I’ve been a fan of Doctor Who since I was a little kid. My parents had been fans of the show when they were teenagers in the 1970s and passed on the Doctor Who bug to me even before the show restarted in 2005. I remember watching repeats of classic episodes from the First, Third and Fourth Doctors with my parents on TV, as well as having Genesis of the Daleks (1974) on DVD and Remembrance of the Daleks (1988) on VHS. Such was my obsession with Who, I was even gifted the first three Doctor Who stories (An Unearthly Child (1963), The Daleks (1963-64) and The Edge of Destruction (1964)) on DVD. I had all the Doctor Who annuals, books featuring classic stories and villains and even at one point a Dalek figurine. The Classic series had me gripped.
So when the show restarted in 2005, I was absolutely enthralled about watching new stories of the exploits and escapades of the Doctor and his companions. And I was not disappointed. Where as my parents had grown up watching classic doctors portrayed by Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, I was now watching two more great doctors, Christopher Ecclestone and then David Tennant. However, the new series always had something missing.
In the old Who, the doctor was always someone the companions respected, yet the new series of Who almost insisted upon thrusting romantic stories between the Doctor and his assistants to the point where it became too predictable and the show lost for me a bit of its core. Not that it wasn’t good, but the storylines became too predictable. And since Russell T. Davies left the show in 2010, I’ve always felt that the show has been on somewhat of a downwards trajectory. Matt Smith was a great doctor, but upon his departure in 2013, Doctor Who just hasn’t been the same. I haven’t watched a lot of Capaldi, and of what I’ve watched, it’s been pretty bad. That’s not much because of Capaldi himself, just the show has become, for me at least, completely unwatchable.
But it’s not just me that thinks that way. Ratings have shown a decline since Smith’s departure and the recent announcement and thus subsequent regeneration of Capaldi into the first female doctor, Jodie Whittaker, for me is a sign that the show runners are keen to try something new with Who. Whether that’ll be proven to be a success is yet to be seen, I think that Steven Moffat’s departure, who I felt had rarely came up with the stories to match the great Doctor Who story writers such as Terry Nation or Davies, could be an opportunity for Who to become a great series again. What Chris Chibnall can do in the role is yet to be seen, though I was impressed by Twice Upon a Time (2017).
But more to the point, in all these years that I have watched who, I feel that I am in a good position to judge each Doctor and give my opinion of them, ranking them from best to worst. In this list, I will exclude Jodie Whittaker, primarily due to the fact that I can’t really judge her off of just one scene in one episode. I’ll also only be ranking the series lead actors, so John Hurt’s iteration as the War Doctor won’t be ranked here either.
12. The Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker, 1984-86)
And I start my list with my least favourite Doctor, and possibly the only Doctor that I actually hate, the Sixth Doctor, portrayed by Colin Baker.
Baker’s role as the Doctor was punctured by a tumultuous time for the show, including an 18-month hiatus between the two series for which Baker was in the lead role. The quality of the episodes were also poor, with the 14-part story Trial of a Time Lord (1986) tiresome and boring. Baker’s portrayal of the Doctor was also awful, with the Sixth Doctor being very obnoxious and arrogant. His companions, firstly Peri and then Mel, were both completely uninteresting, with Mel being described upon leaving the show as one of the most hated companions ever. All in all, the Sixth Doctor’s reign as the Doctor was a disaster, and one that you could argue lead to the original cancellation of Doctor Who in 1989.
11. The Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi, 2013-17)
If I didn’t make this clear enough in the introduction, I can’t stand Capaldi’s run as the Doctor. Until watching Twice Upon a Time, I would have ranked the Eleventh Doctor’s final episode as the last good episode of Doctor Who. As I mentioned earlier, Capaldi wasn’t helped by poor writers and a lot of his episodes I found quite boring. Additionally, after Clara (Jenna Coleman) left, the character of Bill Potts for me was just too cliche. Bill Potts falls into the grouping of modern media characters who are pretty much there as a sort of identitarian-tick-box, there just to ensure certain groups are represented. This isn’t to say Doctor Who shouldn’t have black or LGBT companions, in fact, I would rate bisexual Jack Harkness as one of the greatest companions of all time, partly because of the way his sexuality was written into the story, and Martha Jones and Mickey Smith as well written characters, but Potts’ almost continual insistence of reminding us that she was a lesbian was tiresome and unimaginative. Capaldi’s time as the Doctor suffered as a result of his poor assistants and lack of quality episodes, and in the end, I felt that he never really was able to hit the heights that I felt he would have been able to.
