Doctor Who © BBC

What IS Doctor Who?


Who's Doctor Who?

What IS Doctor Who?
The Laws of Time
Amendments to Laws of Time
Who IS The Doctor?
The Academy Years
Doctoral Studies
Homecoming and Exile
The First Doctor
The Second Doctor
The Third Doctor
The Fourth Doctor
The Companions
Theoretically Speaking
About the Author
About the Maintainer
Odds and Sods
Site Awards

Doctor Who © BBC
Doctor Who © BBC
Site © Louise Lobinske
Photos: Marcus Durham, Steve Hill and Louise Lobinske

This page last updated on October 7, 2023

Author: Allen Robinson
Edits, updates, and maintenance: Louise Lobinske

The Eight Doctors
"BBC 1. Now here's Doctor Who"

The First Doctor William Hartnell 1963-1966

William Hartnell as The First DoctorDoctor Who was created in early 1963 by Sydney Newman and Donald Wilson. Intended as a children's show, which would combine "an exciting adventure in time and space" with educational content about science and history, it soon became popular with adults as well. When the program debuted, on Saturday, November 23, 1963, it starred William Hartnell as The Doctor, a mysterious traveler in time and space. Hartnell was known for his tough sergeant roles in films and on TV, including a long-running role in the popular series The Army Game. He'd also played the sad old man who befriended Richard Harris's football player in Lindsay Anderson's film, This Sporting Life, and it was this part which won him the role of The Doctor. As played by Hartnell, The Doctor was a crotchety old man who'd been stranded in 1963 while trying to repair his time machine, the TARDIS. Susan, his granddaughter, was attending school, and two of her teachers became curious about her extensive knowledge of some subjects and her total ignorance of others. They followed her one evening and found her "home" was a police telephone call box sitting in a junkyard, a police box which was bigger inside than out. They were further alarmed when The Doctor, fearing that they'd tell their friends about the amazing things they'd seen, decided they could not be allowed to leave, and set his TARDIS in motion. The four travelers landed on prehistoric Earth and became involved with a tribe which had lost the secret of fire. From these humble beginnings a legend was born. The second story introduced the Daleks, an alien menace which came back to haunt The Doctor throughout his lives, and whose instant popularity ensured the show's early success. The First Doctor's stories alternated between costume dramas set in Earth's past, and science fiction stories, which usually took place on alien worlds.

William Hartnell's co-stars: Carole Ann Ford as Susan Foreman, William Russell as Ian Chesterton, Jacqueline Hill as Barbara Wright, Maureen O'Brien as Vicki, Peter Purves as Steven Taylor, Adrienne Hill as Katarina, Jean Marsh as Sara Kingdom, Jackie Lane as Dodo Chaplet, Anneke Wills as Polly, and Michael Craze as Ben Jackson

The Second Doctor Patrick Troughton 1966-1969

Patrick Troughton as The Second DoctorWhen William Hartnell left the show in 1966 the production team hit on an amazing idea. Rather than recasting the role with a similar actor, they decided that the next Doctor, while retaining the same intelligence and curiosity, would have a different physical appearance and personality. They chose Patrick Troughton as the new Doctor, and his success in the role paved the way for the nine other actors who would assume the part. Troughton, a popular character actor known for roles in Laurence Olivier's Shakespeare films, and for his appearances in several Hammer horror classics, played The Doctor until 1969, fighting an array of menaces which included the Cybermen, Yeti, and Ice Warriors. His second story, The Highlanders, was the last of the recurring historical stories. As Troughton's era neared its end, it was decided that his successor would spend much of his time on Earth. To pave the way for this change in the show's format, The Invasion introduced the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, a paramilitary group commanded by Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart, which had been formed to combat alien menaces. In Troughton's final story, The War Games, the audience learned that The Doctor was a fugitive from his own people, the Time Lords, who had left his home planet, in part because he wanted to take an active role in a universe which the other Time Lords were content merely to observe. As punishment for his interference in the affairs of others, the Time Lords exiled The Doctor to Earth in the latter half of the 20th century, and caused him to change his appearance again.

