Ranking the 'Dr. Who' Actors 1 Through 13
Separating the great from the good, and the ... well, not so much.
To celebrate season nine getting into full swing, let’s play a round of the most entertaining game in all of Whovia: ranking our favorite Doctors of all time. I’ve come up with my list ranking the Doctors 1 through 13 (yes, that includes the War Doctor, thank you very much). Any disagreements (or agreements!), find me on the Twitter Machine and tell me all about it.
13. Colin Baker
Baker has gone on to do great work in the Big Finish Doctor Who audio series, but his run on the TV series was a disaster. In his defense, the entire premise for the character — the Doctor-in-the-Technicolor-Dreamcoat, who due to a bad regeneration, lost control of his emotions — was a rotten hand of cards for any actor to be dealt. Baker’s Sixth Doctor was vain, arrogant, brash, and kind of a cherub-cheeked psychopath. While the character may have been more successful as sort of an anti-hero Doctor in the current version of the series, his mid-80’s interpretation pretty much sounded the death knell for the original series.
12. Peter Davison
Stepping into a legend’s shoes, which is exactly what Davison had to do when he replaced Tom Baker, is a tough gig. That, paired with the fact that his Doctor wasn’t responsible for tanking the entire series, are the only reasons he’s not at the bottom of the list. While there were certainly some decent episodes during Davison’s tenure, the young, overly congenial, Fifth Doctor was about as bland as the celery stalk hanging from his lapel. Even at his most dramatic, Davison always gave the impression he was basically just taking a semester off from his Gallifrey University undergrad classes to go backpacking around time and space with his slightly more interesting human buddies.
11. Sylvester McCoy
Despite McCoy’s best efforts, his first season easily goes down as the worst season in the history of the program. The writing was terrible, the plots were terrible, and his bumbling, clownish Doctor interpretation completely missed the mark. The show did improve drastically over the next two seasons as McCoy evolved into a more devious, complex figure. His battles with Davros and the Master, while not great, were better than pretty much anything Baker and Davison had done before him. It was too little too late: McCoy’s best moments came as the original series’ cancellation was a foregone conclusion.
10. Paul McGann
The 1996 full-length Dr. Who TV movie was not very good (I haven’t been able to look at Eric Roberts with a straight face since), but you can’t tell me you watched the Night of the Doctor short leading up to the show’s 50th Anniversary special and didn’t lament the fact that McGann didn’t get a chance to carry the series for at least a couple years:
9. Christopher Eccleston
Eccleston’s one-year run as the “Doctor from up North” certainly wasn’t the most inspiring interpretation of the character, but it was serviceable enough to get fans interested in the newly rebooted series. The main criticism leveled at Eccleston is that he was a very dramatic actor trying to play a very silly character: a lot of the dialog and one-liners seemed forced and just not quite genuine. In fact, give him props for walking away after one season. He knew he was the wrong man for the job, and his early departure potentially saved the show from a second cancellation.
8. Peter Capaldi
Older and far more cynical than his immediate predecessors, Capaldi’s Doctor is at once a throwback to the Doctors of old, and savvy continuation of the rebooted series storyline. And while the Twelfth Doctor has the potential to be great, arguably the best parts of his tenure so far have been the interactions between Missy and Clara. Capaldi’s second season has a lot of promise, but rumors are already swirling that he might not make it back for a third.
7. John Hurt
I know, I know — he didn’t do any of it “in the name of the Doctor,” and ultimately his tenure amounted to a single episode and a couple of cameos. But Hurt’s War Doctor was spectacular. After building up the mystique of the War Doctor for seven seasons, Hurt was the perfect choice to play the grizzled, battle-weary Doctor faced with the choice of allowing the destruction of the universe, or wiping out both the Daleks and his fellow Timelords. The good news is that while he won’t be reprising his role on screen anytime soon, the War Doctor will make his return in a series of Big Finish audio plays.
6. William Hartnell
Surly, detached, and professorial, Hartnell’s O.G. Doctor first debuted in a 1963 BBC serial designed to help teach young Britons about history. After 50 years and nearly 800 episodes (and a forgettable TV movie), Dr. Who has gone from being a kid’s education program to one of the most beloved sci-fi shows in history. Even though he ranks sixth on this list, there is no way to overestimate the importance of the man who started the world’s half-century-long love affair with the Gallifreyan fugitive traveling through time and space in his big blue police box.
5. Jon Pertwee
Pertwee’s dapper, heavy-drinking, swashbuckling, roadster-mashing bad-ass version of the Doctor was basically the Timelord equivalent of The Most Interesting Man in the World. Exiled to Earth, without the use of his TARDIS, the Third Doctor became a full time UNIT employee and as such solidified the notion of the Doctor as Earth’s protector. And while Pertwee’s Doctor often came across as harsh and aloof, it’s the first time in the series that we really see the compassionate side of the Doctor character that became the cornerstone of all of the Doctors in the rebooted series.
4. Patrick Troughton
A slovenly, impish troublemaker, Troughton’s second Doctor was the antithesis of Hartnell’s original. It’s a shame that such a huge chunk of Troughton’s time as the Doctor was lost to history, but even still, his influence on the franchise is undeniable. Not only did Troughton’s “hobo” Doctor ensure that regeneration could be a viable plot device, but you see his influence in all subsequent reincarnations of the character: Tom Baker’s childlike amusement, Matt Smith’s frenetic, almost manic energy, and even Capaldi’s emerging ability to slyly manipulate of friend and foe alike, are all nods to the work Troughton did to evolve the Doctor character in his three years in the role.
3. David Tennant
David Tennant is probably the most technically sound actor to ever play the role (outside of Hurt and possibly Troughton). His timing and delivery were brilliant and he had almost instant chemistry with every companion and co-star. If there is one criticism of Tennant’s Tenth Doctor (aside from his audacity of pairing pinstripe suits and sand shoes), it’s that he was almost a bit too human; especially toward the end, the Tenth Doctor got a bit too angsty and overdramatic for a lot of fans (myself included).
2. Tom Baker
The Fourth Doctor is easily the most iconic of either series and for good reason: any of the 42 episodes over Baker’s seven seasons headlining the show are just as relevant and entertaining now as they were when they debuted. His is the gold standard — the template from which all the subsequent Doctors were written.
1. Matt Smith
I left The End of Time furious that Steven Moffat thought some gangly doofus could be an adequate replacement to my beloved David Tennant. But over the next three seasons, Matt Smith’s Doctor masterfully evolved, picking the best parts of all the previous Doctors while still maintaining his own unique identity. It’s that evolution that gives him an edge over Baker. Plus, unlike Tennant, Smith knew exactly the right time to hang up his sonic screwdriver.