10. The Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann, 1996)
I think people write off Paul McGann way too easily. He only got one episode as the series lead, the “Doctor Who movie” episode in 1996, and whilst the film was pretty average, McGann’s role as the Doctor in it was actually one of the few things that was pretty good about it. Sadly though, the average film was all he got (with the exception of a 5-minute mini episode in 2013) and as such I’m not particuarly willing to put his above other Doctors who held the role for a few series who were able to display the full capabilities of their portrayals of the Doctor.
9. The Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison, 1981-84)
Finally we have reached a Doctor that hand-on-heart I can say I actually liked! Although the Fifth Doctor comes with a caveat that perhaps doesn’t apply to the others further down in this list, in that I’m not as familiar with his run as the Doctor as some of the others. Like Capaldi and Colin Baker, Davison was let down with some scripts in his time, however, unlike them, Davison was usually able to pull off good performances as the Doctor and was supported by several well written characters along the way (I think many Whovian criticisms of Adric aren’t warranted).
Additionally, Davison’s Doctor was graced with some great episodes from time to time, with Earthshock (1982) for me still being one of the best Doctor Who stories of all time. My reasoning for placing Davison so low on this ranking isn’t much to do with the fact that he wasn’t a poor doctor, but rather, that he wasn’t a great doctor either. He had his moments, but ultimately, there were better.
8. The Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee, 1970-74)
Sorry mum, but much like Davison, I’m going to have to rate Jon Pertwee fairly lowly on this ranking too. Like Davison, Pertwee was one of those doctors who, whilst occasionally graced with some great episodes and great companions, never really shone for me as a doctor, especially compared to others. However, I do have a special place in my heart for the Third Doctor as he was one of the first doctors that I saw as a kid and I loved watching his stories as a kid. Though compared to other doctors, in hindsight, they weren’t much special, but I guess in a show that’s lasted over 50 years, not every episode is going to be a great one, and part of the lasting appeal of Who is that even the average episodes are still enjoyable.
7. The Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton, 1966-69)
As a kid I never watched that much of the Second Doctor, and until recently I thought he was a bit of an over-rated doctor. That was until I started to watch his episodes.
Troughton is one of those doctors for which things just always seemed to click, and whilst today some aspects of the show in his run may seem excessively childish and dated by today’s standards, when you have parents who basically forced 1960s humour down your throat as a child, you realise that for his time, Troughton was excellent. Though many of his stories are now missing, the ones that remain show testament to his great performance in the role. Though some of his companions though were fairly uninspiring, I rank him in the bottom half of doctors primarily because I don’t have the history with his version of the Doctor that I do with some of the others.
6. The Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston, 2005)
Christopher Eccleston is one of the few doctors for who I think you can genuinely say that they didn’t get enough time in the role as they deserved. Eccleston later revealed in an interview that he left because he didn’t get on with people at the top of the Doctor Who structure, but his performance was stellar as the Doctor and his tortured Time War veteran character was perhaps one of the most real. His one series as the lead actor was great and he was helped by a great companion in Rose. Perhaps a bit forgotten by some Who fans due to his successor David Tennant’s performance in the role, but Eccleston I certainly think was a great doctor.
5. The First Doctor (William Hartnell, 1963-66)
The first doctor in the history of Doctor Who and, rather surprisingly for someone of my age, the first doctor I watched, William Hartnell was a great doctor. Even when you look past the poor quality of the 1960s TV recordings, the first doctor had a charm about him and a mysteriousness that drew you in, and like his successors in the revived series, always had a sense of right and wrong and always carried with him an integrity and sympathy that lead him to be an easy-to-warm-to doctor. Although the family friendliness of his doctor’s serials is plain to see, they are all enjoyable (if you can suspend some of the awful alien costumes, most of which where just humans with some tin on them). His companions helped him out, and, in a rare bit of planning by the Doctor Who writers, were all written with a particular demographic and role in sight; a male sidekick who’d be an action hero, a mature woman who’d be motherly (remember, this is the 1960s) and a young girl who’d have a sense of adventure and would ask the Doctor questions about the alien worlds. Hartnell’s character was wholesome and warm and overall actually a surprisingly refreshing character when compared to the rest of Who.
