Time Will Tell

July 17, 2017
The Doctors Who: A Guide To The Time Lords

Time travelling adventurer DOCTOR WHO is the perfect long-running science fiction character: whenever an actor drops out of the show, the Doctor merely “regenerates” into someone else. Pure genius! But which Doctors were the best?

WILLIAM HARTNELL (1963-1966)

The Doc who started it all with the series of episodes entitled An Unearthly Child. The Doctor is travelling with his granddaughter (!) and attracts the attention of a group of teachers who discover the TARDIS and go on adventures with the time traveller. Hartnell set the standard for the gruff, humorous, yet slightly sad vibe that would continue in varying degrees with all the Doctors who followed. After a battle with the Cybermen, the first Doctor was weakened to the point of regeneration and became…

PATRICK TROUGHTON (1966-1969)

This second Doctor dressed like a hobo, played the recorder, would often pretend to be a moron when scheming against his enemies – but was really a step ahead of them – and cracked the shits on a few occasions, starting the tradition of Doctors who snap at their assistants. This was certainly no gentle, grandfatherly type a la Hartnell. Troughton broke the rules, and for that The Time Lords exiled him on Earth, during which time he regenerated into…

JOHN PERTWEE (1970-1974)

Arguably the best Doctor of the first three and the star of the best series of episodes thus far, Pertwee was fortunate to be the first Doc screened in colour and got the best, and most iconic, monsters (apart from the Daleks and Cybermen, of course). Check the list: the Autons, Sontarans, Silurians, Sea Devils and The Master all made their debut with Pertwee. Sure, most of them looked like bubble-wrapped dogs spray-painted green, but Pertwee’s gruff, no-nonsense, pragmatic performance sold the most ridiculous of premises. This Doctor also worked with UNIT, an Earth-based force charged with stopping extraterrestrial threats (hmmm…sounds an awful lot like Torchwood) and was eventually allowed to go back into space by The Time Lords. After a taxing adventure on the Planet Of The Spiders, the TARDIS brought Pertwee back to UNIT HQ, where he collapsed and regenerated into…

TOM BAKER (1974-1981)

Easily the most recognisable of all the Doctors, Baker’s brilliantly absent-minded take on the character, iconic scarf and fondness for jelly babies made him the best in show. Even to this day, Baker’s a recognisable figure. He was even lampooned at least once on The Simpsons, and hey, if you’ve made it onto The Simpsons, then you’re part of the pop cultural zeitgeist. All jokes aside, Baker really injected depth and likeability into his role. Sure, he was zany, but never at the expense of the story. Baker’s mostly awesome seven-year run ended when he fell off the Pharos Project Tower into the arms of a white-clad figure called “The Watcher”. The two, um, merged and we met…

PETER DAVISON (1981-1984)

Anyone following Tom Baker was in for a hard go, but Peter Davison’s Doctor…frankly sucked. That’s just an opinion, mind you, but one held by many. Davison’s Doctor was a bit of a peacenik, never wanting to resort to violence, letting others take charge and suffering from frequent moments of indecision. That’s great and all, but this is Doctor Who! Make with the space monsters and the explosions! Anyway, after three years, and losing his companion Adric in an (admittedly powerful) episode, the Doc sacrificed himself for another companion, Peri, and became…

COLIN BAKER (1984-1986)

Brash, rude, egotistical, inconsistent, and probably bipolar, the sixth Doctor is noted for being a bit of a dick. Some feel that the best thing about him was his surname (although his was no relation to Tom) and he’s been voted the “most unlikeable Doctor ever” by various fan sites. The truth is, as shonky as this Doctor was, he also suffered at the whims of television. The BBC famously put Doctor Who on an 18-month hiatus, cutting short the sixth Doctor’s continuity. Things got very confusing here, with Colin Baker’s Doctor staggering into the ill-fated…

SYLVESTER McCOY (1987-1989)

The good ship Doctor Who was dying a slow, painful (to watch) death. Sylvester McCoy never really had a chance to get into character. Starting off as a lisping, goofy bugger, he slowly became more serious and could have been the most interesting Doctor to date, with his spunky punky partner Ace…but sadly it was not to be. Due to the whims of television, budget constraints, typical BBC in-fighting and general public disinterest, Doctor Who was axed. The last episode to air was Survival Part 3 on December 6, 1989. As this was to be the last episode (in its 26th season) of the mighty Doctor Who, a more final and fitting denouement was felt to be needed. To this end, script editor Andrew Cartmel wrote the following voiceover, read by McCoy (in voiceover) as he and Ace walked off into the distance, presumably for further adventures: “There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea’s asleep, and the rivers dream. People made of smoke, and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice, and somewhere else the tea’s getting cold! Come on, Ace: we’ve got work to do!” This “work” continued in book form, but the Doc was not seen on screen until…

PAUL McGANN (1996)

