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Once upon a time, on an another blog since vanished into the mists of history, I posted a partial list of my favorite incarnations of The Doctor, the Time Lord that has travelled the corridors of time and space for centuries, righting wrongs and earning himself the sobriquet, “The Oncoming Storm”. I thought I would finally get around to finishing the list – not a repeat,but a reiteration that reflects my affection for all of the actors who have dwelled in this iconic role. Given that the eleventh Doctor is set to make his debut soon, I thought now would be an appropriate time. The choice of favorite story, which accompanies most of the entries, reflects the episodes/serials I have seen, of course – those I haven’t may supersede today’s choices at some point.
As always, I invite discussion, dissent and debate – this is one person’s opinion, and I’m always happy to hear yours! Allons-y!
1. The Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton (1966-69) Favorite Story: The Invasion
Explaining why one character/actor/performance is your favorite is often difficult – there are qualities exhibited by Troughton’s Doctor that he shared with his predecessor, William Hartnell, but they are relatively few – Troughton and the producers were keen to make a clear break with what had gone before. Although there are certain character traits, such as a tendency toward being manipulative, that the Second Doctor carried on, Troughton’s Doctor is clever enough to mask his manipulative nature in an apparent ineptitude, if not outright bumbling – his ‘cosmic hobo’ moves the story forward through the actions of others, rather than being the individual leading the way overtly. Troughton is humorous and engaging, and has a warmth that is a real contrast from the aloof Time Lord we were first introduced to. Some of the best stories of any era were accompanied by some of the crucial ongoing elements of the Who mythology: regeneration (although not explicitly called that just yet), UNIT, the name of the race from which the Doctor comes (although not their home planet), and so on. Sadly, the vast majority of Troughton’s stories were lost when the BBC wiped portions of their videotape library – fortunately, film versions turn up from time to time, so more is becoming available for us to enjoy.
2. The Tenth Doctor, David Tennant, (2005-2010) Favorite Story: The Girl in the Fireplace
Tennat’s Doctor is brilliant simply because of all the history he brings with him – there are echoes of almost all of the other Doctors in his performance, from Troughton’s knowing bumbling to McCoy’s sinister edge (you could also consider the half-human ‘regenerated’ Doctor to be a nod to the Eighth Doctor). Fast-talking and smooth, bound to do good but tainted by pain, the shades of grey that surround the Tenth Doctor’s actions have never been so pronounced.
3. The Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker (1974-1981) Favorite Story: Pyramids of Mars
Baker’s Doctor has the distinction of being the first to be seen by a large number of North Americans (Hartnell stories were shown on CBC in Canada in 1963, but were discontinued before the end of the firsat series), and the actor most associated with the role by many. The single quality I admire about his portrayal is the fact that he subtly (and not-so-subtly) reminds us that yes, he is an alien – his mannerisms, his slight, rather bemused detachment from humanity, his tendency to sprawl across any available surface – it all combines for a memorable character. While his behind-the-scenes behavior may have been trying, the results were, and still are, magical.
4. The Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston (2005) Favorite Story: Rose
The Ninth Doctor had the burden of re-introducing the Doctor to a new generation and dispelling the common view of Doctor Who as a series with cardboard sets and bad acting – and he did it brilliantly. The first episode brings The Doctor in after the episode is under way, and doesn’t let up – his description of how he feels the Earth turning along with the universe moving to Rose is a perfect introduction to the power and mystery of this lonely Time Lord. It is really a shame that he didn’t stay long, but the single season is memorable for showing us just how dangerous The Doctor is – to those who would do evil, as well as himself and his companions. Plastic Mickey aside, Eccleson is really… ‘fantastic’!
5. The First Doctor, William Hartnell (1963-66) Favorite Story: The Mutants/The Daleks (episodes had individual names as opposed to full stories)
The first, the only – William Hartnell. From the aloof scientist to the loving grandfather, from the mysterious and menacing technological wizard to the warm patriarch, Hartnell’s transition as the role evolved was amazing to watch – as was his forgetting of his lines due to increasing ill health. Even Hartnell’s forgetfulness, presented as part of The Doctor’s tetchy personality, works in the larger context. A well-placed, “Hmm?” or “mmm, yes” in the right place gave us the first, and in some ways definitive performance of the immensely powerful yet ultimately frail individual. It is a true shame that we don’t have more footage from The Tenth Planet, his last performance during his three seasons – however, we still have The Three Doctors, his very last performance, to enjoy.
6. The Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee (1970-74) Favorite Story: The Sea Devils
The Earth-bound man of action, the scientific James Bond, the brave master of Venusian Akido… the Third Doctor was a product of his ‘times’, so to speak. As the scientific advisor to UNIT, the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, The Doctor defended Earth from any and all threats, including those of his most dangerous nemesis, The Master. Introduced during Troughton’s era, UNIT and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart were welcome additions to continuity that have stuck around ever since. In some ways, it seemed a little bit of a disappointing when the Time Lords hgave him the knowledge of time travel again at the end of The Three Doctors, however it turned out to be a very thoughtful reward for The Doctor, and for us as well.
7. The Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison (1981-84) Favorite Story: The Five Doctors
He was a well-known actor when he began on Doctor Who, and I’d wager he was even more famous when he left. Following Tom Baker in any context would be difficult, let alone in this role, but Davison infuses a quiet dignity into the role – his Doctor is often the author of the misfortunes he must fix – but despite often looking-before-leaping (the diametric opposite to Baker’s thinking-before-acting style), he is still the one man, or Time Lord, you want with you if danger lurks.
8. The Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann (1996) Favorite Story (well, duh) Doctor Who: The Enemy Within (unofficial title)
Although somewhat of a cipher, the Eighth Doctor has gone on to have a full and exciting career in novels and audio stories (if you’re like me, an appearance in a multi-Doctor TV story would be the height of excellence). He’s engaging, has a mission to do good whatever the cost, and his dress sense is absolutely perfect. He can nearly be forgiven the ‘half-human on my mother’s side’ remark. Almost.
9. The Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy (1987-1996) Favorite Story: Remembrance of the Daleks
Mysterious and somewhat menacing, McCoy, despite technically being the Doctor for the longest period, was the actor in the role when the series was ultimately cancelled in 1990. His return, with the sole purpose of being killed, in the 1996 movie, was ironically one of his best performances. The Seventh Doctor has, fortunately, had a long series of adventures on audio and in novels. A larger and more mysterious purpose was hinted at for a while, but ultimately it came to nothing.
10. The Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker (1984-86) Favorite Story: Trial of a Time Lord (yes, I know, but it’s still better as a whole than individually)
The actor who picked up where Peter Davison left off was reviled, ignored and ultimately let go in a rather insensitive fashion by the BBC. Attenpting to kill his companion in the first episode, and remaining obnoxious and arrogant throughout his tenure, the Sixth Doctor was memorable – often for the wrong reasons. His audio incarnation is considerably more tolerable.
And, the Plus One…
Peter Cushing, as “Doctor Who”, in Doctor Who and the Daleks and Invasion Earth 2150 AD (1965-66)
Probably the less said the better – great actor, but the movies absolutely mangle continuity. Best watched with certain portions of the brain turned off. Mostly those dealing with memory and reason – for one thing, the guy isn’t human, and for another, his name isn’t actually “Doctor Who”. Mutter, mutter, mutter…