Hello Whovians and welcome to ‘New to Who,’ where I, Hello McFly, will be your guide through Doctor Who. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the question – who is the Doctor, what does he gain from traveling across all of time and space, and why is he never ginger? The intricacies and complexities of the character outnumber the stars in the sky (most of which the Doctor has saved), not to mention that he has regenerated many times with each instance resulting in unique traits and habits. Yet the basis of his being can be drawn from a few key characteristics, as we will see as we examine the Doctor.
Back to Basics
The Doctor is the titular character and protagonist of Doctor Who. As explained last week, he is a two-hearted humanoid alien from the planet Gallifrey, home of an ancient time-mastering civilizations known as the Time Lords. The Time Lords dedicate themselves to overseeing all of time and space without interfering, whether for better or worse. The Doctor chooses to leave his home planet by stealing a sentient spaceship known as the TARDIS and helping those in need. He visits various eras and interstellar civilizations, fighting evil-doers and aiding the downtrodden. He typically travels with other people and species known as “companions.” As a Time Lord, the Doctor can heal himself whenever seriously injured or elderly by changing into another humanoid form, also known as “regeneration.” This particular ability has led to many actors taking on the role of the Doctor, each with their own flair and finesse as they handle the age-old alien.
I’ll be honest: if I were to list every single notable trait and character development of every single Doctor, you’d be older than a Time Lord. Unless one of you readers has a TARDIS in their backyard*, I will keep it short and sweet by listing the basic information of each Doctor.
*Editor’s Note: If you do happen to have a TARDIS, email Hello McFly immediately to arrange a meeting. She has a few embarrassing middle-school memories she’d like to prevent from happening.
- Played By: William Hartnell, 1963 – 1966
- Iconic Episodes: An Unearthly Child, The Chase, The Tenth Planet
- Signature Items: Blue signet ring, walking stick, half-moon reading glasses.
- Personality: Very self-assured in his intelligence and very critical of the intelligence of others. Despite his egocentric tendencies, his warmth, compassion and sharp wit make him very likeable. Shifting from his initial selfishness, he becomes a caregiver and develops his telltale sense of justice.
- Played By: Patrick Troughton, 1966 – 1969
- Iconic Episodes: The Power of the Daleks, The Evil of the Daleks, The Enemy of the World
- Signature Items: 500-year diary, recorder.
- Personality: Somewhat buffoonish and whimsical while still retaining a sharp wit. Has a childlike wonder and recklessness in his actions playing the fool, usually to undermine his foes and keep them underestimating his true genius. Despite his lighthearted traits, he contain a ruthless streak for his enemies.
- Played By: Jon Pertwee, 1970 – 1974
- Iconic Episodes: The Three Doctors, The Mind of Evil, Inferno
- Signature Items: Cape, Bessie, Whomobile
- Personality: Favored peace and diplomacy above all else, often clashing with the more war-minded military he interacted with. Despite this, he was willing to join into a fray physically using aikido. A Victorian gentleman, dapper and eternally optimistic.
- Played By: Tom Baker, 1974 – 1981
- Iconic Episodes: The Ark in Space, Terror of the Zygons, City of Death
- Signature Items: Scarf, Jelly Babies, K-9
- Personality: Oddball sense of humor and fond of pranks. Very keen deductive skills and easily reads people. Despite his surface charm and humor, he was more aloof and alien than previous incarnations.
- Played By: Peter Davison, 1981 – 1984
- Iconic Episodes: Resurrection of the Daleks, The Five Doctors, The Caves of Androzani
- Signature Items: Celery, Dapper Hat
- Personality: Open, cheery, and sometimes vulnerable. More friendly than domineering to his companions, though could also be panicky and indecisive. Would follow the leadership of others but unafraid to act out of his own volition. Deep connection to his humanity and compassion.
- Played By: Colin Baker, 1984 – 1986
- Iconic Episodes: The Mysterious Planet, Attack of the Cybermen, Mind Warp
- Signature Items: Technicolor Coat, Cat Brooch
- Personality: Childish and often self-absorbed, he came across as stubborn and arrogant. Despite having a brash and nitpicking exterior, he could be just as critical of himself. A fatalist, he saw his doom rather than hope in several difficult situations, yet he always held hope for his companions and other species.
