Doctor Who's 60th anniversary: where are the Time Lords now?

David Tennant will star in the BBC's 60th anniversary Doctor Who specials (Zoe McConnell/BBC) (PA Media)
David Tennant will star in the BBC's 60th anniversary Doctor Who specials (Zoe McConnell/BBC) (PA Media)

We are now just a few days away from the 60th anniversary of Doctor Who, which is being celebrated on Saturday with the release of the first of three specials. David Tennant will be returning to play the Doctor, and his companion, Donna Temple-Noble (Catherine Tate) will also be back on our screens for the new trio of standalone adventures.

Doctor Who, the 1018-year-old time travelling alien, has become one of the UK's most well-loved and best-known television characters; the sci-fi show has run, in various iterations, on the BBC since 1963. Handily the Doctor - the human name given to the Time Lord - can regenerate, meaning that over a dozen actors have been able to carry the baton over the last 60 years.

Most of the actors who have stepped up to play the Doctor have either been celebrated actors before taking on the iconic part, or they used the beloved show as a springboard to even bigger successes. Here’s what they went on to do after playing the Doctor.

The original series:

William Hartnell (1908-1967)

First Doctor: 1963-1966


Hartnell had enjoyed a relatively successful career in stage and film before becoming Doctor Who. Raised by a single mother in the slums of St Pancras slum, the Londoner was up against a lot of obstacles when it came to rising to fame; but after meeting English art collector Hugh Blaker, who took a shine to him, his prospects changed. Blaker sent Hartnell, who was passionate about theatre, to a school to undergo some training. He then became Hartnell’s unofficial guardian, and let Hartnell, and later his wife, live in one of his properties.

Hartnell started working in theatre in 1925, acting in a series of Shakespeare plays. Over the years, he became known as a comic actor, and then started being cast as policemen, soldiers and criminals. Bur after being spotted in the film This Sporting Life by a BBC producer, Hartnell was offered the role of the Doctor. Tired of being typecast, he agreed to take up the role.

Hartnell didn’t act in film again after becoming Doctor Who. He had several roles in television programmes including No Hiding Place (1967) and Softy, Softly (1968) but due to worsening health Hartnell’s didn’t enjoy a stellar career after playing the Time Lord. He died in 1975, aged 67, from heart failure.

Patrick Troughton (1920-1987)

Second Doctor: 1966-1969

Patrick Troughton (far left) as Doctor Who (BBC)
Patrick Troughton (far left) as Doctor Who (BBC)

Patrick Troughton had always been enthusiastic about theatre, studying at Swiss Cottage’s Embassy School of Acting before receiving an acting scholarship to study the craft in Long Island. However, after he’d moved to the States, the second world war broke out and Troughton returned home to enlist in the Navy.

After the war Troughton went straight back into theatre. He worked for both the Amersham Repertory Company and the Bristol Old Vic Company before getting roles in both TV and film. He featured in numerous shows including The Count of Monte Cristo, Ivanhoe, Dial 999, Danger Man, Maigret, Compact, Sherlock Holmes and The Third Man.

After playing the Doctor, he continued to enjoy a steady career, acting in films such as Scars of Dracula (1970), Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1973), The Omen (1976) Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) and in TV roles up to the late Eighties.

However, just like Hartnell, he was hampered by his declining fitness, and following a series of health issues he died aged 67 in 1987.

Jon Pertwee (1919-1996)

Third Doctor: 1970-1974

 (Evening Standard/Getty Images)
(Evening Standard/Getty Images)

Jon Pertwee came from a theatrical background; his father was an actor and screenwriter, while his cousin was also an actor. He graduated from RADA in 1939. During the second world war he served in the Navy, becoming attached to its intelligence division, where he worked alongside Bond creator Ian Fleming.

After the war he worked as a stage comedian, before becoming well known as a comedy actor on the radio. He had roles in film, including in Ladies Who Do (1963) Carry On Cleo (1964) and Carry On Cowboy (1965), before becoming the Time Lord. His period as the Doctor was influenced by James Bond, and his Doctor was more suave, action-focused and technology-savvy than his predecessors.

Pertwee went on to have some further film and TV roles, but he was always best-remembered as Doctor Who, returning to play the Time Lord, or presenting Doctor Who-related shows several times over the course of his career. He died in his sleep from a heart attack aged 76.

Tom Baker (1934-)

Fourth Doctor: 1974-1981

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Baker is the longest-running Doctor Who actor, playing the beloved character for seven years. Tall, curly-haired, wide-eyed and sporting a brightly-coloured scarf, Baker’s Doctor was whimsical and intellectual, and remains an icon of the show.

Baker very nearly didn’t become an actor, though, first studying to become a monk for six years before leaving to serve in the Royal Army Medical Corps and then the Navy. He started his acting career in his 30s, and fortunately ended up being offered a contract by the Royal National Theatre which was being led by Laurence Olivier at the time. Six years later, after featuring in several TV shows and films, he became the Doc.

