The Doctors
(Timeline: 1963 - 1989, 1996 and 2013)

"It was so much better than real life." - Tom Baker (The Fourth Doctor)

Note: for Classic Era Doctor Who: an "episode" means one 25-minute show, a "story" means a set of episodes that make up one complete adventure, and a "series" means one entire season of stories. A "special" is a one-off story of some significance. And if I say "season" instead of "series"... just deal with it.

THE EARLY YEARS (1963-1969)

The First Doctor

Played by William Hartnell
1963 to 1966 (Series 1 to 3)

"Yes, it all started out as a mild curiosity in a junkyard..."

    In 1963, the BBC unveiled Doctor Who, a science fiction series created by Sydney Newman featuring a time-traveling alien called "The Doctor" played by veteran actor William Hartnell. While the show was initially intended to be educational, with The Doctor and his friends flying back in time to meet historical figures, the second story, the a seven-part serial featuring The Doctor battling the murderous race of aliens called the Daleks made such a huge splash with the public that the show slowly shed its mission statement and became a straight, though highly wacky, sci-fi adventure show, with only the occasional meeting of historical figures.

     The show's title worked as an in-joke. Having established that The Doctor never reveals his real name, the series had a running dialog gag that occurred in both the classic years and the modern years which at its basic elements went like this:

     "I'm The Doctor."
     "Doctor who?"

     Or my favorite twist on this gag, from  "The Gunfighters" (1966)

     "And lastly, sir, your humble servant, Doctor Caligari."
     "Doctor who?"
     "Yes, quite right."

     Hartnell's tenure on Doctor Who was marked with many highly imaginative storylines and a handful of great companions. Unfortunately, many of the episodes and even complete stories are lost, but there is enough there to show that Hartnell was an outstanding Doctor.

     At first, Hartnell was unsure about being on the series, but as Doctor Who's popularity grew, so did Hartnell's confidence as well as his fame. In an interview with The Mirror in 2013, his granddaughter Jessica told this amusing story about his popularity: "He once went drinking with a friend and they were stopped by the police. He swept out of the car, said ‘Leave this to me’, and told the police ‘I’m Doctor Who’. They let them go!"

     Hartnell played the role of The Doctor for three seasons, but by the fourth, he was no longer in the best of health and after a few episodes, it was clear he had to be replaced. Hartnell died in 1975 of heart failure.

     While there have been many Doctors since 1963, William Hartnell will always be honored as The First.

"... and now it's turned out to be quite a... quite a great spirit of adventure, don't you think?"

The Two Other Doctors: In the  20th Anniversary special "The Five Doctors" (1983), Richard Hurndall played the role of The First Doctor, as William Hartnell had passed away in 1975. Hurndall's portrayal was quite credible, but sadly, the actor died a few months after the episode aired.

     In 2013, actor David Bradley, best known playing the creepy Hogwarts caretaker Argus Filch in the Harry Potter films, played William Hartnell in a wonderful TV movie titled An Adventure in Space and Time. He also played The First Doctor in the the modern series Season 10 finale "The Doctor Falls" and the 2017 Christmas special "Twice Upon a Time".

This is a photo of a younger William Hartnell.
So this was The Doctor's true appearance
for many years before getting older and regenerating.

Good Show, Man!
: Two years before he created Doctor Who, Sydney Newman (pictured left) created the spy-adventure series The Avengers, yet another classic show that is well-remembered today.

Newman is the man who invented the character of The Doctor.

The Second Doctor

Played by Patrick Troughton
1966 to 1969 (Series 4 to 6)
     When William Hartnell's health began to falter, the part of The Doctor needed to be recast. But how to replace a beloved figure like Hartnell? They could have found a similar looking actor, adorned him with a white wig and continued on as if nothing had happened. Instead, they made a bold move that came to define the entire series: they had the doctor "renew" himself (later known as "regenerate") and completely change into a new body with a new personalty, while still being the same man. It was a gamble that paid off, and with each new Doctor, the show got a new fresh start.

     Actor Patrick Troughton, recommended by Hartnell himself for the lead role, became The Second Doctor in 1966 and despite the stature of Hartnell as THE Doctor, the show remained popular. Troughton's take on The Doctor was nothing like Hartnell's. Where the First Doctor was grumpy and grandfatherly, The "Second Doctor" was eccentric, fun, goofy and affectionate. He wore ill-fitting clothes that made him look like he just stepped off the stage of an English Music Hall. Occasionally, he played the recorder. Sidney Newman called the character a "Cosmic Hobo", which is as good a description of the Second Doctor as any. Thanks to Troughton's new, wackier version of The Doctor, good stories, and a cast featuring one of the most popular companions ever, Jamie McCrimmon, a young Scotsman played by Frazer Hines, the show went on without a hitch.

