.  In 1996, seven years after the series ended, Fox television in America decided to try their hand at making a 2-hour Dr. Who movie.  If it did well, it would serve as the pilot for a whole new series.  Sadly the movie wasn’t very well marketed, and the new series never happened.  The movie did better in the UK than it did here, but nothing ever happened with with the Eighth Doctor beyond this on television.  He was used in numerous novels, audio plays and comics, but nothing further was filmed with him, though many have asked for him to be given another shot.

It is hard to judge this Doctor by only a 2-hour movie, but he seemed very romantic about life in general, and encouraging of those around him.  It was very different than anything we had seen from previous Doctors.  It was also nice to see the costume return to more normal, albeit period, style clothing than some of the outlandish things we’d seen on the last few Doctors.

As a side note, it was nice that Sylvester McCoy could come over and give us a regeneration scene into the eighth Doctor, and it was also possibly one of the most amusing as human doctors mistook his 2nd heart beat for irregular rhythm, tried to correct it with a shock and caused the regeneration to happen by effectively killing him.

Christopher Eccleston

In 2005 the regular Doctor Who series returned, but in a much different format.  As opposed to several 30-minute episodes making up one story, most of the stories were only an hour long.  Everything was shot on film now, the special effects had received huge upgrades and the story & acting were light years ahead of the old version of the show.  It was also considerably darker.

Due to Paul McGann’s very brief stint as the Doctor, we have no clue why he regenerated in to the ninth Doctor, but there were hints when the series started that he hadn’t been in this body very long.  The costume was the most subdued yet, with his trademark being merely a tattered black leather coat.

As for his personality… it was distinctly different than any previous Doctor.  We quickly learned he was now the last of the Time Lords due to an action he took in the last time war against the Daleks.  While he was still amazed by things he saw and did, and how humans, which he almost seemed to view as toddlers, interacted with him, this was a much darker man.  He had committed genocide on two races with just one action, and that of course had left scars on him.

Sadly, Eccleston only stayed in the role for one year.

David Tennant

The tenth Doctor in the official time line is David Tennant.  He had big shoes to fill when Eccleston left as he had been wildly popular for bringing so many new aspects to the beloved character.  Tennant brought a rabid personal love for the character, and an excitement for the character that shown through his performance.

This Doctor has had several items that of clothing that could be considered his trademark: the long, floppy coat, occasional use of glasses, a suit or even his Converse high tops.  The shoes were the only thing that seemed constant as the suits changed colors, the coat came and went, and the glasses only showed up once in a while, but overall he was a very calm dresser… thank goodness.

As for his personality, it is almost impossible to sum him up.  Tennant brought a wide-eyed wonderment to the universe, he was amazed by little things, and extremely excitable and talkative.  You could imagine hanging out in a bar with him, sharing a pint and discussing sports or physics.  However, when it came to facing down his enemies, he is consumed by a darkness that he struggles with.  He doesn’t want to kill, but will if he has to.

Mr. Tennant will be leaving the role after four special episodes slated to air through out 2009.

And the winner is…

Boy, talk about the impossible!  However, it must be done.

  1. David Tennant
  2. Christopher Eccleston
  3. Tom Baker
  4. Sylvester McCoy
  5. Peter Davinson
  6. Jon Pertwee
  7. Patrick Troughton
  8. Paul McGann
  9. William Hartnell
  10. Colin Baker
  11. Peter Cushing

Everyone’s list is going to be different, and I have lots of reasons for some of these.  McGann would have probably placed higher had he gotten to do more.  I know Hartnell is the first, I just didn’t care for him much.  Thank goodness I didn’t include some of the special joke episode Doctor’s like Hugh Grant and Rowan Atkinson!

Have at me, but that’s my list.  So, who is your favorite, and why?

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