Doctor Who is the longest running science fiction show on t.v. and the most successful of all time. The programme originally ran from 1963 to 1989. After an unsuccessful attempt to revive regular production in 1996, the programme was relaunched in 2005.

The Doctor has been principally played by eleven actors. The transition from one actor to another is written into the plot of the show as regeneration, whereby the character of the Doctor takes on a new body and, to some extent, new personality. Although each portrayal is different, and on occasions the various incarnations have even met one another, they are all meant to be aspects of the same character.

The character of the Doctor was initially shrouded in mystery. All that was known about him in the programme's early days was that he was an eccentric alien traveller of great intelligence who battled injustice while exploring time and space in an unreliable time machine, the "TARDIS, (an acronym for Time And Relative Dimension(s) In Space), which appears much larger on the inside than on the outside.

Over the years bits and pieces about who the Doctor is have been revealed:

  • He is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey
  • He has two hearts
  • Has the ability to regenerate his body when near death
  • He has fathered two daughters and has been a grandfather
  • He married River Song in the episode The Wedding of River Song

The First Doctor - William Hartnell (1963-66).


Doctor Who earned Hartnell a regular salary of £315 per episode. Throughout his tenure as the Doctor, William Hartnell wore a wig when playing the part, as the character had long hair, whereas in private life he himself favoured the traditional short-back-and-sides.Hartnell's deteriorating health (he suffered from arteriosclerosis, which began to affect his ability to say his lines), as well as poor relations with the new production team on the series ultimately led him to leave Doctor Who in 1966. When he left Doctor Who, the producer of the show came up with a unique idea: since the Doctor is an alien, he can transform into another man when he dies, thereby renewing himself. William Hartnell himself suggested that Patrick Troughton should be cast as the new Doctor. In Episode 4 of the serial, the First Doctor regenerated into Troughton's Second Doctor.

The Second Doctor - Patrick Troughton (1966-69)


Hartnell had approved of the choice, saying, "There's only one man in England who can take over, and that's Patrick Troughton". During his time on the series, Troughton tended to shun publicity and rarely gave interviews. He told one interviewer, "I think acting is magic. If I tell you all about myself it will spoil it". Troughton was popular with both the production team and his co-stars. Producer Lloyd credited Troughton with a "leading actor's temperament. He was a father figure to the whole company and hence could embrace it and sweep it along with him". Troughton also gained a reputation on set as a practical joker. Troughton found Doctor Who's schedule (at the time, 40 to 44 episodes per year) gruelling, and decided to leave the series in 1969, after three years in the role. This decision was also motivated in part by fear of typecasting. Troughton's decision would eventually become something of an unwritten law (the "Troughton Rule") among actors, in order to prevent one from becoming typecast in a particular role in a potentially long-running television programme. Patrick Troughton was succeeded in the role by Jon Pertwee.

The Third Doctor - Jon Pertwee  (1970-74)


In a departure from the Doctor's first two incarnations, Pertwee played the character as an active crusader with a penchant for action and fancy clothes. He played the Doctor for five seasons from early 1970 to mid-1974, at the time the longest stint of any of the actors who played the part, surpassing predecessors William Hartnell's and Patrick Troughton's three years each in the role. In early 1974, Pertwee announced he would step down as the Doctor in order to resume his stage career, also citing typecasting in the role as the reason for leaving.

The Fourth Doctor - Tom Baker  (1974-81)


As the Fourth Doctor, his eccentric style of dress and speech (particularly his trademark long scarf and fondness for jelly babies) made him an immediately recognisable figure, and he quickly caught the viewing public's imagination. The Doctor played by Tom Baker is often regarded as the most popular of the Doctors. In polls conducted by Doctor Who Magazine, Baker has lost the "Best Doctor" category only three times. He was still starring in the role in plays in 2011.

The Fifth Doctor - Peter Davison  (1981-84)


In 1981, Davison signed a contract to play the Doctor for three years, succeeding Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor) and, at age 29, was at the time the youngest actor to have played the lead role. Patrick Troughton (whom Davison had watched on the programme as a teenager) had recommended to Davison that he leave the role after three years, and Davison followed his advice. Peter Davison has since stated that he also felt too young for the role, and if given the chance at the role now he would have made a better Doctor.

The Sixth Doctor - Colin Baker  (1984-86)


Baker made his first appearance in Doctor Who as Commander Maxil in the story Arc of Infinity (1983). Maxil was one of the few characters actually to shoot the Doctor, then played by Peter Davison. At the time of Baker's casting as Davison's successor, he became the only "Doctor" actor to have appeared in the television series as another character prior to taking on the leading role. When Baker was cast to replace Davison, many fans cited that shooting scene in Arc of Infinity, prompting Baker to say jokingly that he got the part of the Doctor by killing the incumbent. In 1986, Baker told an interviewer, "Tom Baker did it for seven years. ... There's a part of me which likes to have a tilt at records. I would like to think that maybe I'd still be doing it in eight years' time." However, later that year Baker was dismissed from the part at the insistence of BBC management, who wanted to refresh the show.