"You've redecorated... I don't like it!"

     After his three-year run, Troughton showed up again in "The Three Doctors" (1972) with William Hartnell and Jon Pertwee, "The Five Doctors" (1983) with Pertwee, Richard Hurndall, Peter Davison and footage of Tom Baker, and "The Two Doctors" (1985) with Colin Baker and Frazier Hines.

     Patrick Troughton died in 1987 while attending a sci-fi convention in Georgia.

"Oh, my giddy Aunt!"

     Photographer Don Smith had nothing but praise and admiration for Troughton. "He was a nice man," Smith said on the RadioTimes page in 2016. "I got on with him very well. If I said to him, ‘Please Pat, would you lean on the TARDIS?’ he was happy to do it. Nothing was too much trouble.”

     Troughton was much respected by many fans through the years, including Matt Smith. In 2011, the quirky Eleventh Doctor had this to say to Newsarama about the equally quirky Second Doctor: "What I think is wonderful about Troughton is he's weird and peculiar but he never asks you to find him weird and peculiar. He was a great actor."

Above: The First Doctor regenerates into The Second.

Like Doctor, Like Sons: In the episode "Midnight" (2008), Patrick Troughton's son David, a fine actor in his own right, played Professor Hobbes. He was also in three Classic Era adventures: "The Enemy of the World" and "The War Games" (both 1968) with his father, and "The Curse of Peladon" (1972) with Jon Pertwee. Troughton's other son, Michael, had a long career in television and movies, and played Professor Albert Smith in the 2014 special "Last Christmas" with Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman.

You Can Always Count on The Doctor: Although The Doctor is the same man regenerating himself when necessary, meaning Peter Capaldi's Doctor is the same man as William Hartnell's Doctor, each incarnation of The Doctor is known to fans by his own number: William Hartnell is The First Doctor, Patrick Troughton is The Second Doctor (as in "The Second [Incarnation of] The Doctor), David Tennant is The Tenth Doctor, and so on. When writing about a particular Doctor, many fans use a shorthand nickname; Matt Smith might be called "Eleven", for instance.
Doctor Who: "The Purge of The Archives!": Because of the practice of wiping older video programs to re-use the tapes for new shows, many early shows from the original Doctor Who series are now missing, mostly from the William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton eras. In some cases, entire episodes are gone (all of 1963's seven-part "Marco Polo"), while in most cases, individual parts are gone (the six-part "Reign of Terror" is missing episodes 4 and 5). Perhaps the two greatest losses were the 1965-66 "The Daleks' Master Plan", a massive 12-part epic featuring William Hartnell, and 1966's "The Tenth Planet" which featured the first appearance of the Cybermen as well as the series' first regeneration, from William Hartnell to Patrick Troughton.

     Amazingly, while many of the the video portions of Doctor Who are lost, the soundtrack for every missing episode is accounted for, thanks to fans around the world who used to record the audio portion of the shows directly off television for their own private audio libraries. Through the use of animation, still pictures and captions, matched with the audio tracks, several early Doctor Who adventures have been somewhat restored. "The Power of the Daleks" (pictured above) was given a complete animation restoration. If it's a bit stiff and awkward at times, it's still very much worth watching, as being able to watch The Second Doctor's first adventure in animation is better than not being able to watch it at all, especially when you consider how many Troughton episodes are not available at all.

     The practice of wiping old tapes stopped in 1978, when the emergence of home video created a new market for old shows that would have otherwise been destroyed.

THE GOLDEN YEARS (1970-1984)

The Third Doctor

Played by Jon Pertwee
1970 to 1974 (Series 7 to 11)

     At the end of The Second Doctor's final adventure (the ten-part "The War Games"), the Time Lords punished him for interfering with history, and forced him to change his appearance and be banished to Earth without a working TARDIS. With The Doctor now limited to more Earth-based stories, the show changed drastically. Jon Pertwee starred as a dashing, heroic Doctor with expertise at Venusian aikido who fit right in with an era that had James Bond movies still going strong. Of course, in this more action -packed time, The Doctor would not be traveling around with schoolteachers, granddaughters or Scotsmen from the 1700s. Instead, he had three excellent companions: UNIT scientist Liz Shaw, followed by Jo Grant, Shaw's replacement, and finally journalist Sarah Jane Smith, possibly the most beloved and popular Doctor Who companion of all time. Doctor Who now sometimes felt like a continuation of The Avengers, which had gone off the air the year before. This would have an effect on the show from here on in, with female companions becoming the norm (see the Jamie McCrimmon section of the Classic Companions page next for more thoughts on this).