In the four decades following his exit from the show, he has enjoyed a steady acting career, featuring in 40 TV shows and 12 films including Little Britain and Monarch of the Glen. Most recently he has starred in animated series Star Wars Rebels (2016-2017) and animated adventure-comedy Wonder Park (2019).

Peter Davison (1951-)

Fifth Doctor: 1982-1984

Peter Davison as the Doctor and Janet Fielding as companion Tegan (BBC)
Peter Davison as the Doctor and Janet Fielding as companion Tegan (BBC)

Peter Davison studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama and got his first TV role in 1975, in his mid-20s. He’d starred in several TV series before becoming the Time Lord, but it was the well-loved role that brought the actor significant national fame.

Chosen because he was markedly different to Baker, Davison’s Doctor was more practical and less humorous than his predecessor, and was seen as marking a return to the original ethos of the show. During Davison’s tenure the show also brought back a number of the Doctor’s oldest enemies, such as the Master, Cybermen, Omega, and the Silurians.

Since leaving Doctor Who in 1984, Davison has featured in dozens of TV shows, but his most famous roles would be as Tristan Farnon in the BBC’s sitcom All Creatures Great and Small (1978–1990), Dr Stephen Daker in black-comedy A Very Peculiar Practice (1986–1988), and Albert Campion in detective series Campion (1989–1990).

He has also starred as David Braithwaite in comedy-drama At Home with the Braithwaites (2000-2003), DC Davies in The Last Detective (2003-2007) and Henry Sharpe in Law & Order UK (2011-2014).

Colin Baker (1943-)

Sixth Doctor: 1984-1986


London-born Colin Baker had starred in a number of TV shows before becoming the Doctor; prior to his turn in the TARDIS, he was most celebrated as banker Paul Merroney in the BBC’s The Brothers.

Baker’s Doctor divided viewers: he was much sharper and more harsh than Davison’s iteration, and one critic even described his Doctor as “out-and-out dislikable”. But the discord didn’t stop there: BBC’s controller at the time, Michael Grade, said the series had become too violent, and the show was halted for 18 months in 1985.

It did return in late 1986, but with a reduced number of episodes. While Baker said he would have gladly continued in the role, the series was allegedly renewed on the condition that Baker would be replaced.

After leaving Doctor Who, Baker has featured in dozens of TV shows including Jonathan Creek, Casualty, Hollyoaks, Doctors and Stark Trek continues, and in films such as The Harpist (1999) and A Dozens Summers (2015). This year he had a role in queer sex comedy Secrets of a Wallaby Boy.

Sylvester McCoy (1943-)

Seventh Doctor: 1987-1989

Sylvester McCoy with Sophie Aldred (BBC)
Sylvester McCoy with Sophie Aldred (BBC)

Scottish actor Sylvester McCoy found his way into acting as a member of an experimental theatre group, in which his less than estimable acts included putting ferrets down his trousers, setting his head on fire and shoving objects like forks and nails up his nose.

Nevertheless, his talent got spotted, and he went on to star in a number of children’s television programmes in the two decades preceding becoming the Doctor, such as Vision On (1965), Jackanory (1979) Eureka (1982-1986), Dramarama (1985) and Tiswas (1985).

Although McCoy began the final series of the original Doctor Who as a goofy, bumbling, slightly absurd character, drawing on his comic background, McCoy would end up being one of the darkest Doctors: by the end of the show the Doctor was secretive, melancholic, and even manipulative. McCoy’s Doctor also paired up with Ace (Sophie Aldred), one of the show’s best-loved companions to this day.

Paul McGann (1959-)

Eighth Doctor: 1996


Star of television serial The Monocled Mutineer (1986) and the cult classic Withnail and I (1987) Paul McGann has enjoyed a steady acting career since starting out in the early Eighties, featuring in nearly 40 TV shows and 25 films since playing the Doctor. He’s done everything from Agatha Christie’s Marple and Luther, to Jonathan Creek, and Holby City.

But although McGann’s Doctor was chatty and enthusiastic and really rather good, Doctor Who’s popularity was at its nadir during McGann’s tenure. McGann was part of a failed reboot attempt, so his foray as the beloved Time Lord was limited to one TV film that was supposed to be a pilot for a new TV series. Alas, it was never picked up.

The reboot Doctors:

Christopher Eccleston (1964-)

Ninth Doctor: 2005


When Doctor Who relaunched after a nine year hiatus, it did so with a bang. British actor Ecceleston, who was best-known for his film-collaborations with Danny Boyle and Michael Winterbottom, played the Doctor as a compassionate loner; he was joined on screen by Billie Piper as Rose Tyler, and the pair made for a smashing team.

But Ecceleston didn’t stick around, playing the Doctor for just one series. Speaking to Radio Times in 2010 he said that although he was very proud for having been on the show, he "didn't enjoy the environment and the culture that we, the cast and crew, had to work in.”

"I think it's more important to be your own man than be successful, so I left,” he said.

After his stint as the Doctor, Eccleston has featured in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009), Thor: The Dark World (2013) and Legend (2015). He has also starred in HBO’s supernatural drama, The Leftovers (2014-2017), BBC’s The A Word (2016-2020) and will have a main role in the next season of HBO’s anthology crime series, True Detective.