- Played By: Sylvester McCoy, 1987 – 1989
- Iconic Episodes: Remembrance of the Daleks, The Curse of Fenric, Ghost of Light
- Signature Items: Question Mark Umbrella, Gallifrey Window
- Personality: Originally clownish and funny, he matured into a somewhat darker and emotionally detached person. Seeing the fight between good and evil as a game, he was manipulative of the “pawns” on either side. He still cared deeply for his companions, though occasionally had to mask it, and possessed a sharp wit and intellect.
- Played By: Paul McGann, 1996
- Iconic Episodes: N/A; Appeared in made-for-TV movie Doctor Who
- Signature Items: Fob Watch
- Personality: More of a romantic than any previous incarnations. More prone to fear and anxiety attacks, though still brave and a skilled swordsman. More easily worn down by the events of war and loss of life, he began to dislike his title ‘Doctor,’ as he believed it was one of weakness not needed during a time of war.
- Played By: John Hurt, 2013
- Iconic Episodes: N/A; Appeared at end of The Name of the Doctor, mini-sode The Night of the Doctor, and 50th Anniversary special The Day of the Doctor.
- Signature Items: Bandolier, The Moment
- Personality: Pragmatic and emotionally detached, he views the Time War and his actions in it as necessary. His humanity still made him indecisive, weighed down by guilt and regret. Gentlemanly and not fond of childishness, he still had a warmth and politeness.
- Played By: Christopher Eccleston, 2005
- Iconic Episodes: The End of the World, The Doctor Dances, The Parting of Ways
- Signature items: Leather Jacket
- Personality: Had a manic energy and a sharp wit, usually used to hide his deep sorrow and guilt from the Time War. More easily emotionally exhausted but still had a great depth of hope and excitement. Selfless but willing to risk everything for his companions.
- Played By: David Tennant, 2005 – 2010
- Iconic Episodes: The Christmas Invasion, Utopia, Journey’s End
- Signature Items: Converse Shoes, 3D Glasses
- Personality: Charismatic, enthusiastic, and cheerful, even during inappropriate times. Could fall to righteous fury or survivor’s guilt, though often masked it with distractions or aloofness. Very forgiving to his worst enemies, but had difficulty accepting defeat or loss.
- Played By: Matt Smith, 2010 – 2013
- Iconic Episodes: The Eleventh Hour, Vincent and the Doctor, The Doctor’s Wife
- Signature Items: Bowtie, Fez, Apple
- Personality: Capricious and adventurous with a somewhat manic and childlike energy. Very alien in dealing with human concerns and occasionally callous and furious. Still maintained a sharp wit often disguised by his eccentric immature nature. Had a threatening presence to his enemies, though was prone to babbling when working through a master plan.
- Played By: Peter Capaldi, 2013 – Present
- Iconic Episodes: N/A; Recommend Into the Dalek and Listen
- Signature Items: Invisibility Watch, Crombie Coat
- Personality: Very sarcastic with a dry, acerbic wit and brutal honesty. Returns to somewhat dark and manipulative ways, in addition to being more alien and emotionally detached. Has a deep moral turmoil on who he is and the consequences of his actions. While emotionally stunted, still shows a great depth of emotion for his companion.
The the latest incarnation of the Doctor has stirred arguments between fans, not for his performance but for being technically the 14th Doctor (during his 10th incarnation, he repurposed his regenerative energy to maintain his current state), when Time Lords are typically limited to only thirteen. After the events of The Time of the Doctor, the other Time Lords trapped away managed to give him more regenerative energy, resulting in his 14th regeneration (with potentially another twelve to come). Many feel it was a cop-out to continue the series while disregarding established cannon, though it has been previously established that there are ways to circumvent the limit: in The Five Doctors and The Sound of the Drums, the Doctor’s age-old nemesis the Master hints at means of reestablishing a regenerative cycle. Despite this, many feel it was a cop-out to continue the longest-running sci-fi series.
The Doctor is timeless – able to meet the viewing demands of a TV audience by changing his face and personality with the whole of time and space at his fingertips, he can present new adventures and scenarios. It is a creative freedom that no other show has taken advantage of to this extent; yet it may also be their greatest Achilles heel, as controversy and fan backlash have resulted from various incarnations. It is ultimately up to the viewer to decide – who’s your favorite Doctor, what do you love about his character, and why is he still not ginger?!
Until next time, Whovians – time travel responsibly!