     Although actor Nicholas Courtney had been seen previously as UNIT head Brigadier Alistair Leftbridge - Stewart in the Patrick Troughton era,  it was in the Pertwee era that he became a regular cast member.

     The Third Doctor didn't have a souped-up, gadget-enhanced Aston Martin like James Bond, but he did have a fun little antiquated roadster named "Bessie", which he then souped-up and gadget-enhanced.

     Many of The Third Doctor's adventures featured the evil rogue Time Lord known as The Master, deliciously played in grand Bondian style by Roger Delgado.

     The show was also now in "colour".

     All of this added up to one extremely popular Doctor, still beloved by many fans who grew up with the original series.

     The "Earth Only" policy made it difficult for writers to come up with fresh ideas beyond "The Master teams with an alien race to take over the world", so it was gradually amended and eventually dropped. When The Third Doctor, with the help of his two previous incarnations, defeated the evil rogue Time Lord Omega in 1973's "The Three Doctors", The High Council of Time Lords granted his freedom once again to go gallivanting around the Universe in his beloved blue box.

"I've reversed the polarity of the neutron flow..."

     Andrew Blair from Den of Geek summed up John Pertwee's Doctor nicely: "This Doctor was a man of action. Hoverboats, jet skis, vintage roadsters, fights to the death, diving bells, flying cars, Pertwee took them all on. Next time you watch Casino Royale, imagine Pertwee doing the opening free running chase sequence. Sure, you'd have to add in a bit where he stops for a glass of wine and a sandwich, but otherwise it'd be exactly the same."

     It was at the end of Pertwee's run that the meaning of "regenerating" was solidified. In this case, Jon Pertwee's Doctor regenerated into the most popular Doctor of the era, Tom Baker.

     Pertwee died in 1996 of a heart attack.

Roll Over, Ray Bolger: From 1979 to 1981, Jon Pertwee starred in the children's show Worzel Gummidge, based on a series of popular books written by Barbara Euphan Todd. Pertwee played the title character, a walking talking scarecrow who befriends two young children. A few years later, Pertwee starred once again as the scarecrow in two seasons of Worzel Gummidge Down Under. As much as he loved being The Doctor, Pertwee may have been even more proud of his work as Worzel Gummidge.

Like Doctor, Like Son:
Sean Pertwee, son of Jon Pertwee, has had a great career of his own on stage, in film and in television. Most recently he has played Inspector Lestrade CBS's Elementary and Alfred Pennyworth, butler of Bruce Wayne in Fox's Gotham.
Bess, You Is My Car: Although The Third Doctor used the car most often, other Doctors through the years have taken Bessie for a spin now and then. The Seventh Doctor even changed the license plate from "WHO 1" to "WHO 7".

     Unfortunately, Bessie was not one of the items from the classic  Doctor Who years that would make a return in the new series. How fun would it have been if in at least one episode, one of the new Doctors (I'm thinking Peter Capaldi mostly) decided to skip running around everywhere and just hop in Bessie for a scene or two?

     Archival footage of Bessie, driven by John Pertwee, can be seen in "The Name of the Doctor" when Clara Oswald ends up in the The Eleventh Doctor's personal time stream. (It can happen).
If You Like Your Doctors, You Can Keep Your Doctors: Elisabeth Sladen, as companion Sarah Jane Smith, shared her time with Third Doctor Jon Pertwee and Fourth Doctor Tom Baker. In the 20th Anniversary special "The Five Doctors", she met The First Doctor, then played by Richard Hurndall, The Second Doctor Patrick Troughton and the then-current Fifth Doctor Peter Davison. Years later, she appeared in the new Doctor Who series, meeting up with Tenth Doctor David Tennant in the episode "School Reunion", and later, in her own series The Sarah Jane Adventures, she ran into The Tenth Doctor again, and later met Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith. Sadly, Sladen passed away in 2011.

     There is more on Sarah Jane Smith and Elisabeth Sladen on our "Classic Companions" page.

The Fourth Doctor

Played by Tom Baker

1975 to 1981 (Series 12 to 18)

"All that was required of me was to be able to speak complete gobbledygook with conviction."
- Tom Baker, from his 1991 autobiography Who On Earth Is Tom Baker?

     Having finally explained "regeneration" in the final Pertwee episode "Planet of the Spiders", the show once again fearlessly threw caution to the wind and replaced the extremely popular Jon Pertwee with a relatively unknown actor named Tom Baker. Looking like a cross between Harpo Marx and Bob Dylan from the cover of Blonde on Blonde, Baker proved to be even more popular than Pertwee and eventually became The Doctor everybody knew, even in the U.S., when, in 1978, American PBS stations started broadcasting a selection of Fourth Doctor episodes. Today, decades after Tom Baker's departure from the show, many fans rank him as the greatest Doctor of all time.

