Traveling through time and space for over 50 years means the most important wardrobe choice a Time Lord can make can make are his shoes. Since the 2005 revival of the British sci-fi staple Doctor Who, four actors (five if you count John Hurt’s secret War Doctor) have, literally, filled the shoes of the ever-changing titular alien hero.
As a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, the Doctor can “regenerate” after harrowing injuries, resulting in a new face, a new body, and a totally new personality — and new personalities mean new looks. Back in the 20th century, the Doctor was known for quirky outfits in which colors clashed with loud accessories like scarves, canes, and celery worn with pride. But what about the shoes? The Doctor does a lot of running, making the shoes his most heroic accessory, his version of a superhero’s cape. Here’s a look at the footwear of each of the four contemporary Doctors since 2005:
9th Doctor: Black Timberlands
In the show’s revival in 2005, costume designer Lucinda Wright gave Christopher Eccleston a no-frills costume that eased a modern audience into the whimsical adventures that laid ahead. Although Eccleston’s leather jacket is more immediately associated with the 9th Doctor (a clear nod to the techno-punk aesthetic popular after The Matrix), the Doctor’s black work boots spelled out his primary purpose: function.
According to a few fan Doctor Who sources, the 9th Doctor wore black Timberland boots because they’re “practical, with a good grip.” That’s helpful for running and kicking Cybermen in the crotch (if the Doctor chose to, which he never did). Although Timberlands were aimed at blue-collar workers in rural areas when they first hit the American market in 1973, Timberland’s iconic six-inch boots have become a fashion staple in hip-hop culture and for the same reason a construction worker would strap on a pair: They’re tough and durable.
It helped that Eccleston spoke with a northern English accent when he was the 9th Doctor, which further characterized him as a working-class hero.
“Tough and durable” can also accurately describe the 9th Doctor. As fans would learn during Eccleston’s first and only season, the Doctor is the last of the Time Lords. Gallifrey fell in the unseen Time War, and the Doctor feels guilty as the only survivor. It wouldn’t be until the 50th Anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor” when fans learned the truth, but until then the 9th Doctor fit into the early 21st century as an avatar of emotional turmoil hidden behind a tough exterior. Black work boots are suitable for an emotionally distant time traveler to stomp around in.
10th Doctor: Chuck Taylor All-Stars
When Eccleston stepped down from the series, the lanky and unbelievably charismatic David Tennant took his place and new designer Louise Page put him in a slim suit and Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Doctor Who didn’t invent 21st-century “geek chic” fashion, but it played a huge role in defining it through Tennant’s popular 10th Doctor.
Named after Charles Taylor, a basketball player who played for Converse’s All-Star team in 1921, Chuck Taylor sneakers left the court when Queens rockers The Ramones wore them in their heyday. This made the sneaker accessible for the non-athletic and indoorsy types, but they’re still good for things like running, which the 10th Doctor does a lot of.
Like, a lot.
A lot, a lot.
While the 10th Doctor’s suit is renowned, it’s his pairs of Chuck Taylors — he alternated between off-white, maroon, and black, for special occasions — that seals the look, allowing him to stand apart from not only previous Doctors, but everyone else around him. A little more fun than the gritty 9th Doctor, Tennant’s 10th Doctor possessed youthful energy and was a lot friendlier than Eccleston’s, who took a lot more effort to get on his good side. This Doctor, on the other hand (or foot), said “Look, I’m fun!” with just his feet.
11th Doctor: Leather Wingtip Boots
When Matt Smith became the 11th Doctor, his personality continued the “quirky alien” archetype Tennant had left behind but it did so conservatively. The youngest actor to play the Doctor at 26, Smith was like an old geezer trapped in a young man’s body with an affinity for bow ties, suspenders, and wool jackets like he was a missing member of Mumford & Sons. But the 11th Doctor was also a lot soberer than previous Doctors, opting for subtlety to sell his brilliance than loud accessories (fezes be damned).
Ray Holman dressed Smith and gave him leather wingtip boots. Though invisible compared to Tennant’s Chuck Taylors, the boots kept his “professor” aesthetic glued together. Once again, the Doctor resorted to function — it’s serious business when it comes to his troubled past, the War Doctor, and his grave at Trenzalore — but they were more refined and shapely than the 9th Doctor’s bulky work boots. His costume wasn’t fancy, but it was classical.
12th Doctor: Dr. Martens
Cosplay enthusiasts spend a lot of time searching for boots to perfect their Doctor Who costumes. Designed by Howard Burden, Peter Capaldi’s cranky but zany 12th Doctor resembles an old stage magician with his navy Crombie coat (and sometimes, a hoodie) and long trousers, but at his feet are black Doc Martens.
While Doc Martens are yet another sturdy boot brand, it differs from Eccleston, who opted for American grit while Capaldi’s DMs represent Britain’s history of punk. It’s a slight meta-reference to Capaldi’s own punk history as a guitarist for the Dreamboys (comedian Craig Ferguson was the drummer). Steel-toed DMs were popular among skinheads in the ‘60s — right when Doctor Who started airing — because they were regularly stocked in cheap army surplus stores.
But unlike vintage rockers, the Doctor keeps his boots shined and almost impeccable, like it’s the first time he’s put them on. It’s clear Capaldi’s Doctor, like his last face, yearns to be clean and presentable. But having saved Gallifrey from falling “no more” and losing Clara, he also doesn’t want to be messed with.
Doctor Who Season 10 airs on BBC and BBC American on Saturdays at 9 p.m. Eastern.