4. The Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy, 1987-89)
Okay, this is a bit of a surprise to many and will be the decision that I think that will raise the most eyebrows on this list, especially given that I ranked the other 80s doctors so low – but hear me out.
McCoy was tasked with the almost impossible task of saving Doctor Who following the capitulation at the hands of Colin Baker, and whilst ratings remained low throughout Sylvester McCoy’s tenure (most hardcore fans of Pertwee and Tom Baker had stopped watching the show by then), he did a really good job of trying to salvage something, and although Doctor Who was cancelled in 1989, it wasn’t for the lack of McCoy’s trying. The Scottish comedian was a bit of a left field pick but his silliness was refreshing and was really a throwback to what had made the likes of Troughton, Pertwee and Tom Baker so popular; a silly man with a good heart and with the brains to deal with the problems thrown at him. Additionally, following the departure of Mel (who I moaned about in Colin Baker’s section), he was joined by Ace, a rebellious teenage girl who was one of the few girls in Doctor Who who could keep up with the Doctor. Ace remains one of my favourite companions in Doctor Who, and together they made a team that was fun to watch. His run as Doctor also included classic episodes such as Remembrance of the Daleks (1988) Silver Nemesis (1988) and The Curse of Fenric (1989). Although he probably wasn’t the best doctor overall, he, for me at least, remains one of the best doctors for the stories and companions.
3. The Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith, 2010-13)
It took me a while to warm to Matt Smith’s version of the Doctor, and I think he was going into it with a bit of an uphill battle, trying to follow on from such a popular doctor in David Tennant. I think in some of his earlier episodes the show runners really tried to just copy what they’d done with Tennant, however by the midway point of Smith’s first series, I think they’d done enough to shake that off and Smith had been able to put his own personality and spin on the Doctor. Additionally the show runners were a bit more adventurous with some of the plots with Smith, the interesting story line of River Song really added to the show, whilst the characters of Amy, Rory and Clara were all winners with Smith. I think he was stifled somewhat by Tennant’s success, but like McCoy, his time as the Doctor was brought us back to the most enjoyable aspects of Who and the stories were all interesting and made for good TV.
2. The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker, 1974-81)
It was so close for who I was going to put at number one on this list and I changed it around several times whilst drafting this list up but ultimately I have decided to put probably the most iconic Doctor at number two. But it was so very close. And if you’re upset by that, then I suggest that you have a jelly baby.
Tom Baker’s Doctor was so popular and iconic for good reason. He really got the Doctor’s whimsy and eccentric nature just right along with a high moral fibre and the intelligence to outsmart and outmanoeuvre the enemy. As I’ve gone about in my writings of the other doctors, the success of a doctor also depends on the show runners and his companions as much as the actor himself, and again here Tom Baker is with winners, many of the episodes becoming classics with many great screen writers working with him, as well as several iconic companions, including Sarah Jane, Leela, K2 and Romana.
It’s also been discussed elsewhere online that Tom Baker used to interject when he felt that the scripts weren’t up to standard, such was his enthusiasm for Doctor Who.
1. The Tenth Doctor (David Tennant, 2005-10)
Not only was he my generation’s Doctor, David Tennant was probably the Doctor. David Tennant’s version of the Doctor was almost impossible not to like. Coming to terms with his isolation as the last of the Time Lords (until he met the Master in Utopia (2007)) and his actions at the end of the Time War, Tennant was really one of the few Doctors who fully captured the heart of the Doctor, rather than just keeping him as this somewhat mysterious jolly man that previous versions of the Doctor had been.
Tennant didn’t shy away from the softer sides of the Doctor and made the character quite the romantic, which, whilst I would criticise for in breaking with the classic series’ insistence in portraying the doctor as a purely asexual character (bar the subliminal relationship between the Fourth Doctor and Romana), I think fits in well with his companions and has helped developed the Doctor’s character further.
Tennant’s tenure is undoubtedly a winner with lots of people, including myself.