     I have an idea why Tom Baker made such an impact. William Hartnell played a grumpy Victorian gentleman. Patrick Troughton played a bumbling nutty professor. Jon Pertwee played a suave, dandified action hero. As great as Pertwee was, he was still, like his predecessors before him, a recognizable archetype. Take away his TARDIS and his sonic screwdriver, turn Doctor Who into a spy/action show and Pertwee would have still been just as superb.

     Tom Baker showed up as an alien with a ridiculously long scarf and and an endless supply of jelly babies. That's not an archetype - that's a character who had never existed before until Tom Baker.

     His doctor was the most other-worldly to date, not be matched until Matt Smith's arrival as The Eleventh Doctor in the new series. The Fourth Doctor often seemed to be listening with one ear, hearing something else in the other, all the while thinking of two or three other things. He had a commanding voice and presence like his previous incarnation, but was also completely different. The Third Doctor easily passed for an eccentric human being; the Fourth Doctor would be more likely to be mistaken as an escapee from a lunatic asylum. He also liked jelly babies (what would be basically "gummy bears" in the U.S.) and was always offering them to friends and enemies. Baker's Doctor share a trait with several other Doctors, that of being inappropriately gleeful when faced with danger or certain death. Yet, his glee was somehow more gleeful than others, as he flashed his best "crazed Harpo" look for all to see.

     Although Harpoesque, The Fourth Doctor was also chatty to the extreme, ala Groucho Marx, often using his sense of humor just to make himself laugh. One running dialog gag pops up in several episodes, when somebody mentions a prominent name in the Doctor's presence:

GUARD: He's engaged on important work for Captain Tancredi.
DOCTOR: (Shocked) Captain Tancredi?!
GUARD: You know him?
DOCTOR: (Nonchalant) No.

"I'm a very dangerous fellow when I don't know what I'm doing."

      Several of the stories early in this era were based on classic horror and sci-fi stories such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ("Planet of Evil"), Invasion of the Body Snatchers ("The Android Invasion") and Frankenstein ("The Brain of Morbius").

     In the first episode of "The Masque of Mandragora", we finally get a glimpse of other parts of the TARDIS, as The Doctor shows Sarah Jane Smith around. We get to see a boot cupboard and a secondary TARDIS room, in which The Doctor finds a frilly shirt from his previous incarnation and Sarah Jane plays a flute that obviously must have been belonged to The Second Doctor. In the later adventure "The Invasion of Time", we again see other parts of the TARDIS, including the swimming pool and the sick bay.

     At seven series, Baker had the longest run of any actor playing The Doctor, and his reign featured several memorable companions, including journalist Sarah Jane Smith, warrior Leela, robot dog K9, two versions of the Time Lord Romana, and young stowaway Adric. Nyssa of Traken and unwitting passenger Tegan Jovanka showed up at the end of Baker's tenure and subsequently became companions of The Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison). In the final few stories, The Master, now played by Anthony Ainley, returned with a vengeance. Ainley would pop up as The Master on and off for the rest of the original series.

     Fittingly, Baker had a special part in the 50th Anniversary episode "The Day of the Doctor" in 2013. After his time as The Doctor, Baker never stopped working, and later in life capitalized on his Doctor Who connection by lending his voice to video games and participating in audio Doctor Who adventures from Big Audio Finish. He was also the bizarre announcer of the British comedy series Little Britain and its spinoffs. ("Britain, Britain, Britain! Land of technological achievement! We've had running water for over ten years, an underground tunnel that links us to Peru, and we invented the cat.")

"You might be a doctor, but I am The Doctor. The definite article, you might say."

     Before the 50th Anniversary, Tom Baker spoke about his life on Doctor Who: "Being 'Doctor Who', I used to look at the clock and know at half past four we were going to stop rehearsing - and that was a sad moment for me because I wanted to stay in this beautiful, unreal world."

The Doctor Is On Board: Before becoming the world's most favorite flying madman, Tom Baker appeared in several films, including Nicholas and Alexandra (1971) The Vault of Horror, and Frankenstein: The True Story (both 1973). It was his performance as the sorcerer Koura in The Golden Voyage of Sindbad (also 1973 - busy year for the future Doctor!) that eventually led to his being cast as The Fourth Doctor. Here he is as the sea captain in Frankenstein: The True Story. He is initially hard to spot in the film, due to his makeup, a storm at sea and much commotion and madness as The Monster shows himself on deck. Just before the scene picture to the left, he berates his crew members for being afraid to face The Monster, and oh... there's that unmistakable voice!