Patrick Troughton's co-stars: Anneke Wills as Polly, Michael Craze as Ben, Frazer Hines as Jamie McCrimmon, Deborah Watling as Victoria Waterfield, Wendy Padbury as Zoe Herriot, Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, and John Levene as Corporal Benton

The Third Doctor  Jon Pertwee 1970-1974

Jon Pertwee as The Third DoctorThe Doctor's next regeneration was played by Jon Pertwee, who was perhaps best known for his long-running radio series The Navy Lark, and for his appearances in the Carry On films. The Third Doctor spent much of his time helping UNIT battle a variety of menaces, including the Silurians, the Sea Devils, the Autons, the Sontarans, and most importantly, another renegade Time Lord known as The Master, a former friend of The Doctor who would become his greatest single adversary. In contrast to his predecessors, The Third Doctor was a man of action, a characterization which reflected Pertwee's own interests. This Doctor was as likely to defeat his enemies with exotic martial arts or swordplay as he was to outwit them. He dressed in a flamboyant style, and was fond of fast vehicles and fine food and drink. He also suffered fools even less gladly than the previous Doctors. Perhaps as a way of reassuring himself that his exile wouldn't last forever, he delighted in mentioning historical figures and events he'd been involved with. Following The Three Doctors, an adventure in which he and his earlier incarnations preserved the power of the Time Lords, The Doctor's sentence of exile was rescinded. Although he enjoyed his new freedom, The Doctor continued to work with UNIT on a regular basis until the end of Pertwee's run in 1974.

Jon Pertwee's co-stars: Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Caroline John as Liz Shaw, John Levene as Sgt. Benton, Katy Manning as Jo Grant, Richard Franklin as Capt. Mike Yates, and Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith

The Fourth Doctor Tom Baker 1974-1981

Tom Baker as The Fourth DoctorThe Fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker, was the longest-running and arguably the most popular of all the Doctors. His previous credits included the role of Rasputin in Nicholas and Alexandra, and an appearance in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad which earned him the role of The Doctor. If you ask casual viewers of the series to describe The Doctor, there's a good chance they'll choose this incarnation. With his height, curly hair, toothy grin, and his incredibly long scarf, The Fourth Doctor was the most visually imposing of them all. During the Tom Baker era the audience learned a great deal more about the Time Lords. They also saw the origin of the Daleks, and met their creator, Davros, the sole threat to The Master's status as the show's most memorable single villain. The Fourth Doctor's stories introduced a host of new foes, few of whom would return in later years. When this Doctor stopped his enemies, it was usually a decisive defeat. Aside from Davros, the only major new adversary to return in later years was the Black Guardian, a cosmic force of evil whom The Doctor encountered during his quest for a powerful artifact called the Key to Time. Tom Baker's whimsical sense of humor and unpredictability also restored the alien feel of The Doctor, which had been somewhat less prominent during the character's exile.

Tom Baker's co-stars: Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane, Ian Marter as Surgeon-Lieutenant Harry Sullivan, Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, John Levene as Sgt. Benton, Louise Jameson as Leela, John Leeson and David Brierley as the voice of K-9, Mary Tamm and Lalla Ward as Romana, Matthew Waterhouse as Adric, Sarah Sutton as Nyssa, and Janet Fielding as Tegan Jovanka

The Fifth Doctor Peter Davison 1982-1984

Peter Davison as The Fifth DoctorBaker's successor, Peter Davison, the second youngest actor to assume the role in the series, did a remarkable job of combining the indecisiveness and enthusiasm of youth with the wisdom of age. The actor was well-known for his role as the young vet Tristan in the long-running series All Creatures Great and Small, as well as appearances in several popular situation comedies. The Fifth Doctor's victories were usually earned at great cost, including the first death of a traveling companion since the Hartnell era. The Fifth Doctor encountered enemies, such as the Silurians, the Sea Devils, the Black Guardian, and allies, including Susan and the Brigadier, who hadn't been seen in many years. The Davison years saw the return of the historical story, and, as with Tom Baker's final season, an effort was made to link one adventure with the next, an idea which had been largely abandoned after the Troughton era. The Fifth Doctor's stories included the program's 20th anniversary special, The Five Doctors, which saw the returns of Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee, the appearance of Richard Hurndall as The First Doctor (William Hartnell died in 1975), and in footage from an incomplete story, Shada, a brief appearance by The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker, citing his relatively recent departure, declined to return). The Davison stories generally succeeded in returning the series to the more serious tone of its earlier days, which was largely lost during the later seasons of his predecessor's era.