David Tennant (1971-)

Tenth Doctor: 2005-2010

David Tennant as The Doctor (BBC Studios/PA) (PA Media)
David Tennant as The Doctor (BBC Studios/PA) (PA Media)

David Tennant’s first acting job was when he was 16, which meant that, by the time he stepped into the role of being the Doctor nearly two decades later, he was already a well-respected actor.

He was perhaps best known for his many stage performances, which included roles in the Royal National Theatre’s What The Butler Saw (1995), Medea (2001) and The Pillowman (2003-4) and in the Royal Shakespeare’s As You Like It (1996) The Comedy of Errors (2002) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2001).

It was during his tenure as the Doctor that Tennant also played Hamlet, a role that won him widespread praise and a number of awards.

Over the last decade, Tennant has starred in ITV’s Broadchurch (2013-2017), Mary Queen of Scots (2018), Good Omens (2019-ongoing), The Sandman (2022), ITV’s Litvinenko (2023) and in Ahsoka (2023).

Matt Smith (1982-)

Eleventh Doctor: 2010-2013


Matt Smith was more or less unknown when he was picked as the Doctor. The Northampton-born actor, who studied drama at the University of East Anglia, had featured in a deleted scene of In Bruges, appeared in BBC 2’s Party Animals (2007) and in several episodes of a handful of other TV shows, including Secret Diary of a Call Girl. Then, becoming the Doctor utterly transformed his career: energetic and explosive, his take on the Doctor divided some fans, but it objectively worked really well as a continuation of Tennant’s version of the Time Lord.

Since leaving the show, Smith has gone from strength to strength, with leading roles in Netflix’s The Crown, where he played the young Prince Philip, and HBO’s House of the Dragon, in which he played Daemon Targaryen. He also had roles in Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho (2021) and in Marvel’s Morbius (2022) and will star in the upcoming second series of House of the Dragon.

Peter Capaldi (1958-)

Twelfth Doctor: 2014-2017

 (BBC/ Simon Ridgway)
(BBC/ Simon Ridgway)

It was going to be tough for any actor to follow Matt Smith’s celebrated turn as the Doctor, but Capaldi made for a fantastic successor, which was partly due to the fact he couldn’t have been more different: he was a grey-haired, sparkly-eyed 50-something, while Smith left when he was just 31. Capaldi had already enjoyed a superb career, featuring in The Vicar of Dibley, Foyle’s War, Peep Show, Skins and Torchwood, in films World War Z, Maleficent and Paddington. He was perhaps best-known for starring in The Thick of It. It meant he brought with him a certain gravitas; his doctor was brusque and contemplative yet lovable.

Since exiting Doctor Who he’s had roles in Paddington 2 (2017), Christopher Robin (2018), and The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019), Suicide Squad (2021), Benediction (2021), the Prime Video series The Devil’s Hour. Next up he’ll be acting in the Apple TV+ thriller series Criminal Record, alongside Cush Jumbo and Zoë Wanamaker.

Jodie Whittaker (1982-)

Thirteenth Doctor: 2018-2022

 (James Pardon/BBC Studios)
(James Pardon/BBC Studios)

It shouldn’t have been the case, but Jodie Whittaker’s appointment as the 14th Doctor shocked and thrilled fans around the world. However, despite fervent discussion online, fans soon more than got used to the idea of a female Time Lord.

Whittaker, who trained at Guildhall, had featured in 29 films and in 18 TV shows by the time she became the Doctor, including in St Trinian's (2007), Tess of the D'Urbervilles (2008), Black Mirror (2011) and The Smoke (2014). She was best known for playing bereaved mother Beth Latimer in ITV’s celebrated crime drama, Broadchurch, which ran from 2013-2017.

Since her turn as the Doctor, Whittaker has played imprisoned single mother Orla in the second series of the BBC’s prison drama, Time, and has a role in the upcoming Netflix drama, Toxic Town, which will tell the story of the 2009 Corby toxic waste court case.

Ncuti Gatwa (1992-)

Fifteenth Doctor: 2023-

Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson willl star as the Doctor and Ruby Sunday (BBC/Bad Wolf/Disney/PA) (PA Media)
Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson willl star as the Doctor and Ruby Sunday (BBC/Bad Wolf/Disney/PA) (PA Media)

Next up, 31-year-old Ncuti Gatwa will be stepping up as the Doctor, becoming the first Black actor to ever play the role.

Born in Rwanda and raised in Scotland, Gatwa was launched into international stardom in 2019 after playing Eric Effiong, one of the lead roles in Netflix’s celebrated British high school comedy Sex Education. Almost overnight, Gatwa, who first cut his teeth in theatre, became a household name. He’s now been nominated for three BAFTAS, played a Ken in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie (2023) and has a role in the upcoming Band of Brothers and Pacific spin-off, Masters of the Air.

The Doctor Who 60th anniversary specials will air weekly between November 25 and December 9 on BBC iPlayer