The Fifth Doctor

Played by Peter Davison

1982 to 1984 (Series 19 to 21)
     The Fifth Doctor was the most normal Doctor of all, with very few quirky touches except for his cricket outfit and the admittedly off the wall touch of wearing a sprig of celery on his lapel. And a Doctor without quirky touches is a less interesting Doctor. Still, armed with leading man looks, solid acting skills, an iconic outfit, and a built-in fan base who enjoyed him in the popular series All Creatures Great and Small, Davison took on the unenviable task of following Tom Baker and made a success out of it, especially when backed up by some of the best stories of any Doctor. If you are not the expecting the whirlwind that was Tom Baker, Peter Davison made for a fine, no-frills Doctor. Sure, he's not full of insane quirks like other Doctors, but as one of the Doctors once said, "Regeneration - it's a lottery."

"I'll explain later."

     The Fifth Doctor's reign was a throwback to the early years of William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton, in that for the first time since those days, The Doctor traveled with multiple companions at the same time. Perhaps it was because The Fifth Doctor was so normal, compared to the past Doctors, that the writers made sure there were enough various companions to spice things up. Much like Ian, Barbara and Susan in the First Doctor adventures, Adric, Tegan and Nyssa felt like a family. It was the last time The Doctor traveled with multiple companions for any real length of time in the original series.

     The Fifth Doctor had a rough regeneration, one that he wasn't sure he would survive. As other Doctors have done before and after him, The Fifth Doctor "channeled" some of his previous incarnations in the process, as well as referring to companions from days gone by. I'm impressed that, 19 series into the show, the audience was expected to know all the references, such as The Doctor chuckling like William Hartnell, or random shout outs to previous companions such as Jo Grant, The Brigadier and Jamie. Not many shows have a history long enough to dip way back in time like that, let alone fully expect their audience to follow along.

     Most Doctors before Davison had a basic outfit, but often with variations. However, at the start of Davison's run, his costume was set in stone - cricket outfit, , striped pants, sprig of celery on the lapel. This was done to help sell costumes and toys, and extended to the Colin Baker years. For a while, it seemed like the companions were never going to change their clothes, with Tegan Jovanka sticking to her Stewardess outfit and Nyssa clinging to that god-awful whatever it was she wore. But after a few episodes, they loosened up and started wearing more comfortable clothes, and it somehow made them more human. Adric, however, never seemed to change his outfit.

    The Davison years may have lacked the energy of the Tom Baker years, but in several ways, it was an improvement. Special effects, set design and makeup were all upgraded. Especially notable were the superb makeup on the actor who played "Monarch" in "Four to Doomsday" and the excellent "burn" makeup on a character in "Black Orchid", both of which were a good sight better than the usually slapdashery that masqueraded as makeup in the years past. There was also a great deal on-location filming in and around London in the first of Davison's three years.

     The second Davison series was a theme-season, in which The Doctor rematched against several villains from the past such as the Time Lord Omega, The Mara and The Black Guardian. It was the season that saw the departure of Sarah Sutton as Nyssa, the introduction of Mark Strickson as Vislor Turlough, and the welcome one-shot return of Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Leftbridge-Stewart. The season ended with the first real Doctor Who special, the 90-minute The Five Doctors, with a star-studded cast of old and new companions, and, in theory at least, the first five Doctors. The Brigadier, of course, showed up again.

     In the story "Mawdryn Undead", The Doctor reveals that he can only regenerate 12 times, and has already done so 4 times previously. Thus a rule was established that would run all the way through the original series, the TV movie and the modern series.

     In later years Peter Davison was always ready and willing to promote and celebrate Doctor Who anyway he could, whether in the short sketch "Time Crash" with David Tennant for the Children in Need telethon or starring in the fun short film "The Five(ish) Doctors" along with Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann. "I will always be the Fifth Doctor," he said in 2013, "but I didn't have a problem getting another job. I got another job almost immediately. And because of that I felt I never needed to run and hide from the series at all. I'm very happy with the way it worked out."

"Sorry - must dash!"

     In real life, Fifth Doctor Peter Davison became Tenth Doctor David Tennant's father-in-law when the younger Doctor married the older Doctor's daughter Georgia Moffett, who played the title character of the fourth season "New Who" episode "The Doctor's Daughter".

THE FINAL YEARS (1986-1989)

The Sixth Doctor

Played by Colin Baker

1984 to 1986 (Series 22 to 23)
     Colin Baker's Doctor got off on the wrong foot with many fans by not only being full of himself and dismissive of others, but also by physically attacking his companion Peri almost immediately after regenerating. It was an interesting idea; Doctors are often discombobulated for a time after regenerating. But it was too over the line for many fans to see The Doctor choking his companion. The clownish costume, while memorable, also made him look like a circus performer more than a Time-Traveling hero. I can't blame Baker himself, a fine actor just doing his job. He truly excelled at playing the pompous character written for him, but his Doctor is often listed as the least popular of the first seven.