Peter Davison's co-stars: Matthew Waterhouse as Adric, Sarah Sutton as Nyssa, Janet Fielding as Tegan, Mark Strickson as Turlough, Gerald Flood as the voice of Kamelion, and Nicola Bryant as Perpugilliam (Peri) Brown

The Sixth Doctor Colin Baker 1984-1986

Colin Baker as The Sixth DoctorWhen Davison left the program in 1984, he was replaced by Colin Baker, who would prove to be the most controversial Doctor ever. Baker, who was well-known for his role in the popular soap opera The Brothers, had previously appeared in the series in the Davison story Arc of Infinity. The Sixth Doctor never seemed to stabilize after his regeneration, and suffered from frequent mood swings. This era introduced another renegade Time Lord, The Rani, and included the only accidental meeting of two Doctors (with Pat Troughton's final appearance as The Second Doctor; the beloved actor died in 1987). The audience never quite knew what to expect from The Sixth Doctor, which reinforced the character's alien nature. This rather daring version of The Doctor alienated some of the program's fans, and many of its casual viewers. It also proved unpopular with BBC management, who placed the show on hiatus for 18 months after Baker's first full season. It returned in 1986 with a 14-part story, The Trial of a Time Lord, which reflected the show's uncertain future. While the ratings ensured that the series would return in 1987, the BBC chose to replace Colin Baker in the role.

Colin Baker's co-stars: Nicola Bryant as Peri, Lynda Bellingham as The Inquisitor, Michael Jayston as The Valeyard, and Bonnie Langford as Melanie Bush

The Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy 1987-1989

Sylvester McCoy as The Seventh DoctorSylvester McCoy's credits before he was chosen as The Seventh Doctor included The Secret Policeman's Other Ball and the Frank Langella version of Dracula. The Seventh Doctor began as a clownish figure, somewhat similar to Pat Troughton's Doctor, which fit in with McCoy's reputation as an outlandish stage comedian, known for such stunts as stuffing ferrets down his trousers. As The Doctor settled into this new regeneration, however, the audience discovered that this was the darkest and most mysterious Doctor yet. The Doctor's origins became a question mark again, with hints that he was a much more important and powerful figure than had been previously believed. He took care of "unfinished business" with the Daleks and Cybermen, attempting to end their menaces once and for all. The Doctor's latest companion, the misfit teenager Ace, was given considerably more character development than most of her predecessors, with several of the stories revolving around her. The Doctor seemed to be testing Ace, manipulating her in preparation for an unknown destiny. Sadly, the results of this subplot were never to be seen on screen. Faced with rising production costs and declining ratings, the BBC chose to cancel Doctor Who, and the program's final regular episode was broadcast on December 6, 1989.

Sylvester McCoy's co-stars: Bonnie Langford as Melanie, Sophie Aldred as Ace

The Eighth Doctor Paul McGann 1996

Paul McGann as The Eighth DoctorAside from 1993's Dimensions in Time, an out-of-continuity story produced for charity in which all of the surviving Doctors appeared, and an anniversary documentary, 30 Years in the TARDIS, The Doctor's televised adventures seemed to have ended. Finally, after years of rumors and false hopes, production began on a made-for-TV movie. This film, Doctor Who, shown in May 1996, featured a brief return by McCoy, who soon regenerated into The Eighth Doctor, played by Paul McGann. Perhaps best known at the time for his role in the cult film Withnail and I, McGann's more recent credits include appearances in Queen of the Damned and in two of the Hornblower TV movies, shown in the United States on A&E. While the TV movie paid tribute to much of the history of Doctor Who, it was perhaps most greatly influenced by The Third Doctor's era. (Sadly, Jon Pertwee died within a week of its broadcast.) The Eighth Doctor shocked long-term fans by revealing that he was half human, and by kissing the attractive surgeon who had inadvertently caused his regeneration (the previous Doctors were not romantic heroes). Despite fine performances by McGann, Daphne Ashbrook as Dr. Grace Holloway, and Eric Roberts as The Master, the movie wasn't the success that had been hoped for. It received respectable ratings in Britain and elsewhere, but was considered a failure by its American co-producers, and hopes for a revival of the series were again in limbo.