On 4 September 2011 at Riverside Studios, Hammersmith, London, Baker accepted the presidency of 'The Doctor Who Appreciation Society' following Jon Pertwee and then Nicholas Courtney in the role. Baker was elected following an online poll of the society's members where he won more votes than all the other candidates combined.

The Seventh Doctor - Sylvester McCoy  (1987-89, 1996)


McCoy became the Seventh Doctor after taking over the lead role in Doctor Who in 1987 from previous incarnation Colin Baker. He remained on the series until it ended in 1989. As Colin Baker declined the invitation to film the regeneration scene, McCoy briefly wore a wig and appeared as the 6th Doctor in the regeneration scene. The Seventh Doctor developed into a much darker figure than any of his earlier incarnations, manipulating people like chess pieces and always seeming to be playing a deeper game. A distinguishing feature of McCoy's performances was his manner of speech. He used his natural slight Scottish accent and rolled his rs. In 1990, readers of Doctor Who Magazine voted McCoy's Doctor "Best Doctor", over perennial favourite Tom Baker. McCoy was the last lead actor to have his face in the Doctor Who opening titles.

The Eighth Doctor - Paul McCann  (1996)


Paul McGann played the eighth incarnation of the Doctor in the Doctor Who 1996 television movie. The television movie also starred the outgoing Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy. The Doctor Who television movie was a joint venture between the BBC, Universal Studios and the Fox Broadcasting Network. McGann had signed a contract to appear as the Eighth Doctor in a new Doctor Who series, if Fox or Universal exercised their option. Thus, the television movie was supposed to be a "back door pilot" in that, if it obtained respectable ratings, the new series would continue to be produced. Although it earned 9.08 million viewers and was very successful in the UK, ratings were very low in the United States. As a consequence, Fox did not exercise its option to pick up the series and Universal could not find another network interested in airing a new Doctor Who series. Thus no new series was produced until 2005, after all the contractual rights had returned to the BBC, and the movie became McGann's only appearance as the eighth doctor.

The Ninth Doctor - Christopher Eccleston  (2005)


On 20 March 2004, it was announced that Eccleston was to play the ninth incarnation of the Doctor in the revival of the legendary BBC science fiction television series Doctor Who. Eccleston was the first actor to play the role who was born after the series began, albeit by less than three months. On 30 March 2005, the BBC released a statement, ostensibly from Eccleston, saying that he had decided to leave the role after just one series, because he feared becoming typecast. On 4 April 2005, the BBC revealed that Eccleston's "statement" was falsely attributed and released without his consent. The BBC admitted that they had broken an agreement made in January not to disclose publicly that he only intended to do one series. The statement had been made after journalists made queries to the press office. On 11 June 2005, during a BBC radio interview, when asked if he had enjoyed working on Doctor Who, Eccleston responded by saying, "Mixed, but that's a long story." Eccleston's reasons for leaving the role continue to be debated in Britain's newspapers: on 4 October 2005 Alan Davies told the Daily Telegraph that Eccleston had been "overworked" by the BBC, and had left the role because he was "exhausted". Ten days later, Eccleston told the Daily Mirror this was not true, and expressed some irritation at Davies for his comments. In a 2010 interview, Eccleston revealed that he left the show because he "didn't enjoy the environment and the culture that the cast and crew had to work in", but that he was proud of having played the role.On 7 November 2008, Russell T. Davies said that Eccleston's contract was for a single year because it was uncertain whether the show would continue beyond a single revival series. In retrospect, he says, it has been an enormous success, but at the time there were doubts within the BBC. Eccleston was voted "Most Popular Actor" at the 2005 National Television Awards for his portrayal of the Doctor.

The Tenth Doctor - David Tennant  (2005-10)


After the BBC's announcement on 31 March 2005 that Eccleston would not be returning for a second series, they confirmed Tennant as his replacement in a press release on 16 April 2005. Tennant has expressed enthusiasm about fulfilling his childhood dream. He remarked to an interviewer for GWR FM, "Who wouldn't want to be the Doctor? I've even got my own TARDIS!" In 2006, readers of Doctor Who Magazine voted Tennant 'Best Doctor!', over perennial favourite Tom Baker. In 2007, Tennant's Doctor was voted the "coolest character" on UK television in a Radio Times survey.

The Eleventh Doctor - Matt Smith  (2010 - present)


Smith was first named as a possible successor less than a day before he was announced as the Eleventh Doctor, on the 3 January 2009 edition of BBC Breakfast. His obscurity prompted the news headline "Doctor Who?", a riff on the show's title. At 26 years old, Smith was three years younger than Peter Davison was at the time of his casting as the Doctor in 1981, and younger than any other actor suggested for the role. Some fans of the show believed that Smith was inexperienced and too young for the role, while others supported him by citing his demonstrated acting ability. For his performance in his first series he was nominated in the Outstanding Drama Performance Category of the National Television Awards.


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