"No matter what else happens, I am the Doctor... whether you like it or not!"

     The Colin Baker years returned to the one Doctor, one Companion formula, with the one companion being the beautiful, often put-upon, frequently whiny Peri Brown, played by Nicola Bryant. The first full Sixth Doctor season also featured a format change, with two 45 minute episodes making up a complete story rather that the usual set of four 25 minute episodes. Working from his initial "damaged Doctor" state from his first story "Twin Trouble", Baker was a great deal more animated and energized than his predecessor, definitely a point in his favor. I find him to be a combination of traits that are common to The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) and the much later Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi). He also picked up the James Bond habit of unleashing a wry one-liner after killing a villain. Meaning he also picked up the habit of killing villains, something The Doctor rarely did.

     In "Attack of the Cybermen", The Doctor decides to finally fix the chameleon switch, which has been stuck in "Blue Police Box" mode since the First Doctor stole the TARDIS. So we actually see the iconic TARDIS disguised as other things, such as an ornamental stove and a church organ. Naturally, by the next episode, it is a Police Box again.

     The Sixth Doctor's fourth adventure, titled "The Two Doctors", find him having to rescue The Second Doctor, a role reprised by Patrick Troughton. It was the last multi-Doctor episode of the original series. Fans would have to wait until 2013 for the next multi-Doctor episode, "Day of the Doctor", which starred Matt Smith and David Tennant.

      On the DVD/Blu-ray extra titled Tales of the TARDIS, Colin Baker revealed something that might have changed the course of his Doctor Who history. His original concept of The Sixth Doctor was a man in a simple black coat, a forerunner to Christopher Eccleston's Doctor. Unfortunately, his idea was voted down and he wound up with the exact opposite type of costume, the multi-colored nightmare that became his trademark. Would the Sixth Doctor's pompous personality have been more acceptable to fans if he was dressed in such a simple, stark outfit rather than the buffoonish costume he was forced to wear? Who knows?

     The show's ratings, which had held up fairly well during the Peter Davison era, began to slide in the Colin Baker years, for reasons only marginally having  to do with Baker himself. What really damaged the show's reputation was an 18-month hiatus from March 1985 to September 1986. Before the hiatus, the show averaged about 7 million viewers in the UK. When it came back a year and a half later, it seemed that many fans had moved on, with the show losing roughly 2 million viewers. The season had The Doctor put on trial for meddling with history, yet, I somehow feel it was poor Colin Baker put on trial for doing his best on a show that was clearly faltering. When I got to the Colin Baker years, I was all set to not like The Sixth Doctor, just by reputation. As it turned out, he was fine. Not my favorite Doctor, but the his first season was enjoyable and much of it had to do with his performance as The Doctor.

     Because of a contentious relationship with the higher-ups, who fired him from the show after only two seasons, Baker refused to do a regeneration scene, leaving Sylvester McCoy, the next Doctor, to suffer through the cheesiest, most confusing regeneration scene ever when the next series began.

     In an interview with Doctor Who Magazine, Baker vented some of his feelings on the subject: “I know there are some people who rate my Doctor quite highly. It’s just there’s an even greater number of people who don’t rate him at all. And it wounds me. I should be able to rise above it, and pretend I don’t care, but I actually do care.”     

     Flying Fish-Finger Factoid: Colin Baker's arrival featured the first time The Doctor mentioned the word "incarnation", as in "This will the sixth incarnation of The Doctor".

Doctor Who, both old and new, occasionally had some famous guest stars. One of the best was Honor Blackman, who was famous for playing "Pussy Galore" in the James Bond film Goldfinger, and as Cathy Gale in the early years of The Avengers, the popular spy show created by Sydney Newman, who went on to also create Doctor Who.

She played Professor Sarah Lasky in 1986's "Terror of the Vervoids"

I know this is not the best picture of Honor Blackman, but, to paraphrase The Doctor: "Screencaps - they're a lottery."

The Seventh Doctor

Played by Sylvester McCoy

1987 to 1989 (Series 24 to 26), 1996 TV Movie

     The Seventh Doctor, portrayed by Sylvester McCoy, was almost "the last of the  Time Lords". While one of the more intriguing Doctors, one who evolved from a clownish persona into a darker, more mysterious one, he unfortunately came into the series at a time when the BBC was considering dropping the show altogether. For three seasons, Sylvester McCoy did his best to keep the show alive and, despite the eventual cancellation, he is well-remembered for his stellar work over those years. He is certainly one of my favorite Doctors.