Interim  1997-2005

Tom Baker hosts Who NightWhile fans awaited the return of an ongoing series of television adventures, a few important events indicated that The Doctor hadn't entirely disappeared from the small screen. A comedy special, Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death, produced for Red Nose Day 1999, the annual British Comic Relief telethon, starred Rowan Atkinson as The Ninth Doctor and Jonathan Pryce as The Master, and featured the Daleks, with appearances by Richard E. Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, and Joanna Lumley as the Tenth through Thirteenth Doctors. In November 1999, BBC 2 devoted an evening to the series. Who Night, hosted by Tom Baker, included interviews, documentaries, comedy sketches, an episode of the first Dalek story, and a broadcast of the McGann film. This was followed by a brief run of adventures from the Pertwee and Tom Baker eras. In addition to the specials and reruns on TV, there were also audio adventures by Big Finish Productions, who started an ongoing series with Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann, along with other members of the original series cast. In 2001 and 2002, Internet adventures joined the mix when the BBC produced semi-animated stories for website broadcast. These included Death Comes To Time featuring Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred, Real Time with Colin Baker, and a remake of Shada with Paul McGann as The Doctor (Tom Baker, the Doctor in the original, unfinished Shada, had declined to appear). In late 2003, the BBC announced the casting of a new Doctor, the above mentioned Richard E. Grant, for a planned series of fully animated adventures to be broadcast online. The first adventure, Scream of the Shalka, was shown on the BBC website starting in November 2003. That same month, Doctor Who Magazine ran a story about a new television series being commissioned by BBC 1, but it wasn't until March 2004 that the BBC announced the casting of Christopher Eccleston as The Ninth Doctor for the new series.

The Ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston 2005

Christopher Eccleston as The Ninth DoctorBBC Worldwide, which had the rights to do a movie but which had not used them, agreed to let BBC 1 Controller Lorraine Heggessey do the series she had been waiting to do. The new series would be produced at BBC Wales, with Russell T. Davies, Julie Gardner and Mal Young as executive producers. On Saturday, March 26, 2005, British Who fans were treated to the sight of ordinary shopgirl Rose Tyler going about her day until the shop window dummies come to life and try to kill her. A guy in a leather jacket seems to know what to do, and so The Ninth Doctor, as played by Christopher Eccleston, was introduced to a new generation of fans. Eccleston, who had a strong reputation in drama, had also worked with Russell T. Davies on The Second Coming. His Doctor seemed to bring back some of the humor of the Fourth Doctor, but with a dark, brooding edge. Through The Ninth Doctor, we learn that Gallifrey has been destroyed and he is the last of the Time Lords. While he never admits to his new companion Rose that he is half-human, he is at the same time not afraid to show his affection for her, and even invites her on board the TARDIS twice before she accepts. Questions of The Doctor's romantic and sexual nature seem to have finally been answered.

Christopher Eccleston's co-stars: Billie Piper as Rose Tyler, Camille Coduri as Jackie Tyler, Noel Clarke as Mickey Smith, Bruno Langley as Adam, John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness

The Tenth Doctor David Tennant 2005-2009

David Tennant as The Tenth DoctorChristopher Eccleston had signed a one-year contract. As it turned out, David Tennant had been skirting around the role of The Doctor for quite some time, appearing in Scream of the Shalka and Colditz, as well as Sympathy for the Devil and Exile, two Doctor Who Unbound adventures by Big Finish. Also, as a subscriber to Doctor Who Magazine before he got the part, Tennant may have the distinction of being the first Doctor Who fan to be cast as The Doctor. This incarnation is more comfortable with full-blood humans, while occasionally taking time out to chastise us when he feels we need it.

David Tennant's co-stars: Billie Piper as Rose, Camille Coduri as Jackie, Noel Clarke as Mickey, John Barrowman as Captain Jack, Catherine Tate as Donna Noble, Freema Agyeman as Martha Jones, Adjoa Andoh as Francine Jones, Kylie Minogue as Astrid, Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane, John Leeson as the voice of K-9, Thomas Knight as Luke, Gareth David-Lloyd as Ianto Jones, Eve Myles as Gwen Cooper, Penelope Wilton as Harriet Jones, Jacqueline King as Sylvia Noble, Bernard Cribbins as Wilfred Mott, Alexander Armstrong as the voice of Mr. Smith

The Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith 2009-2013

Matt Smith as The Eleventh DoctorMatt Smith auditioned for the role of the Eleventh Doctor in early 2009 and Doctor Who Magazine confirmed his casting in issue 405. At age 26, Smith was the youngest actor ever cast as The Doctor, beating previous recordholder Peter Davison by three years. At the same time, Steven Moffat took over as head writer for the series. The Eleventh Doctor is quirky and has had real relationships with some of his companions, relationships like "husband" and "son-in-law." During his tenure, the Weeping Angels came into their own, and new monsters The Silence were introduced. Some truly climactic battles were fought. The TARDIS came alive and later, we were given a guided tour. Through it all, The Doctor remains The Doctor: sometimes mysterious, sometimes egotistical, always compassionate to his companions and the oppressed, always a guardian of time and a force for good.

Matt Smith's co-stars: Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, Arthur Darvill as Rory Williams, Alex Kingston as River Song, Caitlin Blackwood as Amelia Pond, Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara Oswin Oswald

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