Here’s a fun activity. Go to a Doctor Who convention and mention the 1996 Doctor Who telemovie. Step back and watch a war of the geeks. This movie was really a sly pilot to get American money and regenerate (geddit?) the Doctor Who franchise. To that end, the past series were (mostly) thrown out the window. Certainly, we see Sylvester McCoy’s regeneration into McGann’s Byron-esque, romantic Doctor, but the plot is beyond stupid: The Doctor has to take The Master’s remains to Gallifrey after he is executed (off screen, mind you) by the Daleks. There is so much wrong with that plot. Since when does the Doctor condone execution? Why is the Doctor the Daleks’ errand boy? And as if he wouldn’t know that The Master had a nefarious plan! All manner of idiocy occurs in this movie. The TARDIS’ interior looks like an ancient Incan temple…for some reason. The Master is played by Eric Roberts (er…okay). The Doctor kisses the girl at the end. It just…breaks all the rules, and not in a good way. It’s a pity too, because McGann is a fine actor. This awful pile of shite, however, kept any further Doctor Who activity dead. That is until…

CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON (2005)

After years of fans clamouring for a revival…they got it! The whole caper is basically a reinvention for a new generation. We have writer/producer Russell T. Davies (Queer As Folk) to thank for it, and although it wasn’t always on the money, new Who is better than no Who. The new hour-long, Buffy-style format really worked, and Christopher Eccleston’s rugged, moody and at times manic performance was spot on. He was, in a word, “fantastic”. This was a catchphrase that he started using…before leaving the series to play an invisible dude on Heroes. And this leads us to…

DAVID TENNANT (2005 –2010)

After Eccleston’s mysterious and, frankly, unwelcome departure, David Tennant seemed a bit, well, soft. But as his first season went on, a little darkness began to show, and information on the true, tragic nature of being a Time Lord was portioned out in a tantalising fashion. After parting ways with his assistant Rose (Billie Piper), Tennant had med student, Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) share the TARDIS. As wonderful an actress as Freema is, the whole ‘I’m in love with the Doctor’ schtick got old fast. Happily, after Martha left we got a true gift – Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), a loud-mouthed, brash office temp who, against all odds, became one of the most interesting, nuanced and tragic figures in Doctor Who history. Tennant’s run featured fabulous episodes – including the unforgettable Blink – and reintroduced the Doc’s main nemesis, The Master (Jeremy Simm) to great effect. When Tennant’s run concluded he was the favourite of many fans and if you didn’t shed a tear at his passing, it’s possible you’re a dead-eyed monster person. So, David left and Russell T. Davies moved along too, leading to a new Doctor and a new showrunner…

MATT SMITH (2010-2013)

Davies had left the building and Steven Moffat took over the helm as showrunner. Initially this was very exciting news as Moffat had been responsible for some of the best episodes in New Who. The chap manning the TARDIS? Why, young Matt Smith – he of little experience and large of chin. Smith’s take as a sort of silly, hipster, imaginary friend to young Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) was whimsical and delightful in the first season. This was Doctor Who as a sci-fi tinged fairy tale, with episodes written by the likes of Neil Gaiman (The Doctor’s Wife) and further interactions with striking baddies, The Weeping Angels. As time went on, however, it became clear that Smith’s run was starting to repeat its beats. Once Amy left, we met Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), a companion who started interestingly and then became increasingly frustrating. Smith’s run is best typified by the fact that it contained brilliant episodes such as The Day of the Doctor (which featured John Hurt as the “War Doctor”) directly followed by schlock like The Time of the Doctor (which featured a magical Christmas land and a wooden Cyberman… that uses a flamethrower). Smith departed and regenerated into…

PETER CAPALDI (2013-2017)

Grumpy grandad, drunk uncle or Malcolm Tucker without the swears? Peter Capaldi’s run as the Doctor remains fascinatingly inconsistent. Capaldi is such a superb actor that even when the scripts were terrible (and there were some howlers in Capaldi’s run), Peter remained utterly fascinating to watch. He took us inside a dalek, to the heart of the TARDIS and reintroduced the Zygons! We had the return of The Master as Missy, played with superb relish by Michelle Gomez (who set up the potential gender flipping of The Doctor his/herself) and had the best assistant since Donna Noble, in the form of Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie), who unlike Clara knew when to leave. Moffat remained the master of the first part of the two-parter, but could never stick the landing. Still, his latest season was his best since the introduction of Smith and he left on a mostly high note. At the time of writing we have one final Capaldi episode left – the notoriously patchy Christmas special – and then it’s handing the reins over to…

JODIE WHITTAKER (2017-)

What’s this? A lady Doctor?! Madness! Madness, I say! Yes, for the first time in Doctor Who’s fifty-something years of existence the Doctor will be regenerating into the super talented star of Broadchurch, Jodie Whittaker. Moffat has also left for greener pastures and Chris Chibnall – of Broadchurch and Torchwood fame – has come on as showrunner. This is good news, as a fresh take on the material has been needed for some time. How will the new Doctor adjust to being a lady? With wit, humour and scary space monsters, most likely. You better believe we’ll be watching with extreme anticipation and will have noisy opinions to share at the end of 2017 and beyond…

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