     The Seventh Doctor's first companion was Mel ("Melanie") Bush, played by entertainer Bonnie Langford. Mel originally appeared a season before in the third episode of "Trial of a Time Lord", in which The Sixth Doctor, on trial for  his life, presents the Time Lords with an adventure he had in the future (just go with this). Mel was his companion in that story, and while she was okay as a one-off character, it was a mistake to then make Mel the Seventh Doctor's companion. Bonnie Langford was a popular entertainer, but she seemed out of her element in Doctor Who. The best companions were always characters who seemed real and down to earth (no pun intended) - Ian and Barbara, Jo Grant, Sarah Jane Smith, etc. Mel seemed like a windup doll - pull her string and she would either smile or scream. Doctor Who was getting gimmicky at this time, with several popular comedians or actors appearing in the show as an attempt to bring back ratings. Mel was a similar gimmick. Still, while the initial story "Time and The Rani" is often considered one of the worst Doctor Who stories ever, the other three featuring Bonnie Langford all had some good points.

"Happiness is nothing unless it exists side by side with sadness. Two sides - one coin."

     In the final two seasons with new companion Ace, played by Sophie Aldred, there were a handful of unforgettable episodes such as "Remembrance of the Daleks", the Stephen King-esque "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy", "The Curse of Ferric", and the truly confusing yet so much fun to sit through "Ghost Light". Nicholas Courtney's final appearance as The Brigadier and Jean Marsh's return to the show after decades helped liven up the fun sword and sorcery story "Battlefield".

     "Silver Nemesis", which received very mixed reviews when it first aired, stands up today as the typical, average Doctor Who story, full of the kind of fun to be had in the final seasons of the the original series. The Doctor professes his love for jazz, and later uses one of Ace's jazz tapes to jam the Cybermen's communications. Ace takes out a Cyberman with a slingshot and a gold rock (gold is like Kryptonite to Cybermen) and later, surrounded by three Cybermen and possessing only one gold rock left for her slingshot, she cleverly manages to take out all three. The Queen shows up. Also, Nazis. It's not a classic episode, but, like several of The Seventh Doctor's stories, if you don't think about it too much, it's all great, silly nonsense enhanced by being shot on location.

     As good as McCoy was, especially with Sophie Aldred as his companion, it was not enough. The ratings, which had made a turn for the worst with in the Colin Baker era, continued to decline in the McCoy era. In 1989, after 26 seasons, Doctor Who was "suspended", a more pleasant word than "canceled", and The Seventh Doctor's ongoing story was left in limbo, until the 1996 TV movie brought The Seventh Doctor back to end his story, after which he regenerated into The Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann).

      In 2017, McCoy spoke to Doctor Who Magazine about his time on the show, and how his reign as The Doctor was different from what came before: "[S]ome say it was too funny at the beginning. But we changed that, and made it the darkest the Doctor had ever been. And I think that’s rather good too.”

     GHOSTS OF FUTURE PAST: In "Silver Nemesis", The Doctor briefly wears a fez, the same type of hat the Eleventh Doctor loved to wear. Later, while walking around parts of Windsor Castle he shouldn't be, he tells Ace to "act as if you own the place", a bit of advice the Tenth Doctor would later give to Martha Jones in 2005's "The Shakespeare Code". The Doctor never forgets good advice, especially when it's his own.

Pictured directly above: Sylvester McCoy as Radagast in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings movies.

WHAT'S MY LINE? Sylvester McCoy can sometimes be seen carrying around the day's script in his pocket. Meanwhile, Sophie Aldred gave the directors fits by adding and/or removing new badges and bits of flair to and from her standard "Ace" costume, causing continuity problems.


The Eighth Doctor

Played by Paul McGann

1996 TV Movie "Doctor Who", 2013 Mini-Episode "Night of the Doctor"

    By 1996, The Doctor had been missing from television for six years when the Brits, Americans and Canadians teamed up to create a Doctor Who TV movie in the hopes of reviving the series. It opened with The Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) bringing the remains of The Master, a major villain from the original series, back to his home planet Gallifrey. An emergency forces The Doctor to land in modern-day San Francisco, where he is shot by a street gang. In the hospital, he dies and regenerates into The Eighth Doctor, played by Paul McGann.

     As one of my friends describes it, and not in flattering tones, the rest of the movie plays out like an '80s cop show. Fans may debate the quality of Doctor Who: The Movie - I thought it was entertaining as a one-off "Doctor Who in America" story, although, yes, it did play out like an '80s cop show. Many fans of the original series, though, considered Paul McGann as one of the finest Doctors of all time, and rightly so. Based on his one and only appearance as The Doctor until 2013, McGann would have been a very excellent Doctor indeed. He was a nice guy like The Fifth Doctor, but quirkier, dressed in a frock coat that made him look like he had just finished playing a gig with The Kinks. For a guy who played The Doctor only once on TV (again, until 2013), McGann is still a fan favorite. His Doctor found new life in a series of audio Doctor Who adventures.

"I love humans. They always see patterns in things that aren't there."

     In an interview with Digital Spy, McGann had this to say about his short but significant time as a Doctor: "People say it's a shame that it never went to series and I go, 'OK, well, let's just take a minute to imagine that it had. How much do you like Matt Smith and David Tennant? They might never have happened if there'd be some other history!'...  It's a good family to be part of - and it's still going places. It's a lovely thing to be associated with."

Pictured above: Paul McGann as The Doctor in the 2013 mini-episode "Night of the Doctor".

"The War Doctor"

Played by John Hurt

2013 (The Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special
"Day of the Doctor")

    As Amy Pond would say: "Okay, this is where it gets complicated."

    When the new show began in 2005, show runner Russell T Davies simplified the series' back story by making The Doctor the last of the Time Lords. Though not seen, the "Last Great Time War" between The Time Lords and The Daleks resulted in both races wiped out by The Doctor, in the desperate last-ditch attempt at saving the rest of the Universe.

     "The War Doctor" was a character invented by Steven Moffat in 2013 for the 50th Anniversary episode. Before this, most fans assumed that the Christopher Eccleston Doctor of the new series regenerated from the Paul McGann Doctor of the 1996 movie. However, Moffat had a personal problem with this, feeling that it would feel wrong for either McGann or Eccleston be the man who committed genocide on two different races. He let both Doctors off the hook by writing a mini-episode, "Night of the Doctor", in which McGann, playing The Doctor for only the second time on film, is granted a special regeneration into what has come to be known as The War Doctor, played by none other than John Hurt. This mini-episode was broadcast around the time of the 50th Anniversary Special and can be found on YouTube and on the appropriate official DVD and Blu-ray releases of Doctor Who.

     "Night of the Doctor" was shortly followed by the 50th Anniversary Special "The Day of the Doctor", in which The War Doctor is ready to end the Time War, and meets two of his later selves, the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, played by David Tennant and Matt Smith respectively. Near the end of the special, we see The War Doctor regenerating into the Ninth Doctor, although it quickly cuts away, due to Steven Moffat's decision to respect Christopher Eccleston's decision not to take part in the special.

"Why is there never a big red button?"

     Any more on this subject would be too spoilery. By the way, because he has been shoehorned into the back story, The War Doctor is left unnumbered.

     While working on the 50th Anniversary Special in 2013, he offered his thoughts on the series: "I think that the continuing popularity of Doctor Who over so many years relies on its ability to reinvent itself. The style of writing, the format of the programme and the excellent casting have all kept pace with contemporary idioms and of course, the possibility of the regeneration of the Doctor himself means that the programme never becomes stale... It has been a great experience to be involved in the anniversary programme and I have huge admiration for David and Matt.”

     In a Doctor Who Confidential, he also mentioned how much he loved working with Billie Piper. Which I can readily understand.

     John Hurt died in 2017

THE NOT-SO-NINTH DOCTOR: When the Fortieth Anniversary of Doctor Who rolled around in 2003, the series had been off the air for years and the TV movie had come and gone. Still, something had to be done to mark the occasion so the official Doctor Who website unveiled "Scream of the Shalka", a flash-animated serial that starred the voices of actor Richard E. Grant as The Doctor and Derek Jacobi as The Master. The BBC promoted this Doctor as The Ninth Doctor, but when the series officially came back in 2005, Grant's Doctor was deported to Doctor Whoville, where non-official Doctors such as his and Peter Cushing's live out their imaginary lives drinking "sonic" screwdrivers and chatting about which companion was the prettiest. Or, to put it plainly, Grant's Doctor was made unofficial, paving the way for Christopher Eccleston to be The Ninth Doctor.

     Grant had previously appeared as The Doctor, along with several other actors portraying the same role, in the 1999 Steven Moffat spoof "The Curse of Fatal Death" made for Comic Relief. Grant would return to Doctor Who in the Matt Smith years, playing the villainous Doctor Walter Simeon in the Christmas Special "The Snowmen" and the equally villainous Great Intelligence in "The Bells of Saint John" and "The Name of the Doctor".
The Doctor and a Half on Holiday: Paul McGann and Richard E. Grant starred in the classic 1987 film Withnail and I about two drug-abusers fed up with life who take a holiday which proves disastrous. As mentioned above, McGann would go on to play The Doctor in the 1996 TV movie and Grant, in animated form, would play The Doctor in the "Scream of the Shalka" in 2003.

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"A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points,
but it is by no means the most interesting."

  - The Third Doctor